Today, we talk conservatories with award winning interior designer Carey Karlan, the principal of interior design firm Last Detail located in Darien, CT.  She tells us what inspired her to redo the conservatory in her own home. Plus, she gives us tips on how to create our own. 

A conservatory (or greenhouse) is a room having glass or tarpaulin roofing and walls used as a greenhouse or a sunroom. If in a residence, it would typically be attached to the house on only one side.  (Wikipedia)

1- What made you want to update your conservatory?
It all started when I found a plaster relief frieze at the Kip’s Bay Showhouse boutique. It was in a half round shape which would fit nicely on one wall of the conservatory.  Plus, the subject was children playing musical instruments just as mine do–so how could I resist? To make it work, I needed to change the wall color. Then, of course, came the pillows, art, accessories and accents like a new coffee table and a rug. And there you go, a complete update! Then again, I never need much of an excuse to change my decor. It’s a professional hazard.

2- What was the concept behind the update?
Initially, I thought I was going to create a very quiet, serene space done in cool tones of gray and white. I was trying to emulate the meditative mood you might feel when meandering through the Metropolitan Museum’s statue room. I even brought in a wall fountain for the sound effects! After painting the entire room, I had to come to grips with the fact that I really don’t like gray. My desire for a “theme” had overwhelmed my knowledge of what I know I like to live with – color! Although I design many lovely gray and neutral rooms for clients that I am pleased with, when you are designing for yourself you must let trends go and do what you are happy living with. It is the same advice I parlay to clients.

3- What inspired your conservatory concept?
After I got over the museum idea, I went right back to what I love: bright colors, flowers, layers, a mix of old and new and unique accessories. The new concept was bright and happy!

4- Where is the best place to start when redoing a conservatory?
No matter what the room, I always start with a floor plan. You need to picture the entire space. You don’t know how many fabrics you may need or how much of the wall color will show, etc. until you have that nailed down. Then, I move on to color. I must have tried 20 colors and lived with them before I committed to the bold chartreuse that I love. It took a lot of confidence to go with that color, but I doubled down and even trimmed the zebra patterned cow hide in a green felt! The white upholstery and urns balance the strong walls. The white upholstery is not only resistant to fading, but also allows me to change the pillows with the seasons.

-Try lots of different colors on the walls before you decide. We often think that a light filled room must be done in light colors. Not true! Look at pictures of English conservatories, which are often done in deep black/greens. These colors make the walls disappear against the green garden outside. I have no “go to” colors because every color looks different depending on the light in the room.

-A conservatory is an ideal spot to try out some unique pieces that might ordinarily feel contrived. Think pedestals, busts, architectural remnants, sculptures, statues, garden paraphernalia, and other whimsical elements.

-Temperature control is a real issue. Freezing in the winter or cooked like a bug under a magnifying glass in the summer, I only linger in my conservatory in the spring and fall. In the summer, it’s a lush hothouse and in the winter it houses my Christmas tree.

-To get more use out of the room, proper light and heat controlling blinds are a must. Fabrics should be indoor/outdoor for color fastness. There are so many great ones on the market that you can now use patterns, not just solids or stripes.

-Consider what the room will look like in the winter. It can be a little grim. I pulled prints from John Derian’s gorgeous picture book and put them in glass clip frames and hung them on the windows, so that it’s always cheerful in the room. It really drives the garden theme home!

Since founding her firm 20 years ago, Carey Karlan has been creating timeless interiors throughout Fairfield and Westchester Counties extending to Manhattan, San Francisco, Florida, the Cape, Nantucket and the Hamptons.

For more information about Carey and to see more of her work, visit