ITV News West Country visited the Artichoke School of Furniture last week to report on the initiative. They interviewed course tutor Wilma Wyatt, Thao Kemp from Kings of Wessex Academy, Artichoke Director Andrew Petherick and several students.
Our vision at Artichoke is that English design and craftsmanship is still flourishing in 100 years, and that the industry is still able to create interiors admired by future generations. If you are a maker and you would like advice on how you can set up your own school, please get in contact by emailing email@example.com. We’d love to assist.
We were invited to attend a talk with Giles Kime of Country Life, architect Ben Pentreath and Ben Johnson of interior design firm Albion Nord. The talk, entitled ‘Why Craft Makes You Happy‘, concluded that we are entering a new Arts and Crafts period. This is born out by evidence too. According to the Crafts Council there has been a threefold uplift in the total value of craft sales between 2006 to 2020. Here we’ll explore the background.
The Arts and Crafts movement
The current Arts and Crafts resurgence was triggered in a very similar way to the original movement which started in the UK around 1880. It followed a period of industrialisation which changed the way people lived and worked. It quickly spread across Europe. The Arts and Crafts movement poured scorn on the mechanisation and materials of industry and celebrated the benefits of craft and traditional skills. The glue that held it together was idealism, and it established a new set of principles for living and working.
Fast forward 140 years to today, and society is in a similar place. Following twenty years of extraordinary technological change, society is yearning to get back to working with its hands.
The tail wagging the dog
For Victorian industrial mass manufacturing methods to work, limits were placed on design to maximise manufacturing efficiencies. For example, the design of cast iron bridges was controlled by the way the parts could be manufactured. Similarly, modern automated manufacturing methods steer high street design today. Modern furniture often looks repetitive, featureless and bland because its design is restricted by the manufacturing process. In short, the manufacturing tail has been wagging the design dog.
Craftsmen are once again up in arms – their mission, like their forbears, to produce wonderful furniture rooted in craftsmanship and narrative.
The limitations of mass production
For decades, interiors magazines have been groaning with mass produced ranges of pre-designed kitchen furniture. These products are formulaic so rooms can be laid out rapidly. The furniture is designed to be mass produced, allowing manufacturers and kitchen retailers to generate significant margins through economies of scale. In turn, the furniture is heavily marketed from the profits generated by manufacturing at volume. Like the Victorian industrial manufacturer, their motivation is profit. Mass production honours profit above quality. It is an approach designed to generate cash before heritage. We have written about this before.
The joy of bespoke
We have never subscribed to the mass production approach. Our company vision is that great design and craftsmanship will be thriving in 100 years. To create Britain’s future heritage, we have to design and make furniture which will last. This cannot be achieved with fully automated processes which constrain design. Each room we design is bespoke. The materials we choose for each project and the design of every element are intensively scrutinized. This is why Artichoke only designs around 20 kitchens a year. You cannot mass design or mass produce one offs.
Time is money
An article in the Spectator a few years ago backs this up. The piece focuses on the work of George Saumarez Smith, a partner at classical architects ADAM Architecture. While classicism never went away, it did become unfashionable for a period. That’s the great thing about classicism. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and eventually it comes back in favour once we all realise how ghastly the alternatives are.
To achieve the quality that authentic classical design demands you have to design and make it properly in the first place; with passion, by hand, and with meticulous care. And herein lies the problem. To create the level of detail needed to pull off a fine classical or traditional interior requires time. And lots of it. And time doesn’t come cheap. This doesn’t sit well with shareholders looking to make a fast buck. So they turn to automation. And automation doesn’t like detail.
We are inspired by beautiful details and intricate techniques from great periods of classical English architecture. While we embrace technologies which make us more efficient, we retain a wide range of traditional hand skills because many methods have yet to be improved by technology. When it comes to the integrity of our furniture, we do not believe in taking shortcuts. Ever.
Throughout our 30 years of designing and making rooms that sit comfortably alongside period architecture, we’ve seen numerous examples of well-made cabinetry let down by their maker’s failure to get the finishing right.
