Country Life magazine has listed Artichoke among the best craftspeople in Britain as part of its annual Top 100 Country House specialists review. This is the second year Artichoke has been listed.
We are in illustrious company. Also included in this year’s list are ADAM Architecture, Craig Hamilton Architects and Joanna Wood Interior Design, plus many others we have worked with over the last 25 years.
Tim Hellier joined Artichoke as Installations Manager 12 years ago, and was responsible for the successful completion of every Artichoke project until his promotion to Managing Director in 2018. Prior to joining us Tim was a respected furniture designer and cabinet maker.
Before discovering his love of furniture, Tim held a passion for photography and was trained by Peter Parks, one of the UK’s foremost original natural history programme makers. During his film making career, Tim worked with marine natural history company Image Quest where he worked with David Attenborough on the Blue Planet series (filming the macro micro marine and coral footage).
Tim is also a trained pilot, gaining his licence following the RAF flying scholarship he was awarded when he was 17.
Tim is also a keen rower and was Captain of rowing at Radley College. In 2017 he entered the gruelling Yukon River Challenge in Canada, a 3 day race over 440 miles between White Horse and Dawson. Tim came second in his category, raising over £7,000 for The British Heart Foundation, Artichoke’s chosen charity.
There has been some confusion recently about the difference between English Heritage and Historic England, and in particular which organisation is now responsible for overseeing amendments to listed houses.
Until recently, English Heritage was the name of the body responsible for looking after England’s historic monuments and listed buildings. Their responsibilities stretched from looking after national public monuments such as Stonehenge, to works on private listed houses. In 2015 it was decided these two quite distinct responsibilities should be separated.
The body now responsible for England’s listed houses and buildings (and also the Heritage at Risk register) is called Historic England. They are a public body funded by the Government, and their role is principally to manage the National Heritage List for England, which is a database of England’s designated heritage assets (such as listed houses, churches, scheduled monuments and battlefields). So, clients with listed houses will be dealing with Historic England on matters concerning alterations to their listed property.
English Heritage, the body that listed home owners used to deal with is now a charity completely separate from the the listed buildings process. Their role is now to care for hundreds of historic ‘public’ sites across the country, such as Hadrian’s Wall, Dover Castle, Osborne House and Audley End House (below)
How does each grade of listing affect your project?
Listed private houses are essentially those considered worthy of protection owing to their architectural or historic interest, with listings separated into Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II. Regardless of the grade a house is listed at, Historic England has extra control over what changes can be made to its interior and exterior. In general, each listing covers the whole building as well as any attached structures, additions or fixtures and in many cases land or buildings which come within the surrounding land or curtilage of the building (such as barns, outbuildings etc).
And, as can be the case with VAT and listed houses, there is little consistency between planning districts and planning officers. Some Conservation Officers can be quite relaxed, while others can become extremely excited about what would appear to be the smallest detail.
We work with one particular client who will only deal with one of his council’s two Conservation Officers, so it is often worth discussing this with your architect first (if they are local), as working with the right Conservation Officer for your project can really make a difference.
As ever, do call us if you’d like to discuss this particular matter further +44 (0)1934 745270
Artichoke strives to design beautiful rooms which sit comfortably and elegantly into their surroundings. However we cannot do this alone. We work alongside many other trades such as decorative plaster specialists, specialist finishers and lighting companies in order to deliver these spaces immaculately.
Weldon is one business with whom we have formed a close working relationship over many years of collaboration. Our companies share many similarities. Both were founded in 1992, and both are driven by a passion for innovation, design, and an uncompromising pursuit of excellence. Our most recent collaboration was in a former Georgian hunting lodge. For this project, Weldon was contracted to design and make the hardwood flooring for much of the ground floor.
Weldon is committed to delivering the highest standards of quality and service. A fact born out by their two Royal Warrants, a mark of recognition to Her Majesty The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and also HRH The Prince of Wales.
Weldon specialise in marquetry and parquetry floors, as well as the most heart melting antique floors. Their skill and reputation has led them to design and make floors for Buckingham Palace, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle.
By sticking rigidly to their core principles of beauty, endurance and quality, Weldon has maintained incredibly high standards of craftsmanship throughout its 25 years of trading. These efforts are matched by their efforts to give back. The provenance and tractability of raw materials is fundamental to Weldon’s approach, and they are dedicated to obtaining new timber from sustainable sources. The Company has planted over 3,000 trees in the last 10 years, providing more sustainable timber supplies in the UK.
Artichoke is slightly late to the party in this regard, although we are now proud to have set up the Artichoke School of Furniture, a series of five free introductory courses designed to introduce local school children in Cheddar to the basics of our craft. The first fully booked course starts in April 2019, and we couldn’t be prouder.
It has been immensely enjoyable sharing the first quarter of a century of our journey with Weldon. If you’re in the process of renovating a period building (or building a new one), you could do no wrong by speaking with them. We couldn’t think of a better foundation on which to fit our furniture.
