We were invited to attend a talk with Giles Kime of Country Life, architect Ben Pentreath and Ben Johnson of interior design firm Albion Nord. The talk, entitled ‘Why Craft Makes You Happy‘, concluded that we are entering a new Arts and Crafts period. This is born out by evidence too. According to the Crafts Council there has been a threefold uplift in the total value of craft sales between 2006 to 2020. Here we’ll explore the background.
The Arts and Crafts movement
The current Arts and Crafts resurgence was triggered in a very similar way to the original movement which started in the UK around 1880. It followed a period of industrialisation which changed the way people lived and worked. It quickly spread across Europe. The Arts and Crafts movement poured scorn on the mechanisation and materials of industry and celebrated the benefits of craft and traditional skills. The glue that held it together was idealism, and it established a new set of principles for living and working.
Fast forward 140 years to today, and society is in a similar place. Following twenty years of extraordinary technological change, society is yearning to get back to working with its hands.
The tail wagging the dog
For Victorian industrial mass manufacturing methods to work, limits were placed on design to maximise manufacturing efficiencies. For example, the design of cast iron bridges was controlled by the way the parts could be manufactured. Similarly, modern automated manufacturing methods steer high street design today. Modern furniture often looks repetitive, featureless and bland because its design is restricted by the manufacturing process. In short, the manufacturing tail has been wagging the design dog.
Craftsmen are once again up in arms – their mission, like their forbears, to produce wonderful furniture rooted in craftsmanship and narrative.
The limitations of mass production
For decades, interiors magazines have been groaning with mass produced ranges of pre-designed kitchen furniture. These products are formulaic so rooms can be laid out rapidly. The furniture is designed to be mass produced, allowing manufacturers and kitchen retailers to generate significant margins through economies of scale. In turn, the furniture is heavily marketed from the profits generated by manufacturing at volume. Like the Victorian industrial manufacturer, their motivation is profit. Mass production honours profit above quality. It is an approach designed to generate cash before heritage. We have written about this before.
The joy of bespoke
We have never subscribed to the mass production approach. Our company vision is that great design and craftsmanship will be thriving in 100 years. To create Britain’s future heritage, we have to design and make furniture which will last. This cannot be achieved with fully automated processes which constrain design. Each room we design is bespoke. The materials we choose for each project and the design of every element are intensively scrutinized. This is why Artichoke only designs around 20 kitchens a year. You cannot mass design or mass produce one offs.
Time is money
An article in the Spectator a few years ago backs this up. The piece focuses on the work of George Saumarez Smith, a partner at classical architects ADAM Architecture. While classicism never went away, it did become unfashionable for a period. That’s the great thing about classicism. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and eventually it comes back in favour once we all realise how ghastly the alternatives are.
To achieve the quality that authentic classical design demands you have to design and make it properly in the first place; with passion, by hand, and with meticulous care. And herein lies the problem. To create the level of detail needed to pull off a fine classical or traditional interior requires time. And lots of it. And time doesn’t come cheap. This doesn’t sit well with shareholders looking to make a fast buck. So they turn to automation. And automation doesn’t like detail.
We are inspired by beautiful details and intricate techniques from great periods of classical English architecture. While we embrace technologies which make us more efficient, we retain a wide range of traditional hand skills because many methods have yet to be improved by technology. When it comes to the integrity of our furniture, we do not believe in taking shortcuts. Ever.