Electric Aga Review

As bespoke kitchen designers and architectural joiners who specialise in English country houses, we see our fair share of AGAs in country house kitchens. Over the past 31 years, we have incorporated all types of AGA cookers into kitchen designs for clients. Indeed, many of us on the Artichoke team choose to have one at home.

Whether you are re-doing your kitchen or replacing your old appliances, cookers and ovens are essential. This review may help you choose between the AGA and the conventional oven.

Although we have no commercial affiliation with Aga, we thought it would be helpful to write an electric AGA review. The company no longer sells oil-fired models and has only one model that is powered by gas (with electric hotplates).

In this review we will look to answer the following – How the AGA has changed? Are electric AGAs expensive to run? Are electric AGAs eco-friendly? Is it worth converting your AGA to electric?  Finally, we will weigh up the pros and cons of the newer electric AGA models.

 

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


Electric AGA Review – AGA Cooking

Many of Artichoke’s clients are familiar with the AGA, some having grown up with an oil-fired version in their family’s kitchen. While there might be charmed memories of the trusty AGA warming their home on cold winters’ nights, there may be questions as to how suitable an AGA might be for the kind of cooking we do nowadays. Whilst AGAs have always been fantastic for traditional cooking like roasting and baking, the modern AGAs are also perfect for a quick stir fry.

Electric AGA Review – AGA Heat Source

Since its invention, the AGA has evolved to use the best fuel available at the time. Original models ran on solid fuel before oil, gas and electric models were launched. As energy consumption became more of an issue, programmable models followed, allowing owners to never use energy unnecessarily. This is, of course, even more important today.

The original oil and gas-fired AGAs had 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.

Electric AGAs have no naked flame as they use electric elements embedded in the cast iron which makes them much cleaner to use.

Oil-fired Agas need servicing twice a year, gas-fired once a year, and old electric ones every two and a half years. The latest electric AGA models don’t need any servicing at all.

Electric AGAs have been around for decades but it was just over 10 years ago that the on/off electric models were launched that changed the game, allowing the cookers to be turned on and off at the flick of a switch.

With the vast majority of AGA cookers now running on electricity, it seems that gas AGAs are phasing out. There’s only one dual fuel model in the latest AGA collection and it comes with electric hotplates.

Electric AGA Review – Is it worth it to convert an old AGA?

AGA doesn’t recommend converting older cookers and recommends using the AGA trade-in deal if you are planning to replace your old AGA with a brand new one. You can read more on AGA Living.

However, we have a different view on this and suggest the services of ‘Blake & Bull’ to clients who own an oil cooker and are considering converting it. ‘Blake & Bull’ say that ‘reusing the cooker in its original role saves a huge amount of energy. The lifespan of a cooker is a big part of its environmental impact – converting a cooker installed in 1941 could give decades more life to an appliance already 82 years old!’ 

You can read more on their website.

 

Electric Aga Review – Aga Flueing

The electric AGA doesn’t have a flue or chimney and the latest AGA 3 Series and 7 Series models don’t have any in-built extraction. (It is recommended but not compulsory to have an extractor above them though.)

The latest AGA 7 Series models (and the Total Control and Dual Control AGAs the 7 Series replaced) are as-standard ‘Room Vented’ but as an optional extra can be specified with the ‘external vent’ kit (a 28mm copper pipe and external fan box).

The AGA 3 Series models can’t be fitted with an external oven vent – they are ‘room vent’ only.

The appliance is easy to install and more flexible to position within the design of a kitchen, including kitchen islands.  It can also now be easily enjoyed in urban locations, particularly apartment blocks where the flueing was often a lot more complex.

 

black aga in a chimney with a table in the foreground
Electric Aga installed in bespoke Kitchen in Cheshire


Electric AGA review – Are AGAs eco-friendly?

AGA cookers are made from cast-iron, meaning much of the cooker is made from recycled material. This also means that once an AGA reaches the end of its life, much of it can be recycled.

All AGA cookers are made at the company’s factory in Shropshire, UK which has a positive effect on reducing emissions that get generated by overseas productions.

It may not be considered eco-friendly if the cooker is always left on, even if it works as a room heat source. However, if the electric AGA is run on a sustainable energy source, this makes it eco-friendly and economical.

Electric Aga Review – Aga Controls

A few years ago, having controls on an AGA would have been an alien concept to many people. Without a naked flame that needs relighting (a tricky task with legacy oil and gas-fired AGA), 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 (part of the AGA eR7 Series) allows you to automatically pre-set the time the ovens come on. This would be useful for those who work away from home during the day and only use the ovens in the evening for instance. Although, this feature does not work for the AGA hotplates.

Electric AGA Review – AGA Models

AGA 60

At just 60cm wide (the same size as a regular slot-in cooker) this model is aimed at those with smaller kitchens who don’t have room for one of the larger AGA models. It comes with two ovens, which can be switched on and off independently of each other. One can be set to roasting or baking and the other is for simmering. Most people choose a model with an AGA hotplate, which can be set to boiling or simmering but you can specify a four-burner gas hob. The top oven in an AGA 60 can be pre-programmed to come on when you need it.

AGA Dual Control

Available in three or five-oven models, the AGA Dual Control offers more flexibility than the older models. Only available as a dual-fuel cooker, its hotplates can be controlled individually, or turned off completely, which can help to reduce running costs.

AGA eR3 Series

AGA eR Series models offer the lowest running costs for any heat storage range cooker available on the market. All eR3 Series models have two cast-iron ovens – one that can be used for roasting or baking, the other for simmering. These ovens are designed to be left on when you want gentle AGA warmth in the kitchen or switched off when you don’t. Models range in size from 90cm to 170cm.

AGA eR3 Series cookers also have an independently heated warming oven, with the 90cm and 150cm models having a tall version, complete with a plate rack. The 150cm, 160cm and 170cm models have a 90-litre conventional fan oven for when you don’t want the cast-iron ovens on or need extra cooking capacity.

All eR3 Series cookers offer a state-of-the-art two- or three-zone induction hob with a bridging feature for use with a griddle or fish kettle.

AGA eR7 Series cookers

AGA eR7 Series cookers feature a cast-iron baking oven, roasting oven and simmering oven and the 150cm model offers two additional ovens for slow cooking and warming. The 160cm and 210cm models also offer a slow cook oven with a grill, a fan oven, and a choice of gas or ceramic hob.

Two AGA hotplates – one for boiling and one for simmering – can accommodate extra-large pans or may be used as a cooking surface. The 150 model also has the option of either a warming plate or a single-zone induction hob.

The AGA eR7 roasting, baking and simmering ovens and hotplates are controlled by a state-of-the-art digital touchscreen panel which enables you to switch them on and off as required and control the temperatures of the roasting and baking ovens. There are five settings for the roasting oven and four for the baking oven.

Using a separate handset, you can program the ovens to turn on automatically on selected days and times so it’s ready to cook when needed.

AGA R3 Series cookers

These models are designed for those who loved the original – on all the time AGA but want  added functionality and to save money on running costs. With these 13-amp electric AGA cookers each oven and hotplate operates independently. They have a high-speed infrared grill. All models have at least one hotplate (some have two) and all models bar one have an induction hob.

These models work well if you have a draughty kitchen, work from home or simply enjoy the cosy AGA warmth in the kitchen. This collection has models available in sizes from 90cm to 170cm.

For times when you don’t need your cooker but don’t want to switch it off, R3 Series models have an e-setting which works to reduce the temperature of the ovens, helping lower energy use and limit running costs. It only takes an hour to heat the R3 Series back to full temperature from the e-setting.

For optimal cooking flexibility, the AGA R3 Series 150cm, 160cm and 170cm models offer an additional 90-litre conventional fan oven.

AGA R7 Series cookers

These models are designed for those who want a heat source in their kitchens at all times. AGA R7 Series models feature three cast-iron ovens and two independently controlled hotplates (for boiling and simmering). The AGA R7 100cm model features ovens for baking, roasting and simmering. The 150cm models have two additional ovens for slow cooking and warming, and the choice of either a warming plate or a single-zone induction hob. The 160cm and 210cm models also have an additional slow cooking oven with a built-in grill, a fan oven and the choice of a gas or ceramic hob.

