With decades of experience in joinery led interiors and wooden kitchen design, it’s fair to say that Bruce Hodgson, our Founder and Creative Director is a connoisseur of wood. Here he shares his thoughts about which is the best wood for bespoke joinery in kitchens.
A luxury experience
Kitchens are first and foremost practical spaces. Therefore, satisfaction will come not only from how the fitted furniture looks. Just as important is the tactile experience a user has when they interact with the cupboards and drawers. The weight of the chosen wood is therefore key. Just as a high-quality car will have a weightiness about the door when you open it – the same goes for kitchens. The more substantial the material, the higher quality it feels.
Even in the most luxurious timber kitchen design, hardwood is very unlikely to be the best choice when it comes to the carcassing. Wood is hydroscopic and therefore moves according to temperature and humidity. A carcass made from solid wood will therefore move over time which is a problem. Man-made board is more stable and we therefore favour it for carcassing. It does however, need to be the highest quality man-made board.
As the thickness and weight significantly affect the feel of the cupboard, we tend to use the finest 19 mm thick Finnish birch ply which is veneered with timber or craft paper which we then paint. Like solid hardwood, it’s very dense and strong and therefore takes screws well. For a sink cupboard or an area which will have particularly heavy wear we use laminate on the ply to make it even more robust. We have on occasion lined under sink cupboards with stainless steel.
An early Artichoke project – the magnificent Elizabethan Manor, Parnham House, provides a fine example of the durability of the high-quality plywood we favour. Tragically the manor house burnt to the ground some years ago and yet, on a recent tour with the new owners, we were delighted to discover that amongst the rubble and carnage, our kitchen cupboards were still standing!
An education in wood
Bruce is passionate about wood and very much enjoys sharing his extensive knowledge with his clients. He knows about the different timbers, the different cuts of the tree and how its stability is affected by which part of the tree it comes from. Not only is the type of tree important but where it was grown. This knowledge is invaluable when selecting materials for bespoke joinery.
Sustainability is key
Timbers go in and out of fashion. For example, there is a trend now for designers to specify rift cut wood for bespoke joinery. However, rift cut wood has little figure and is very wasteful as many of the beautiful elements of the wood are discarded. Our view is that if a tree is felled to build a cabinet, we owe it to that tree to make the finest possible cabinet with as little waste as possible.
Finishing bespoke joinery
As specialists in bespoke joinery, we are expert in timber finishing. Our choice of wood is often informed by the final aesthetic we are aiming towards in terms of grain and colour. For example, we might choose sweet chestnut to achieve a greyer version of oak. Whilst sweet chestnut is sometimes referred to as ‘Poor Man’s Oak, we hold it in high regard – it is a beautiful timber. In turn, grey elm creates another colour tone. Bruce is very fond of the nut woods for their colours – a particular favourite is European walnut because of its tones – the colour is nuttier and less red in tone than other nut woods.
Maple from North America was very popular in the 1980s but as it oxidises to a yellow colour, we are reluctant to specify it in our bespoke joinery. Sycamore is another favourite wood for us in bespoke kitchens– it is home grown and starts off as a pinkie cream with a tight, close grain offering a lovely smooth surface with anti bacterial qualities. We therefore often use it for work surfaces especially in country house interiors.
Legend has it
Oak is very versatile, and we use it widely in our wooden kitchen design – usually sourced from Europe. Nowadays Europe is much more forested than the UK, but this was not always the case. Legend has it that a squirrel could leap from tree to tree from one end of the UK to another without touching the ground – certainly not the case today. Our woodlands have been depleted dramatically over the years. After the great Fire of London (1666) there was a shift towards building in stone, but country houses continued to be built of timber.
European oak, grown in plantations tend to be straighter and taller which is helpful when selecting timber for furniture making and bespoke joinery. UK timbers tend to be farm grown rather than plantation grown. Farm grown wood is more likely to have defects and a wider grain as the trees are more isolated, and the tree is exposed to the ravages of weather.
Tulip wood is a popular choice for wooden kitchen design with a painted finish. It has a dense, flat surface making it an ideal canvass. At Artichoke, we tend to use tulip wood grown in plantations in North America. Because it is slower growing it has twice the density of other tulip woods. If we want to bring texture through the paintwork, we use Siberian birch – its texture is pronounced so the pattern of the grain grins through the paint or finish.
Timber choice in the past
Historically furniture and bespoke joinery were made using timber sourced from local woodland. When we analysed the timbers used in the beautiful Lanhydrock’s cook’s table – the inspiration for several of our projects – we discovered it was made up of several different woods. The drawer boxes were pine, the legs elm, the main drawer fronts, and frame around the apron were oak while the work top was sycamore. The timbers would have been chosen for how they look and their practicality but also their accessibility.
Our passion for wood
Our extensive knowledge of timber is key to our wooden kitchen design. We fit kitchens for modern life without compromising their period charm. By choosing timber and appropriate finishes that will endure daily use and heavy wear, we believe our kitchens and bespoke joinery can form part of a building’s architectural heritage for generations to come.
If you’d like to discuss our approach to design and discover first hand our passion for brilliantly designed furniture and how it can improve your experience of living in a period house, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)1934 745270.