The Country House Revived?

Not so long ago we were sent a wonderful piece of country house research undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at Manynooth University.

The study explores the survival and revival of the country house and historic houses in Ireland and the UK over the past 50 years, and it looks into some of the houses that have survived and prospered under their owners for future generations to enjoy.

It is so important that these portals into our past are cared for and put on the pedestal they deserve.  While the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it is the parts that must be revered.  The skills on display in these buildings by the artisan plasterers, joiners, gilders and stone masons are just wonderful, and we are so privileged as a company to be given the opportunity to display our craftsmanship alongside theirs for future generations to enjoy.

Extraordinary plasterwork restored by master plasterer Kevin Holbrook and Quinlan Francis Terry.

 

As ever, the best craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap, but its good value is unsurpassed.  Every great country house built in the 18th and 19th century was done so by someone who had accrued enough wealth to invest in the best possible quality joiners, carvers, stone masons, plasterers and architects.  They didn’t invest in buildings that would last just their own lives; they invested in buildings that would last centuries and it is our duty to look after them for the next generations to enjoy.

To do so, and to keep on creating heritage for our future generations requires dedication and a vision.  Our vision at Artichoke is that in 100 years, English design and craftsmanship continues to flourish, and we are doing several things to try and achieve it.  While it is a great delight to see so many country houses brought back from the brink, it will only be possible if we keep the craftsmanship skills needed thriving.  We explore in another piece some of the crafts education available in this field.

Presentations on both pieces of research are below:

Irish Country Houses

 

 

 

UK Country Houses

English Joinery – the lost art explored in Country Life

Shining a light on the lost art of English joinery in a recent article in Country Life magazine, Interiors Editor, Giles Kime invites our founder, Bruce Hodgson, to explain how door casements, shutters, panelling, skirtings, architraves, cornicing and dados can transform a space.

 

If you’ve been inspired to know more about the transformative impact of authentic joinery led interiors, please do get in touch and tell us about your project or read more about our services. To view the article in Country Life Magazine Interiors section, click here

Training the Next Generation of Designers and Makers

Artichoke’s interest in training young people in the joinery craft skills required to add value to a building’s architectural heritage is partly fuelled by the reduction in government funded education in this area.

On a macro level, the number of UK students studying at key stage 4 is in long term decline, and it has been for a generation.  In the first 20 years of this century, the number of Design and Technology GCSEs taken by 16 year old students dropped by two thirds, from 420,000 pupils to 150,000.  On a micro level, the secondary school local to our design studios and workshops in Cheddar has closed its teaching workshop.  Clearly this is not sustainable and it will seriously affect our collected abilities as a country to design and make the high quality joinery our heritage buildings deserve.

We have previously written at some length about the Artichoke School of Furniture, a series of free introductory classes aimed at whetting the appetite of eager and curious 16-17 year olds.  Sadly Covid-19 put a stop to the 2020 course, but it will continue in 2021.  Now, appetites whetted, some past students of our course are looking into the next steps of their craft based career path. This article is partly for them and partly for anyone else interested.

 

The Building Crafts College
The Building Crafts College was founded 125 years ago by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters.  Artichoke’s founder and creative director Bruce Hodgson is a governor of the college which aims to train young people in a wide range of construction crafts, such as joinery, stone masonry, conservation and construction.  The college’s main focus is to give students the skills needed to produce work of a high standard and help them into suitable employment from there on in.

Bench joinery courses at The Building Crafts College.

 

Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust
Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust financially supports students through their craft based education.  Sometimes they might fund a course (fully or partly) by way of a scholarship; other times they might provide funding towards an apprenticeship.  QEST’s remit covers a huge variety of craft skills from from furniture making to cob building and decorative plaster work.  The choice is endless.

QUEST fund students in courses or apprenticeships in craft skills such as decorative plaster work.