Easy to control using the simple control panel, the ovens offer four temperature settings for enhanced efficiency. The three cast-iron ovens operate together and there are four temperature settings including an eco mode.

Age set within a portland stone chimney
An oil fired Aga installed in an bespoke kitchen design by Artichoke in Dorset.

 

AGA Review – Running Costs

It’s really tricky to say exactly how much an AGA cooker will cost to run as it depends very much on the lifestyle of the people using it and, even then, it varies. For example, on a weekday summer evening you might simply turn on one hotplate to griddle a piece of fish, whereas on a freezing winter Sunday, you might turn the cooker on in the morning, cook breakfast, lunch and dinner while benefiting from the kitchen being cosy.

In general, AGA running costs depend upon the model that you own, the fuel supply you use and how you use your cooker. There is a lot of information available on this topic on AGA Living website.

AGA Review – The Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can be switched on and off whenever you wish 
  • AGA cookers use radiant heat which is kind to food and locks in all the flavour, moisture and goodness. 
  • The AGA cooker is a design icon. 
  • There’s an AGA to suit every size of the kitchen. The smallest AGA cooker is just 60cm wide – the same as a conventional slot-in cooker – and the width of a standard kitchen cabinet. 
  • The newer electric models are great to use alongside renewables. 
  • They have superb build quality. 
  • They can keep the kitchen cosy when you want warmth. 
  • Newer models can have induction hobs and fan ovens. 

Cons

  • AGAs use a lot of energy so can be bad for the environment unless a green source of energy is used.
  • The ovens take a long time to heat up from cold compared to more conventional ovens.
  • When baking you can’t see into the ovens as the doors are solid.
  • They offer limited temperature control and do not have features like wireless food probes, steam cooking, pyrolytic cleaning, automatic cooking programmes etc. There is also a limited choice for hobs compared to more modern cookers such as a teppanyaki, griddles, BBQs, French tops etc although you could argue that is part of the charm of the simple cooking you get with AGAs.

At Artichoke we find that for large country houses an AGA can make a lovely focal point in a family kitchen and bring instant charm and atmosphere. However, we often specify more technical ovens and hobs to support the AGA – perhaps located in a back kitchen or pantry. In this way, the household can enjoy the best of both worlds.

Conclusion

It is safe to say that here at Artichoke we are all fans of AGA cookers although we specify a wide range of cookers.  We select on the basis of client preference and the unique requirements of each project.  Officine Gullo, Esse, Everhot, Wolf are all brands that we have recommended.

We like to incorporate AGA cookers into our beautiful kitchen designs if our clients choose them and then we only hear good things about them. The latest electric models combine the beauty of the old with convenient updates for modern living.

Read ‘why traditional kitchen and joinery design need specialists’

Contact newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call  +44(0)1934 745270

Why Traditional Kitchen Design Needs Specialists

The challenges of traditional kitchen design

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.

 

image of 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.

 

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

Why are designers capable of designing really successful traditional kitchen interiors and period detailed architectural joinery declining?

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.

 

image of 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.

 

 

 

Image of CAD drawing of classical doors
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 30 years, day in day out, designing, making and fitting work into country houses, making mistakes and learning from them.  Country Life Magazine puts 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 over 30 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.

We love hearing about new projects so if you are looking for a truly bespoke design services contact us via email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk with any questions or call us on 01934 745270.

Bespoke Kitchen Design Tips

How We Approach The Bespoke Kitchen Design at Artichoke

Image of a grand family kitchen artichoke

 

Artichoke’s approach to kitchen design is far more architectural than most, and we are highly experienced in resolving how interior space is organised by furniture.

Before any drawing work is done, it’s important for us to gain a thorough understanding of our client’s domestic arrangements.  Gaining this knowledge helps us design spaces that work effortlessly.  It is the key to providing functional solutions for our clients.

 

The Birth of Modern Kitchen Design

image of bespoke kitchen design island

In order to design kitchens of the future, it helps to understand the kitchen design of the past. By doing so, we believe we can help clients with large country houses understand how their houses were initially intended to be used, and in doing so, how we can improve how they are used in the future.

The Artichoke team pays particularly close attention to how country houses were originally intended to operate, and how changing socio-economic environments have affected this use over time. There have been huge cultural changes over the last 150 years.

Read more about The Birth of Modern Kitchen Design

General Requirements for The Bespoke Kitchen Design

The key to a successful outcome is to establish a clear brief for the kitchen and surrounding areas of the house.

Who is the client? Is the person providing us with the brief for the kitchen the person paying for it?  To us it is vital to establish a relationship with all interested parties.

Who will be using the kitchen and how does the household operate? This might sound like an odd question, but often, the person who will be using the kitchen is not the same person paying for it.  For instance, some clients have housekeepers, so it’s vital to understand their needs within the kitchen.

 

image of clever phone charging in bespoke kitchen

 

How many people does the kitchen need to serve on a daily basis?

What is the largest number of people the kitchen needs to cater for on a semi regular basis?

Does the client have a budget? It is vital to establish a budget for the kitchen early on.  Setting financial expectations from the outset will help control the kitchen specification.

What are the client priorities for the kitchen: Quality / Cost / Function / Aesthetics / Deliverability? The prioritisation of these five topics will have an impact on the kitchen design.

What is the time frame for the project?  The sooner we can identify and consider the risks to the project; the more effective we will be in providing for them.   Quite often for instance, the builder will be screaming for positions of gas, water, extraction and drainage before the design has even been started.

Does the kitchen need to accommodate religious dietary needs such as ‘Kosher’?  This is important as some religions have very specific food storage needs.

Is the property listed?  What are the listing restrictions and do any apply to the kitchen space, ducting routes etc?

 

image of dishwasher in kitchen island

 

Where is the kitchen located within the house? Has it been nominated enough space?

Is there a requirement for the kitchen to be supported and serviced by others rooms such a scullery, cold room, dry larder, wines cellar or butler’s pantry?

What is the route in to the house and kitchen for groceries, and what is the route out for waste?  Where is the location of waste for recycling? Understanding this can have an important influence on the position of fridges, bins and internal doors.

Is there an existing kitchen, and are its contents relevant?  Quite often there is a real benefit in surveying the clients’ existing contents and existing storage volume as this can have a direct bearing on how the new bespoke kitchen is designed.

What is the floor finish? We need to first consider the setting out of the floor in relation to the kitchen plinth lines to ensure joins don’t clash or look ill-considered.

What is the structure of the flooring proposed? The weight of the kitchen furniture and kitchen appliances are significant as they will deflect the sub floor and compress the floor coverings if they are not correctly engineered.

What are the window furnishings? Do they need to be accommodated into the design?

What are the heating requirements for the kitchen and how is the space to be heated? If the kitchen is under floor heated, BTU calculations should be made by excluding the kitchen furniture foot print, otherwise too much heating might be installed into the room.  Heating underneath fine furniture is also likely to cause timber movement and potentially structural damage.

What are the general ergonomics of the client? Are they exceptionally tall, and what is the height of their partner?  Do they have any disabilities to consider?

 

image of storage in kitchen island by artichoke

 

Appliances and Kitchen Equipment

What fuel type is available? Often in rural locations, natural gas is not available which means LPG needs to be considered as an alternative.  If the LPG route needs to be taken, checks need to be made to ensure that chosen gas appliances can be converted to LPG.

What is the oven capacity needed and how many hobs are required?

Does the client prefer a range oven or ovens in column? Understanding the age of the client is an an import factor when choosing positions of ovens in a kitchen, flooring types, access, waste routes and so on.

What type of cooking does the user of the kitchen do? Knowing this will effect the choice of appliances.  Oven types can vary from conventional, fan assisted, grilling, baking, steaming, microwave and multi-functional options whereas hobs now come in a dizzying variety, including ceramic, induction, gas, wok, grille, steam, fryer, Teppanyaki, domino.

What are the kitchen extraction requirements? Where is extractor motor located?  Ideally in-line or externally as this will be quieter. Does the client fry a great deal on a Teppanyaki type hob?  Knowing the size of the room in cubic metres will effect the size of the extractor motor.

