English Country House Timbers

Up until the early 20th Century, the typical English country house was principally built from timber, stone and brick; simple when compared to the plethora of material types, fixtures and fittings available to today’s architect.

Of the timber choices available to those building country houses in the 18th and 19th centuries, the most common were European Walnut, Mahogany, Russian Deal, English Oak and English Elm.  These timbers had different roles to play in the make up of the English country house, with Walnut and Mahogany being favoured for the more decorative elements and Russian Deal, Elm and Oak for the more constructional.  Each had their part to play.

Fast forward to today, and most clients renovating a country house are increasingly sensitive to the original materials used to build it.  But are the original timber species used still available, and what are the alternatives if they are not?

 

English Country House Timbers featured image - Large tree

 

European Walnut and Mahogany

Then:  Until the early 1700s Walnut was by far the most popular of the decorative hardwoods for use in English country houses.  It had a soft colour and an interesting grain.  But access to fine quality walnut ceased after 1709 when the Great Frost, the harshest European winter for 500 years, killed off much of the walnut stock in France.  This triggered English cabinet-makers to look elsewhere for alternatives, with mahogany proving the outright winner.   In 1721 the British Parliament removed all import duties from timber imported into Britain from the British colonies, instantly stimulating the trade in West Indian timbers including, most importantly, mahogany.   With no competition from walnut, imports of mahogany into England rose from 525 tons a year in 1740 to more than 30,000 tons in 1788.   In a relatively short period of time, mahogany had become the most popular timber for luxury furniture and architectural joinery in the country houses of England.

Now:  Mahogany is no longer imported from the Americas although we do have old stock on supply which is reserved for very specific country house projects and feature architectural joinery doors.  The only true mahogany currently imported into the UK is African Mahogany which is lighter in colour than Brazilian or Cuban mahogany which tend to be very dark orange.  African mahogany also has a slightly wilder grain pattern.  Between the two, our timber of choice would always be European Walnut for its softer colouring, its figure and its provenance.

 

close up view of English country house library furniture
French polished Italian walnut in a library project designed by Artichoke.
Russian Deal

Then:  Russian deal is a high quality softwood grown in the Baltic regions of northern Russia, typically from Archangel and Onega.  It is slow grown, tall, straight and dense, and with its fine grain is ideal for making hand painted interior architectural joinery.  It was considered poor for exterior use however, with Rivington’s Building Construction Guide (published in 1875) declaring it unfit for work exposed to the damp shores of the UK.   A more in depth piece on Russian Deal was written by us a few years ago, triggered by the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace where much of the joinery in the wonderful period locations were made of this material.

Now:  Russian Deal is tough to get hold of, not because it is scarce but because the timber yards in Russia will only sell it by the boatload and the boards offered are only 1 inch thick.  Specialist companies such as Artichoke are of no commercial interest to these yards.  Scandinavian Redwood is the next best alternative.  It’s almost identical albeit being a slightly smaller tree.  Artichoke uses Scandinavian Redwood in listed country house projects where organisations such as Historic England require it or we feel it will benefit the feel of the final room and character of the furniture.  The grain certainly looks good when over painted, and we have recently used it when designing and making a kitchen based around the National Trust’s kitchen at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall.  Images from this project can be found here.  The reason most furniture makers do not use Scandinavian Redwood is principally because of timber movement which can make it more unpredictable in modern homes with more aggressive heating set ups.  Poplar or tulipwood is (in our mind) a more sensible choice if the project is to have a crisp hand painted finish with no grain grinning through the paint.  It is resin and almost knot free and dense if you buy it from the right sources.

 

Lanhdyrock English country house kitchen
Separate elements of a kitchen designed by us in Siberian larch for a country house in Hampshire. The grain looks beautiful grinning through the paint surface.
English Oak

Then:  English oak is rot resistant, making it ideal for exterior joinery and boat building (many Queen Anne and early Georgian English country houses feature repurposed supporting oak beams which once formed part of our naval fleet).   Oak’s ability to resist rot, combined with its immense strength and availability, made it the perfect building material for timber framed houses, and many of the originals are still standing.  Of course, much of England’s ancient forests are either now protected or gone.

Now:  English oak is very much readily available in the UK, although it tends to be farm or estate grown, meaning the trees have not been cared for as a commercial commodity would typically be.  This makes the quality of the available material quite unpredictable and inconsistent for interior furniture such as libraries or room panelling.  Our climate in Northern Europe also means English oak trees grow slowly with wild grain patterns often being a feature.  English oak is also a darker shade of brown than European oak and, combined with wild grain patterns and knots, can make the furniture appear quite rustic without careful selection.   At Artichoke we prefer oak from southern France where our oak trees are grown commercially and therefore managed as a crop.  Buying oak for a project from the same single stand in the same area of a woodland also gives us the confidence in knowing we will receive a high quality product with a consistent honey colour throughout.  Having an excellent relationship with your supply chain is vital if the work is to stand the test of time for hundreds of years.

English Oak also makes an excellent flooring material; it ages beautifully and is hard wearing. Our friends at Weldon Flooring are worth talking to if you are working in an historic or new build English country house in need of a beautiful oak floor.

 

artichoke cabinet makers
This large kitchen was made from carefully selected European oak. There is a magical consistency in the grain of European Oak which would be much harder to find in English Oak.
English Elm

Then: Like English Oak, English Elm is known for its rot resistant qualities making it suitable for exterior work.  As one of the largest deciduous trees in the UK, it was commonly used as a building material for roof frames and supporting beams.  While extremely strong with an immense ability to withstand crushing forces, it was not as popular as English oak because it tends to move and split.  This is the reason that smaller English country houses, and those with agricultural links, tended to favour English Elm.  In the smaller English country house, cost was a factor and you could get more out of the larger trunk.

Now:  Dutch Elm disease ravaged the UK’s population of English Elm between 1970 and 1990, and there are now few left, making English Elm pretty exclusive.  The stock we now use for English country house work tends to be quite gnarled and rustic in appearance, so like English Oak it needs to be selected carefully.  For a large English country house project we would nowadays consider European Elm, which is the same species but grown in Europe.  Like oak, this material tends to be more consistent in its growth and straighter grained making it a good choice for doors and architectural joinery.

 

English Elm board
English Elm has a wild grain making it often too rustic for the grander English country house.

So in conclusion, for clients renovating or building an English country house, it is entirely possible to use timber that is appropriate to the period or to the original building materials, although its origin of source may now be different to the original.

If you are focussed on using the correct timber and materials for your country house project and are motivated to create furniture which will become an integral part of its architecture for many years to come, we’d love to hear about it!

 

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

To discuss your project, email the Artichoke team at newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call on +44 (0)1934 745270.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Design Inspired by Lanhydrock

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.

 

The main kitchen at Lanhydrock house
Beautifully lit by natural light; the main kitchen at Lanhydrock house.

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.

 

Cast iron ovens at Lanhydrock House kitchens
The huge cast iron oven forms the centrepiece of the Victorian kitchen design.  Note the recess in the background, framed with a cast iron mould
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.

 

Render of Artichoke's bespoke kitchen design
Render of Artichoke’s bespoke kitchen design.

 

plate rack in Victorian kitchen design
Render of Artichoke’s bespoke kitchen design.

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.

 

copper sink in the bakery
The copper sink in Lanhydrock’s bakery. The walls were painted blue as it was considered the colour least attractive to flies.
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.

 

Officine Gullo coup de feu top
The heavy gauge cast iron Coup de Feu or French plate is an essential piece of kit in professional kitchens.
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

 

Officine Gullo range oven in Victorian 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.

 

Cast iron moulds

 

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.

 

Cold water feed in a cast iron trench system with marble and slate

 

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.

 

Brass pull handle for kitchen
Stage 1:  Surveying one of the original kitchen handles from Lanhydrock.

 

Technical drawing in preparation for creating a mould for a new handle
Stage 2: Artichoke technically draws and details the handle in preparation for creating a mould for the brass team.

