‘One of the best country house specialists in Britain’
We are delighted to be included for the 5th consecutive year in the Country Life Top 100 and be recognized as the widely respected in the design and manufacture of joinery-led rooms for country houses.
This represents the ultimate recognition of our expertise in working on fine English houses and an acknowledgement of our mission to create Britain’s future heritage.
We are so delighted to be recognized once again for the quality of our work – achieving a fine balance between meeting the needs and tastes of owners and fulfilling the potential of a house without harming its architectural integrity. Over 30 years, we’ve worked in houses of every architectural period and have built a detailed understanding of each.
Artichoke interiors, which are joinery-led, fulfill the unique promise of architectural joinery, which is not just to embellish rooms, but to give them their status and their role in the life of a household. Explore the extend of our services.
Architectural joinery achieves something no other trade can, in creating liveable, elegant and architecturally authentic houses. This puts us in a unique position, filling the gap between architects and interior designers, creating the interior structure that makes sense of a house.
Artichoke looks backwards to take our clients’ houses forward, recoupling exceptional artisan skills to design expertise. We are makers and creatives working as one to achieve the remarkable for our clients and their houses. Read about how we work.
We have been lucky to work very closely with Country Life magazine in recent years and to be part of this list, standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the most incredible companies of designers and artisans in the country which makes us very proud
The full Country Life Top 100 2020 list can be viewed here
To see some of the stunning work we have completed please click here.
We’d love to hear more if you have a project in mind. Whether it’s a single room – maybe a kitchen or a dressing room, or a whole house project, please do get in touch – speak with a member of our team on +44(0)1934 745 270 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Like the architect of grand buildings such as Arley Hall in Cheshire, at Artichoke our purpose is to produce rooms of heritage quality. It is our mission to ensure every room we design and make will form a long term part of our clients’ houses for generations.
There have always been designers and makers with the same mission as ours, and their interiors are still looking as breathtaking today as they were when first installed, all those years ago. Their legacy creates an emotional and aesthetic connection to Britain’s cultural identity. It is our inspiration.
In this new series, we will tell the story of English country house interiors that we admire. Our special thanks go to Christopher John Photography for allowing us to use his photography from Arley Hall, the subject of our first brief biography of a building.
Arley Hall was built by the Warburton family in the mid 1400s. Originally it was a U shaped timber framed structure surrounded by a moat. The three story building you can see in the photo above was added in 1570 and was left largely unaltered, falling into disrepair until the late 18th century, when the house was encased in redbrick and neo-classical stone facades. It was at this time that Arley Hall’s housekeeper was Elizabeth Raffald, who went onto become the writer of one of Britain’s most successful cook book at the time, ‘The Experienced English Housekeeper.’
These late 18th century architectural interventions turned our to be unwise and unsympathetic, and the house continued its decline until 1813 when it was inherited by the then 8 year old Rowland Egerton Warburton. At the age of 21, charged by a decent inheritance, Rowland decided to completely rebuild Arley Hall using modern building methods, but in the Jacobean style as a nod to his ancestral past and the source of his wealth.
The Grand Hall
Rowland chose George Latham, a local architect, to design the house. Latham had trouble achieving planning permission. His first neo-Jacobean submissions were dismissed. Finally, his Elizabethan concepts were approved, but on the proviso that every feature in the house had an exact original Elizabethan replica elsewhere. With this large task at hand, both Egerton-Warberton and Latham embarked on a lengthy study trip to investigate Elizabethan detail before starting the first phase of the work in 1932.
The Library at Arley Hall
The Dining Room
Latham designed the dining room doorways and panelling as well as the neo Elizabethan ceilings which were installed in 1842 by J Hughes of Manchester. The dining room table (unseen) was made for the original dining hall which was demolished in 1968. It sat 24 people.
The Drawing Room
The beautiful drawing room at Arley Hall was is devoted to the memory of Rowland Egerton Warburton, whose portrait hangs over the fireplace.
