Shining a light on the lost art of English joinery in a recent article in Country Life magazine, Interiors Editor, Giles Kime invites our founder, Bruce Hodgson, to explain how door casements, shutters, panelling, skirtings, architraves, cornicing and dados can transform a space.
If you’ve been inspired to know more about the transformative impact of authentic joinery led interiors, please do get in touch and tell us about your project or read more about our services. To view the article in Country Life Magazine Interiors section, click here
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
There are many Victorian kitchen designs which have inspired Artichoke projects over the last 25 years, but few really hit the mark as soundly as the National Trust’s Lanhydrock house kitchen. It is, in our view, one of the finest examples of Victorian back of house interior design and architecture in Britain.
Originally Jacobean, the house was damaged by fire in 1881 and it was given an extensive restoration in the high Victorian style. With the UK buoyed by the successes of the industrial revolution, the newly restored magnificent country house kitchen was updated with the very latest equipment and technology for staff to cook food for the owners, their guests and other staff.
The Artichoke kitchen design team has been quietly obsessed with Lanhydrock for many years. When the opportunity arose to share our passion and interest with a client, we jumped at it, travelling down to Cornwall with him to help explain why we felt we should take inspiration from it for his bespoke kitchen design. Our initial visit was about capturing some of the detail which makes this kitchen so special.
Artichokes Victorian Kitchen Designs
Much of Artichoke’s work involves designing kitchens with aesthetic links to the past. More often than not this is because we are designing kitchens into period buildings where some link to the past is a sensitive and pragmatic way to ensure the kitchen design has longevity, does not date and sits comfortably within its architectural surroundings. At the same time, we try not to let the past constrain us. After all, we are designing kitchens and spaces which need to be used for modern living.
In this particular Victorian kitchen design project for a country house in Hampshire, we have been more exacting than we might usually be. Surveys were taken of moulds and copies of the Victorian handles have been made using the same lost wax cast brass method used at the time of Lanhydrock’s restoration.
The plate rack Artichoke has designed above the brass sink is decorative and will be used to both store plates as well as dry them. Each plate rack has a bespoke pewter drip-tray base. The main sink is made from solid brass. During the late 1800’s Victorian kitchen designs often features metal sinks, usually made from copper or nickel alloy, a corrosion-resistant and robust lightweight material capable of standing up to the rigors of a large country house kitchen environment.
The Range Oven
A large cast iron range almost always formed the centrepiece to many Victorian kitchens. Artichoke works regularly with Officine Gullo, a modern Italian company specialising in the design and manufacture of incredibly hard wearing cast iron kitchen ranges. The ovens are known for their build quality and distinctive period character; they fit well into many of the country house projects Artichoke designs kitchens for.
This particular oven top features a pasta cooker, four large gas burners, a French plate (used typically for sauces) and put down. A pot filler has been integrated into the back.
Casting the frame mould
The original moulding which surrounds the recess on Lanhydrock’s kitchen is made from cast iron, which Artichoke has replicated for this bespoke kitchen
The moulding is being cast by a foundry in Somerset and is a highly involved process. Starting with the mould frame pattern (made from timber), a reverse sand mould is made into specialist casting sand along with tapered edges to ensure it can be removed (similar to the reason children’s beach buckets have tapers on). Poured molten pig iron is then poured into the mould and left to solidify and cool for 24 hours before it is then shot blasted and fettled. The finished mould will be very dark grey in its natural state.
Cooling in the original Kitchen
Domestic fridges were not invented until 1913, and until that point, a host of relatively creative methods were deployed to keep food cool in large country houses.
The method above, as seen in Lanhydrock’s dairy, is one such example and not one we’ve seen anywhere else. A cold water feed distributed water (from the hills above the house) around a cast iron trench system to keep dairy products cool. The dairy room uses both marble and slate to keep the dairy products and desserts cool. However, more modern cooling methods were decided upon for this Victorian kitchen design with a Sub Zero refrigerator being integrated into the wall next to the cast iron range oven.
Victorian Pull Handles
During Artichoke’s numerous visits to Lanhydrock, we surveyed the handles on the cook’s table which we will be copying using the traditional method of casting them in brass.
Technically detailing the Cooks Table
Because Artichoke only designs one off projects, each is unique, so it is imperative to ensure the cabinet-making team is given the clearest possible information to make from. To do this we design each component part using a specialist 3D technical drawing package. This modern version of what used to be called ROD drawings allows us to provide our team with detailed drawings of incredible clarity, meaning that regardless of whether this is the first time the furniture has been made, they know exactly what to make it and how.
Assembling the Kitchen
An important element of Artichoke’s cabinet-making work is the assembly phase. It is the first time we get to see the kitchen come together. The assembly phase allows us to fit the appliances, cut in the butt hinges and shoot in the doors and drawer fronts into their frames (“shooting in” where a cabinet makers uses a well sharpened plane to dimension a component to exactly the correct size. Because all of our kitchens are bespoke, we are making each project for the first time, and doing this work on our premises means that we can avoid undertaking it at our clients homes, making the final installation more efficient.
Once the fully assembled kitchen has been signed off by our Production Manager, it is disassembled and prepared for finishing.
The project is ongoing and will be added to as the project progresses. For further information, contact Artichoke on 01934 745270 or email email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Artichoke, a significant number of the bespoke period kitchens we are commissioned to design are in English country houses, many dating back many hundreds of years. When designing for these clients, we find referencing from kitchens from the past a particularly useful way to gain inspiration. Here are a few of the period kitchens that have inspired our work:
Villa Guglielmesca is situated near the town of Cortona, in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany. While the prevailing character of Cortona’s architecture is medieval Renaissance, the villa itself dates back to the beginning of the 1900’s. Originally a private house, it was transformed into a hotel with 12 bedrooms in the 1950’s before being purchased by the current owner.
