The Case for Slow Making in a Throwaway Culture

Slow making versus throwaway culture has been brought into sharp focus over the last year and a half as we have all begun to realise the impact that poor quality purchasing decisions can have on both our lives and the planet.  With sustainability becoming an increasingly important factor in how we all behave, we felt it warranted further exploration.

If you type ‘How long should a kitchen last’ into Google, the accepted answer is around 20 to 25 years.  Most commentators seem to feel this is some sort of benchmark to be celebrated.  We don’t.

Cost efficiencies come at a price

There are two reasons why most kitchens have such short shelf lives. The first is quality of design.  The second being quality of manufacture.  For a kitchen to last 20 years, it must be of a certain quality but it won’t be outstanding.  Market forces will prevent it from being such.  It is impossible to make kitchens or architectural joinery of a quality that will last for generations at a price point that most kitchen companies like to pitch their product at.  To provide a product which is commercially attractive to their market, something has to give.  That something is time and the quality of materials.  Time must be saved to reduce cost in order to reduce price. Cheaper materials are chosen to help the company reach its desired price point.

walnut and oak boards in Artichoke workshop
Responsibly sourced solid hardwoods, seen here in Artichoke’s workshop, will last forever.

Time costs money

Rooms that will last for generations need to be timeless in how they look and robust enough to endure decades of use.   Achieving this requires time.  And with time costing money, kitchen companies find savings. Pre-designed ranges achieve economies of scale. Cost efficiencies are found in a myriad of ways – by speeding up manufacturing processes and taking shortcuts in making traditional joints. By making doors thinner, by mechanising finishing and by using cheaper, often man made materials,    This speeds the design and manufacturing process up and lowers the quality.  This all sounds rather sniffy but it’s not meant to be. It’s simply economics.  These companies are providing a product at a price point that is acceptable to their customer.  However,  it’s not our product and its not our market.  We discussed this need for time with Country Life a few issues ago.

cabinet maker using a chisel to pare a joint
An Artichoke cabinet maker making sure a solid wood joint fits to perfection.

Designing for sustainability

For us, sustainability is central to our mission.  We don’t design rooms to be trendy.  Trend has a shelf life, and anything with a shelf life usually meets its untimely end in landfill.  We owe it to the raw materials we respect so much to take a much longer term view.

By designing architectural joinery which sits elegantly and serenely within its architectural environment, and by using natural materials which have not been processed, we are able to circumvent the need to replace it because it’s gone out of fashion or because its deteriorated.  Our clients want joinery-led rooms which will be admired in 200 years in much the same way that we all admire rooms designed and created 200 years ago.  To achieve this takes time, investment and a desire by the client to create heritage for future generations to admire and take value from.  You cannot achieve design harmony in a beautiful period house by picking a pre-designed item off the shelf and hoping for the best. It won’t work.

Slow making

The slow movement is based on these principles.  Slow making is our expression of this philosophy. It is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed to achieve the desired result.  And in our case, the desired result is in the creation of this country’s future heritage.

 


If you’d like to discuss our approach to architectural joinery and our passion for how brilliantly designed furniture can immesuarbly improve your experience of living in a period house, please email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call 01934 734270

 

 

Designing a Walk in Pantry

Scullery, walk-in pantry or butler’s pantry – we are all familiar with such rooms contributing to the status of an English country house.  While such rooms were traditionally quarters frequented by servants, modern day interior design sees them as everyday spaces used by the master of the house instead.  At Artichoke we enjoy bringing these rooms to life – planning their use and their fitted furniture to complement life in a busy 21st century home.

The Walk In Pantry – A Resurgence

We have experienced an increasing demand from clients commissioning authentic, high-end architectural joinery to support domestic spaces such as the pantry, designed in a way that is sympathetic and appropriate to the style and period of the house. When considering, for example, a Georgian country house, Artichoke has the knowledge and expertise to be respectful not only of the period of the house but also of the hierarchy of joinery – the design of such detail depending on the room – the upstairs being more elaborate than the downstairs or servant’s domain.

3D render of Artichoke designed butler's pantry
Artichoke’s design for a butler’s pantry for a Jacobean house.

The Butler’s Pantry

Pantries are a relatively new invention in English country house architecture, chiefly appearing in Georgian houses as separate rooms annexed off the kitchen or near the dining room for food preparation and the storage of silver, valuable dishes, table decorations and cooking equipment.  Often the cabinetry was grand in scale to store the significant amounts of crockery and cutlery needed to entertain many guests over five or more courses.  Traditionally, pantries were much cooler than kitchens, often located in a north facing part of the house, making them the perfect place to store fruit and vegetables to prolong their shelf life.