As these beautiful images show, Arley Hall is a classic example of a money-no-object approach to building design and interior architecture. Rowland Egerton-Warburton was young when he inherited the family money, and he was clearly passionate about recognising his family legacy by way of a grand architectural statement. Of all the periods to choose to replicate, Elizabethan architecture and interior design is the most involved and consequently the most expensive to reproduce, requiring the finest plasterers, carvers, brickmakers and joiners to deliver. It would have been a very costly undertaking but Rowland had the vision necessary for such an undertaking and he has certainly left an impressive legacy.
“Without great patrons, there would be no great architecture” said Sir Edwin Lutyens.
If you’d like to discuss our approach to design and discover first hand our passion for brilliantly designed joinery and how it can improve your experience of living in a period house and form part of your home for generations, please email email@example.com or call +44 (0)1934 745270.
Slow making versus throwaway culture has been brought into sharp focus over the last year and a half as we have all begun to realise the impact that poor quality purchasing decisions can have on both our lives and the planet. With sustainability becoming an increasingly important factor in how we all behave, we felt it warranted further exploration.
If you type ‘How long should a kitchen last’ into Google, the accepted answer is around 20 to 25 years. Most commentators seem to feel this is some sort of benchmark to be celebrated. We don’t.
Cost efficiencies come at a price
There are two reasons why most kitchens have such short shelf lives. The first is quality of design. The second being quality of manufacture. For a kitchen to last 20 years, it must be of a certain quality but it won’t be outstanding. Market forces will prevent it from being such. It is impossible to make kitchens or architectural joinery of a quality that will last for generations at a price point that most kitchen companies like to pitch their product at. To provide a product which is commercially attractive to their market, something has to give. That something is time and the quality of materials. Time must be saved to reduce cost in order to reduce price. Cheaper materials are chosen to help the company reach its desired price point.
Time costs money
Rooms that will last for generations need to be timeless in how they look and robust enough to endure decades of use. Achieving this requires time. And with time costing money, kitchen companies find savings. Pre-designed ranges achieve economies of scale. Cost efficiencies are found in a myriad of ways – by speeding up manufacturing processes and taking shortcuts in making traditional joints. By making doors thinner, by mechanising finishing and by using cheaper, often man made materials, This speeds the design and manufacturing process up and lowers the quality. This all sounds rather sniffy but it’s not meant to be. It’s simply economics. These companies are providing a product at a price point that is acceptable to their customer. However, it’s not our product and its not our market. We discussed this need for time with Country Life a few issues ago.
Designing for sustainability
For us, sustainability is central to our mission. We don’t design rooms to be trendy. Trend has a shelf life, and anything with a shelf life usually meets its untimely end in landfill. We owe it to the raw materials we respect so much to take a much longer term view.
By designing architectural joinery which sits elegantly and serenely within its architectural environment, and by using natural materials which have not been processed, we are able to circumvent the need to replace it because it’s gone out of fashion or because its deteriorated. Our clients want joinery-led rooms which will be admired in 200 years in much the same way that we all admire rooms designed and created 200 years ago. To achieve this takes time, investment and a desire by the client to create heritage for future generations to admire and take value from. You cannot achieve design harmony in a beautiful period house by picking a pre-designed item off the shelf and hoping for the best. It won’t work.
The slow movement is based on these principles. Slow making is our expression of this philosophy. It is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed to achieve the desired result. And in our case, the desired result is in the creation of this country’s future heritage.
If you’d like to discuss our approach to architectural joinery and our passion for how brilliantly designed furniture can immesurably improve your experience of living in a period house, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01934 734270
Hardwood joinery grows in beauty over time. When designing and making new fitted furniture, Artichoke uses period wood finishes to replicate the depth and character of antiques.
Artichoke are experts in joinery led interiors. Our team of period wood finishers have the skill to apply texture and patina to wooden detail allowing it to seamlessly blend into a period setting. Similarly, in newly built houses our joinery has a transformative effect – wooden elements, artfully finished, settle a new house and provide instant depth and character. Take a glimpse of a recent new build project that demonstrates our skill at period wood finishes here. This is the alchemy of Artichoke.
So, how do we achieve our period wood finishes?
