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.
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.
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.
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.
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.