 

Scale version of the Lanhydrock handles in timber 
Stage 3: Artichoke makes a 1:1 scale version of the Lanhydrock handles in timber for the casting team to then use as a model

 

 

Completed copies of the new handle design
Stage 4: The completed copies, ready for client approval
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.

 

Technical drawings of a kitchen island

 

Cabinet maker making an island
Artichoke cabinet-maker Arthur making the Cook’s kitchen table.
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.

 

kitchen island table
Cook’s table island with wrought iron tie bars and visible joints.
Large plate rack
The kitchen’s large plate rack, ready for the sink and surfaces.
Close up image of how the frame of the Cook’s Table is jointed into the top of the turned leg
A close up of how the frame of the Cook’s Table is jointed into the top of the turned leg. The hole allows us to pass electricity cables through it.

 

 

The project is ongoing and will be added to as the project progresses.  For further information, contact Artichoke on 01934 745270 or email 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

 

IMG_4586
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

Historical & Period Kitchen Reference Images

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:

 

The scullery at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

 

The kitchen, Avebury Manor, Wiltshire (prior to its redecoration)

 

The Kitchen in the Basement at Ickworth, Suffolk.

 

The Kitchen at Attingham Park, Shropshire. The elm-topped table and dresser are filled with the copper batterie de cuisine.

 

The range and surrounding stonework with carved inscription in the Kitchen at Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire.

 

The double sink and taps in the Scullery at Dunham Massey, Cheshire.

 

The Kitchen at Dunham Massey, Cheshire.

 

The Kitchen with the Philip Webb dresser at Standen, West Sussex.

 

The Scullery at Tredegar House, Newport, South Wales. The wooden draining boards and sinks and plate rack are a modern replacement for the original fittings.

 

The Great Kitchen at Tredegar House, Newport, South Wales. The walls are partly tiled with 1880s Maw and Company tiles, with the upper parts painted blue which was a colour believed to repel flies.

 

Old kitchen equipment including graters, a corkscrew, a toasting fork and a sieve at Sunnycroft, Shropshire.

 

Old kitchen utensils used as display at Polesden Lacey restaurant, Surrey.

 

Part of the copper batterie de cuisine on the dresser shelves in the Kitchen at Attingham Park, Shropshire.

 

The Kitchen with wooden table, and range, at Osterley Park, Middlesex. The room has been a kitchen since the 1760s and is in the opposite corner of the house to the Eating Room, so that no noise or cooking odours should disturb the diners.

 

The sixteenth century kitchen built by Sir Richard Grenville at Buckland Abbey, Yelverton, Devon. The kitchen was re-sited to be near to the Great Hall and the room is dominated by two open hearths used for cooking. The walls are painted in a traditional pink limewash.

 

The Kitchen at Castle Drogo, Devon, with the circular beechwood table designed by the architect of the house, Edwin Lutyens. The only natural light in the room comes from the circular lantern window above the table, echoing its shape.

 

Partial view of the oak table designed by Lutyens and made by Dart & Francis in 1927 in the Butler’s Pantry at Castle Drogo, Devon.

 

Three large oak-framed sinks and the long rows of plate racks above partially lit in the Scullery at Castle Drogo.

 

The Larder with a food safe at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands.

 

Library Interior Design Reference Images

A precursor to starting the interior design work for any bespoke library or study is to take reference from the past.  Here are some of the libraries we love.

 

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The Philosopher’s Hall, Strahov Monastery, Prague(we are currently designing a project inspired by this library).  Click this link to see a fascinating detailed 360 tour of this room.

 

library furniture looking from balcony

The grand library at Chatsworth.

 

Bookcases in the Library at Hatchlands Park, Surrey.

Bookcases in the Library at Hatchlands Park, Surrey.

 

The Library at Knightshayes Court, Devon. The bookcases are in a Gothic style with linenfold panelling by John Crace.

The Library at Knightshayes Court, Devon

 

View from the Book Room into the Library at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. The Book Room was created by John Soane in 1806 by annexing part of the orangery.