In 2010, Artichoke was commissioned directly by the owner to reconfigure the Villa and make it function again as a private residence. This has involved extensive interior architectural design work by Artichoke’s creative team and includes designing the architecture and furniture for the entrance hall, master bedrooms, bespoke kitchen, dining room, butler’s pantry, boot-room, guest and master bathrooms, ballroom, interior architectural joinery, doors, skirting and floors.
Front Entrance Door
The front entrace door was designed taking inspiration from the architecture of local vernacular. Our initial design below proposed the door as European Walnut, althoughthe door is now more likely to be hand painted. The exterior elevation on the left shows the stone architrave which will be in Pietra Serena to match the the Tuscan columns we designed for the interior. Pietra Serena is a beautiful grey Tuscan sandstone which was used by Michelangelo in the Medici Chapel Romeare.
Entrance Hall Design
Below is the Entrance Hall as it existed while Villa Guglielmesca was a hotel. As you can see, the existing interior architecture of the Villa required significant design work. Our initial focus was to research and gain a thorough understanding of local vernacular to create an appropriate space for family living.
The images below show the approved Artichoke re-design of the entrance hall with twinned Etruscan columns supporting the vaulted ceiling and hiding the re-enforced concrete columns. The stone we are using fo the columns are made from Pietra Serena.
Bespoke Kitchen Interior Design
Artichoke’s design team also introduced the groin vaulted ceiling detail used in the entrance hall to the principal bespoke kitchen as both a device to architecturally tie the two ends of the vast space together and to frame the large open fireplace (also designed by us).
Inspiration for the bespoke kitchen design in Villa Guglielmesca was taken from typical Tuscan agricultural furniture design. The primary timber being used for the kitchen is French oak. The oak on the island will be bleached and the oak for the pan-shelves will be fumed to age them. The bread board island tops will be made from wild-grain European Walnut which we will source in Italy. The arched doors on the end of the island, which is plastered, are made from solid oak, and roughly hand planed across the grain with a curved plane blade to create an aged effect. The glazed dresser doors close on traditional espagnoletes.
Boot room Design
Artichoke’s design teams have designed numerous bespoke bootrooms for country properties and apart from plenty of storage, a key aspect to most successful bootroom designs is combining practicality with simplicity. Bootrooms get a lot of wear. They get dirty and are more loved for their practicality than their looks, mainly because most of the fitted furniture becomes draped in coats, hats and scarves, and eventually much of it become invisible. Artichoke designed the Villa’s boot-room with drainage at the centre of the room to allow mud to be washed and brushed away.
Artichoke designed the fireplace and surround as a multi-functional space, and it is far from simply decorative. A chargrill has been designed on the right hand side, with the left reserved for open fires and spit-roasting meats. The stone for the surround is Pietra Serena.
There are nearly 100 individual features designed by Artichoke inside Villa Guglielmesca, including coffered ceilings, fireplaces, windows, columns, doors and stone architraves. A few examples can be seen below:
A small selection of images from the completed project are below.
The kitchen island has humble origins. In the days when large houses were supported by busy kitchens teaming with staff, the oak table was the workhorse of the room.
Today, most domestic kitchens are used by the home-owner and not by staff. We prepare our own food, and as a result, kitchen islands tend to look less utilitarian.
Many of Artichoke’s kitchen design commissions are for large country houses where history has played its part in shaping how the house looks and runs. Often these design commissions are from the new owners who are often responsible for replacing years of lost period character. As bespoke kitchen designers, it is often our responsibility to balance their wishes for period authenticity with the practical needs of a modern home.
This case-study shows how one such kitchen island has evolved from a series of simple sketches to the finished article in Artichoke’s workshop.
The brief was to design a kitchen with a period feel that met the needs of a modern family. The house is a captivating Grade II listed house set in National Trust parkland near Alderley Edge in Cheshire, with owners keen to re-introduce some high quality period detail back into the house.
Initial hand sketch
Each kitchen design project evolves in different ways, but in this case, initial ideas were roughed out on paper to gauge the feasibility and to help give the client an understanding for what can be achieved.
Once the concept is proven, the general intent drawings are prepared showing turning detail, period moulding detail and interior layouts of the drawers. At this stage we are drawing to scale.
Artichoke’s design team often deploys CGI (Computer Generated Images) to explore how kitchen furniture works with the rest of the room and the architecture. The studies below show the oak kitchen island at the centre alongside other decorative items. CGI can be extremely useful in helping clients understand how design impacts their space.
Once the kitchen island design is approved by the client, our cabinet makers will make the piece in digital form first using a software package that will also calculate bills of materials, quantities of components* weight of parts etc. We make every piece virtually in this way. It ensures all potential problems are ironed out before we purchase materials, and it improves efficiency for the client.
Artichoke makes the finest quality kitchens that are robust enough to last for many years. To make kitchens of this quality requires the component parts to be jointed traditionally using craft base skills that have stood the test of time.
In the case of this kitchen island, the rail is jointed to the turned legs using dovetail joints and mortice and tenons. These traditional joints take time to make and will be unseen by the client, so some would argue that they are uneccessary. However, we know that these methods are a mark of quality and will far outlast a mechaniocal fixings. We know that it will never fail.
The final phase is the finishing, and in this case the finish required is mid to late 19th century. Our head of finishing, Rob, used to be a well known antique restorer and has incredible skill for turning new oak into old. Like most professionals, Rob keeps his recipies a closely guarded secret.