What type of lighting is integrated into the extractor system? Does this co-ordinate with the task lighting throughout the rest of the kitchen?

 

image of built in fridge freezer in bespoke kitchen

 

Refrigeration

What volume of refrigeration and freezer is required?

Is there remote cold storage available? There is little point in taking up critical space in the main kitchen with long term storage.

What wine storage and cold drink storage is needed? 

Is cold water and ice making required?

 

image of under counter fridge in bespoke kitchen island

 

Water, Sinks, Dishwashing and Waste

Is there enough drop? It’s important to consider waste water routes when siting sinks to ensure enough drop is available to deliver grey water into the drainage.

Thought should be given towards the material of the sink. Consider the suitability of the kitchen sink materials from a functional and aesthetic perspective.  Options include ceramic / cast iron enameled / stainless steel / wooden / corian / synthetic / stone.  If there is crystal being hand washed in the scullery sink then wood is more appropriate than cast iron.

Consider the different uses of a sink. Preparation of food, drainage for cooking liquids, and scullery. In larger kitchens that serve large volumes, it helps to separate these functions. In smaller compact spaces it may be necessary to combine all these function into one sink.

Thick worktops When specifying thick kitchen worktops, consider the fixing of taps; it may be necessary to undercut the worktop to accommodate the thread length of the tap.

Solid Stone Sinks: when specifying stone sinks it is well worth understanding their weight, depth, support and how to integrate ‘over flows’.

Matching metal finishes. When specifying taps and sprays it is important to consider the metal finishes available.  Is it possible for the taps to match the wastes in the sink?  Will they have to be custom finished?

Dishwashers: Dishwashers have a minimum height beyond which they cannot be compressed. With integrated models it is important to ensure the height of the plinth and length of the integrated door is considered so the geometry of opening door works. Particular care should be taken with ‘in frame’ doors.  If the kitchen caters for large parties, are two dishwashers needed?

Bin Drawer Doors. Dishwashers and bin drawers are the most frequently used moving parts of a kitchen, and therefore need to be robust. Does the adjoining furniture need to be protected from steam and water? The design of a bin drawer needs to facilitate easy cleaning and sorting of waste for recycling.

Waste Disposal. Is kitchen waste disposal needed?  Switched or continuous feed?

Consider the storage of waste. If possible, do not store waste within the kitchen but look to a transitory location for larger volumes between ‘bin days’.  Dealing with waste is an essential process within a household and a holistic strategy needs to be developed that works.
image of kitchen sink in island

 

Kitchen Equipment and Gadgets

There are a never ending list of kitchen gadgets and equipment for food preparation.  It is worthwhile finding out which ones need to be stored in and around the kitchen; here is a check list:

  • Integrated and worktop coffee machines.
  • Air Fryers
  • Sous-vide.
  • Multifunctional taps (and affiliated reservoirs).
  • Bar top bottle coolers.
  • Ice cream makers.
  • Bread makers.
  • Fish kettles.
  • Rice steamers.
  • Food processor.
  • Mixers.
  • Juicers.
  • Coffee grinders.
  • Sandwich toaster

 

Image of bespoke kitchen in hampshire by artichoke

 

Moving a Kitchen in a Listed Building

Moving a kitchen in a listed building is a common requirement among many new country and listed house owners, and it’s becoming increasingly popular as family lifestyles continue to become less formal. Listed Building Consent may be required to create a new kitchen or alter an existing one if your house is a Grade 1 or Grade 2 listed building.

Read more about Moving a Kitchen in a Listed Building or for further information, call us on 01934 745 270 or email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk

All images are of Grand Family Kitchen in Regency Country House in Hampshire.

John Ruskin. The Man Behind our Brand.

At Artichoke, when we design interiors for period homes, we do so in a way that respects the past whilst allowing families to live in a modern way.  And when we make, we do so in such a way that ensures our work will form part of a building’s architectural heritage for centuries.  This two pronged approach defines our purpose as a company.  It affects everything we do, from the mouldings we design, the hardwoods we specify, the joints we use, the glues we spread and the way we install.  It affects our behaviour.

