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

 

 

Period Wood Finishes – the Alchemy of Artichoke

Hardwood joinery grows in beauty over time. When designing and making new fitted furniture, Artichoke uses period wood finishes to replicate the depth and character of antiques.

Artichoke are experts in joinery led interiors.  Our team of period wood finishers have the skill to apply texture and patina to wooden detail allowing it to seamlessly blend into a period setting.  Similarly, in newly built houses our joinery has a transformative effect – wooden elements, artfully finished, settle a new house and provide instant depth and character.  Take a glimpse of a recent new build project that demonstrates our skill at period wood finishes here. This is the alchemy of Artichoke.

So, how do we achieve our period wood finishes?

Over decades of experience, we have built up finishing techniques that are second to none. Authentic finishes do not come out of a bottle.  To recreate the feel of antique wood requires a certain alchemy.  Staining wood is like creating a painting. It has taken Artichoke many years of trial and error to formulate authentic period finishing techniques.  This is how we make furniture look 300 years old but which is hardy enough for life in a modern day setting.

 

What is the point of a wood finish?

The purpose of a finish is to seal the timber to give it luster, depth and warmth.  It is driven by practical needs – unfinished wood is porous to the touch so stains and marks easily.  The application of a finish makes it resilient, the appropriate finish determined by how the joinery will be used and its context.

What’s wrong with mass market wooden finishes?

Nowadays, mass market production involves automated spray machines with nozzles that apply a bland and even coat around wood.  Spray painting wood in this way creates a nasty thin layer  more like a wrap than a finish, with no character or depth. It is quick and cheap but there is no sensitivity or artistry – it’s like a white wash.  At Artichoke, our finishes are entirely different. We impregnate wood rather than lay the finish on top. It seeps into the wood, nourishing it, keeping it supple and giving it colour, luster and character.

Antique furniture ages over time.  Its patina evolves through the years with human touch, exposure to sunlight and different temperatures and conditions.  To replicate the effect this passage of time has on wood, we have to accelerate the aging process.  How?  We imagine what might have happened to the furniture if it really had been in situ for decades – in terms of its colour, texture, dirt and exposure to light.

Artichoke’s depth of knowledge.

The older the piece of furniture, the greater the impact the environment has had on it.  This adds to its unique charm.  New cabinetry can feel out of place in a period building. New cabinetry in a recently built house can lack atmosphere and a sense of belonging.  So the real trick is to create an antique feel without it looking  pastiche.   Our expert finishers know how wood changes over time.  Our master finisher has a background in furniture restoration – developing expert skills in repairing old pieces using newer pieces of wood and making them match and look good. This appreciation of how a piece of furniture ages only comes through many years of handling.  It is an art requiring hours of work and many years of collective skill and experience.

Period wood finishes and colour.

The appearance of wood is effected by it’s exposure to light and temperature and how it’s been handled and cared for.  Different timbers react differently over time – for example when darker timber is exposed to natural light it lightens, while when lighter timber is exposed, it becomes darker. You can’t simply colour wood to replicate the effects of  sun bleach.  You can’t do it by applying lighter stains.  Instead, for an authentic finish, we use a variety of chemicals to wash out natural colours in the timbers and to add colour back in. We then layer finishes over the top – adding polish to replicate what happens over time.

Where furniture gets handled, oil and skin have an impact on the wood’s appearance.  We replicate the aging process by wiping on and wiping off layers of polish and rottenstone pigment mixed in with chalk dust. This requires time and skill and an acute sense of colour – an understanding of how natural materials behave over time and being sensitive to the character of the materials. This is where the artistry comes in – being able to add back decades of fine layers of dust and dirt accumulated in mouldings.

 

Period wood finishes and wear and tear.

Selecting figure in timber and its stability in relation to its eventual use is vital.  Furniture gets knocks and bangs – we recreate this by various means including bashing the furniture with cotton bags full of nuts and bolts, or using a steel bar to roll down the corner of the furniture.  This emulates the wear and tear a piece of furniture will get in its lifetime.

 

A time and place for spray finishes.

There are situations that benefit from a modern approach.  For example, unless specified otherwise by our client, we spray paint the interior carcasses of kitchen cupboards and cabinets. We finish these interiors  in a more contemporary way to give durability.  The finish will be harder wearing, better suited to the wear and tear typical in kitchens or back of house.

 

 

Time is our favourite tool.

To make furniture that feels settled in its environment requires a building of layers which takes many hours to build up.  We’ve outlined how these processes can’t be replicated by machines.  Rather, a huge input of labour is required.  Hand finishing is therefore an expensive luxury and plays a key part in the creation of our furniture.

 


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

Gun Room Design for a 21st Century Country House

Gun room design for a 21st Century Country house, whether for a newly built house or a period house fitted out for modern living, we are experts. With a strong focus on designing luxury bespoke interiors for private country houses,  Artichoke are specialists in bespoke gun rooms.

We have an exceptional understanding of the diverse and very specific specialisms required for designing custom-made gun rooms and bespoke gun cabinets: location, security, size, humidity, materials, interior design, storage and gun expertise.

