A cedar greenhouse provides a natural retreat in McLean

A cedar greenhouse in McLean provides a bit of the exotic in the backyard.


Cedarwood Greenhouse
Photo courtesy of Tanglewood Conservatories

With the fast-paced life in Northern Virginia, it is safe to say that many of us dream of escaping to a beautiful, tranquil space from time to time. One family in McLean took this sought-after idea and mixed it with their love of nature all within a modern cedar, glass and copper greenhouse custom-built to fit the landscape of their home.

The project started about four years ago when the family was working with Sterling-based Surrounds Landscape Architects, who designed a stretch of manicured lawn, stone walls, shrubbery and waterfalls all anchored by a koi pond. But the family wanted a little bit more. The landscape company brought in Tanglewood Conservatories to build a greenhouse that would house the family’s exotic plants and fruit trees and offer a place for their children to tinker about amongst nature.

After nine months of design, engineering, fabrication and building, Tanglewood brought to fruition the almost 17-foot structure outfitted with rustic cedar, glass and copper that mimics the gables of the roofline of the home and blends into the backyard environment.

There is a growing trend for greenhouses in the area, according to Alan Stein, who co-owns the 20-year-old business with his wife, Nancy Virts. “I think there is an interest in nature, in understanding the health benefits of natural light,” he explains. “For a long time people have been interested in backyard greenhouses, but I think now it is at a whole new level. We’ve seen some people buy these to grow their own food [as] part of their diet.” 

Cedar greenhouse
Photo by Dea Schofield

But the desire to have these spaces in a home may also mimic the reason Stein and Virts started building the structures. The two fell in love with the 19th-century European conservatories that were built “during a time when the British Empire was at its height and people were traveling and collecting exotic plants and species from around the world,” Stein says. At the same time the Industrial Revolution allowed for architecture to thrive with steel being an affordable commodity and the ability to make larger sheets of glass. “The rooms that are greenhouses and rooms for displaying plants and then they became used for social settings,” Stein says. “It was the height of culture.”

The focus for their company is to bring that back into the way that we live by building rooms that blend the technology and aesthetic of the 19th century with 21st-century technology to create “wonderful, light-filled indoor/outdoor spaces for people around the world who also had this love for something about these old structures,” Stein says.

Cedar greenhouse
Photo by Dea Schofield

The greenhouse in McLean hits this note with every aspect of design. While at first glance the greenhouse looks like a seamless component of the backyard, there were some obstacles to overcome in the design. For instance, like all greenhouses, the utilities—heating, misting and watering—needed to be contained in the structure without being visible. The solution: Pulling the landscaping inside the greenhouse. There is a stone wall in the greenhouse, which Stein says was an “interesting challenge.” A small room was attached to the structure, and a stone wall was extended up a couple of feet on a portion of the back side and turned into a living wall with creeper plants growing up it.

The family now has a space filled with a plethora of flowering tropicals, fruit plants (lemons, limes and tangerines) and a small cafe table and chairs where they can relax.

“The quality of light and environment inside of these rooms is very, very different from any other room in the house because they are flooded with natural light from above, and it is a very exotic feeling of being outdoors while completely enclosed in this beautiful jewel box,” Stein explains.

“The word spiritual has a lot of connotations that can be positive or negative, but that is one adjective we’ve found that really describes these rooms,” Stein says. “There really is something that is uplifting and soothing to the soul about being in a room filled with plants and natural light.” 

(May 2016)