An image of a Lutyens designed butler's pantry in Middleton Park
This is the butler’s pantry at Middleton Park. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and his son Robert Lutyens in 1938 for the 9th Earl of Jersey. Pub Orig CL 12/07/1946

 

The Walk-In Pantry Today

Pantries provide a wonderful second space for food storage, food preparation and a shut-off room to hide used crockery and dishes when entertaining at scale.  They rarely need to be as big as their predecessors, chiefly because we don’t tend to eat as many courses or entertain as many people as regularly as they did 150 years ago.  There is also a growing awareness that many foods benefit from not being stored in the fridge.   These days, when kitchens tend to be the heart of the home, even in large, period properties, it is useful to have behind the scenes spaces where the mess and practicalities around domestic chores are hidden from view.  From a design point of view, it also means that some of the uglier appliances (such as the freezer or microvave) which look out of place in a period setting, can be hidden from view.

Walk in pantry
This walk in pantry designed by Artichoke follows the curvature of an internal stone staircase.

Things to Consider When Designing a Pantry

More often than not, interior architectural redesign is often needed when renovating a period home.  These buildings were often designed at a time when the lives of their owners were very different to those of modern families.  Often they had staff to run their kitchens, and often these kitchens and pantries were located far away from the family living quarters.  We live differently these days, and most clients will want their kitchens at the centre of their homes.  This may often mean a client will want to move their kitchen into a more central location.  This can be challenging in a listed house.  We explore these challenges separately in our article Moving Kitchens in a Listed Building.  The major point to take away when moving a kitchen to a more cenral location is to ensure that there is a natural location for a supporting pantry.  Often clients will us a smaller room, such as a downstairs loo, and repurpose the space for a pantry if it is within easy reach of the new kitchen location.  We have also seen clients use the space created under a staircase for a new pantry location.

Clearly in a newbuild, the issue of location is not such a problem, with many clients choosing to add a separate scullery and pantry room to support the main family kitchen.  The additon of these two rooms into a scheme frees up the main kitchen space, ensuring it’s design does not become too cluttered.

 


Each house is different, so there are many other factors that can sometimes raise their heads. If you are considering moving a kitchen or designing a new house with a pantry, let us know.  We have many years of interior architectural experience and in helping improve how period homes can peform for modern family life.  Email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk with any questions, or call us on 01934 745270.

 

 

The Difference Between English Heritage & Historic England

Recently, there has been some confusion about the difference between English Heritage and Historic England, and in particular which organisation is now responsible for overseeing amendments to listed houses.

Until lately, English Heritage was the name of the body responsible for looking after England’s historic monuments and listed buildings.  Their responsibilities stretched from looking after national public monuments such as Stonehenge, to works on private listed houses. In 2015 it was decided these two quite distinct responsibilities should be separated.

The body now responsible for England’s listed houses and buildings (and also the Heritage at Risk register) is called Historic England.  They are a public body funded by the Government, and their role is principally to manage the National Heritage List for England, which is a database of England’s designated heritage assets (such as listed houses, churches, scheduled monuments and battlefields).   Therefore, anyone who owns a listed property, including many of our clients here at Artichoke, will be dealing with Historic England on matters concerning alterations to their listed property.

English Heritage, the body that used to deal with homeowner, is now a charity completely separate from the listed buildings process.  Their role is now to care for hundreds of historic ‘public’ sites across the country, such as Hadrian’s Wall, Dover Castle, Osborne House and Audley End House (below)

 

audley end house

 

How does each grade of listing affect your project?

Listed private houses are essentially those considered worthy of protection owing to their architectural or historic interest, with listings separated into Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II.  Regardless of the grade a house is listed at, Historic England has extra control over what changes can be made to its interior and exterior.  In general, each listing covers the whole building as well as any attached structures, additions or fixtures and in many cases land or buildings which come within the surrounding land or curtilage of the building (such as barns, outbuildings etc).

As can be the case with VAT and listed houses, there is little consistency between planning districts and planning officers.  Some Conservation Officers can be relaxed, while others are very particular about what would appear to be the smallest detail.

If you are using a local architect, it is often worth discussing your appointed planning office, as working with the right Conservation Officer for your project can really make a difference.

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

 

Joinery, VAT & the New Country House

A previous article about Kitchens and VAT in Listed Property has helped a number of clients new to listed buildings gain some understanding of how their home’s listing affects their VAT position.

A number of Artichoke’s clients are, however, building new country houses, and in these, the VAT position is slightly different.  Somewhat frustratingly, the advice from HMRC also tends to be somewhat woolly and vague (in our opinion!).

Firstly, it’s worth double checking that your house is in fact considered a new build.  If the house you are building is yours and you plan to live in it (not run a business from it), it’s separate from other buildings, and you are building it from scratch, it should be considered a new build for VAT purposes.

Now you and your builder will need to work out what is, and what is not VAT-able.  The general rule of thumb is that if you tipped your house upside down, anything that fell out would be subject to VAT.  However, as with all forms of tax, there are grey areas.