Sadly this mindset is becoming increasingly rare.  Quality is often compromised for the sake of cost savings and affordability.  Increasingly quality (and product lifespan) is usurped in favour of  micro economic gains.   Company accountant’s wishes begin to dictate the character of a company’s products, all for a few savings here and there, and in an attempt to keep products competitive.  It’s a race to the bottom.

Victorian essayist John Ruskin
John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) on a walk in the Lake District.

 

In his essay of 1849 titled ‘The Seven Lamps of Architecture’, the Victorian art critic and writer John Ruskin set out his architectural beliefs.  He argued that the technical innovations of architecture, developed since the Renaissance, and in particular,  since the Industrial Revolution, were unnecessary.  He felt they were not really adding any value.  His argument was that new styles of architecture were not actually needed – that modern architecture was trying to overcome a problem which didn’t need fixing in the first place.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t mend it”, was his general point.

The Seven Lamps of Architecture by John Ruskin

 

Ruskin was convinced that Gothic architecture was the pinnacle of achievement and beauty in building design. While there is no doubt that Gothic architecture is pretty hard to beat, we would regard his view in this regard as rather narrowminded, outdated and defeatist.

Regardless, Ruskin divided his essay into seven sections, or lamps, with each lamp representing the demands he felt good architecture must meet.

  1. Sacrifice – dedication of man’s craft to God, as visible proof of man’s love and obedience to God
  2. Truth – handcrafted and honest display of materials and structure.
  3. Power – buildings should be thought of in terms of their massing and reach towards the quality of greatness.
  4. Beauty – aspiration towards God expressed in ornamentation drawn from nature, his creation.
  5. Life – buildings should be made by human hands, so that the joy of masons and stone carvers is associated with the expressive freedom given to them.
  6. Memory – buildings should respect the culture from which they have developed.
  7. Obedience – no originality for its own sake, but conforming to the finest among existing English values, in particular expressed through the “English Early Decorated” Gothic as the safest choice of style.

We don’t agree with encasing architecture in the aspic of bygone eras, and we certainly don’t condone the idea that there should be no originality or quest for improvement on the status quo.    However, we certainly agree with his views on doing things properly.

As a tome, Ruskin’s essay is pretty hard going.  You can have a read of it yourself here if you don’t believe us. Regardless of the weight of thought put into it, distilled and in summary it sums up everything we believe as a company.  In Ruskin’s own words:

 

‘Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever. 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 labor and wrought substance of them, “See! this our fathers did for us.”’

‘For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age…’

 

These very sentiments form the backbone of the Artichoke brand.  They are everything to us and we are proud to be a torchbearer for Ruskin’s philosophy.

 

If you’d like to discuss our approach to design and our craft, please email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call +44 (0)1934 745270.

What is the best wood for bespoke joinery in kitchens?

With decades of experience in joinery led interiors and wooden kitchen design, it’s fair to say that Bruce Hodgson, our Founder and Creative Director is a connoisseur of wood.  Here he shares his thoughts about which is the best wood for bespoke joinery in kitchens.

Photo courtesy of Country Life magazine.

A luxury experience

Kitchens are first and foremost practical spaces.  Therefore, satisfaction will come not only from how the fitted furniture looks.  Just as important is the tactile experience a user has when they interact with the cupboards and drawers. The weight of the chosen wood is therefore key. Just as a high-quality car will have a weightiness about the door when you open it – the same goes for kitchens.  The more substantial the material, the higher quality it feels.

The carcass

Even in the most luxurious timber kitchen design, hardwood is very unlikely to be the best choice when it comes to the carcassing.    Wood is hydroscopic and therefore moves according to temperature and humidity.  A carcass made from solid wood will therefore move over time which is a problem. Man-made board is more stable and we therefore favour it for carcassing.  It does however, need to be the highest quality man-made board.

As the thickness and weight significantly affect the feel of the cupboard, we tend to use the finest 19 mm thick Finnish birch ply which is veneered with timber or craft paper which we then paint.  Like solid hardwood, it’s very dense and strong and therefore takes screws well. For a sink cupboard or an area which will have particularly heavy wear we use laminate on the ply to make it even more robust.  We have on occasion lined under sink cupboards with stainless steel.