Over decades of experience, we have built up finishing techniques that are second to none. Authentic finishes do not come out of a bottle. To recreate the feel of antique wood requires a certain alchemy. Staining wood is like creating a painting. It has taken Artichoke many years of trial and error to formulate authentic period finishing techniques. This is how we make furniture look 300 years old but which is hardy enough for life in a modern day setting.
What is the point of a wood finish?
The purpose of a finish is to seal the timber to give it luster, depth and warmth. It is driven by practical needs – unfinished wood is porous to the touch so stains and marks easily. The application of a finish makes it resilient, the appropriate finish determined by how the joinery will be used and its context.
What’s wrong with mass market wooden finishes?
Nowadays, mass market production involves automated spray machines with nozzles that apply a bland and even coat around wood. Spray painting wood in this way creates a nasty thin layer more like a wrap than a finish, with no character or depth. It is quick and cheap but there is no sensitivity or artistry – it’s like a white wash. At Artichoke, our finishes are entirely different. We impregnate wood rather than lay the finish on top. It seeps into the wood, nourishing it, keeping it supple and giving it colour, luster and character.
Antique furniture ages over time. Its patina evolves through the years with human touch, exposure to sunlight and different temperatures and conditions. To replicate the effect this passage of time has on wood, we have to accelerate the aging process. How? We imagine what might have happened to the furniture if it really had been in situ for decades – in terms of its colour, texture, dirt and exposure to light.
Artichoke’s depth of knowledge.
The older the piece of furniture, the greater the impact the environment has had on it. This adds to its unique charm. New cabinetry can feel out of place in a period building. New cabinetry in a recently built house can lack atmosphere and a sense of belonging. So the real trick is to create an antique feel without it looking pastiche. Our expert finishers know how wood changes over time. Our master finisher has a background in furniture restoration – developing expert skills in repairing old pieces using newer pieces of wood and making them match and look good. This appreciation of how a piece of furniture ages only comes through many years of handling. It is an art requiring hours of work and many years of collective skill and experience.
Period wood finishes and colour.
The appearance of wood is effected by it’s exposure to light and temperature and how it’s been handled and cared for. Different timbers react differently over time – for example when darker timber is exposed to natural light it lightens, while when lighter timber is exposed, it becomes darker. You can’t simply colour wood to replicate the effects of sun bleach. You can’t do it by applying lighter stains. Instead, for an authentic finish, we use a variety of chemicals to wash out natural colours in the timbers and to add colour back in. We then layer finishes over the top – adding polish to replicate what happens over time.
Where furniture gets handled, oil and skin have an impact on the wood’s appearance. We replicate the aging process by wiping on and wiping off layers of polish and rottenstone pigment mixed in with chalk dust. This requires time and skill and an acute sense of colour – an understanding of how natural materials behave over time and being sensitive to the character of the materials. This is where the artistry comes in – being able to add back decades of fine layers of dust and dirt accumulated in mouldings.
Period wood finishes and wear and tear.
Selecting figure in timber and its stability in relation to its eventual use is vital. Furniture gets knocks and bangs – we recreate this by various means including bashing the furniture with cotton bags full of nuts and bolts, or using a steel bar to roll down the corner of the furniture. This emulates the wear and tear a piece of furniture will get in its lifetime.
A time and place for spray finishes.
There are situations that benefit from a modern approach. For example, unless specified otherwise by our client, we spray paint the interior carcasses of kitchen cupboards and cabinets. We finish these interiors in a more contemporary way to give durability. The finish will be harder wearing, better suited to the wear and tear typical in kitchens or back of house.
Time is our favourite tool.
To make furniture that feels settled in its environment requires a building of layers which takes many hours to build up. We’ve outlined how these processes can’t be replicated by machines. Rather, a huge input of labour is required. Hand finishing is therefore an expensive luxury and plays a key part in the creation of our furniture.
As ever, do call us if you’d like to discuss a joinery design project further on +44 (0)1934 745270. For more information on the range of project management services we offer, from design, installation, and finish, please click here.