 

Georgian country house kitchen
Kitchens in new builds are exempt from VAT. Not all appliances are however.

Kitchens and VAT

Your kitchen furniture for instance is zero rate-able for VAT, as are some appliances which are considered part of the building; an AGA for instance is considered by HMRC as forming an intrinsic part of the building, but an integrated oven (which can be removed easily) is not.

The extraction also forms an integral part of the building and can be zero rated.  Other elements of fitted furniture however, such as wardrobes, are not exempt from VAT although panelling is in some cases if it is considered architectural joinery.  Doors and architraves can also be zero rate-able for VAT purposes in as much as they are considered forming part of the building.

 

Builders and Architects Fees

Your builders labour is exempt from VAT on a new build, but your architects fees are not (unless they are not VAT registered).

The HMRC VAT claim form for new builds is worth reading, and as ever, we would advise asking your accountant to clarify this before employing a builder as the rules change.

 

As ever, do call us if you’d like to discuss this 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.

A New Owner’s Guide to Listed Building Regulations, Kitchens and VAT

Artichoke is regularly asked to design bespoke kitchens in listed buildings.  Quite often these listed buildings have been purchased by new owners who are unclear about the listing process, what it means, and how it effects them financially if they are planning to renovate.

The rules were altered by HM Customs and Excise in 2012 and this short article will help explain what the listing process means and how it effects the kitchen in your listed buildings project.

 

St Giles House, Shaftsbury

Grade I Listed Buildings

These are of deemed to be of exceptional interest and sometimes considered to be internationally important; only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.  In these buildings it is typical for English Heritage to be adamant that the existing interior detail must remain unaltered and untouched (including architectural joinery, light switches, and plaster work).  Designing bespoke kitchens into Grade 1 buildings can be full of issues, usually involving extraction routes, methods of fixing into the existing fabric of the building (which can often be made up of soft lime mortar and rubble walls), interference of the existing joinery and so on.

Artichoke was recently asked to design a kitchen for the West Apartment at Burley-on-the-Hill which was built in 1690 in the style of Sir Christopher Wren.  In 1909, the West Wing was almost completely destroyed by fire and the joinery inside this part of the house has a very Edwardian feel.   Despite the fact that it is modern in comparison to the rest of the house, it is still Grade 1 listed and the panelling in the kitchen could not be touched in any way.

 

Burley on the Hill, Rutland

Grade II* Listed Buildings

These are deemed by English Heritage as particularly important buildings of more than special interest (Grade II); around 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*.   There are many reasons why a building can be awarded Grade II* status.  It maybe that they are houses that while not particularly grand, are particularly important examples of local vernacular and they are in essence “Grade II but of particular significance” .  It is likely that a Grade II* house will have a particularly special interior or interior features which will be treated in the same say as Grade 1 features in that English Heritage will not allow them to be touched or altered.

Depending on the features and their location, English Heritage can be more relaxed (although not much!) about designing kitchens and furniture into these properties. For instance, it maybe that a farmhouse has a particularly special roof structure which is the reason the house has a II* listing.  In this case, English Heritage will be willing to discuss extensions to the house within reason.

 

 

Grade II Listed Buildings 

These are buildings that are considered nationally important and of special interest; 92% of all listed buildings are in this class and it is the most likely grade of listing for a home owner.  This is a  good example of a recent Artichoke bespoke kitchen designed into a Grade II listed building.

While permissions for alterations are down to the discretion of the individual listed planning officer, in Artichoke’s experience it is the exterior of the building that they are focused on more.  While the interior is still of importance, they are often a little more relaxed.

 

Dinder House near Wells is Grade II

Regardless of the listing of your house, it is important to stress that Listing is not seen a preservation order preventing change. Listing has a reason, and that is to identify the life stages of a building and it’s various characters.

Listing does not freeze a building in time, it simply means that listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to that building which might affect its special interest. Listed buildings can be altered, extended and sometimes even demolished within government planning guidance.

 

Listed Property, Bespoke Kitchens and VAT

Pre 2012 it used to be the case that a bespoke kitchen built into a new extension of a listed building was zero rated for VAT (or rather the built in/fixed items such as the Aga, furniture and extraction were zero rated).

Since 2012, the Government decided to “simplify” things, and sadly for many listed property homeowners, VAT relief on approved alterations was removed (although if you had applied for Listed Building Consent before 21 March 2012, zero rating will still apply for approved alterations until 30 September 2015.)

There are still VAT advantages available for work on buildings that have been unoccupied for more than 2 years, for a change of use from commercial to residential use and for a change in the number of individual dwellings within a property – eg splitting a house into flats.

Other than that, we’re sorry to say, it’s the full 20%!

