Interior Design Glossary: Sunrooms

Our Austin Interior Designers Review the Definition, History, and Benefits of Sunrooms

Sunroom

What better way to start the day than basking in the sun with a cup of coffee, admiring the view from the comfort of your back sunroom? Sunrooms are getting a lot of attention in the interior design world right now. After being confined to our homes since the start of the decade, folks are looking for ways to connect to the outside world and break down the barriers of our four walls. For many, sunrooms provide a modern answer. However, these sunny rooms date back to Ancient Roman times! In this Interior Design Glossary entry, my team of Austin interior designers and I review the definition, history, and benefits of sunrooms, as well as why they are trending today.

Glass Conservatory by Keller

What are Sunrooms? 

In short, a sunroom is any sunny room in the home. Traditionally, a sunroom will be constructed with many windows and sometimes feature a glass ceiling. Sunrooms can range from simple enclosed patios to more elaborate extensions of the main house. They serve as casual places for naps, reading, or just recharging and putting your feet up — complete with warm sunshine and a peaceful view. There are six different kinds of sunrooms, each designed with a unique purpose.   

Types of Sunrooms

Sunroom 

Sunroom is the general umbrella term for any sunny room in the home. It can refer to conservatories, solariums, or three-season rooms. Sunrooms may be constructed entirely of glass panels or feature a solid roof and base around the perimeter. Sunrooms can range from simple enclosed patios with limited heating and cooling capabilities to more formal extensions of the home. Sunrooms provide the perfect spot to relax, care for plants, or practice yoga with a view.

Screened Porch by Amity Worrel

Conservatory 

A conservatory is a sunroom that features floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a glass roof, allowing the maximum amount of sunlight into the space. Conservatories are attached to the main house at one side, possibly off the kitchen, and are mainly used for horticultural purposes. These are spaces to care for plants rather than entertain.     

Conservatory/Photo by Kim Sayer

Solarium 

Solariums are all glass structures attached to the main house. Similar to conservatories, they feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a glass ceiling. However, these rooms are designed for recreation rather than horticulture. Solariums will be insulated for year-round use and feel connected to the home’s main living areas. Solariums became popular features of tuberculosis sanatoriums, as the sunlight was used to treat patients suffering from the disease. 

Solarium by Keller

Three-season Room

A three-season room is a cross between a screened porch and an all-season sunroom or solarium. These spaces feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a solid roof, and they are finished with exterior-grade materials. Three-season rooms are not insulated or temperature regulated like interior rooms or solariums, so they can only be enjoyed in temperate months — typically three seasons of the year. 

Three Season Room/Design by Jeweled Interiors/Sourced from Country Living

Greenhouse

A greenhouse is a sunny outbuilding separated from the main house. Greenhouses are made entirely of transparent materials, including plexiglass and traditional glass held by a wood or metal structure. Greenhouses are traditionally only used for growing plants in a regulated environment. They are perfect for the avid gardener. 

Royal Botanic Gardens/Sourced from Pexels

Orangery 

Orangeries were the first garden outbuildings, and their use dates back to Ancient Rome. From the outside, orangeries look like any other outbuilding. They typically featured a brick or stone construction, large windows, and a traditional roof. Orangeries are used to grow fruit trees. They were popular from the 17th through 19th centuries and were a sign of wealth, prestige, and taste. 

Le Pavillon de l’Orangerie

 A Brief History of Sunrooms in Interior Design

The idea of the modern sunroom originated from orangeries — the first garden outbuildings. The Roman Empire created orangeries in 27 B.C. to grow fruits sourced from travels to countries with warmer climates. They were initially used for oranges, thus the name and a newfound romance for the orange across Europe! These sunny and warm structures garnered appeal that expanded past the practicalities of horticulture. Soon, orangeries were opened up as entertaining pavilions for elaborate summer parties. These outbuildings became a staple to convey wealth on country estates. 

L’Orangerie – Jardin D’Hiver/Sourced from Booking.com

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be an aristocrat tasting an orange for the first time — completely transformative. Orangeries became more than spaces for plantings. They began to represent our love affair with sunshine, capturing it for year-round enjoyment. Those living in Western and Northern Europe were finally able to get a taste of what it was like for their Southern neighbors who were enjoying the Mediterranean sunshine. 

By the early 19th century, orangeries began to be revolutionized alongside new manufacturing technologies. Designers began to create structures made entirely of metal and glass, resembling the more traditional greenhouses we are familiar with today. With the rise of industrialization, greenhouses became more and more affordable for families passionate about gardening (even those without country estates).

Our love affair with sunshine (and tropical citrus) continues. We romanticize laying on the beach, basking in the sun, and connecting to nature’s bounty. We become greedy for those sunny rays when we can’t get away to our tropical retreats. Over time, the orangery moved closer and closer to the main house, eventually becoming the sunroom we know and love today. 

Palm House at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire/Photo from National Trust

Benefits of Sunrooms 

Provide a Home for Indoor Plants 

Sunrooms provide a home for indoor plants to thrive. Conservatories can be customized to include durable flooring, workbenches, and in-floor drainage — creating a plant lover’s paradise.  

Bring in Natural Light 

Sunrooms are designed to bring in natural light, making a space feel spacious, airy, and inviting.  

Create an Additional Hangout Spot

Sunrooms create an additional hangout spot in the home. You can use these spaces as dining rooms, in-home yoga studios, or simply an area to kick back with a good book.  

Establish Indoor-outdoor Connections 

Sunrooms bring outdoor living spaces inside to be enjoyed year-round, establishing indoor-outdoor connections. These connections enhance our quality of life and forge a feeling of harmony with the outside world. 

Villa Im Klostergarten/Sourced from Eser Real State

Allow Us to Enjoy the View 

Sunrooms allow us to enjoy the view of our beautifully designed period gardens no matter the weather outside. When our outdoor spaces are just as beautiful as our interiors, we need areas like sunrooms to take in the view. 

Improve Our Mood and Health 

Sunrooms deliver sunlight and indoor-outdoor connections to the home, no matter the time of year. They have been shown to boost our mood and energy levels as well as improve our overall health and state of well-being. Getting healthy while having a cup of tea in my favorite lounge chair with a view? Sign me up! 

Why are Sunrooms, Conservatories, and Solariums Trending?

In the 2020s, homeowners are taking the opportunity to add sunrooms, conservatories, and solariums to their homes. Living in a world filled with screens and notifications has many people looking for a retreat to nature—and the backyard is a natural first step. Sunrooms help us form connections to the outside world in a time when so many of those connections have been cut off. The sunroom is the new rec room.  

Should You Design a Sunroom for Your Home?

Sunrooms can be designed in any style, from shabby chic to mid-century modern to Georgian. Nature works with any design style! If your family is looking for ways to connect to the outdoors year-round, my team of Austin interior designers and I think a sunroom will make a practical and beautiful addition to your home. 

 

Want to learn more about residential design?

Check Out Design 101


Amity Worrel

Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.