View from the Book Room into the Library at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire

 

The library steps by Thomas Chippendale the Younger, in the Library at Stourhead, Wiltshire.

The library steps by Thomas Chippendale the Younger, in the Library at Stourhead, Wiltshire

 

The Library, designed by Robert Adam in 1766, at Osterley Park, Middlesex. The room is in a stony white with neo-classical details, the original collection of books would have had colourful bindings and the simplicity of the room was in sympathy with that. In 1885, the original library volumes were sold to pay for the refurbishment of the house.

The Library, designed by Robert Adam in 1766, at Osterley Park, Middlesex.

 

A view from the Hall to the Library at Basildon Park, Berkshire. The Neo-classical plasterwork decoration of the Hall shows the Adam influence on John Carr of York who designed the house in the late eighteenth century. The trophies of arms in panels above the doors are a reminder that entrance halls were used as armouries in earlier times. The Library bookcases are visble through the open door.

A view from the Hall to the Library at Basildon Park, Berkshire

 

The Library at Castle Drogo, Devon. Edwin Lutyens was the architect of Drogo between 1910 and 1930 and he designed the oak bookcases. The lustre dishes above the bookcases are Hispano-Moresque and date from the 1700s.

The Library at Castle Drogo, Devon.

 

The Library at Belton House, Lincolnshire. The room was a dining room in the seventeenth century, changed into a drawing room in 1778, and was converted into a library in 1876.

 

Gilt-brass wirework on one of the bookcases in the Library at Hartwell House, a historic house hotel in Buckinghamshire.

Gilt-brass wirework on one of the bookcases in the Library at Hartwell House, a historic house hotel in Buckinghamshire.

 

Shelves in the Library at Scotney Castle, Kent.

Shelves in the Library at Scotney Castle, Kent.

 

One of the inscribed Gothic hinges on the Library door at Tyntesfield. Only available as a scan.

One of the inscribed Gothic hinges on the Library door at Tyntesfield, North Somerset

 

View of the Library at Nostell Priory: the first room to be remodelled by Robert Adam. The view shows the Chippendale library table, lyre-back chairs (1767-8) and bookcases.

View of the Library at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

 

The Library at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. The Library was built in 1937-8 by Sidney Parvin to house Lord Fairhaven's collection of books.

The Library at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire.

 

Looking through the Library door toward the Entrance Hall at Castle Drogo, Devon.

Looking through the Library door toward the Entrance Hall at Castle Drogo, Devon.

 

The library at St Giles House near Shatftesbury, recently restored and owned by the Earl of Shaftestbury.

The Domestic End of the English Country House

At Artichoke, we spend a great deal of time resolving and detailing the domestic layouts of our client’s homes. We never even consider what a country house kitchen will look like aesthetically until we understand completely how a space works practically.

 

 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the domestic back-end of an English country house was largely managed by a team of servants who had set zones of work to operate from.  For example, the scullery maid worked in the scullery, the cook reigned supreme in the kitchen and the butler had his pantry.  The upper servants were butler, housekeeper, cook, valet, ladies maid and governess, and below them socially were footmen, housemaids, kitchen, scullery, laundry and dairy maids. Anyone who has watched Downton Abbey will have a understanding of the structure. All the domestic tasks and staff to run the house were hidden behind the green baize door, the single item of joinery that marked the divide between master and servant.

Such extravagance on staff is rare these days; we tend to cook for ourselves, use machines to wash our dishes and we generally tend to run our own lives.  This can present issues when designing new bespoke kitchens for large country houses that were once run by numerous servants.  For a start, typically the kitchen would have originally been at the back end of the house, away from the reception rooms of the house. This would minimise the risk of fire spreading to the front-end of the house, and also reduce cooking smells.  These days our clients often want their kitchens to be at the heart of their homes. This results in us often having to design the kitchen into what would once have been a ballroom or a drawing room, presenting issues such as how to get services into the room, and how to get extraction out.

