Families spent the 1990s attaching these big glass rooms to their homes, only to quickly discover they were useless for most of the year. What a fitting parable for the weirdness of suburban lifeby Caroline O'Donoghue / November 10, 2020 / Leave a comment
Recently, I found myself reading about conservatories. Not musical conservatories—far be it from me to guess at what the New York Philharmonic gets up to. No, I mean the other kind of conservatory: the big glass rooms that suburban families spent the 1990s attaching to their homes, then occasionally using between the months of April and May—after that, it’s too hot—and September and October—after that, it’s too cold. In my deep dive on conservatories, trawling through architecture websites and interior design blogs to understand these daft little glass structures we were once obsessed with, I kept discovering facts that made me laugh. “The conservatories of the 1980s and ‘90s promised a lot but didn’t quite deliver,” says an article by Guernsey-based practice Create Architecture. “If you have one attached to your house, it could be transformed into a valuable asset that works for the way you live now.”
Everything about this sentence tickles me. There’s the exhausted sense of failure in “promised a lot, but didn’t quite deliver,” as though the conservatory was an ill-advised first marriage. “If you have one attached to your house…” positions it like a brain tumour, and not a thing you planned and paid lots of money for. The kicker, for me, is “could be transformed into a valuable asset.” Which, if you actually have a conservatory, must be a real kick in the arse. I mean, weren’t these things originally added to our houses because someone convinced us that they were valuable assets in the first place? Just how on earth did we get stuck with these white elephants?
I have my theories. First, I think the invention of double glazing in the 1980s gave people in the UK and Ireland a false sense of how much time they could spend around huge walls of glass. We were told that double glazing could keep the cold out, and we interpreted this message as “double glazing keeps you warm, raises your children, and turns your home into a tropical island paradise.” Second, I think there was a general obsession in contemporary interior design with adding rooms to your house. Everyone had a grand plan, whether or not they ever acted on it, and it usually involved converting the loft into a spare bedroom, the shed into a games room, and the garden into a glass prison.…