As country house experts, we have plenty of experience in designing beautiful boot rooms to meet modern families’ needs, and events over the last couple of years mean that the boot room has never been more important in family life. We look at modern boot room ideas and how to create a space that works for your household, without compromising on aesthetics.
Boot rooms have always been a convenient midway point between the wild outside and the calm interior of a home. They are the place where you can happily leave wet coats, muddy boots, dirty dogs, umbrellas and prams without worrying that they are going to ruin any beautiful furnishings. Depending on your boot room design, they can also provide extra utility space, whether you want a separate area for laundry or a dedicated place for flower arranging.
However, these rooms came into their own even more in the COVID-19 era. The global pandemic saw homes driven to two extremes: they either became much quieter than usual, with family members locked down in different parts of the world, or the opposite, with grandparents or parents seeing their offspring return to the family estate to enjoy country living during the Coronavirus restrictions.
Modern boot room ideas for modern requirements
As life has returned to normal, the modern boot room remains an important factor in how a busy household functions. Below we look at boot room design ideas and how to create a space that works for your household.
Where to start
When looking to create the perfect country house boot room, you first need to look at your family’s day-to-day life and consider exactly how the space will be used. For example, how many children or animals do you have? How many coats, hats and pairs of shoes will need to be stored here? What are your family’s favourite activities – perhaps shooting, fishing or riding are regular hobbies? If so, what kind of kit needs to be stored? If guns will be kept there, what are the security requirements?
Once all this has been thought about, you can start to sketch out a vision of what your ideal boot room design would look like, setting out a clear idea of what needs to be done.
What to consider for optimal boot room design
As much as you may want your boot room to be aesthetically pleasing, its primary function is as a midpoint between the outside and the in. This means that mud – and how it can be easily dealt with – should be a priority. You will definitely want a hard-wearing floor, such as stone, tile, or vinyl. You should also think about drainage – for example, you may find it convenient to install a drain in the centre of the floor, meaning that mud and dirt can be easily swept away. To avoid as much as possible mud being trampled in, you could consider installing an outdoor tap, which provides an easy way for people to wash off muddy boots or animals before entering.
Another modern boot room idea for English country homes is to anticipate and work with the English weather. In many homes, boot rooms act as the main back entrance to the house, but this can mean that they let in a significant draft as people come through. So, you may wish to consider adding an extra door between the boot room and the outside world, preventing the cold and wind from coming in.
If you wish to incorporate a sink into your boot room, think carefully about what you will use it for first. For example, if you will be washing off muddy boots inside, you will want to choose a large and robust sink, whereas if you are mainly planning on using this sink for flower arranging, the sink won’t need to be as robust however the height of the tap will need to be planned to ensure that tall vases can fit underneath.
During the pandemic, the boot room was often used as a ‘decontamination zone’ to avoid bringing in germs from the outside world. It might have a washing machine and storage for detergent, allowing you to put potentially infected clothes straight in the wash as you arrive home. You can then decide whether you want your boot room to become your main laundry space, in which case you will also need to consider hanging areas for washed clothes and baskets for dirty items.
How much work is it to design and create a fully-kitted-out boot room?
As specialists in fitting English period homes to suit modern family life, we are able to handle projects with ease, whether its restoring a very old building to better suit the needs of our client or whether its a new back of house addition to an old house ensuring they understand exactly what you want from your boot room before they commence with the build.
All this may seem like a lot of effort for a simple boot room. However, when you consider what an important role this space actually plays in family life, it is well worth investing time in boot room design ideas in order to create a space that will suit all your household for years to come.
Shining a light on the lost art of English joinery in a recent article in Country Life magazine, Interiors Editor, Giles Kime invites our founder, Bruce Hodgson, to explain how door casements, shutters, panelling, skirtings, architraves, cornicing and dados can transform a space.
If you’ve been inspired to know more about the transformative impact of authentic joinery led interiors, please do get in touch and tell us about your project or read more about our services. To view the article in Country Life Magazine Interiors section, click here
As the Country Life top 100 2020 is announced, we are delighted to once again be included for the third consecutive year. This represents the ultimate recognition of our expertise in working on fine English houses and an acknowledgement of our mission to create Britain’s future heritage.