The sporting heart of a house

The essential role of a gun room is as a safe, secure and legal room to store guns and ammunition.

But they play other roles too.  A fine gun room can add greatly to the delightful rituals at both ends of a day’s sport.  And often the gun room is the first room of your house a visiting shot will experience as they unload the night before a shoot.  They are a place to anticipate a day in the field, and to reflect on it.

Bespoke gun cabinets allow for the safe storage and display of your own guns, and your guests’. Surfaces should be large and robust enough for the putting together, breaking down and cleaning of guns. Storage should encourage the orderly arrangement of cartridges.

Most of Artichoke’s management team were brought up in the country. They understand country sports and know the role of a good gun room.

Bespoke beauty and practicality

Every bespoke gunroom designed by Artichoke is individual according to the client brief. We offer a full creative space-planning service for gun room design that takes account of all design considerations including:

  • Comprehensive furniture and storage design options such as custom-made display cabinetry, drying racks, storage drawers, free standing tables, desks and seating
  • Robust security

We maintain close ties with our local Police firearms officer and keep up to date with changes in legislation regarding the safe and secure storage of shotguns and rifles to ensure our gun room design is compliant.

Case Study: Gun and Sporting Room, Shaftesbury, Dorset

     

European Oak and leather were the two main materials used to create this bespoke gun and sporting room. Some of the delicate detail, which made this room so special, included angled storage for each gun, and padded hide to protect the stocks. In addition, we put a slight slope around the edge on the central island, thus preventing cartridges and gun equipment from falling to the floor.

At Artichoke, we are passionate about creating outstanding, luxury spaces for your home. Once the tailored design process for your gun room is complete, our skilled cabinet makers will bring your bespoke designs to life in our Somerset workshops. Explore more of our work in English country houses here.

Artichoke in Country Life Top 100

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

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

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

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

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

Country Life magazine title front cover 4 March 2020

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

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

 

Softwood in Russian Interior Design

Fans of the BBC’s recent adaptation of War and Peace will not have escaped the incredible Russian interior design in many of the locations.

While the general media has been gushing about the sumptuous gilded rooms seen in buildings such as the spectacular Catherine Palace, one property went largely unnoticed.  I would hesitate to use the word modest to describe Count Rostov’s Dacha (the name for a Russian country retreat), but in comparison to many of the interiors used elsewhere it is indeed modest. The interiors are panelled length ways in rough un-finished timbers and the architectural joinery is made from softwood and un-treated.

 

Country house from BBC's War and Peace.
The Rostov Dacha in the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace.

What we find particularly alluring about this building is the use of softwood.  It is of course the obvious building material for a house surrounded by some of the World’s largest coniferous forest, but in modern Britain softwood is often derided as hardwood’s cheaper and less attractive younger sibling.    This prejudice towards softwood is unfair and if you spend as much time in country houses as we do, you begin to understand how important good quality softwood is (and was) to period architecture and buildings. You also begin to understand how beautiful softwood can be when used decoratively.

 

Architectural joinery made from Yellow Deal.
Architectural joinery made from Yellow Deal.

Softwood was used extensively in the building of country houses, with the premier material being Yellow Deal (Pinus Sylvestris), a species commonly found across northern Britain, Sweden, Norway, North America and Russia.   However it is the Russian sourced Deal which good builders and joiners have always favoured.  The Deal from northern Russia grows slowly in the particularly cold climate, making it dense, stiffer than oak and perfect for the long supporting beams once required to span the wide rooms of large country houses.  In many ways Deal performs like a hardwood and no other tree produces timber so long, straight, stiff and light (with the added advantage of it being disliked by deathwatch beetle!).

These benefits placed Russian Yellow Deal in great demand during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and it was used extensively as both a structural material (beams, roof trusses and so on) as well as architectural painted joinery such as skirtings, architraves and doors.  It was also used extensively in fitted joinery for the domestic areas of houses, such as kitchens, sculleries and pantries such as the one below at Tyntesfield.

 

Room view of the Butler's Pantry at Tyntesfield, North Somerset
Room view of the Butler’s Pantry at Tyntesfield, North Somerset

 

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Original Russian Deal skirting removed from an Artichoke country house project , a Grade II* listed Georgian hall.

 

Interiors from War & Peace
Unpainted Deal takes on a beautifully mellow and creamy texture over time.

Today it is challenging to buy Deal from Russia, not because it is scarce but because large Russian timber yards are not commercially interested in selling us the comparitively small volumes of high quality knot free boards we need.  Instead we now rely on a source of Yellow Deal from northern Sweden which is of a similar quality and density.

Painting Softwood

As the Rostov’s Dacha shows us, natural and unfinished softwood can look beautiful in the right setting, but good quality softwood produces a strong grain pattern which can be used to great advantage when painted as seen in the Artichoke sample below. Here our finishing team have mixed up a milk paint and applied it to Swedish Deal for a bespoke kitchen project in Oxfordshire.

 

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As designers of bespoke kitchens and interior architectural joinery for country houses and period buildings, a knowledge of materials and where to procure the best of them is really important.  We have a responsibility to get it right for our clients, and in our experience the modern day prejudice directed at softwood stems from a combination of the quality material being offered by poor quality timber merchants and the general population’s diminishing knowledge for craft and timber.  The best quality softwoods are still incredibly versatile when you know what to buy and how to use them and they should not be dismissed.

