The Case for Slow Making in a Throwaway Culture

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.

walnut and oak boards in Artichoke workshop
Responsibly sourced solid hardwoods, seen here in Artichoke’s workshop, will last forever.

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.

cabinet maker using a chisel to pare a joint
An Artichoke cabinet maker making sure a solid wood joint fits to perfection.

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.

Slow making

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 immesuarbly improve your experience of living in a period house, please email newprojects@artichoke.co.uk or call 01934 734270

 

 

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.

Lutyens’ Architectural Joinery

We consider ourselves fortunate to have designed furniture and architectural joinery into some of Britain’s finest period and listed houses, including two homes designed by the great English Edwardian architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Lutyens was a master of his craft.   He is one of the few architects revered for both the quality of his English country house interiors as much as the quality of his exteriors.  He was as much of a furniture designer as as he was an architect.

At Artichoke we place as much importance on creative design as we do on making; a great kitchen or library designed poorly is a total waste of money, no matter how well it is made.  To us, everything starts with great design.

Research forms a key part of our design process; we hold a large database of Lutyens mouldings and we have an extensive library of period architectural detail to refer back to, including a back catalogue from the archives of Country Life Magazine.  The magazine has been kind enough to provide us with images from some of our favourite Lutyens architectural joinery and furniture designs for this study into his work.

 

Folly Farm, Berkshire

The original 17th century house was enlarged by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1906 and again in 1912-16.  Artichoke designed the kitchen for the house in 2009 and our kitchen design was influenced partly by elements of the detail in the cabinet below, in particular the mitred joins on the cabinet doors.

 

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A built in cabinet at Folly Farm
View of the interior at Folly Farm. The original 17th century house was enlarged by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1906 and again in 1912-16. Not Used 04/02/1922
An interior panelled passage – note the door handles
The Viceroy’s House, Delhi, India

Sir Edwin Lutyens joined the Delhi Planning Commission in 1912 and was responsible for designing the Viceroy’s House. The new capital of British India, New Delhi was officially opened in 1931.

 

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A fireplace at the Viceroy’s House
Castle Drogo, Devon

Castle Drogo was designed by Lutyens between 1910 and 1932 and was the last castle to have been built in England.  The kitchen, with the circular beechwood table, was designed by Lutyens.

 

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All the light in the room comes from the circular lantern window above the table

The butler's pantry at Castle Drogo. The castle was begun in 1911 and completed in 1930 to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe. Not Used CL 10/08/1945

 

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A doorway at Drogo with Jacobean style panelling
The latch on the entrance door at Castle Drogo. The castle was begun in 1911 and completed in 1930 to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe. Not Used CL 10/08/1945
The latch on the entrance door. Every detail was considered
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A stunning door at Drogo. Note the book-matched pair of central panels at the base if the door. The door is hinged on a pivot
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Carved pilasters on either side of a door at Castle Drogo
Marsh Court, Hampshire

Marsh Court was the last of the houses that Lutyens built in the tudor style.  It was
from local materials that Lutyens revived a 17th Century practice and built the house from ‘clunch’ chalk blocks with occasional inlays of flint.

 

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The frieze panel was carved in local chalk
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A door in the dining room. Of particular note is the stepped door reveal lined in Walnut and the quartered veneer door panels
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The log store. Lutyens invested as much effort in back of house as he did on front of house rooms
Les Boit des Moutiers, France

The staircase and first floor landing at Le Boit des Moutiers. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Guillaume Mallet in 1898 and was one of the few built on mainland Europe.

 

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Medieval styling is in abundance here, in particular the portcullis detail below the banister rail
Heathcote House, West Yorkshire

Heathcote house was designed in the Baroque style by Lutyens in 1906.  Lutyens came to call this style “Wrenaissance” after Christopher Wren.

 

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The glazed cabinet at the back (and in the one below) has inspired many Artichoke designs
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The fireplace at Heathcote. Note the ball feet below the furniture in the recesses, the clever desk and the bevelled mirror glass
Middleton Park, Oxfordshire

The kitchen at Middleton Park.  The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and his son Robert Lutyens in 1938 for the 9th Earl of Jersey.

 

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 fantastic and beautifully proportioned Butler’s pantry
In this later example of kitchen design by Lutyens, the appliances are more sophisticated. Note the raised table island and zinc worktop
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A pedimented door. Note the inset mould in the architrave
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Fitted dressing room
A panelled room at Middleton Park. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and his son Robert Lutyens in 1938 for the 9th Earl of Jersey. Not Used CL 12/07/1946
Fitted dressing room
Sullingstead, Surry

The kitchen at Sullingstead. The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1896-97 for Charles Arthur Cook.

 

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Particularly striking is the oak Doric column supporting the joinery
Crooksbury, Surry

The house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1890 for Arthur Chapman.

 

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This fantastic crockery display cabinet was designed by Lutyens
Deanery Garden, Berkshire

Deanery Garden was built in 1901 for Edward Hudson, the creator of Country Life, to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The garden was designed in collaboration with Gertrude Jekyll.

 

The dining room at Deanery Garden. The house was built in 1901 for Edward Hudson, the creator of Country Life, to designs by Sir Edwin Lutyens and the garden was designed in collaboration with Gertrude Jekyll. Not Used CL 09/05/1903
The dining room at Deanery Garden

 

 

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