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.


Bespoke Joinery Specialist – In Praise of the Jib Door

As a bespoke joinery specialist, we use wood to shape the character and function of rooms into distinctive and beautifully livable spaces.  So, if beautifully conceived joinery is our passion, and our mantra is that without it, a room presents as plain as a box, what is our interest in jib doors which are, essentially, invisible?

Bespoke joinery in vestibule panelled with French polished European walnut

Our aesthetic favours interiors which are carefully considered with symmetry and a sense of order being paramount.  Jib doors are therefore an important tool in our armoury when planning interior spaces.  We also enjoy the playfulness of a secret door – helping to add depth and interest and a sense of surprise to a scheme.

What is a jib door?

Jib doors (or secret doors) are flush mounted into the wall or plane of panelling or bookcases, sometimes without hardware, making it as discreet as possible so that it blends into a wider scheme.  Such doors are hidden with wallpaper, panelling or painted and they often have matching skirting at the base of the door, disguising its existence. The use of jib doors during the Georgian period was a popular interior design trick employed to help maintain the balance of interior decoration.  It’s a trick we find just as useful in our work today.

Jib door in European walnut panelled hall

An invisible door

When setting out beautifully proportioned panelling to fit within the existing proportions of a room, it’s often seen as detrimental to interrupt the flow of the panelling to insert a door and architraves.  While apertures present a fantastic opportunity for us as designers of architectural joinery, at times an architraved opening might upset the equilibrium of the interior.  Jib doors are discrete and occasionally a good option for a bespoke joinery specialist like us.

Bespoke joinery offers a secret door through to ensuite bathroom from bedroom

In this North London project, we inserted a jib door into a wallpapered wall. The dark line around the door is a hardwood bead which acts as a frame to encapsulate the de Gournay wall paper and stop it fraying.

In grander houses, there are often rooms with a hierarchy of doors set within their walls. Some are deliberately larger than others to denote it being a portal to another important room (such as between a drawing room and a dining room).  It’s a form of classical nudge theory, with the grander doors taking on an architectural joinery treatment which denotes their significance.  Supporting these larger feature doors are the necessary secondary doors which might lead to an important part of the home but demand a more subtle treatment.  This is a moment worth considering a jib door.

Jib door in panelled study open a jar

The history

Historically, jib doors have been used to hide entrances to servants’ quarters in grand country houses.  Called the green baize door, it was not only discrete but the felt prevented the transfer of noise so that people talking behind the door weren’t heard.  The masters of the house were therefore shielded from servants’ chatter while the padding afforded some privacy for the owners and their dinner party conversations.

The history of secret doors goes back much further – there were even secret doors found in Egyptian tombs (albeit not jib doors!).  During Elizabeth I’s reign, hiding places concealed behind secret doors were quite a feature of the English country house. They were created specially for priests to hide away safely during a time when Catholics were persecuted, hunted down, tortured, and murdered.  The design of these Priest holes was often ingenious, and there were often multiple hiding places in one house.  Harvington Hall is one such house; the priest hide is 8ft long, 3ft wide and 5 ft high with the entrance barely a foot wide.  In the library there is a swinging beam which looks like a timber in the wall but is in fact a beam on a pivot.

A swinging beam hides a priest hole at Harvington Hall

The fun of a jib door

So, jib doors can be useful to hide entrances, disguise storage and maintain symmetry but they can also be purely for fun.   Our clients love the fact that its secret.  There’s nothing better than a surprise feature which is not  necessarily noticed at first. This adds depth and texture, elevating a scheme beyond the ordinary.  These features, beautifully made, are what we love.

Panelled study of European walnut with French polish finish with bespoke desk

The creation

Jib doors must be executed with precision as they must work well as well as look beautiful. Very strong hinges need to be designed for jib doors that contain books in order to ensure longevity. Fake spines of books are a popular way round this but not one that we like – although its playful we don’t find it convincingly secret.

Secret doors concealed in bookshelves either side of fireplace at the Library of Osterley Park

Library bookshelves concealed as secret door revealed at the Library of Osterley Park

The library at Osterley Park

For future generations

As a bespoke joinery specialist, our work is all about the door.  While the clever thing about jib doors is their discretion, they bring so much more than just hiding a storage space or correcting an asymmetrical elevation.  What jib doors can bring is a sense of fun, character, and novelty for our clients to enjoy today but also for future 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 newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call +44 (0)1934 745270.




Request Portfolio

Request Portfolio

Please get in touch using the form below

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