 

 

When Artichoke designs it’s bespoke kitchens, we will often refer back to the ways the domestic back ends of English country houses worked, and we often separate our kitchens into the same zones originally used in great country houses; Storage, Food Preparation, Cooking, Butler’s Pantry and Scullery.  We are not advocates of the kitchen triangle which presents far too much rigidity for bespoke kitchen design and does not represent how most of our clients live.

 

Storage

On large estates, the acquisition of food had to be a well planned affair, and having a level of self sufficiency was also an advantage (although it required an army of outdoor staff to grow fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs). The meats were often the produce of sport, and caught or shot by the hands of the gentry and their friends.

It was the housekeepers job to manage the storage of these goods.  Advantage was taken of the abundance of food in the Summer, with any overage being preserved in the Still Room, a mini kitchen with two ranges on which jams, preserves, pickles, cakes and confectionery were made for afternoon teas.

 

Bespoke Somerset willow baskets with a catering standard tap in the scullery area.

 

The game larder was usually positioned on a North-East facing position to minimise heat from the sun; in many houses the walls were often hexagonal in shape to maximise wall surface to the cold air outside.  The roof often had special ventilation to minimise smells from the hanging meat, and screens on the windows keep the vermin away.  Lead lined tanks around the room would be used for meat to be wet or dry salted, allowing the game to be stored for several months.

Of course, storage of food is significantly less laborious these days, with sophisticated appliances such as Sub Zero fridges with dual compressors taking the place of air cooled storage.  At Artichoke, we will often dedicate a separate zone in the kitchen to dry larder storage, often referred to as the Pantry.

 

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The pantry above was designed into a Queen Anne house in Gloucestershire by Artichoke. We will often employ simple “estate joinery” techniques for secondary spaces like this. Click here to see more information on this project.
Food Preparation

The early domestic kitchen would have been an animated and noisy hub of the domestic back end of the house. The modern kitchen is often similar, albeit with less staff and more gadgets (and often more children!).  In large English country houses, the large kitchen table would have been the focal point and main preparation zone.  Many of the functions carried out then were the same as today; grinding chopping, mixing, beating, mincing and rolling were all undertaken by staff. These days we use islands to prepare food on and often buy in ingredients ready minced and prepared.  We also have gadgets to do the chopping and grinding for us and we also tend to entertain far less formally than we used to.

Despite the differences in equipment, the cooking process starts when raw materials are deposited at the scullery door (the Sub Zero fridge being today’s equivalent).   Regardless whether there are servants or not, food is still cleaned, stored, prepared and presented to guests.

Depending on layout, the island is now the main preparation zone in most kitchens. The key difference is that preparation tables used to be standard table height (around 760mm), while modern islands are usually around 910mm

 

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A large central preparation island sits at the help if this Artichoke kitchen. The furniture was detailed with classical Doric Greek mouldings, designed as a scaled copy of the facade of the new addition to this John Soane country house.
Cooking

Large country houses had a plethora of cooking options available to them.  In the 19th Century, roasting meats on an open fire was the preferred method of cooking.  Meat was secured on skewers that rotated slowly in-front of the fire with the juices being collected in the tray below (in which they later made Yorkshire pudding).

There was also usually a large boiler where puddings were boiled, a warming oven to keep meals hot, a stove for stockpots and a smaller hotter oven for pastry cooking.  There was also often a charcoal stove, used as a type of indoor barbeque, a task adequately replaced by the Grill (such as the one found on the Wolf Dual Fuel range below).

As a nod to the kitchens of the past, Artichoke has recently designed a large open fireplace with a spit into the kitchen of a large country estate house in Tuscany. Cooking meats on an open fire is a fantastic method of cooking if you have the available equipment.

 

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Villa Guglielmesca - room 1311 - Fireplace

 

Butler’s Pantry

The Butler’s Pantry came into fashion in the English country house in the mid to late 1800’s.  They because a staple of great English houses and were typically situated between the dining room and the kitchen.  They were used for storing china and crockery and for serving and plating up food.

The example below, designed by Artichoke for a country house, shows both sides of the room, a short passageway between the kitchen and the main dining room.

