When spring finally arrives after a long, dreary winter, many people yearn to be outdoors, but find it’s still too chilly to sit comfortably on the deck or patio. Enter the sunroom, which offers the best of both worlds.
Otherwise known as a solarium, this is an area of the house that really screams springtime. These rooms typically have large windows that allow plenty of natural light to flood in, but unlike a screened-in porch, they are protected from the elements. They provide the perfect perch for enjoying nature from the comfort of the home.
Many of my clients, however, struggle with decisions over how to decorate the solarium. Torn between outdoor decor and indoor refinement, they end up landing with a mishmash of design elements — and that’s usually when they call me in to help rescue the room.
Having done a number of these projects over the years, I wanted to share a few tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up along the way. These are things I will often discuss with the client before we embark on the project, to make sure we end up with a cohesive look that maximizes the use of their sunroom.
- Consider use. Before you think about anything else, consider how you plan to use the room. Is this a place where you will have your morning coffee or tea? Will it be where you cozy up in the afternoon to read? Is it a gathering spot for your family after dinner (now that we can all enjoy a couple hours of light after mealtime!). Maybe it will be all of the above. It doesn’t matter as much how you enjoy it, just that you think about that use ahead of time and we plan your design around it. For example, if this is your place for coffee or tea, you’ll want comfortable spots to lounge but also resting places for your cup or saucer. So we might incorporate a settee with a side table for when you are there alone, as well as a bistro table for use when you have company.
- Maximize its strengths. A sunroom has so many wonderful, inherent qualities. The key to designing a great one is finding ways to capitalize on those strengths. If you are building a solarium as an addition onto your home, think not only about where it will get the most use, but also where it can provide you with the best view. Take a walk outside of your home and pick your favorite spot. Make sure the sunroom gives you a window into that space. Work with a builder who can maximize the amount of natural light that pours in. Consider multiple entry points — for example, having access from the kitchen AND the study, while also having french doors that lead to an outdoor patio. The same concepts apply if you are remodeling or decorating an existing space. I always warn clients not to clutter up the sunroom with too many plants or odds and ends. Smart looking solariums keep the focus on the outdoors!
- Work with connecting rooms. If you were decorating a screened in porch, you'd have a little more leeway to depart from your home’s design style — many people tend to go more casual by default. But a sunroom is different. Remember — it is still part of your indoor space, even though it offers a gorgeous outdoor feel. There’s nothing that says you can’t go more casual, but you’ll want to pay close attention to connecting rooms and make sure the styles are in sync. Say, for instance, that your sunroom is set off from a more formal living room. Wicker furniture and a concrete table would simply look out of place. But that might be a fine look for a solarium that extends from the kitchen and leads out onto a patio. Check out this slideshow for a taste of the wide variety of styles possible. Just note, this is an area where it can help to have an experienced interior designer crafting your vision. You want a room that will stand out, without seeming out of place, and that requires a certain level of expertise.
- Think about mechanics.
While this is an indoor space protected from most elements, it’s important to give consideration to the one piece of nature that will be flooding in aplenty: the sun! I tell clients to choose fabrics that are more durable and fade resistant. It’s also good to pick versatile window treatments that allow for optimal views but can be closed for privacy — think shutters, shears, or blinds on rollers, etc. With an abundance of sunshine, there are other mechanics to consider as well. For instance, when picking windows, energy efficiency is key. You want windows that can trap the heat from the sun in the winter, but block it in the summer. Here’s an article that explains that concept and others quite well.
- Opt for comfort and creativity. At the end of the day, I want this room to be where my clients can relax or play. For that reason, comfort is paramount. I usually recommend clients use an area rug to anchor the space (jute or sisal can be a nice touch, depending upon the home’s decor) and pick furniture with an eye on coziness. Load up on throw pillows and maybe have a basket or two filled with decorative blankets.
This also might be a place where we add a touch of whimsy. Maybe it’s with a cool retro table or antique chest, or one of those indoor swing chairs that are so popular right now. I typically advise clients to pick one accent or furniture piece that is a little more “out there” and then we design around it. Just one, though. Good design work is all about restraint.
Hopefully, this has piqued your interest in the utility and versatility of the solarium, which often becomes a favorite room in the house. As you can see, the design options are limitless. I'd encourage you to do a little searching online and then contact me when you are ready to spring into your sunroom project. I'd love to help you figure out what can work in your space!