 

The Creative Dimension Trust 
The Creative Dimension Trust (TCDT) offers fully funded workshops and work experience placements to young people who show potential in forging a career pathway where precise hand-eye co-ordination, and the ability to understand and construct 3-dimensional shapes are prerequisite. They offer a wide range of funded workshops from gilding to sign writing on skateboards and architectural model making.  Workshops take place on location, often at a companies workshops over a 2 or three day period and they are an excellent introduction to a particular craft based industry.

This workshop gave students an opportunity to gain a working knowledge of the ancient craft of gilding.

 

The Furniture Makers Company
The Furniture Makers Company is a city of London Livery company and charity aimed specifically at supporting the Furniture Industry.  They provide scholarships and bursaries to students at colleges and universities that teach furnishing related courses.   They also offer seminars and facilitate tours of workshops and industry experience.

The Furniture Makers helps fund students through their apprenticeships.

 

Williams & Cleal
There are a number of private furniture courses across the British Isles, but Williams & Cleal is local to us and a number of our staff have left there to join us.  Some may shy away from the word ‘private’ but before you do, consider that British universities cost £9,000 per term and that’s before you’ve paid the rent and purchased your first cider.  In the long run, a 40 week course at Williams & Cleal is likely to be more cost effective than 3 years at University, and the skills they teach in cabinet making are outstanding.

Students at Williams & Cleal learn high level furniture making skills quickly on their 40 week course.

 

We will add to this list every now and then, but it would be well worth a conversation with each of the above organisations to get a feel for the options available to you.  Do call Andrew at Artichoke on 01934 745270 if you would like to discuss this further.

25 Royal Crescent Bath for Sale

As rows of terraced houses go, The Royal Crescent in Bath sits at the pinnacle.  Sited as one of Britain’s greatest ever examples of Georgian architecture, it was designed by John Wood the younger and took seven years to build, starting in 1764.  Now one of its houses is for sale.

 

To purchase one of the 30 available houses, the original buyers were each asked to buy a length of the facade.  They then had to employ their own architect to build the house behind, so what can appear to be ordered uniformity and symmetry at the front is actually a bit of a mess behind (or ‘business at the front: party at the back’ as it was once described to me by one of the owners).  This avant-garde approach to architecture occurs repeatedly across Bath.

During the 1900s many of the houses which had once been the residences of single families with maids and other staff were divided into offices and flats.  Of the 30 original houses only 10 remain as single dwellings, so when one comes on the market it is a rare occurrence.  Number 25 The Royal Crescent is now for sale through Savills with a guide price of £6.5 million.

The Grade I listed architecture of the facade of The Royal Cresent has 114 Ionic columns which rest on a rusticated ground floor.  It was the first crescent of houses to be built in the UK and with views over parkland was also a fine example of ‘rus in urbe’ architecture, meaning ‘the country in the city’.

However, with all formality comes the desire for rebellion.  In 1971, the resident of No 22 The Royal Crescent, Miss Amabel Wellesley-Colley, took it upon herself to paint the front door of her house canary yellow (the others are all white).  In her defence, she said she was upholding tradition because canary yellow was her great grandfather, The Duke of Wellington’s favourite colour.  As you can imagine, there was uproar, and the chattering classes of Bath went apoplectic with confected outrage.  Other owners of houses on The Royal Crescent fell back on a 1968 law for listed buildings which stated that property owners could not alter the appearance of the Royal Crescent without permission.  However, they underestimated Miss Amabel, who after spending thousands of pounds and battling it out in a 6 hour long public enquiry was found in favour by the Department for the Environment.

The door remains yellow to this day.

yellow door the royal cresent bath
A very English act of architectural rebellion.

 

25 The Royal Crescent Bath is for Sale through Savills.

 


As ever, do call us if you’d like to discuss a joinery design project further on +44 (0)1934 745270.  For more information on the range of project management services we offer, from design, installation and finish, please click here.

 

Little Thakeham for Sale

Little Thakeham, the house which Edwin Lutyens described as the ‘best of the bunch’ is for sale through Knight Frank, with a guide price of £5.5 million.