 

We would caveat the above by stating that we are neither nor lawyers or accountants, but designers of fine bespoke kitchens. For a final adjudication on whether your project could be awarded reduced rate status, please speak with a trained professional!  in the past we have found the HMRC team extremely helpful and they do publish a book which we have used to advise our clients ion kitchens in listed buildings.  For more information on VAT in listed buildings, you can follow this link VAT in building and construction.

UPDATE 2020:  Historic England has now taken on responsibility for listed buildings in England.  We explore the difference between English Heritage and Historic England here.

Electrolux Grand Cuisine Review

The Artichoke design team decided it was time for an Electrolux Grand Cuisine review after completing a recent country house project in Gloucestershire where they were used. In our capacity as designers and makers of high quality bespoke kitchens, our focus is always on which appliances are best suited to meet our client’s specific needs. We purposefully don’t have any formal relationships with any particular kitchen appliance brands as we prefer to remain neutral; it allows us to offer our clients the best quality impartial advice.

In a recent blog we took a topline view on the best appliances brands used in luxury bespoke kitchens. You can read our thoughts here.  We now feel it’s time to take a deeper in-depth view on what makes the Electrolux Grand Cuisine range so well suited to some kitchens.

 

 Electrolux Grand Cuisine range

 

General Overview of the Grand Cuisine Range

The range is made up of a blast chiller, a sous vide, a combination oven and induction cooktop, and induction zone, a sear hob and stand mixer.  The styling is contemporary which in some way limits it, and the build quality is really excellent (which one would expect for a high end kitchen appliance brand).

The Electrolux range differentiates itself from other brands on the back of its professional heritage.  This kit has been designed for professionals and it is used in professional kitchens all over the world as well as, increasingly, in kitchens in domestic environments.  This hybrid positioning makes the Grand Cuisine range a compelling offer for those domestic cooks who take cooking seriously.

After attending a professional demonstration of the appliances with a client at a West London we thought we’d take a closer look at each item in the range.

 

Combi Steam Oven

This is a very large combi-steam oven which offers a far superior capacity to other ovens on the market.   The appliance can rapidly cook large quantities of food using convection heat, steam heat or both. It is also very robust, having been designed for professional heavy use kitchens.  Like other ovens in the range it is also supplied with a USB memory stick which can be inserted into the appliance for loading pre loaded recipes.  It features precision temperature control and comes with a heat probe for really accurate cooking.

 

Electrolux Grand Cuisine combination oven

 

The oven requires a cold water inlet and unlike most domestic steam ovens, the product needs to be vented which ensures your kitchen doesn’t fill up with steam when you open the door.  Because of these plumbing requirements it can make positioning the item in a kitchen plan more challenging.

The Combi Steam oven has an exceptional self cleaning function which uses water to clean in the same way as a commercial appliance like the Rational range of fully professional appliances. This is an important feature as most other combi steam ovens do not offer a decent self-cleaning function in our view (microwaves can’t use pyrolytic cleaning because of the linings used).

Professional caterers also like visiting domestic homes which use Electrolux Grand Cuisine appliances because they are suitable for larger commercial cooking trays used in the trade, .  This means that visiting chefs can simply place their own trays into your appliances without having to decant their prepared food into smaller receptacles.

 

Blast Chiller

Blast chilling  is a method of cooling food very quickly down to a low temperature which keeps it relatively safe from bacterial growth. The Electrolux Grand Cuisine blast chiller is a fantastic appliance and as far as we know the only blast chiller suitable for domestic use.  Food aside, it can chill ten bottles of wine or champagne in 30 minutes, and it doesn’t produce ice crystals, which means the texture of the food is perfectly preserved, making it particularly excellent for freeze drying fruit such as raspberries.  You can also put hot food straight from the oven into it which is ill advised in a domestic fridge .

 

Blast chiller

 

Blast chillers are  great for preserving flavour, and their speed makes batch cooking and meal preparation much quicker and easier.   The food will taste better too.

One of the other key advantages of the Electrolux Grand Cuisine Blast Chiller is the speed in which you can made desserts (minutes, not hours!).  You can make ice creams and granitas much more quickly than a conventional fridge, and if you are a fan of making pannacotta or  multi-layered ice creams, these are dishes that once would have taken all day but can now be done in minutes.

Combining the blast chiller with the steam oven and vacuum packer is a great combination of products to consider if you are focussed on really healthy and fresh foods.  After cooking a dish from fresh you can seal in the freshness with a vacuum sealer and then blast chill it to preserve it, using the steam oven to re-heat it afterwards.

 

Precision Vacuum Sealer

Vacuum sealing is a relatively new option for domestic cooks and it offers several key benefits.  By removing air from packaging it provides an extended shelf life for freshly cooked food and it ensures no contamination.   It also allows domestic users to cook using the Sous Vide method, a French cooking technique which translates as “under vacuum”.  In this technique, food is vacuum-sealed in a cooking pouch and heated up at a precise temperature in a water bath, offering consistency (because you cook your food to a precise temperature for a precise amount of time, you can expect very consistent results, great taste (food cooks in its own juices), waste reduction (traditionally cooked steak loses up to 40% of its volume due to drying out. Steak cooked via precision cooking, loses none of its volume) and flexibility (there is no worry about overcooking because sous vide cooking brings food to an exact temperature and holds it).