Making and period finishing (or polishing) are completely different disciplines, and in the UK (and more accutely in the US), the art of period finishing has slowly become victim to mechanisation and modern pressure spraying methods. This is understandable. As accountants push companies to build in efficiencies to boost profit, something’s got to give. That something is often hand finishing.
While our accounts team form a vital role within Artichoke, we do not let them dictate the methodology of our craft (much in the same way that our French polishers are not given responsibility for managing our work in progress valuation). While the wider world of fitted joinery has marched enthusiastically into the modern era towards profitable glossy spray applied finishes, we’ve chosen a different route, instead bringing period finishes up to date without compromising their original integrity and character.
While period finishes are more complex to apply than their modern replacements delivered from a spray gun, they do offer more versatility. Being hand applied they allow for human touch to infiltrate the finished result. They require mixing by hand, they require an experienced human eye to achieve the right colour balance, they require craftsmen and women to make aesthetic decisions.
Up until now, the difficulty with many hand applied finishes has been that they have not been robust enough to withstand the rigours of modern family life. At Artichoke we have spent many years perfecting how to develop period finishes which look authentic but perform well for modern families in modern environments.
The ability for a skilled craftsman or woman to make their own judement on the outcome of a piece goes to the very heart of craft. If you take this away from them, you are stripping out the soul of a piece. And we don’t do soul-less.
To see some of the stunning work we have completed please click here.
Hardwood joinery grows in beauty over time. When designing and making new fitted furniture, Artichoke uses period wood finishes to replicate the depth and character of antiques.
Artichoke are experts in joinery led interiors. Our team of period wood finishers have the skill to apply texture and patina to wooden detail allowing it to seamlessly blend into a period setting. Similarly, in newly built houses our joinery has a transformative effect – wooden elements, artfully finished, settle a new house and provide instant depth and character. Take a glimpse of a recent new build project that demonstrates our skill at period wood finishes here. This is the alchemy of Artichoke.
So, how do we achieve our period wood finishes?
Over decades of experience, we have built up finishing techniques that are second to none. Authentic finishes do not come out of a bottle. To recreate the feel of antique wood requires a certain alchemy. Staining wood is like creating a painting. It has taken Artichoke many years of trial and error to formulate authentic period finishing techniques. This is how we make furniture look 300 years old but which is hardy enough for life in a modern day setting.
What is the point of a wood finish?
The purpose of a finish is to seal the timber to give it luster, depth and warmth. It is driven by practical needs – unfinished wood is porous to the touch so stains and marks easily. The application of a finish makes it resilient, the appropriate finish determined by how the joinery will be used and its context.
What’s wrong with mass market wooden finishes?
Nowadays, mass market production involves automated spray machines with nozzles that apply a bland and even coat around wood. Spray painting wood in this way creates a nasty thin layer more like a wrap than a finish, with no character or depth. It is quick and cheap but there is no sensitivity or artistry – it’s like a white wash. At Artichoke, our finishes are entirely different. We impregnate wood rather than lay the finish on top. It seeps into the wood, nourishing it, keeping it supple and giving it colour, luster and character.
Antique furniture ages over time. Its patina evolves through the years with human touch, exposure to sunlight and different temperatures and conditions. To replicate the effect this passage of time has on wood, we have to accelerate the aging process. How? We imagine what might have happened to the furniture if it really had been in situ for decades – in terms of its colour, texture, dirt and exposure to light.
Artichoke’s depth of knowledge.
The older the piece of furniture, the greater the impact the environment has had on it. This adds to its unique charm. New cabinetry can feel out of place in a period building. New cabinetry in a recently built house can lack atmosphere and a sense of belonging. So the real trick is to create an antique feel without it looking pastiche. Our expert finishers know how wood changes over time. Our master finisher has a background in furniture restoration – developing expert skills in repairing old pieces using newer pieces of wood and making them match and look good. This appreciation of how a piece of furniture ages only comes through many years of handling. It is an art requiring hours of work and many years of collective skill and experience.
