William Chambers was employed by Kew founder Princess Augusta as an architect for the Gardens and a tutor to her son (the future King George III). He completed the Orangery in 1761. Built of brick and coated in durable stucco, it is the largest classical style building in the Gardens.
As its name suggests, the Orangery was designed as a hothouse to grow citrus plants but the low levels of light made it unsuitable for this purpose. In 1841, Kew's Director, Sir William Hooker, shifted the building’s ailing orange trees to Kensington Palace and installed large glazed doors at either end of the Orangery to improve its effectiveness. Thereafter he used the building to house plants too big for other glasshouses.
In 1862-3, these plants moved into the newly opened Temperate House. The Orangery was converted for use as a timber museum, to exhibit wood from Britain’s colonies. Donations were plentiful; in 1878 more than a thousand specimens of wood arrived from the Indian Forest Department alone. Collections of timbers and furniture from the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace also went on display in the museum.
After a period of time as an orientation centre, during which various displays and exhibitions were mounted, the Orangery was converted to a tea room in 1989. It was adapted again in 2002 to its present use as a restaurant.
The building is now an airy and elegant eaterie capable of seating 180 visitors at any one time for lunches and afternoon teas. Outside of normal opening hours it is used to host corporate or special-occasion dinners.
Conservation and restoration
The Orangery was extensively repaired in 1833. Fifty years later, two cast iron galleries were added, accessed by spiral staircases. These were removed in 1959 when the building was restored to its original form.
The coat of arms above the central bay of the façade is that of Princess Augusta, founder of the Garden. This detail was added in the 1840s, along with the royal coat of arms.
The exterior was restored and redecorated again in the 1990s.