‘One of the best country house specialists in Britain’
We are delighted to be included for the 5th consecutive year in the Country Life Top 100 and be recognized as the widely respected in the design and manufacture of joinery-led rooms for country houses.
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 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. Explore the extend of our services.
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.
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. Read about how we work.
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 which makes us very proud
The full Country Life Top 100 2020 list can be viewed 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 it’s 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 .
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or call +44 (0)1934 745270.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01934 734270
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.
As country house experts, we have plenty of experience in designing beautiful boot rooms to meet modern families’ needs, and events over the last couple of years mean that the boot room has never been more important in family life. We look at modern boot room ideas and how to create a space that works for your household, without compromising on aesthetics.
Boot rooms have always been a convenient midway point between the wild outside and the calm interior of a home. They are the place where you can happily leave wet coats, muddy boots, dirty dogs, umbrellas and prams without worrying that they are going to ruin any beautiful furnishings. Depending on your boot room design, they can also provide extra utility space, whether you want a separate area for laundry or a dedicated place for flower arranging.
However, these rooms came into their own even more in the COVID-19 era. The global pandemic saw homes driven to two extremes: they either became much quieter than usual, with family members locked down in different parts of the world, or the opposite, with grandparents or parents seeing their offspring return to the family estate to enjoy country living during the Coronavirus restrictions.
Modern boot room ideas for modern requirements
As life has returned to normal, the modern boot room remains an important factor in how a busy household functions. Below we look at boot room design ideas and how to create a space that works for your household.
Where to start
When looking to create the perfect country house boot room, you first need to look at your family’s day-to-day life and consider exactly how the space will be used. For example, how many children or animals do you have? How many coats, hats and pairs of shoes will need to be stored here? What are your family’s favourite activities – perhaps shooting, fishing or riding are regular hobbies? If so, what kind of kit needs to be stored? If guns will be kept there, what are the security requirements?
Once all this has been thought about, you can start to sketch out a vision of what your ideal boot room design would look like, setting out a clear idea of what needs to be done.
What to consider for optimal boot room design
As much as you may want your boot room to be aesthetically pleasing, its primary function is as a midpoint between the outside and the in. This means that mud – and how it can be easily dealt with – should be a priority. You will definitely want a hard-wearing floor, such as stone, tile, or vinyl. You should also think about drainage – for example, you may find it convenient to install a drain in the centre of the floor, meaning that mud and dirt can be easily swept away. To avoid as much as possible mud being trampled in, you could consider installing an outdoor tap, which provides an easy way for people to wash off muddy boots or animals before entering.
Another modern boot room idea for English country homes is to anticipate and work with the English weather. In many homes, boot rooms act as the main back entrance to the house, but this can mean that they let in a significant draft as people come through. So, you may wish to consider adding an extra door between the boot room and the outside world, preventing the cold and wind from coming in.
If you wish to incorporate a sink into your boot room, think carefully about what you will use it for first. For example, if you will be washing off muddy boots inside, you will want to choose a large and robust sink, whereas if you are mainly planning on using this sink for flower arranging, the sink won’t need to be as robust however the height of the tap will need to be planned to ensure that tall vases can fit underneath.
During the pandemic, the boot room was often used as a ‘decontamination zone’ to avoid bringing in germs from the outside world. It might have a washing machine and storage for detergent, allowing you to put potentially infected clothes straight in the wash as you arrive home. You can then decide whether you want your boot room to become your main laundry space, in which case you will also need to consider hanging areas for washed clothes and baskets for dirty items.
How much work is it to design and create a fully-kitted-out boot room?
As specialists in in fitting English period homes to suit modern family life, we are able to be able to handle projects with ease, whether its restoring a very old building to better suit the needs of our client or whether its a new back of house addition to an old house ensuring they understand exactly what you want from your boot room before they commence with the build.
All this may seem like a lot of effort for a simple boot room. However, when you consider what an important role this space actually plays in family life, it is well worth investing time in boot room design ideas in order to create a space that will suit all your household for years to come.
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 email@example.com .
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 Victorian kitchen design 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 Victorian 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 practical 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 exacting in our attention to the smallest details. 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 featured 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 formed the centrepiece to many Victorian kitchen designs. 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 Victorian kitchen.
The moulding was cast by a foundry in Somerset and was a highly involved process. Starting with the mould frame pattern (made from timber), a reverse sand mould was made into specialist casting sand. This had tapered edges to ensure it can be removed – similar to the reason children’s beach buckets have tapers on. Molten pig iron was then poured into the mould and left to solidify and cool for 24 hours before it was shot blasted and fettled. The finished mould is 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 our client’s Victorian kitchen design with a Sub Zero refrigerator being integrated into the wall next to the cast iron range oven. We have made sure it’s introduction is discrete – it takes a central position in the kitchen but is disguised by being housed in a cabinet – a practical and neat solution.
Victorian Pull Handles
During Artichoke’s numerous visits to Lanhydrock, we surveyed the handles on the cook’s table which were copied 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 and how to make it.
Assembling the Kitchen
An important element of Artichoke’s cabinet-making work is the assembly phase in the workshop. 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 maker 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 Victorian kitchen design was signed off by our Production Manager, it is disassembled and prepared for finishing.
The finished project can be viewed by following this link
With each project, whether a kitchen or a whole house, we aim to create Britain’s future heritage, adding architectural value to our clients’ houses for their family and for future generations. We aren’t simply making joinery. We are making history.
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: