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

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.

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