 

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Scullery

The scullery that supported large country estates was usually at the back of the house, often nearest the well or water source.  They would usually have stone floors and heavy drainage, and often the scullery floor was 150mm lower than the rooms adjacent to it to minimise risk of flooding to other rooms in the house.

The scullery maid would usually stand on slatted mats to stop their feet getting too wet, and there were usually two sinks, one for hot water and one for cold.

Sculleries were not simply for washing.  They were also used as early preparation zones, such as for cleaning mud off vegetables bought in off the estate or preparing game and fish.   They were also used for laundry.

When designing the domestic ends of English country houses, the scullery and utility rooms will often be separate.  Artichoke’s sculleries will usually be for washing up plates and kitchen pots and pans, while utility rooms will be for linen washing and storage.

 

Scullery 1(1)

 

Scullery 2
This scullery, designed by Artichoke for an Edwin Lutyens house, is used for butchery of game, washing up and crockery storage. As the house is often used to entertain many guests, stainless steel was introduced to the washing up part of the scullery zone.

 

 

 

 

Curved Kitchen for a Round House

Round houses were once all the rage (think mud huts, yurts and teepees).  Houses were built in the round because they offered strength against earthquakes, strong winds and heavy snow, and because they were quick to heat and simple to roof.

These days, modern building materials and fixings offer enough strength and stability to not have to deploy round exteriors for strength, and it is unusual to see one.  Not because the shape is unappealing aesthetically, but largely because the machinery that makes and shapes building materials such as steel, brick, glass, timber and stone is designed to produce it flat, square and straight.  Flat, square and straight is the default setting for most building material manufacturers, so it should be of no great surprise that design and manufacture of curved furniture takes longer and ultimately costs more.

Even the glass backsplash is curved.

 


This particular house is round because it has been inspired by the circular garage carousel upon which it sits, created to store the clients car collection.

Design Challenges – Designing A Kitchen in a Round House
The project has been designed in collaboration with Mark Gillette and for it to be authentic and a design success, it was first vital that all of the curved elements of the bespoke kitchen doors were actually curved, and not faceted.

This challenge is further compounded by the fact that the curve becomes tighter the nearer to the center of the roundhouse the furniture is positioned.  This means that the radius of the furniture doors in the scullery at the back of the kitchen is different (shallower) to the radius of the doors on the outside of the island (tighter).

Radius dimensions are 16.16 metres for the scullery, 15.32 for the glass splashback, 14.62 for the main kitchen furniture, 13.49 for the inside of the island and 12.09 for the outside of the island.

In addition to the varying radius dimensions, other challenges present themselves. Dishwashers and fridges have flat doors, raising the question of how you fix a curved furniture door to the face of a flat metal door?  Does the hinge on the appliance throw the curved door out far enough so that it doesn’t meet adjacent doors?  Hardly any of the joints meet at 90 degrees.  How do you clamp these items together at an angle?  Are the floor tilers using the same radius as you and will their floor radius match your plinth radius?  The glass backsplash needs to be specially curved. How do you set out the kitchen at the installation stage?


Artichoke’s creative design images of the desk area with doors open and closed. The right hand side of these images show the strength of the curved doors.

Materials
The primary material chosen for this kitchen is fumed Eucalyptus, typically found in Australia, New Zealand and Spain. The material is a light brown/golden yellow in its natural state, and it is made to go a deep chocolate brown colour by fuming it (a process using ammonia that causes a reaction with the tannins in the timber).

As you can see, the timber has a wonderful ripple running through it and great care and considerable time was chosen to source a pack of veneer that was even in colour throughout and maintained its ripple across the width of the kitchen.  As is often the case, we took the client to our veneer suppliers to advise and discuss the choice.

The Fumed Eucalyptus in Artichoke’s workshops before it is worked.

This video shows an Artichoke cabinet-maker bonding veneer onto one of the curved substrates using a vacuum bag-press. 

