Belle Epoque Interiors. The Renovation of St Karlshof

In 2021, Artichoke was invited to take a journey into the world of Belle Epoque interiors with a new project in Switzerland.  St Karlshof is an historic estate located on the southern part of the town of Zug in Switzerland.   The estate buildings were built in phases and consist of three distinct parts.  The St Karl Borromaus Chapel (completed in 1637),  the baroque inspired Herrenhaus (completed in 1750) and the French-style inspired Mittelbau (completed in 1769).

plan of Belle Epoque chateau at St Karlshof

Artichoke was approached by the client and the project Interior Designer to help realise their dream of designing the heritage back into St Karlshof.  Their goal was to create a Belle Epoque inspired interior for the building.

The Belle Epoque

The Belle Epoque period was considered a golden age in Europe between 1871 and the start of  World War I.  It was a period of joy, optimism  and creativity where the arts, particularly in Paris, flourished. The Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergere were in full swing and Paris’ influence spread across continental Europe and England.

We relished the chance to be part of this unique project.  It presented an opportunity to apply our extensive knowledge of this magical era. The initial scope of works included the design of three principal kitchens.

A House with a Past

Many historic buildings find themselves used in ways which extend beyond their originally intended use. St Karlshof is no exception. It was a monastery in the 1700s (the Swiss national anthem was written in the estate chapel), a nunnery in the 1800s, a boarding school in the 1900s and a school for young ladies with learning disabilities in the noughties.  Before our client bought the estate, the property housed the riverside campus of the International School of Zug and Lucerne.  By extraordinary coincidence, our Company Founder and Creative Director, Bruce Hodgson, has a nephew who was once educated in the building.

Large house on lake in Zug in Switzerland
St Karlshof as it stands today

A Design Brief for the Future, inspired by the Past

Owning a nationally important building comes with certain responsibilities.  As part of our client’s tenure, particular areas of St Karlshof will be open to the public on selected days of the year.  Our first design task was to consider the basement gastro kitchen where a team of chefs would cater for the public.

The Edwardian Gastro Kitchen

The brief for the gastro or chef’s kitchen, which is located in the basement of the central section of the building, was that it must support larger private or public events.  It therefore needed to provide a professional team with all the facilities they need to cook and prepare Michelin quality dinners for 35 guests, or an apero-style dinner for up to 200 people.

Typical of kitchens in the lower ground floors of historic buildings, one of the most complex challenges to overcome is extraction.  Preparing food for 200 people creates a lot of steam and smoke, so extraction must be designed to be punchy enough to deal with it.

The room presented itself as such during our initial visits.

A building site with brickwork wall

a building site with a tiled wall

a building sire with rebar leaning against a wall


Unlike the British, the Swiss have not retained much of their joinery heritage.  We therefore agreed to deploy our extensive knowledge of the grand English country house kitchen into the space with a nod to the Belle Epoque.

Initial Layouts for the Gastro Kitchen

With a large and complex room such as this, it pays to make sense of the layout of the space first.  Appliance research is critical, especially when the kitchen will be used by both domestic and professional staff and high quality meals will be delivered at volume.

After extensive exploration we chose a DeManincore range oven. This is a professional kitchen in itself – a collection of equipment housed within one single appliance capable of being operated by multiple chefs at the same time.  As a consequence, it is demanding on services with very heavy power supply, water, drainage and extraction all concentrated in a 3m x 1.8m block of space.

Our initial space plan for the kitchen was presented as follows, and largely approved.

the plans of a belle epoque interiors kitchen

Sketched Elevated Concepts

Once we have security of a room plan which works with the proposed hardware, we are then able to start building elevations.  At this stage, detail is kept relatively loose; the principal purpose of our concepts is to give clients a sense of the direction of travel.  This approach gives clients the opportunity to question our thinking so adjustments can made without undoing too much work.

Our concept sketches below indicate the general form we intend to take.

sketches of a kitchen design Sketches of Belle Époque interior kitchen design

Moulding Detail

Once everyone is happy with the general form of the room, our next task is to research the period mouldings which will give the furniture its style and form.  At Artichoke we draw on a vast database of authentic classical and period mouldings that were used throughout the UK and Europe.   A well researched and carefully selected set of mouldings can dramatically shape the character of a space.  Their correct use is hugely underrated and misunderstood in the wider interior design world but it is our forte.


moulding details of joinery

Detailed Renders for the Gastro Kitchen

Detailed design renders really help clients see how their rooms will really look. Our detailed design renders for the gastro kitchen are below.


coloured renders for a large kitchen

coloured renders for a large kitchen

coloured renders for a large basement kitchen


The Family Kitchen

Concept Sketches

Our design for the family kitchen takes on a much more Belle Epoque flavour.  It is a 29 m2 room, with an associated scullery of 6.5 m2, located on the first floor of the central section of the building.  It has access to a roof-top terrace located on top of a semi-circular orangery.

It is one of a total of four apartment kitchens serving the day-to-day needs of our client and his wider family. Our original concept design sketches for the room are below.

Sketch of a belle epoque interiors kitchen a belle epoque interiors kitchen sketch

Detailed Renders for the Family Kitchen

The renders really bring to life our intention to take this space into the Belle Epoque, with rounded corners on the range opening and a fresh and light paint finish for the panelled walls.  Most of the appliances have been hidden behind specially designed cabinet doors to disguise their modernity; the large fridge, freezer, wine fridge and small bar are all hidden from view.
The range cooker, also built by DeManincor who designed the large ovens in the gastro kitchen, is sleeved into an alcove with white diagonal tiles with cabochons.  A generous fibrous plaster cornice runs around the room.

A belle epoque kitchen render in soft blue

Belle epoque kitchen design
Rounded shoulders at the top of door panels were often a feature of Belle Epoque interiors.
Belle Epoque interiors scullery with window
The scullery is accessed through the door to the right of the range oven.


A Belle Epoque Kitchen

The Belle Epoque feel continues in the client’s mother in law’s kitchen, albeit with different moulding details.  The arched headed three panel doors with raised and fielded panels is one of the few remaining joinery features at St Karlshof.  Our design for the joinery complements the detail found on this door.  The drawer fronts reflect the mouldings  and the kitchen doors mirror the raised and fielded panels of the original doors. Unlike in the family kitchen, both doors and drawers close onto the frames rather than within them.  This is a very European detail and it allows doors and drawers to swell and shrink in size over the seasons without gaps appearing between the door edge and frame.    The upper cabinets hold mirror glass panels to reflect the light.

guest kitchen design in belle epoque style

guest kitchen painted with coloured dresser

The St Karlshof Study

Concept Design

On most projects, as the relationship with our client develops, our scope of work extends beyond the original brief.   In this case, having worked on the kitchens, our design team was asked to look at the creation of a study on the top floor.

The brief

The brief for the study took us down a nautical tack, furthered by our client’s interest in 19th century sea battles.  Taking inspiration from Lord Nelson’s private study onboard HMS Victory, our design team proposed a grand classical room made of English Sweet Chestnut.  A hand applied, multi layered wax and polish finish was specified to create a beautiful deep lustre and sheen on the timber.

By using a Roman arch/column/arch technique we were able to square the room up and hide the angle of the mansard roof creating a more classical rhythm.  This also allowed us to fashion deep reveals at the windows which appear as mini triumphal arches.  In Roman times, the triumphal arch was a stone built monumental structure erected to honour an important person, often a Roman general.

Sketch of wooden panelled study


The Study in Renders

The detail and columns around the room deploy Roman classical mouldings, with the entasis being geometrically worked out to classical proportions. An entasis is a common feature of classical architecture where a slight curve is added to a column shaft which decreases from the bottom up.  This gives the appearance that the columns are swelling and carrying a heavy load (typically the entablature).  Without an entasis, straight columns can appear to concave at the centre which can be a disagreeable trick of the eye.

As part of the scheme, we also designed the fibrous plaster ceiling with a rope detail running along the spine of each coffer.  The introduction of the ceiling, which is quite modern in comparison to the study joinery, ensures the room keeps some of the freshness of the Belle Epoque found in the rooms downstairs.

Bespoke panelled room to be used as a study

Bespoke panelled study

Artist's impression of panelled study

Wood panelled study

Leaded glass windows were introduced to the study as a play on the type of windows found in London taverns and on the backs of naval battleships in the early 1800s.

Panelled study artist's impression

Panelled room with desk and open drinks cabinet

A marble lined bar can be seen behind doors on the left hand side of the elevation above.  We are currently in the process of designing a bespoke marquetry desk with burr walnut veneers and hand tooled leather skiver, under which will be a lift-up computer monitor. A hand woven rug will sit centrally and depict the Battle of Copenhagen.



This Belle Epoque interiors project exemplifies Artichoke’s method.  We have listened to the needs of the client whilst being sensitive to the historic building to create a scheme fit for modern life which will be admired for generations. 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 or call +44 (0)1934 745270.




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