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Indoor garden rooms first started trending among Victorians, who grew giant palms and other exotics in them. They used these spaces for drinking tea and improving their health in the sunshine and fresh air they offered. But for modern decorators, a room that’s mostly windows can present challenges. Where do you put the sofa?
As Toronto-area designer Michele Berwick observes, “Sunrooms are unique in the sense that you either have very (few) walls or no walls at all to place furniture on, so you need to approach them in a different way.”
Her first trick for making these rooms work is to opt for “non-traditional furniture arrangements.” A pair of chaises longues facing the windows can work, she suggests, with a little side table between them. Or perhaps a curved sofa floating in the middle of the room, for taking in the view all around you.
In a room full of windowns, Tiffany Leigh Piotrowski, principal designer and founder of Tiffany Leigh Design, aims to maximize both the view and the intended function of the room. “We like to use this type of space for reading, sipping coffee, doing a puzzle, or getting work done at a laptop, so a long, low bench under the windows paired with a small table is a perfect solution.”
For a sunroom intended for lounging, “comfy, not fussy, furniture is the way to go,” says Berwick, who uses “lots of pillows, throw blankets and baskets with more pillows and throw blankets. Spread out magazines and books on the coffee table, and if possible, frame out the windows with sheer white drapery, not to block the view but to enhance it.”
All that light, however, can take a toll on furnishings. Berwick warns that even in rooms with double- or triple-glazed windows and special UV coatings, the sun damage ordinary fabrics over time, causing fading, colour changes and breakdown.
“I use high-performance outdoor fabrics in sunrooms,” Berwick says. “They are made to be outside, taking the hit from the sun at all times.” They’re also more stylish than they used to be. “Gone are the days of stiff, plastic-like fabrics. You can’t even really tell they were made for the outdoors.”
For homes that don’t have a sunroom, modular or prefab sunrooms or solariums are a popular alternative to custom architectural additions.
Earlier models were less complicated to install than a traditional addition but had a number of drawbacks, among them a basic appearance and a tendency to leak. But according to Matt Jacewicz, president of Four Seasons Sunrooms’ GTA location, modern-day versions carry good warranties against defects, leakage and even glass breakage, and are customized to buyers’ specifications.
Along with regular sunrooms and solariums, his company installs porch enclosures, three-season rooms with single-paned glass, bump-outs, skylights and atriums. “We even created a glass bathtub enclosure once. It was in the country, so there were no worries about privacy, and the view was amazing,” Jacewicz says.
It’s impossible to say whether a modular sunroom compares favourably in cost to a bespoke addition, since there are so many variables. But where the modular product offers real advantages, Jacewicz says, is in construction efficiencies. The components are pre-manufactured offsite and trucked to clients’ homes; he likens putting one together to building a giant Tinker-Toy set.
Whether it’s a prefab job, or classic sunroom or conservatory in a century home, there’s something about a sunroom that makes those who occupy it relax. “Sunrooms are just such a special spot in the home,” says Berick. “They’re unlike any other room.”