We are so delighted to be recognized once again for the quality of our work – achieving a fine balance between meeting the needs and tastes of owners and fulfilling the potential of a house without harming its architectural integrity. Over nearly 30 years, we’ve worked in houses of every architectural period and have built a detailed understanding of each. Artichoke interiors, which are joinery-led, fulfill the unique promise of architectural joinery, which is not just to embellish rooms, but to give them their status and their role in the life of a household. Architectural joinery achieves something no other trade can in creating liveable, elegant and architecturally authentic houses. This puts us in a unique position, filling the gap between architects and interior designers, creating the interior structure that makes sense of a house – and providing designers with the canvas they need.
Artichoke looks backwards to take our clients’ houses forward, recoupling exceptional artisan skills to design expertise. We are makers and creatives working as one to achieve the remarkable for our clients and their houses.
We have been lucky to work very closely with Country Life magazine in recent years and to be part of this list, standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the most incredible companies of designers and artisans in the country makes us very proud
The full Country Life Top 100 2020 list can be reviewed here
To see some of the stunning work we have completed please click here.
We’d love to hear more if you have a project in mind. Whether its a single room – maybe a kitchen or a dressing room, or a whole house project, please do get in touch – speak with a member of our team on +44(0)1934 745 270 or email us at email@example.com .
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, or call us on 01934 745270.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Every 15 years or so I become fashionable. My worn jeans and faded blue shirt ensemble becomes the look for that season, and for a brief moment, I’m on trend. The downside is that I live in Somerset, so when everyone’s realised what the trend is here, everyone in London’s wearing something else.
As a company, Artichoke also avoids trends. Our kitchen and architectural joinery designs are naturally classical. As designers of bespoke kitchens, libraries and principle rooms, we like the elegance which classical order, balance, proportion and harmony produces, and as fine cabinet-makers it suits us too. Classical design is steeped in tradition, and we enjoy making furniture in the traditional way, using hardwood which is joined together with mortice and tenons, mason’s mitres and halving joints. It’s a tried and tested formula.
In the early 2000’s we began to notice a significant shift in furniture and room style, particularly among the super-prime homeowner in London. These buyers typically came from overseas, and arrival on the streets of London gave these wealthy incomers a new found freedom to become more gregarious, and fashionable interior design became a popular route for those wanting to make an aesthetic mark on their newly acquired English home.
The consequences were sometimes questionable. Suddenly homeowners began to request furniture made from metal effect spray coated panelling and, albeit in extreme cases, Swarovski crystal covered shoe shaped baths. Interior design became a heady mixture of luxury hotel interiors crossed with theatre. Design became depressingly temporary.
More recently however we’ve noticed a welcome reversal, with more discerning clients beginning to appreciate that elegant design is actually best achieved through gentility and restraint. An introduction to the English countryside, its pursuits and architecture has also managed to educate some buyers to the more muted ways of successful English classical furniture and interior design.
Wealthy overseas buyers are now beginning to understand that quality English interior design and architecture is about style, grace, understated beauty, and above all, permanence. They are beginning to realise that it does not pay to be on-trend with interiors. Libraries, kitchens and dressing rooms cannot be replaced every time a new fashion emerges.
At the heart of this is craft, and we explore whether we are in the middle of a new Arts and Crafts period in another blog.
Our clients homes are too important to be treated simply as temporary or artificial stage sets with shelf lives, and the furniture design work we undertake here at Artichoke needs to have this air of permanence before it can be presented to the client. For joinery and fitted furniture to truly deliver an air of permanence, it needs to look comfortable and natural in its surroundings.
There are many ways of introducing permanence into design, but one sure fire method is to deploy classically inspired design treatments, mouldings, shapes, balance and proportion. When executed well it delivers breathtaking glamour that, we think, outstrips anything that a bronze and crystal adorned flat door panel will ever deliver in its short lifetime.
What wealthy buyers have begun to understand it appears, is that less is more. Or to quote the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good.”