 

Electrolux Grand Cuisine Vacuum Sealer

 

Vacuum Packing is also a great way to store left overs, sauces and stocks which can be sealed and stored without taking up lots of space in the fridge.  It’s also a great way to infuse flavour into food (place some fish, lemon, aromatics into the bag, vaccum it and then steam cook for a great depth of flavour).

 

Gas Hob

The Electrolux Grand Cuisine gas hob’s extremely striking design is not just there for looks.  It’s layout  has been cleverly thought through, allowing cooks to slide pans around between burners, something impossible on most hobs.   The burners themselves produce a unique flower flame burner which adapts to any size of pan to give a more consistent temperature.  They are also very powerful, making them great for wok cooking and flash frying.  The very adjustable flame control also means that when they are all on full (admittedly an unlikely event!) they don’t drop temperature.

 

The Electrolux Grand Cuisine gas hob

 

 

Surround Induction Zone

The genius of this induction is that its shape evenly disperses heat around a round bottomed pan, helping  prevent ingredients from burning.  This makes it particularly good for stir frying which Electrolux say can be done using less oil.  The round based pan can also be used for boiling, searing, steaming and deep frying, not all tasks that we would be comfortable doing in a flat bottomed pan.

 

Electrolux Grand Cuisine range - Surround induction zone

 

 

Sear Hob

The sear hob is a less innovative item in our view; there’s not much innovation to add to the act of searing, although we’re sure someone in the Electrolux Grand Cuisine marketing team will beg to differ!  Searing locks in flavour by sealing the surface which stops juices escaping, making it excellent for steaks and scallops.  This particular appliance does boast a fast heat-up time, and a polished chrome surface heats up evenly across its width.

 

Electrolux Grand Cuisine range - Sear hob

 

Considerations

This is commercial kitchen equipment re-designed for the domestic market, so it is important to give careful consideration to each items technical requirements which are likely to be very different to standard appliances (the steam oven requires cold water feed, waste pipe and external ventilation and the induction hob requires greater electrical requirement than standard induction hob and will need a cold air in and warm air exhaust.).  Do seek advice from your designer to check if it’s possible to use.

Please do call Andrew or Ben on 01934 745270 or email newprojects@artichoke-ltd.com if you’d like to discuss our experience with the Electrolux Grand Cuisine Range.  Alternatively you can request a copy of our brochure here.

 

Blog update:  As of December 2018 we understand that Electrolux are no longer supplying their products into the residential market.

Why Traditional Kitchen Design Needs Specialists

Traditional kitchen design and period architectural joinery design is a wonderful and highly skilled discipline.  It is also a minefield.  In the wrong hands it can produce lacklustre and uninspiring results. For important country houses and significant domestic projects, traditional and classical design is not something you can simply ‘have a go at’.   Naive is the client that hands responsibility for designing complex period joinery and traditional kitchen design detail over to a designer that doesn’t understand joinery construction or moulding detail or the rules and pitfalls of classical design detail, scale, proportion, joints and shadow.

 

french style dresser
The rounded shoulders on the elegant glazed doors of this Artichoke designed kitchen dresser make it completely unique and give it a Flemish feel.

In most cases, Artichoke is commissioned to design traditional bespoke kitchens and architectural joinery directly by the homeowner.  In rare cases however, we are presented with design work that has previously been undertaken by a third party for us to develop before making.  What is usually designed is not necessarily wrong, but in every case the joinery or kitchen design is restrained by its original designers’ lack of knowledge and understanding of classical and traditional furniture detailing. It is therefore not as good as it could be, and the glories and elegance of traditional design detail are usually not deployed.  The paying client is the loser.  Artichoke’s creative designers inevitably have to re-design it, which means the client pays twice for the design.  A lot of time is also wasted.

 

Moulding on a fireplace surround
Classical detail designed by Artichoke into a country house library in Cheshire.

Over the last 15 years or so we have witnessed a marked reduction in the number of designers capable of designing really successful traditional kitchen interiors and period detailed architectural joinery. There are a number of reasons for this in our view.

 

Contemporary Projects are seen as more exciting

Firstly, London has become the largest interior design market on earth, a boom that has been responsible for a welcome influx in young and enthusiastic interior designers choosing it as a career. Naturally, young people prefer to focus their attentions on pushing the boundaries of contemporary design as opposed to focusing on past styles where the boundaries have already been pushed and are now, in their minds, largely encased in aspic.  Young designers are either not interested in traditional design, or they are confused by it.