The proof

An early Artichoke project – the magnificent Elizabethan Manor, Parnham House, provides a fine example of the durability of the high-quality plywood we favour. Tragically the manor house burnt to the ground some years ago and yet, on a recent tour with the new owners, we were delighted to discover that amongst the rubble and carnage, our kitchen cupboards were still standing!

kitchen joinery at parnham house

An education in wood

Bruce is passionate about wood and very much enjoys sharing his extensive knowledge with his clients.  He knows about the different timbers, the different cuts of the tree and how its stability is affected by which part of the tree it comes from. Not only is the type of tree important but where it was grown.  This knowledge is invaluable when selecting materials for bespoke joinery.

Sustainability is key

Timbers go in and out of fashion.  For example, there is a trend now for designers to specify rift cut wood for bespoke joinery.  However, rift cut wood has little figure and is very wasteful as many of the beautiful elements of the wood are discarded.  Our view is that if a tree is felled to build a cabinet, we owe it to that tree to make the finest possible cabinet with as little waste as possible.

Finishing bespoke joinery

As specialists in bespoke joinery, we are expert in timber finishing. Our choice of wood is often informed by the final aesthetic we are aiming towards in terms of grain and colour. For example, we might choose sweet chestnut to achieve a greyer version of oak.  Whilst sweet chestnut is sometimes referred to as ‘Poor Man’s Oak, we hold it in high regard – it is a beautiful timber.  In turn, grey elm creates another colour tone. Bruce is very fond of the nut woods for their colours – a particular favourite is European walnut because of its tones – the colour is nuttier and less red in tone than other nut woods.

Maple from North America was very popular in the 1980s but as it oxidises to a yellow colour, we are reluctant to specify it in our bespoke joinery. Sycamore is another favourite wood for us in bespoke kitchens– it is home grown and starts off as a pinkie cream with a tight, close grain offering a lovely smooth surface with anti bacterial qualities.  We therefore often use it for work surfaces especially in country house interiors.

Legend has it

Oak is very versatile, and we use it widely in our wooden kitchen design – usually sourced from Europe. Nowadays Europe is much more forested than the UK, but this was not always the case. Legend has it that a squirrel could leap from tree to tree from one end of the UK to another without touching the ground – certainly not the case today. Our woodlands have been depleted dramatically over the years. After the great Fire of London (1666) there was a shift towards building in stone, but country houses continued to be built of timber.

European oak, grown in plantations tend to be straighter and taller which is helpful when selecting timber for furniture making and bespoke joinery.  UK timbers tend to be farm grown rather than plantation grown.  Farm grown wood is more likely to have defects and a wider grain as the trees are more isolated, and the tree is exposed to the ravages of weather.

Painted kitchens

Tulip wood is a popular choice for wooden kitchen design with a painted finish.  It has a dense, flat surface making it an ideal canvass.  At Artichoke, we tend to use tulip wood grown in plantations in North America.  Because it is slower growing it has twice the density of other tulip woods.  If we want to bring texture through the paintwork, we use Siberian birch – its texture is pronounced so the pattern of the grain grins through the paint or finish.

Traditional kitchen design by Artichoke

Timber choice in the past

Historically furniture and bespoke joinery were made using timber sourced from local woodland.  When we analysed the timbers used in the beautiful Lanhydrock’s cook’s table – the inspiration for several of our projects – we discovered it was made up of several different woods. The drawer boxes were pine, the legs elm, the main drawer fronts, and frame around the apron were oak while the work top was sycamore.  The timbers would have been chosen for how they look and their practicality but also their accessibility.

Our passion for wood

Our extensive knowledge of timber is key to our wooden kitchen design.  We fit kitchens for modern life without compromising their period charm.  By choosing timber and appropriate finishes that will endure daily use and heavy wear, we believe our kitchens and bespoke joinery can form part of a building’s architectural heritage for generations to come.

If you’d like to discuss our approach to design and discover first hand our passion for brilliantly designed furniture and how it can improve your experience of living in a period house, please email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call +44 (0)1934 745270.

 

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 immesurably 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.

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