A large edwardian house in Sussex
Little Thakeham for Sale, West Sussex

 

It is no secret that at Artichoke we’re a big fan of Lutyens.  We have been fortunate to have been asked to work on several of his houses including Folly Farm.  As a designer and maker of architectural joinery, to be asked to add additional layers to his original works is one of the very greatest of privileges.   A previous blog post on the architectural joinery of Lutyens can be found here.

One of the great joys of Little Thakeham is in how Lutyens combined the Tudor style with Grand Edwardian Arts and Crafts country manor style.  We call it contemporary medieval, and it’s a very hard trick to pull off.  Lutyens managed to pull it off several times in fact (he was showing off) with Castle Drogo and Lindisfarne Castle being notable examples.

drawing room with large oriel window
The Drawing Room at Little Thakeham

 

The architectural design journey of Little Thakeham is not without controversy.  The client, Tom Blackburn, had made his fortune in America importing drink.  Returning with his fortune (and no doubt some drink), he commissioned the architect J Hatchard Smith to design a house which he then fell out of love with halfway through the build.  Sir Edwin Lutyens was called in for his opinion (which he gave with gusto) suggesting the half built house was pulled down and replaced with one built from local Pulborough stone.  Hatchard Smith was laid off (and paid off) and Lutyens got the job.

Quite brilliantly, Lutyens managed to sketch the entire house’s layout onto two sheets of paper on the train journey home following his first client meeting with Tom Blackburn.  He handed them to his architectural technician on his return who then drew them up.

And the Little Thakeham for sale today is the very same one sketched out on his train journey home.

 


As ever, do call us if you’d like to discuss a joinery design project further on +44 (0)1934 745270. For more information on the range of project management services we offer, from design, installation and finish, please click here.

 

 

 

 

Finding the Why Behind Artichoke

When we’re all asked what we do, the answer usually trips off our tongue.  But when asked why we do what we do, we’re often lost for words.

Discovering why a company does what it does is usually hard.  In Artichoke’s case it has taken several years to find our ‘why’.  In retrospect it had always manifested itself subconsciously in our daily behaviours, but we’d never attempted to proactively find it or explain it.  It took six months of corporate therapy, a company-wide meeting, three arguments and several packs of Post It notes to look deep within Artichoke’s soul.

A board with post it notes on
The process of finding our why

 

More marketing literate companies are often founded on their ‘why’.  Starbucks sells coffee. This is ‘what’ it does.  However, the reason it was really founded was to offer a ‘third space’ between work and home. The provision of a welcoming and comfortable high street location for people to meet or email from is why it does what it does, and that’s what’s made it a success.  The coffee and cake is simply a by-product.

Other companies are founded to solve a problem, only to stumble on their ‘why’ later on in life.  In 1901, William S Harley designed a compact motor designed to power a push bike, and if you ask the Marketing Director at Harley Davidson today ‘what’ they do, he’ll tell you they design and sell motorbikes.  If you ask him ‘why’ Harley does it however, he’ll tell you they exist to give middle aged accountants the power to ride through small towns scaring people.  This is what makes their company different.  If you’re a middle aged biker, and you want to revive some of the lost front you once had in your youth, there is really only one motorbike for you.

man on a harley davidson riding through London
During the week he works for Ernst & Young

 

In much the same way, Artichoke designs and makes kitchens and fitted furniture.  This is ‘what’ we do.  While there are lots of companies describing themselves as doing this very same thing, none of them do it for the reasons we do.

To help crystalise our ‘why’, we first decided to create a brand manifesto, a living document distilling our company’s beliefs.