Further compounding the issue is that because contemporary joinery is quicker to design and make, it’s therefore more commercial.   The fact that contemporary design, by it’s very nature, goes out of fashion quite quickly is neither here nor there to designers putting profit first.

 

A Georgian kitchen design and island
Not cool in some quarters.  Artichoke designed the interior architecture and traditional kitchen to sit elegantly into this Georgian home.
Traditional Design scares some designers

Secondly, many designers find it is easier to design contemporary work (with flat doors and no handles) than to design traditional work (with framed and raised and fielded panelled doors with differing widths of rails, lock rails and styles, butt hinges, moulding types, aris moulds, panel depths, interactions with other mouldings, cock-beads, knobs, shadows and so on).  With traditional kitchen design and architectural joinery, there is much more detail and it is easier to trip up.  As a consequence, traditional detail scares many designers who tend to avoid tackling it, preferring to retract to a comfort zone of safety by drawing flat doors with finishes on and letting their joinery shop develop their designs further.

This approach sets off a dangerous chain reaction.  Most joinery companies do not offer an experienced creative front end design, let alone any with a skill in classical detailing.  It’s a bit like asking your builder to detail the architecture.   Most joinery shop business models rely on moving pre-designed projects through their workshop with minimal overhead, and usually a good draughtsman with no link to the end user or with any creative training is deployed to create the finished drawings.  With no creative skin in the game or emotional connection to the client or house, this often results in underwhelming designs inspired from poorly detailed originals.

 

Classical detail is not on the syllabus

Thirdly, designers, particularly interior designers, are simply not being trained to design traditional joinery, and most don’t have the experience.   Interior design courses (such as the KLC Diploma and BA (Hons)) have to cover huge subject areas and they simply cannot afford to specialise on the specifics of traditional joinery.  So they don’t offer it.  To design something well you really need to know how to make it first, and furniture making is sadly not covered in their syllabus either.  It’s too big and too specialist a subject.

 

Classical door sets designed by Artichoke’s design team for a private client.

Artichoke’s value is in our years of experience in  bespoke kitchen and joinery design; these skills have been learned through 25 years, day in day out, designing, making and fitting work into country houses, making mistakes and learning from them.   A recent Country Life Magazine article about us put it well, describing us as bridging the design void that exists between architects, interior designers and specialist joiners.

Private clients who really value their houses want design which sits comfortably in its surroundings, and they commission us because they want their joinery designed by an engaged specialist with experience in the subject.   With 25 years of experience designing the kitchens and domestic joinery for some of Britain’s finest country houses, we think we’ve more experience than most in understanding what works creatively and how to deliver it through design.

It’s a tremendously exciting and humbling position to be in.

 

A Welcome Return to Classicism

Every 15 years or so I become fashionable.  My worn jeans and faded blue shirt ensemble becomes the look for that season, and for a brief moment, I’m on trend. The downside is that I live in Somerset, so when everyone’s realised what the trend is here, everyone in London’s wearing something else.

As a company, Artichoke also avoids trends.  Our kitchen and architectural joinery designs are naturally classical. As designers of bespoke kitchens, libraries and principle rooms, we like the elegance which classical order, balance, proportion and harmony produces, and as fine cabinet-makers it suits us too.  Classical design is steeped in tradition, and we enjoy making furniture in the traditional way, using hardwood which is joined together with mortice and tenons, mason’s mitres and halving joints. It’s a tried and tested formula.

Artichoke cook's table painted red

 

In the early 2000’s we began to notice a significant shift in furniture and room style, particularly among the super-prime homeowner in London.  These buyers typically came from overseas, and arrival on the streets of London gave these wealthy incomers a new found freedom to become more gregarious, and fashionable interior design became a popular route for those wanting to make an aesthetic mark on their newly acquired English home.

The consequences were sometimes questionable.  Suddenly homeowners began to request furniture made from metal effect spray coated panelling and, albeit in extreme cases, Swarovski crystal covered shoe shaped baths.   Interior design became a heady mixture of luxury hotel interiors crossed with theatre.  Design became depressingly temporary.

Swarovski crystal covered shoe shaped bath

 

More recently however we’ve noticed a welcome reversal, with more discerning clients beginning to appreciate that elegant design is actually best achieved through gentility and restraint. An introduction to the English countryside, its pursuits and architecture has also managed to educate some buyers to the more muted ways of successful English classical furniture and interior design.

Wealthy overseas buyers are now beginning to understand that quality English interior design and architecture is about style, grace, understated beauty, and above all, permanence.  They are beginning to realise that it does not pay to be on-trend with interiors. Libraries, kitchens and dressing rooms cannot be replaced every time a new fashion emerges.

At the heart of this is craft, and we explore whether we are in the middle of a new Arts and Crafts period in another blog.