Period wood finishes and colour.
The appearance of wood is effected by it’s exposure to light and temperature and how it’s been handled and cared for. Different timbers react differently over time – for example when darker timber is exposed to natural light it lightens, while when lighter timber is exposed, it becomes darker. You can’t simply colour wood to replicate the effects of sun bleach. You can’t do it by applying lighter stains. Instead, for an authentic finish, we use a variety of chemicals to wash out natural colours in the timbers and to add colour back in. We then layer finishes over the top – adding polish to replicate what happens over time.
Where furniture gets handled, oil and skin have an impact on the wood’s appearance. We replicate the aging process by wiping on and wiping off layers of polish and rottenstone pigment mixed in with chalk dust. This requires time and skill and an acute sense of colour – an understanding of how natural materials behave over time and being sensitive to the character of the materials. This is where the artistry comes in – being able to add back decades of fine layers of dust and dirt accumulated in mouldings.
Period wood finishes and wear and tear.
Selecting figure in timber and its stability in relation to its eventual use is vital. Furniture gets knocks and bangs – we recreate this by various means including bashing the furniture with cotton bags full of nuts and bolts, or using a steel bar to roll down the corner of the furniture. This emulates the wear and tear a piece of furniture will get in its lifetime.
A time and place for spray finishes.
There are situations that benefit from a modern approach. For example, unless specified otherwise by our client, we spray paint the interior carcasses of kitchen cupboards and cabinets. We finish these interiors in a more contemporary way to give durability. The finish will be harder wearing, better suited to the wear and tear typical in kitchens or back of house.
Time is our favourite tool.
To make furniture that feels settled in its environment requires a building of layers which takes many hours to build up. We’ve outlined how these processes can’t be replicated by machines. Rather, a huge input of labour is required. Hand finishing is therefore an expensive luxury and plays a key part in the creation of our furniture.
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.
Building a country house is a dream for many, and those with the opportunity will naturally approach it with great enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes cloud judgement. When you are eager to get going, it is easy to rush ahead and glaze over more menial but important decisions and plans. In most cases, we learn from these mistakes through experience. However, when building a country house, mistakes can be expensive and in the worst case scenario, irreversible. You want to get it right first time.
The First Step to Building a Country House? Ask Someone with Experience.
Building consultant, Tim Moulding, now offers Country House Building Consultancy, a sensible first step for anyone with more enthusiasm than experience in the creation of their country home.
One of Tim’s continual frustrations is the inheritance of poor process. As a builder, it is rare for him to be given the opportunity to influence the design or method of a country house project from its inception. Too often, a builder is expected to deliver a project as it is handed to them, which is typically after a project has confirmed planning and therefore cannot be altered. Like Tim, we think these scenarios are missed opportunities. A great deal of frustration, delay and rising costs can be avoided if specialists are consulted before the detail is locked down.
Tim has more experience than most in the successful delivery of country house projects. As well as being a consultant, he is also the eighth-generation owner and Managing Director of the leading traditional building company, R. Moulding & Co (affectionately known as Mouldings). For the past 30 years he has led his team in the delivery of over 70 residential building projects ranging from £500k to £15m in value. This experience has given Tim an intimate understanding of the building process specific to residential country houses.
Like Artichoke, Tim has realised that there is a gap in the market for a service that provides advice to anyone purchasing, or who owns a country home, at the onset of a major building project. Tim is now offering his expertise, independently of his building firm, providing sound guidance towards the delivery of a successful building project before it’s too late. At Artichoke, we see the affects of lack of consultancy first hand; often clients have misplaced the joinery design of their country home. It is then a big task to pick up the pieces and the client ends up to paying twice for a design (as this previous artichoke blog explores further).
Question the Key Elements of the Building Process
In the context of country house restoration or new builds, Tim believes the process can be positively influenced by a number of factors. Examining a project from the outset can hugely improve the efficiency and cost of designing and building a country house, ultimately improving the owner’s enjoyment of the process.