For more information on our work, particularly bespoke kitchens and architectural joinery, please contact 01934 745270 or email newprojects@artichoke-ltd.com

Lutyens’ Architectural Joinery

We consider ourselves fortunate to have designed furniture and architectural joinery into some of Britain’s finest period and listed houses, including two homes designed by the great English Edwardian architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Lutyens was a master of his craft.   He is one of the few architects revered for both the quality of his English country house interiors as much as the quality of his exteriors.  He was as much of a furniture designer as as he was an architect.

At Artichoke we place as much importance on creative design as we do on making; a great kitchen or library designed poorly is a total waste of money, no matter how well it is made.  To us, everything starts with great design.

Research forms a key part of our design process; we hold a large database of Lutyens mouldings and we have an extensive library of period architectural detail to refer back to, including a back catalogue from the archives of Country Life Magazine.  The magazine has been kind enough to provide us with images from some of our favourite Lutyens architectural joinery and furniture designs for this study into his work.

 

Folly Farm, Berkshire

The original 17th century house was enlarged by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1906 and again in 1912-16.  Artichoke designed the kitchen for the house in 2009 and our kitchen design was influenced partly by elements of the detail in the cabinet below, in particular the mitred joins on the cabinet doors.

 

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A built in cabinet at Folly Farm
View of the interior at Folly Farm. The original 17th century house was enlarged by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1906 and again in 1912-16. Not Used 04/02/1922
An interior panelled passage – note the door handles
The Viceroy’s House, Delhi, India

Sir Edwin Lutyens joined the Delhi Planning Commission in 1912 and was responsible for designing the Viceroy’s House. The new capital of British India, New Delhi was officially opened in 1931.

 

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A fireplace at the Viceroy’s House
Castle Drogo, Devon

Castle Drogo was designed by Lutyens between 1910 and 1932 and was the last castle to have been built in England.  The kitchen, with the circular beechwood table, was designed by Lutyens.

 

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All the light in the room comes from the circular lantern window above the table

The butler's pantry at Castle Drogo. The castle was begun in 1911 and completed in 1930 to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe. Not Used CL 10/08/1945

 

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A doorway at Drogo with Jacobean style panelling
The latch on the entrance door at Castle Drogo. The castle was begun in 1911 and completed in 1930 to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe. Not Used CL 10/08/1945
The latch on the entrance door. Every detail was considered
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A stunning door at Drogo. Note the book-matched pair of central panels at the base if the door. The door is hinged on a pivot
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Carved pilasters on either side of a door at Castle Drogo
Marsh Court, Hampshire

Marsh Court was the last of the houses that Lutyens built in the tudor style.  It was
from local materials that Lutyens revived a 17th Century practice and built the house from ‘clunch’ chalk blocks with occasional inlays of flint.

 

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The frieze panel was carved in local chalk
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A door in the dining room. Of particular note is the stepped door reveal lined in Walnut and the quartered veneer door panels
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The log store. Lutyens invested as much effort in back of house as he did on front of house rooms
Les Boit des Moutiers, France

The staircase and first floor landing at Le Boit des Moutiers. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Guillaume Mallet in 1898 and was one of the few built on mainland Europe.

 

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Medieval styling is in abundance here, in particular the portcullis detail below the banister rail
Heathcote House, West Yorkshire

Heathcote house was designed in the Baroque style by Lutyens in 1906.  Lutyens came to call this style “Wrenaissance” after Christopher Wren.

 

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The glazed cabinet at the back (and in the one below) has inspired many Artichoke designs
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The fireplace at Heathcote. Note the ball feet below the furniture in the recesses, the clever desk and the bevelled mirror glass
Middleton Park, Oxfordshire

The kitchen at Middleton Park.  The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and his son Robert Lutyens in 1938 for the 9th Earl of Jersey.

 

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 fantastic and beautifully proportioned Butler’s pantry
In this later example of kitchen design by Lutyens, the appliances are more sophisticated. Note the raised table island and zinc worktop
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A pedimented door. Note the inset mould in the architrave
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Fitted dressing room
A panelled room at Middleton Park. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and his son Robert Lutyens in 1938 for the 9th Earl of Jersey. Not Used CL 12/07/1946
Fitted dressing room
Sullingstead, Surry

The kitchen at Sullingstead. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1896-97 for Charles Arthur Cook.

 

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Particularly striking is the oak Doric column supporting the joinery
Crooksbury, Surry

The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1890 for Arthur Chapman.

 

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This fantastic crockery display cabinet was designed by Lutyens
Deanery Garden, Berkshire

Deanery Garden was built in 1901 for Edward Hudson, the creator of Country Life, to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The garden was designed in collaboration with Gertrude Jekyll.

 

The dining room at Deanery Garden. The house was built in 1901 for Edward Hudson, the creator of Country Life, to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens and the garden was designed in collaboration with Gertrude Jekyll. Not Used CL 09/05/1903
The dining room at Deanery Garden

 

 

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