Artichoke’s Brand Manifesto

We are craftspeople.
We will only work with other companies and clients who share our values.
We are unrelenting in the pursuit of quality.
We regard working in our client’s houses as a privilege.
We will always act with honesty and integrity.
We believe what we design enhances people’s lives.
We have a responsibility to ‘get it right’ for our clients.
We are always learning.
We are obsessed with detail.
We refuse to take short cuts.
We will always nurture traditional skills and embrace innovation.
Our ambition is to be a centre of excellence of design and craftsmanship.
We are guardians of our craft.
We will pass this expertise to future generations.
Our work is an expression of who we are.
We believe true quality cannot be achieved without love.
We love what we do.

Distilling our beliefs in this way was incredibly helpful, triggering one of the teams observations that our beliefs were closely aligned with those of John Ruskin, the Victorian philanthropist and supporter of the arts:

“When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, ‘See! This our fathers did for us.”

At Artichoke, we have the innate desire to ensure our work is not temporary, but instead forms an intrinsic part of a building’s architectural heritage for centuries to come.  This belief runs through our company like words through a stick of rock, and it affects the way everyone in the company behaves, the materials we specify, the joints we deploy, the designs we create and the care we take.

So, why does Artichoke exist?  The reason we are here is to create Britain’s future heritage.

A logo for artichoke designers and makers of britain's future heritage

 

Artichoke in Country Life Top 100

As the Country Life top 100 2020 is announced, we are delighted to once again be included for the third consecutive year.  This represents the ultimate recognition of our expertise in working on fine English houses and an acknowledgement of our mission to create Britain’s future heritage.⁠

We are so delighted to be recognized once again for the quality of our work – achieving a fine balance between meeting the needs and tastes of owners and fulfilling the potential of a house without harming its architectural integrity. Over nearly 30 years, we’ve worked in houses of every architectural period and have built a detailed understanding of each. Artichoke interiors, which are joinery-led, fulfill the unique promise of architectural joinery, which is not just to embellish rooms, but to give them their status and their role in the life of a household.  Architectural joinery achieves something no other trade can in creating liveable, elegant and architecturally authentic houses. This puts us in a unique position, filling the gap between architects and interior designers, creating the interior structure that makes sense of a house – and providing designers with the canvas they need.

Artichoke looks backwards to take our clients’ houses forward, recoupling exceptional artisan skills to design expertise. We are makers and creatives working as one to achieve the remarkable for our clients and their houses.

We have been lucky to work very closely with Country Life magazine in recent years and to be part of this list, standing  shoulder to shoulder with some of the most incredible companies of designers and artisans in the country makes us very proud

The full Country Life Top 100 2020 list can be reviewed here

Country Life magazine title front cover 4 March 2020

To see some of the stunning work we have completed please click here.

We’d love to hear more if you have a project in mind.   Whether its a single room – maybe a kitchen or a dressing room, or a whole house project, please do get in touch – speak with a member of our team on +44(0)1934 745 270 or email us at newprojects@artichoke.co.uk . 

 

Symm Administration – a Blow to Traditional Craftsmanship?

The recent news that renowned construction business Symm & Company has fallen into administration after over 200 years in business is a stark reminder that traditional skills need protecting and nurturing.

Both Symm, Artichoke and many others have been committed to employing and training generations of craftsmen and women, and investing in these skills further through formal apprenticeship schemes. While smaller, independent construction companies have often struggled to afford to run valuable apprenticeships, larger traditional builders like Symm took on this responsibility with great enthusiasm.  The onus is now more on companies like ours to train the period joinery specialists of the future and to keep driving this investment to ensure the traditional joinery industry stays healthy and thrives.

As part of this commitment, we are delighted our free School of Furniture’s second year is about to begin.

The principle aim of our school is simple – to inspire young people who, through their experience of a narrowing and academically focused curriculum, may not have had the opportunity to explore their creative and practical potential.  Our ambition is to highlight to these youngsters that there are a wide range of artisan skills and crafts which are highly valued and appreciated and from which a successful career can be carved.  Kai Holmes who teaches Design Technology at the Kings of Wessex Academy is keen to show the students that, only a short walk from the school gate,  is a thriving community of Britain’s best craftsmen and women who are making a living doing something they love and feel passionate about.