Production Engineering
At Artichoke, because our kitchens are so highly bespoke, we put every completed design through a process called Production Engineering.  This essentially means we are making the kitchen digitally into an accurately surveyed wire-frame model of the room.  This allows us to iron out every issue on computer first before any materials are purchased.

Images show the kitchen being digitally cabinet-made into the wire frame model of the room.   Once this process is complete and we are happy the kitchen works, we can use this software to produce making drawings for the cabinet-makers.

Cabinet Making
For quality control reasons, every bespoke kitchen we design is assembled at Artichoke’s workshops to ensure any issues are ironed out before we come to the installation phase.  This also gives us the opportunity to ensure that all of the appliances fit perfectly and that all of the door gaps are perfect.  Only then is the kitchen dis-assembled and finished in Artichoke’s high tech, air filtered finishing booths. 


Individually, the curve on each door is surprisingly slight, but when compounded it becomes more pronounced.

Installation Phase
Artichoke’s workshop environment is specifically set to domestic heat and humidity levels, so moving completed furniture into a non domestic environment is a potential danger.

The installation phase is often the most risky, and we take great care to ensure that our furniture is introduced to the building at the correct stage of the build.  We are particularly focussed on ensuring the relative humidity is appropriate (between 40 and 60%).  If humidity levels are under, it can cause the timber in the kitchen to shrink, causing cracking, gapping and surface checking.  If the humidity levels are above (which can be as a result of plasterers still working on the site), then it can encourage mould growth and buckling.    Solid timber is particularly vulnerable.


The house nearing completion.

The main sink elevation.


The double doors lead to the scullery.  The glass was also curved, as was the stone profile.  The stone has a textured surface.

 

Completed Project

If you are interested in curved kitchen design and would like to discuss a project with us, please contact Andrew or Bruce on +(0)1934 745270.

Villa Guglielmesca, Tuscany, Italy

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.

 

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Villa Guglielmesca, Cortona, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy (in 2011 before work started)
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The View from the Villa

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.

 

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The splayed reveal August 2014, ready for plastering
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 Villa’s entrance hall when it was a hotel

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.

 

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Artichoke’s re-design of the entrance hall

 

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Plans show Artichoke’s architectural plans for the main hall

 

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).

 

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The Villa’s kitchen space taken back to brick

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.

 

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Image shows the two brick islands finished in rough finish lime render
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.

 

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Artichoke’s design for the Villa’s bootroom
Kitchen Fireplace

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.

 

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Shows the Artichoke designed fireplace being prepared in tandem with the groined ceiling, also designed by us
Interior Architecture

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:

 

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Construction in progress of the groined ceiling in the Villa’s Limonaria

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Pietra Serena stone architrave being set into the Villa walls
One of the Artichoke designed Pietra Serena window surrounds

 

Installation Phase
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Artichoke’s European walnut vanity unit with walnut mirrors. The marble to be added will be Carrara
The Villa’s exterior showing the Pietra Serena windows and door frames designed by Artichoke. The shutters were make locally

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Walnut skirting was designed for the dining room
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Artichoke designed this simple linen store. Note the detail in the clay tiles at the threshold of the door

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Completed Project

A small selection of images from the completed project are below.

Kitchen

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Scullery

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Bootroom

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Guest WC

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Hallway Doors

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Selected Architectural Joinery

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Designing a Country House Kitchen Island

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.

 

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. Not Used CL 12/07/1946
The central island in the main kitchen at Middleton Park was simply a domestic table raised off the ground on blocks

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.

 

Island 1

 

Island 4

 

2D Drawings

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.

 

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3D Renders

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.

 

Blackhurst - View 4

 

Blackhurst - View 7

 

Production Engineering

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.

 

Island b

 

Island d
there are 141 individual hand made component parts in this island. Each is bespoke made from the original raw materials (European Oak)
Production

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.

 

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Dovetail joint
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Mortice and tenon joints
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A specially designed jig with leather protective padding clamps the rail to the leg
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Dovetailed drawers
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Artichoke cabinet maker Craig putting final adjustments to one of the island drawers
Finishing

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.

 

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24 February 2016: Project being installed.