His consultancy is wide-ranging and explores everything from evaluating the experience of designers, to accessing the approach a construction team should take. When the answers aren’t binary, making decisions with the input of expertise can massively improve the efficiency and success of a building project. Tim’s considerable experience in this field may be the ideal remedy to any doubts you may have.
For more information on Country House Building Consultants, visit Tim’s website.
Artichoke strives to design beautiful rooms which sit comfortably and elegantly into their surroundings. However we cannot do this alone. We work alongside many other trades such as decorative plaster specialists, specialist finishers and lighting companies in order to deliver these spaces immaculately.
Weldon is one business with whom we have formed a close working relationship over many years of collaboration. Our companies share many similarities. Both were founded in 1992, and both are driven by a passion for innovation, design, and an uncompromising pursuit of excellence. Our most recent collaboration was in a former Georgian hunting lodge. For this project, Weldon was contracted to design and make the hardwood flooring for much of the ground floor.
Weldon is committed to delivering the highest standards of quality and service. A fact born out by their two Royal Warrants, a mark of recognition to Her Majesty The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and also HRH The Prince of Wales.
Weldon specialise in marquetry and parquetry floors, as well as the most heart melting antique floors. Their skill and reputation has led them to design and make floors for Buckingham Palace, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle.
By sticking rigidly to their core principles of beauty, endurance and quality, Weldon has maintained incredibly high standards of craftsmanship throughout its 25 years of trading. These efforts are matched by their efforts to give back. The provenance and tractability of raw materials is fundamental to Weldon’s approach, and they are dedicated to obtaining new timber from sustainable sources. The Company has planted over 3,000 trees in the last 10 years, providing more sustainable timber supplies in the UK.
Artichoke is slightly late to the party in this regard, although we are now proud to have set up the Artichoke School of Furniture, a series of five free introductory courses designed to introduce local school children in Cheddar to the basics of our craft. The first fully booked course starts in April 2019, and we couldn’t be prouder.
It has been immensely enjoyable sharing the first quarter of a century of our journey with Weldon. If you’re in the process of renovating a period building (or building a new one), you could do no wrong by speaking with them. We couldn’t think of a better foundation on which to fit our furniture.
The interior design of many of our most treasured country houses in many ways reflects the characteristics of the English themselves. Restrained, understated, subtle and, occasionally, elegant.
These are all traits the Artichoke design team tries to inject into the kitchens and furniture we design for our client’s country houses. Many of these attributes are successfully delivered through the physical form of the furniture we design, such as the period mouldings we create for each piece, the width of the door frames we design and the proportion of the furniture. Achieving elegance through form can quickly be tarnished if the materials then chosen to adorn it are not well considered.
Our view here at Artichoke is that if a designer creates beautifully detailed kitchen furniture, very little else needs then to be added to detract from it. This is particularly so with classical furniture where mouldings and shadow inject a wonderful flow and ripple into the face of the work. Contemporary kitchens are so often adorned with striking and flamboyant marbles because the furniture itself has little creative substance to it. By introducing a bold patterned marble, the designer is simply deflecting attention away from the fact the furniture is principally flat and lifeless.
It is inevitable that as designers and makers of kitchens and domestic areas of country houses, we have a view on which marble worktops look most appropriate in traditional environments. Despite our work being principally in English country houses, we tend not to suggest English stones for many of our kitchen worktops. While many of them are extremely hard wearing (such as slates available from Lancashire), few of them can be used for pieces such as cook’s tables or islands. This is mainly due to the nature of their extraction from the rock bed. Most English stones are blasted from the quarry face with explosives, resulting in eccentric sized blocks usually no wider than two metres. By contrast, marble slabs are cut from the quarry face in huge rectangular blocks, allowing for a much greater size of slab (typically up to three metres in length). This makes marble much more practical to use in kitchen design. We explore which stones perform best for kitchen worktops in another blog ‘Ideas for Kitchen Worktops’.
In the Georgian and Edwardian periods of English architecture, Carrara was the favoured marble of choice. Not only was it readily available, but its quiet and understated graining also reflected the characteristics of the English themselves. It is luxurious without being opulent and it has a more understated veining compared to other more ‘vulgar’ marbles. It can be seen in many of England’s finest country houses such as Chatsworth. Marble Arch is built from Carrara. It has been described as the elegant workhorse of the kitchen, and it ages beautifully.
From a longevity point of view, Carrara marble is also timeless. This works well with our designs which we create to sit comfortably and elegantly into their architectural surroundings for many years. If we are to create furniture today that will be admired by future generations (in much the same way that today we admire work created in houses like Chatsworth), then it is worth remembering Carrara for your project.
In recent years, marble has become a popular kitchen work surface, but its efficacy continues to cause debate and confusion.
A recent blog post about our general views on which kitchen worktop stones perform best touched on the pros and cons of each material, but we feel that special attention should now be given to marble due it its increasing popularity but remaining mystique.
What is Marble?
Without going too far down the geology path, it is essentially a crystaline form of limestone. The whiter it is, the purer the limestone from which it was formed. It’s whiteness, combined with its relative softness, makes it the perfect material to carve with. It’s worth noting that not all marbles are white.
In our experience designing bespoke kitchens, clients choose marble for three key positive reasons; great cooking performance, great looks and great feel. Despite the positives, it’s not all plain sailing, and like every kitchen worktop material, there are pros and cons to using it.
Marble is widely accessible and comes at many different price points to suit most budgets. Marble and stone price is sensitive to global markets and can fluctuate heavily depending on demand. Statuary marble, Thassos and Calacatta Oro are particularly beautiful examples that are currently highly prized and thus command high prices. Carrara marble is much more common and commands lower prices. Pizza Express use Carrara marble for their tables which as you can imagine undergo significant strain and wear.
Because it is formed from limestone, itself a porous rock, marble too is porous; more so in fact than granite. This porosity makes it a poor conductor of heat, giving it one of its major and unique strengths; its ability to keep cool. This makes marble superb for working pastry, and for Artichoke clients who commission us to make kitchens that perform as well as they look, marble is a serious consideration. Typically, a marble work surface will be 4 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature of the room.
Looks Marble is generally considered the most beautiful of the accessible stones used for kitchen work-surfaces. There is an elegance and understated beauty in marble that the brashness of granite cannot compete with. It can be striking without appearing vulgar, which as anyone interested in fashion will know, is a trick that’s hard to pull off. Over time, it will also create its own unique patina which many (including us) see as a pro.
Due to it’s poor heat conduction, marble is cool to the touch. There will be a subconscious reaction to this in the main, but it is an important attribute, particularly during Summer months. It also has a softness to the touch which is hard to explain.
Some of the most striking marbles can also be extremely expensive. Thassos, which comes from the island of Thassos in Greece, is pure brilliant white with no blemishes and with a stunning translucency that makes it look like cast sugar. Calacatta Oro is another highly prized example with a milky white background and gold veining.
Open pores in marble make it prone to staining. There is no product available that will stop this, but there are products such as Lithofin, that will render the surface oil and water resistant while slowing down the rate at which liquids like red wine can seep into the surfaces. Acidic liquids will attack the surface of marble and they must be wiped off the surface immediately.
The images below show what can happen to Calacatta Oro if red wine and chilli sauce are left on untreated marble for 15 minutes.
It is worth noting that marble is also known for working out some stains, which pass through the pores in capillary action.
Marble is softer than granite and it will scratch and wear. This is also part of its charm. The surface will wear particularly in areas that are stood at for longer, such as at the sink. The edge may become duller and you may find that belt buckles or jean rivets will rub against the surface causing further scratches.
If you want your kitchen stone to look pin new in 5 years, maybe you should consider an alternative. Many clients are willing to oversee this fault because of it’s beauty.
