Period Wood Finishes – the Alchemy of Artichoke

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.

The Country House Revived?

Not so long ago we were sent a wonderful piece of country house research undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at Manynooth University.

The study explores the survival and revival of the country house and historic houses in Ireland and the UK over the past 50 years, and it looks into some of the houses that have survived and prospered under their owners for future generations to enjoy.

It is so important that these portals into our past are cared for and put on the pedestal they deserve.  While the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it is the parts that must be revered.  The skills on display in these buildings by the artisan plasterers, joiners, gilders and stone masons are just wonderful, and we are so privileged as a company to be given the opportunity to display our craftsmanship alongside theirs for future generations to enjoy.

Extraordinary plasterwork restored by master plasterer Kevin Holbrook and Quinlan Francis Terry.

 

As ever, the best craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap, but its good value is unsurpassed.  Every great country house built in the 18th and 19th century was done so by someone who had accrued enough wealth to invest in the best possible quality joiners, carvers, stone masons, plasterers and architects.  They didn’t invest in buildings that would last just their own lives; they invested in buildings that would last centuries and it is our duty to look after them for the next generations to enjoy.

To do so, and to keep on creating heritage for our future generations requires dedication and a vision.  Our vision at Artichoke is that in 100 years, English design and craftsmanship continues to flourish, and we are doing several things to try and achieve it.  While it is a great delight to see so many country houses brought back from the brink, it will only be possible if we keep the craftsmanship skills needed thriving.  We explore in another piece some of the crafts education available in this field.

Presentations on both pieces of research are below:

Irish Country Houses

 

 

 

UK Country Houses

English Joinery – the lost art explored in Country Life

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

Artichoke in Country Life Top 100

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

Country Life magazine title front cover 4 March 2020

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 newprojects@artichoke.co.uk . 

 

Designing a Walk in Pantry

Scullery, walk-in pantry or butler’s pantry – we are all familiar with such rooms contributing to the status of an English country house.  While such rooms were traditionally quarters frequented by servants, modern day interior design sees them as everyday spaces used by the master of the house instead.  At Artichoke we enjoy bringing these rooms to life – planning their use and their fitted furniture to complement life in a busy 21st century home.

The Walk In Pantry – A Resurgence

We have experienced an increasing demand from clients commissioning authentic, high-end architectural joinery to support domestic spaces such as the pantry, designed in a way that is sympathetic and appropriate to the style and period of the house. When considering, for example, a Georgian country house, Artichoke has the knowledge and expertise to be respectful not only of the period of the house but also of the hierarchy of joinery – the design of such detail depending on the room – the upstairs being more elaborate than the downstairs or servant’s domain.

3D render of Artichoke designed butler's pantry
Artichoke’s design for a butler’s pantry for a Jacobean house.

The Butler’s Pantry

Pantries are a relatively new invention in English country house architecture, chiefly appearing in Georgian houses as separate rooms annexed off the kitchen or near the dining room for food preparation and the storage of silver, valuable dishes, table decorations and cooking equipment.  Often the cabinetry was grand in scale to store the significant amounts of crockery and cutlery needed to entertain many guests over five or more courses.  Traditionally, pantries were much cooler than kitchens, often located in a north facing part of the house, making them the perfect place to store fruit and vegetables to prolong their shelf life.

An image of a Lutyens designed butler's pantry in Middleton Park
This is the butler’s pantry at Middleton Park. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and his son Robert Lutyens in 1938 for the 9th Earl of Jersey. Pub Orig CL 12/07/1946

 

The Walk-In Pantry Today

Pantries provide a wonderful second space for food storage, food preparation and a shut-off room to hide used crockery and dishes when entertaining at scale.  They rarely need to be as big as their predecessors, chiefly because we don’t tend to eat as many courses or entertain as many people as regularly as they did 150 years ago.  There is also a growing awareness that many foods benefit from not being stored in the fridge.   These days, when kitchens tend to be the heart of the home, even in large, period properties, it is useful to have behind the scenes spaces where the mess and practicalities around domestic chores are hidden from view.  From a design point of view, it also means that some of the uglier appliances (such as the freezer or microvave) which look out of place in a period setting, can be hidden from view.

Walk in pantry
This walk in pantry designed by Artichoke follows the curvature of an internal stone staircase.

Things to Consider When Designing a Pantry

More often than not, interior architectural redesign is often needed when renovating a period home.  These buildings were often designed at a time when the lives of their owners were very different to those of modern families.  Often they had staff to run their kitchens, and often these kitchens and pantries were located far away from the family living quarters.  We live differently these days, and most clients will want their kitchens at the centre of their homes.  This may often mean a client will want to move their kitchen into a more central location.  This can be challenging in a listed house.  We explore these challenges separately in our article Moving Kitchens in a Listed Building.  The major point to take away when moving a kitchen to a more cenral location is to ensure that there is a natural location for a supporting pantry.  Often clients will us a smaller room, such as a downstairs loo, and repurpose the space for a pantry if it is within easy reach of the new kitchen location.  We have also seen clients use the space created under a staircase for a new pantry location.

Clearly in a newbuild, the issue of location is not such a problem, with many clients choosing to add a separate scullery and pantry room to support the main family kitchen.  The additon of these two rooms into a scheme frees up the main kitchen space, ensuring it’s design does not become too cluttered.

 


Each house is different, so there are many other factors that can sometimes raise their heads. If you are considering moving a kitchen or designing a new house with a pantry, let us know.  We have many years of interior architectural experience and in helping improve how period homes can peform for modern family life.  Email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk with any questions, or call us on 01934 745270.

 

 

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, English Elm and Chestnut.  Sensibly, English country house owners and their builders would make the most of natural resources available locally to their house, with each timber type having a different role 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, Oak and Chestnut 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 in the same form, 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 1700’s 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 these days 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 finished 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 rift cut European oak. There is a magical consistency in the grain of rift cut 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.

Chestnut

Then:  Chestnut was known as poor man’s oak (and still is to a degree), and it was a common tree found in English parklands and woodlands.  The tree can grow tall and strong and as a result it was often used for floorboards being cheaper than oak but similar in grain pattern.  It was often used in joinery work and furniture, but less so on structural joinery where oak was around 20% stronger.  It was often used in fencing as it is naturally durable.  Chestnut went out of circulation and popularity when it became the same price as oak, with makers and builders preferring the stronger and more water resistant oak instead.

Now:  These days Chestnut is still widely available and is used regularly in cladding, decking and beams, and it is now cheaper than oak.  From Artichoke’s point of view it is not only  a wonderful timber to work with but it also takes an authentic period finish beautifully.

Chestnut being aged by Artichoke’s specialist finishers.  It takes a beautiful period finish.

 

So in conclusion, for clients renovating or building an English country house, it is entirely possible to use authentic home grown 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 focused 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

 

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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 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.

 

Libraries We Love

A precursor to starting the interior design work for any bespoke library or study is to take reference from the past.  We take a great deal of inspiration from the past and we are fortunate in this country to have a great number of well preserved magnificent spaces to take inspiration from.

Here are some of the libraries we love, most of which have found their way into client presentations over the years

 

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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.

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