Our clients homes are too important to be treated simply as temporary or artificial stage sets with shelf lives, and the furniture design work we undertake here at Artichoke needs to have this air of permanence before it can be presented to the client. For joinery and fitted furniture to truly deliver an air of permanence, it needs to look comfortable and natural in its surroundings.

Restrained elegance is a subtle way of saying so much more

 

There are many ways of introducing permanence into design, but one sure fire method is to deploy classically inspired design treatments, mouldings, shapes, balance and proportion. When executed well it delivers breathtaking glamour that, we think, outstrips anything that a bronze and crystal adorned flat door panel will ever deliver in its short lifetime.

What wealthy buyers have begun to understand it appears, is that less is more. Or to quote the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good.”

 


To discuss your project with us, please email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call +44 (0)1934 745270

Total Control Electric Aga Review

As designers of bespoke kitchens in private country houses, naturally we see our fair share of Agas. Over the past 25 years, Artichoke has specified and installed all types of Aga to clients, and much of the team even have one at home.

Although we have no commercial affiliation with Aga, we thought it would be sensible to write an Electric Aga Review. In this review we will look at how the Aga has changed and weigh up the pros and cons of the newer electric models.

 

Electric Total Control Aga in country house kitchen
Electric Aga in an Artichoke kitchen in Oxfordshire

Many of Artichoke’s clients are familiar with Agas and even had one in their kitchen growing up (usually oil fired). Those who did are familiar with the core differences between Aga cooking, and more conventional cooking in ovens and hobs.

The biggest change to Aga in recent years has been the introduction of an electric powered heat source.

 

Electric Aga Review – Aga Heat Source

Conventional oil and gas fired Agas have a naked flame that heats a central fire brick. This fire brick then distributes heat throughout the surrounding ovens, hot plates and robust cast iron frame. One of the biggest advantages of an electric Aga is that there is no naked flame. Both the Total Control and Dual Control Aga use an electric element to heat the fire brick instead – amazingly, all of the heat is generated from a standard 13 amp supply. This is much cleaner and substantially reduces the number of times the Aga needs to be serviced. To make a comparison, oil fired Aga’s needs servicing twice a year, a gas fired one once a year, and an electric Aga once every 2.5 years.

Interestingly, our contacts at Aga Cirencester have suggested that it is worth considering gas over electric if there is a natural gas supply to your house as it can be cheaper, although recent volatility in energy prices, particularly gas, may well have turned this on its head.

Electric Aga installed in bespoke Kitchen in Cheshire

 

19 September:  A reader of this post (Liz H) got in contact with us to add that she felt her electric Aga loses its heat more quickly than the oil fired Aga’s she has had before.  She also suggested that the electric Aga she owns takes much longer to get back up to normal heat. This may be something to consider if your family does the majority of its cooking with an Aga.  Given that Liz has always had Agas, her points are well worth listening to.

 

Electric Aga Review – Aga Flueing

Electric Aga’s have no need to install complex flue systems to remove dangerous fumes. The only flue required is a smaller one for extracting cooking smells away from the ovens.  These smaller flues can exit the building in more convenient ways, giving the electric Aga a major advantage from both a construction and location point of view. The appliance is easier to install and more flexible to position within the design of a kitchen.  It is also easier to install in urban locations, particularly apartment blocks, where flueing is often a lot more complex.  The electric Aga City 60 has been designed specifically for these environments.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Artichoke (@artichoke_ltd)

An oil fired Aga installed in an Artichoke designed kitchen in Dorset.

Electric Aga Review – Aga Controls

Having controls on an Aga will be an alien concept to many people. Without a naked flame that needs relighting (a tricky task with oil and gas fired Agas), the electric Aga can be turned on and off at the flick of a switch. Additionally, they are excellent for seasonal cooking or for properties only inhabited occasionally, as each individual oven and hotplate can be operated independently.

The Auto function allows you to automatically pre-set the time the ovens come on. This would be very useful for those who work during the day and only use the ovens in the evening for instance. Although, this feature does not work for the Aga hotplates.

 

Aga Total Control Pad
Control Pad for Aga Total Control

The extra control provided by electricity means the ovens can operate at slightly cooler temperatures. As a result, Aga have been able to add an additional oven to their 5 oven model. The ‘slow cooking’ oven is excellent for cooking things like stock, steamed puddings, casseroles, or a leg of lamb.

 

Electric Aga Review Conclusion

The wonderful constant heat source and delicious moist food, are benefits of all Agas, regardless of how they are powered. The additional benefits of an Electric Aga over its fossil fuelled counterparts make it a highly attractive option.

Pros

  • Greatly reduced number of service calls
  • Reduced cost of servicing
  • Greener option that its fossil fuel burning counterparts
  • More flexible to position
  • Additional slow cooking oven (5 door Aga only)
  • Easier to control; operates like a conventional oven
  • Always on (depending on how they are used), making them perfect for busy family homes.

