Why Traditional Kitchen Design Needs Specialists

Traditional kitchen design and period architectural joinery design is a wonderful and highly skilled discipline.  It is also a minefield.  In the wrong hands it can produce lacklustre and uninspiring results. For important country houses and significant domestic projects, traditional and classical design is not something you can simply ‘have a go at’.   Naive is the client that hands responsibility for designing complex period joinery and traditional kitchen design detail over to a designer that doesn’t understand joinery construction or moulding detail or the rules and pitfalls of classical design detail, scale, proportion, joints and shadow.

 

french style dresser
The rounded shoulders on the elegant glazed doors of this Artichoke designed kitchen dresser make it completely unique and give it a Flemish feel.

In most cases, Artichoke is commissioned to design traditional bespoke kitchens and architectural joinery directly by the homeowner.  In rare cases however, we are presented with design work that has previously been undertaken by a third party for us to develop before making.  What is usually designed is not necessarily wrong, but in every case the joinery or kitchen design is restrained by its original designers’ lack of knowledge and understanding of classical and traditional furniture detailing. It is therefore not as good as it could be, and the glories and elegance of traditional design detail are usually not deployed.  The paying client is the loser.  Artichoke’s creative designers inevitably have to re-design it, which means the client pays twice for the design.  A lot of time is also wasted.

 

Moulding on a fireplace surround
Classical detail designed by Artichoke into a country house library in Cheshire.

Over the last 15 years or so we have witnessed a marked reduction in the number of designers capable of designing really successful traditional kitchen interiors and period detailed architectural joinery. There are a number of reasons for this in our view.

 

Contemporary Projects are seen as more exciting

Firstly, London has become the largest interior design market on earth, a boom that has been responsible for a welcome influx in young and enthusiastic interior designers choosing it as a career. Naturally, young people prefer to focus their attentions on pushing the boundaries of contemporary design as opposed to focusing on past styles where the boundaries have already been pushed and are now, in their minds, largely encased in aspic.  Young designers are either not interested in traditional design, or they are confused by it.

Further compounding the issue is that because contemporary joinery is quicker to design and make, it’s therefore more commercial.   The fact that contemporary design, by it’s very nature, goes out of fashion quite quickly is neither here nor there to designers putting profit first.

 

A Georgian kitchen design and island
Not cool in some quarters.  Artichoke designed the interior architecture and traditional kitchen to sit elegantly into this Georgian home.
Traditional Design scares some designers

Secondly, many designers find it is easier to design contemporary work (with flat doors and no handles) than to design traditional work (with framed and raised and fielded panelled doors with differing widths of rails, lock rails and styles, butt hinges, moulding types, aris moulds, panel depths, interactions with other mouldings, cock-beads, knobs, shadows and so on).  With traditional kitchen design and architectural joinery, there is much more detail and it is easier to trip up.  As a consequence, traditional detail scares many designers who tend to avoid tackling it, preferring to retract to a comfort zone of safety by drawing flat doors with finishes on and letting their joinery shop develop their designs further.

This approach sets off a dangerous chain reaction.  Most joinery companies do not offer an experienced creative front end design, let alone any with a skill in classical detailing.  It’s a bit like asking your builder to detail the architecture.   Most joinery shop business models rely on moving pre-designed projects through their workshop with minimal overhead, and usually a good draughtsman with no link to the end user or with any creative training is deployed to create the finished drawings.  With no creative skin in the game or emotional connection to the client or house, this often results in underwhelming designs inspired from poorly detailed originals.

 

Classical detail is not on the syllabus

Thirdly, designers, particularly interior designers, are simply not being trained to design traditional joinery, and most don’t have the experience.   Interior design courses (such as the KLC Diploma and BA (Hons)) have to cover huge subject areas and they simply cannot afford to specialise on the specifics of traditional joinery.  So they don’t offer it.  To design something well you really need to know how to make it first, and furniture making is sadly not covered in their syllabus either.  It’s too big and too specialist a subject.

 

Classical door sets designed by Artichoke’s design team for a private client.

Artichoke’s value is in our years of experience in  bespoke kitchen and joinery design; these skills have been learned through 25 years, day in day out, designing, making and fitting work into country houses, making mistakes and learning from them.   A recent Country Life Magazine article about us put it well, describing us as bridging the design void that exists between architects, interior designers and specialist joiners.

Private clients who really value their houses want design which sits comfortably in its surroundings, and they commission us because they want their joinery designed by an engaged specialist with experience in the subject.   With 25 years of experience designing the kitchens and domestic joinery for some of Britain’s finest country houses, we think we’ve more experience than most in understanding what works creatively and how to deliver it through design.

It’s a tremendously exciting and humbling position to be in.

 

The Flexibility of Formal Architecture

As designers of bespoke kitchens, libraries and architectural joinery for period country houses, we often need to delve into the past to gain inspiration, and often that journey heads towards classical design.

It’s a common misunderstanding that formal architecture is rigid and inflexible.  In fact we’ve found the opposite to be the case.

Granted, certain shapes and mouldings are very much guided by geometry, and certain entablatures and orders are to be used in certain specific ways, but the rest seems very much down to the architect.  In fact, it’s this geometry that’s been the reason for classical architecture’s success around the world.  Geometry gave the architecture a formula that meant it could be copied, time after time, beautifully, in the same way, without risk of changing the proportions and nature of the work.  It was, in many ways, architecture by numbers.

One of our favourite reference books for classical interior architecture, bespoke classical kitchens and architectural joinery projects is The city and country builder’s and workman’s treasury of designs, written in 1750 by Batty Langley.

During the early periods of English Architecture it was not uncommon for architects to be from other trades, such as joiners, cabinet-makers or even, in Langley’s case, landscape gardeners.  Much of London’s early architecture was in-fact “borrowed” from books such as his, and we have referred to many of them ourselves when designing bespoke kitchens or architectural joinery in classical country houses.

These are some of our favourite plates from this period of English architectural publishing.

 

The geometry of doorways and door architraves

 

The geometry of pediments and cornice-work

 

The classical orders used in cornices

 

We used this plate when working with Craig Hamilton on the kitchen at Williamstrip Park in Gloucestershire. The kitchen included an elliptical niche which we coopered

 

What is so interesting about these plates are that they show so clearly the reason that classical architecture gained such popularity around the World from its origins in Athens and Rome.   The use of geometry provided a known formula that could be copied and exported through books such as Langley’s.  This allowed the proportions to be kept and thus copied repeatedly in the same beautiful way, time after time.

The best example of the exporting of architecture was the use of Langley’s book during the building of George Washington’s home Mount Vernon.  The builder used Plate 51 from The city and country builder’s and workman’s treasury of designs when building the Palladian window below.

 

The original plate from Langley’s book

 

The exact copy from Langley’s book, in the same proportions at Mount Vernon

 

 

 

Request Portfolio

Request Portfolio

Please get in touch using the form below

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.