All marble kitchens surfaces which Artichoke install are pre-sealed when fitted, usually with Lithofin. There is no product, to our knowledge, that seals marble completely and as discussed earlier, spillages should be wiped up immediately.
Cleaning for most marble surfaces is best done using warm soapy water and a soft cloth. A particularly grimy surface may need no more than rigorous cleaning to remove residue. Avoid using abrasive sponges. In order to bring the polish back to its original quality, washing should be followed by buffing dry in order to avoid water marks. Cleaning kits for marble are ordinarily not necessary for granite surfaces but are available if required for marble, slate or limestone. Lithofin also provide products which help clean and polish marble and they can be purchased from https://www.extensive.co.uk/. If you choose to clean your marble surface with products like Fairy Liquid, try and choose one that is alkaline as possible. Lemon scented detergent soaps tend to be more acidic and are likely to attack the surface or marble. Ecover offer some good alkaline detergents.
If you have concerns and would like to discuss your stone choice with us, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Andrew or Ben on +44 (0)1934 745270.
On the odd occasions where a client presents a conceptual design produced for them by a third party, it is often the case that the design intent cannot be delivered because the material chosen is unsuitable for the designs prepared. T o help one such interior designer we prepared the infographs below to show them where certain hardwoods come from, how hardwood moves and also which veneers come in what lengths. This will help when designing larger pieces.
Not long ago, we were asked by the designer Ilse Crawford to create a kitchen for one of her clients in a listed Regency house in Somerset. Nothing particularly unusual presented itself in the design until we began discussing the scullery, at which point we were informed that no finish to the oak was required.
Not finishing timber is highly unusual practice and typically not something you want to do. All timber, even teak, needs some form of protection.
After a discussion directly with the client, it became apparent that what they really wanted was for the timber to look unfinished. They did not want an efficient modern lacquer finish but instead wanted the English oak used by us in the scullery to remain as natural as possible and to age quickly but gracefully.
This was a tricky brief. At the time, there were few finishes modern finishes that will provide a protective layer to timber and at the same time keep the natural look of the timber. So we resorted soap, a finish used in the early 20th century before modern finishes were available.
The major benefit of soap is that it doesn’t alter the colour of the timber being finished, unlike oil which can yellow the timber beneath it. There is also no shine to a soap finish. Waxes and oils typically add a sheen to the surface. With soap, this is not the case. The surface remains flat; just how this particular client wanted it.
No Ordinary Soap
Before you rush out and scour the shelves of your local super-market, you need to be aware that the soap you need for this task is a natural soap, not bars. Lux Flakes to those in the right age bracket! This is the only soap that will work.
Soap finish is used a great deal in Scandinavia; in Denmark in particular where the soap finish is considered to be desirable and sophisticated. The soap finish is why many Danish furniture pieces from the 1970’s look natural and unfinished. Soap is also used in Denmark to finish floors.
Soap finished furniture does require regular maintenance and we would not suggest it for areas of a house that will be getting a hammering unless you are prepared to maintain the finish which can be done as follows:
First, sand lightly with 220 or 320 grit sandpaper; just enough to make the surface feel smooth. (Never use steel wool, particularly on oak as it will react with the tannin and blacken it.)
Once this is done, apply another coat of soap (a mix of soap flakes and warm water) and wipe off the excess with a well wrung-out cloth. Sand again to remove the grain that will have been raised during the first application and repeat.
Let the soap dry and buff lightly with a clean lint free cloth.
Be careful not to wet any end-grain surfaces too heavily; end-grain surfaces suck up moisture at faster rates and this can lead to splitting.
Our Modern Soap Finish Equivalent
Fast forward to 2021, and through trial and error over several years, our finishing team has developed an invisible system which protects natural timber completely without being visible and without needing to be maintained. There is a place for soap. but we would advise that it’s kept for freestanding decorative items, and not for scullerys, kitchens and pantries.
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