Cons

  • More expensive to purchase (although Aga will argue that over time they are cheaper)
  • Potential increased heat loss when compared to the oil fired Aga, and slower to get back up to heat
  • Gas Aga’s are considered cheaper to run but they do not have the convenient benefits and product control of electric

In short, it was inevitable that Aga would move with the times and introduce an electric powered Aga. While they have had one out for some time, we feel this is the first time they have cracked it.  Apart from minor grumblings about lower quality of the cast iron (which may or may not be true!), we have heard nothing but good things about the electric Aga from clients we have specified and installed them for.

 


Please call Andrew or Ben on 01934 745270 or email newprojects@artichoke-ltd.com if you’d like to discuss our experience with the Aga Total Control electric range.  Alternatively you can request a copy of our brochure here.

 

 

Officine Gullo Ranges Review

As bespoke designers, we will always give our clients the independence to decide which kitchen appliances to invest in. Consequently we do not have any brand affiliations or partnerships.  We do however have an opinion on what products and brands have merit. This month we are going to discuss Italian range and kitchen accessories brand, Officine Gullo.

 

Detail from the origional design that inspired Officine Gullo

The company started in earnest in 1990 when Carmelo Gullo purchased an old range oven made in the early 1800s by the Massetani workshop in Florence. This gave the company the perfect heritage platform from which to build the company.

 

Officine Gullo range oven in Victorian kitchen
An Officine Gullo range oven in an Artichoke designed Victorian kitchen
Officine Gullo Ranges

The first thing you notice when you see one of Officine Gullo’s ranges is their distinctive and robust period styling.  These are ranges that have been made for heavy use, and they look great in a country house or period setting which is were Artichoke spends much of its time designing kitchens.  With a pedigree in making professional kitchen equipment, these are cooking ranges that will see off almost all the rigours of the domestic environment with relative ease.

 

P70 by Officine Gullo
Bought up to date: Officine Gullo’s custom 700mm deep ranges built to satisfy the requirements of master chefs and the most demanding home cooks

The frames are created from 3mm heavy gauge solid stainless steel plate with solid brass detailing.  The high performance gas burners (see below) are solid brass which sit on chrome cast iron (the burners can be engraved personally if you want).  The griddles are made from cast iron and the ovens and trays from scratch resistant stainless steel.  Make no mistake about it.  These machines (that’s what they are referred to internally at Officine Gullo’s Florence HQ) are built well enough for Michelin star restaurants or busy country house kitchens.

The burners form an important part of the Officine Gullo product.  As well as their solidity, they are equipped with automatic flame stabilisers and safetly valves.

 

sold brass gas burner by officine gullo
Solid brass gas burner

It is the solidity of these appliances which is most impressive, and their looks are supported by the quality of their finishes which come in burnished or polished brass, polished or satin chrome, polished or satin nickel, or gold.  In addition to that, designers can choose from 212 colours or even colour match to to any RAL.

 

officine gulo
Solid brass detailing

The ranges are available in any width above 1 metre and in depths of either 600mm or 700mm.  There are also over 30 different range top options available for the cook tops in both gas and electric versions.  The variety of options is impressive, including steamers, a lava stone barbecue, a heavy gauge cast iron coup de feu (an essential cooking appliance in professional kitchen), an induction cooktop, a deep fryer, a professional pasta cooker (which takes 40 litres of water) and a professional non stick fry top for cooking meat, fish or vegetables (with mirror finish to help cleaning).  The electric or gas stainless steel ovens have a capacity of up to 200 litres, which is plenty for domestic cooking use.

 

Officine Gullo Sinks and Accessories

With such distinctive styling it comes as no surprise that Officine Gullo has developed a number of accessories to compliment their products.  The ranges are impressive and Artichoke has used the sinks below for its kitchen designs on numerous occasions including in this bespoke kitchen design for a country house. They are well made, incredibly sturdy and look particularly good in a period kitchen setting.

 

Copper Officine Gullo sink with brass detailing

 

Officine Gullo copperware.
Officine Gullo copperware. Copper has higher thermal conductivity than stainless steel, making it excellent for cooking

 

Bronze officine gullo tap
Officine Gullo tap with brushed bronzed brass finish

In conclusion, Officine Gullo has its place.  It has a certain specific renaissance style which will suite certain kitchens better than others.  It certainly compliment’s Artichoke’s kitchen designs which are more classical in nature and the equipment is as robust as you will find anywhere.  It is hard to fault in the right setting and the company’s commitment to quality reaches our standards.

 

Discussions regarding other appliances manufacturers Artichoke works with can be found here.   To discuss our experience with Officine Gullo, contact Artichoke on +44 (0)1934 745270 or contact us.

 

Request Portfolio

Request Portfolio

Please get in touch using the form below

  • Hidden
  • How did you hear about us?
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.