Symm administration calls for better training
Artichoke maker Wilma teaching student, Peter

 

Artichoke Founder Bruce Hodgson said: We are set to launch the second year of the Artichoke School of Furniture this year, with the aim of inspiring young people to consider a career as an artisan.  We also run an apprenticeship scheme, for which we recruit on the basis of attitude rather than skill. This investment means we are able to continue to strive to achieve our company vision, which is that in 100 years, English design and craftsmanship continues to flourish.”

He continued: “The Symm administration is a great sadness, not just because many fine craftsmen and women have lost their jobs, but because a company that was a well-regarded supporter of heritage craftsmanship no longer exists to sponsor some of the next generation of joiners, carpenters, cabinet makers, stonemasons, decorators and plastering specialists.”

Our resolve to support these specialist skills is further strengthened by the knowledge there is client demand for exquisite period joinery and the supporting finishing trades typically found in large town and country houses.  Artichoke hopes to continue inspiring the artisan workforce so that the industry may stay prosperous, and Britain’s future heritage is protected.  We encourage our fellow specialists to do the same.

 

Case Study for Warehouse Industrial Style Vintage Kitchen

The case study below shows off some of the design and cabinet making processes involved in the creation of this warehouse industrial style vintage kitchen, designed by us for a client in London in collaboration with their interior design team, Studio Indigo.

Warehouse Industrial Style Vintage Kitchen Designed for Family Home in Wimbledon

Some professional images taken of the completed work are below.

industrial style kitchen

vintage style family kitchen in a georgian house

Further information regarding this completed kitchen space can be found here.

 


If you would like to discuss a kitchen or joinery design project with Artichoke, please email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call 01934 745270

Resurgence of the Cook’s Table

The cook’s table was a classic element of a Victorian Kitchen and in recent years we have seen a revival of its popularity in the modern home.

One characteristic of country house style is simple but solid furniture – stand alone pieces that are incorporated for storage and display or food preparation.

Traditionally, country house kitchens were furnished by local craftsmen who designed and made purposeful pieces of furniture which were handed down from generation to generation. As a result, it is common to find a mix of period styles among the furniture of a country kitchen.  Similar in their practicality and durability, but with subtle variations according to the period and the budget, such pieces complement each other well.

In the ‘back of house’ of grand country houses, the cook’s table was a central piece of the working kitchen. It was used for food preparation but also sometimes as a dining table for the servants.

 

view of the Victorian Kitchen, showing cooks table and stove
The beautiful Victorian kitchen at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton

 

Historically, the cook’s table was made out of pine, oak, elm and a variety of fruit woods, oiled or polished to bring out the natural graining and features of the wood. Others were colour washed, or painted using primitive paints made from locally available materials such as buttermilk and eggs mixed with earth coloured pigments. Interestingly, in the Victorian era, a number of deaths occurred as the result of a popular shade of green paint and wallpaper. Scheele’s Green, which was made using copper arsenite, fatally poisoned a number of people until the connection was later realised. Nowadays, this green pigment is produced without dangerous toxicity.

 

A kitchen and cook’s table, designed and made by Artichoke. Read more about the inspiration behind this design here.

 

With sustainability in mind, at Artichoke we always focus on the practicality and purpose of design. It is true that while the island has become a popular feature of  contemporary kitchen design, it can be obtrusive and can dominate a space.  A cook’s table offers an elegant and less obtrusive alternative – just as practical but bringing a romantic aesthetic with its history and rusticity. It’s a testament to the beauty of simplicity, affording elegance alongside functionally.

Artichoke’s wealth of experience and knowledge of period architectural detail and cabinet making affords us the specialist skills to deliberately design and make a variety of styles in a single suite of domestic rooms to give the impression that the rooms have evolved through various owners over time.  Such specific requirements are a perfect demonstration of the truly bespoke nature of our work.

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