At Artichoke we believe what we do enhances people’s lives. Our vision is that in 100 years, English design and craftsmanship will have continued to flourish, and our interiors will be celebrated by future generations.
We count ourselves very fortunate to have found our craft, although much of the team have discovered Artichoke via rather circuitous routes. Among our ranks is an ex prison officer, an ex ad man and an ex paramedic. Despite our eclectic backgrounds, we are united in the belief that the skills we are lucky enough to have learned should be passed on.
To help realise our vision, we are delighted to be launching the Artichoke School of Furniture. A series of free introductory courses for Somerset teenagers, who are interested in learning the basic skills of furniture making. The aim of these courses will be to try and light the first spark of enthusiasm for cabinet making.
The initial five week pilot is being run for youngsters studying at the Kings of Wessex Academy in Cheddar, before being rolled out to the wider community. The course will be run by Artichoke cabinet makers Wilma and Inigo, and accompanied by Kai Holmes who teaches Design Technology at the Kings of Wessex Academy . The students will be in excellent hands.
Wilma completed the one year Williams and Cleal furniture course before joining Artichoke in 2018. Prior to this she was a Prison Officer in Bristol. Inigo began his furniture journey in France, first as a restorer in Paris before completing his apprenticeship at La Bonne Graine. He eventually began his own furniture making business while simultaneously running evening classes for French teenagers.
Learning the skills which which make our our craft so compelling is hugely fun, but we cannot run a course like this without a great set of tools. We are particularly grateful to the amazing team at Axminster Tools who have generously provided our students with the use of the most amazing starter kit any budding maker could wish for.
We have great hopes for the Artichoke School of Furniture, which first started as a gem of an idea in 2017 and has largely been driven by our production manager, John Hampton, a deeply passionate and committed craftsman. We have since been notified of other organisations also looking at grass routes education. The Carpenter’s Company, of which our company founder Bruce Hodgson is a member, has a long tradition of delivering high quality education training in building crafts and building conservation. The Furniture Maker’s Company, a livery company dedicated to supporting furniture making trade in numerous ways is also hugely proactive in this area. We hope our combined efforts help us achieve our vision.
The first course starts in April 2019, and we can’t wait to report on our first Students’ progress! We will report back.
Our production Manager John, first gained a BA Hons in fine art painting at Winchester School of Art. After finishing his degree, he first worked as a technician before moving to London to become a display and lettering artist at Simpsons of Piccadilly. He then moved on to work as a prop maker and carpenter for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
Following his time in London, John moved to Somerset, and joined a team of other expert makers who were commissioned to make a pair of large oak installations for the modernist British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. The installations were installed into the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Bourbourg, Northern France, seen below.
John joined Artichoke in 2011 as a maker and now leads our skilled team in the workshop.
A previous article about Kitchens and VAT in Listed Property has helped a number of clients new to listed buildings gain some understanding of how their home’s listing affects their VAT position.
A number of Artichoke’s clients are, however, building new country houses, and in these, the VAT position is slightly different. Somewhat frustratingly, the advice from HMRC also tends to be somewhat woolly and vague (in our opinion!).
Firstly, it’s worth double checking that your house is in fact considered a new build. If the house you are building is yours and you plan to live in it (not run a business from it), it’s separate from other buildings, and you are building it from scratch, it should be considered a new build for VAT purposes.
Now you and your builder will need to work out what is, and what is not VAT-able. The general rule of thumb is that if you tipped your house upside down, anything that fell out would be subject to VAT. However, as with all forms of tax, there are grey areas.
Kitchens and VAT
Your kitchen furniture for instance is zero rate-able for VAT, as are some appliances which are considered part of the building; an AGA for instance is considered by HMRC as forming an intrinsic part of the building, but an integrated oven (which can be removed easily) is not.
The extraction also forms an integral part of the building and can be zero rated. Other elements of fitted furniture however, such as wardrobes, are not exempt from VAT although panelling is in some cases if it is considered architectural joinery. Doors and architraves can also be zero rate-able for VAT purposes in as much as they are considered forming part of the building.
Builders and Architects Fees
Your builders labour is exempt from VAT on a new build, but your architects fees are not (unless they are not VAT registered).
The HMRC VAT claim form for new builds is worth reading, and as ever, we would advise asking your accountant to clarify this before employing a builder as the rules change.
26 years seems like a long time to wait before creating your first advertising campaign. Ironically, we’re busier than ever. So why now?
As we’ve matured, we’ve gained greater understanding of what sets us apart. Subconsciously we’ve always known, but it’s not been expressed until now. To use marketing jargon, it’s about positioning.
Put simply, we design rooms which look as if they were always meant to be there and we then make them to ensure they always will be. With each new project we are motivated by the opportunity to improve how clients live in their houses. We are also motivated by legacy, and with every project we aim to create Britain’s future heritage.
Among the Art Director’s initial sketches were this set of striking images (above) designed to illustrate that Artichoke is not simply a designer of kitchens, a skill we’d become well known for. We are a company which uses architectural expertise, joinery design, interior design and a deep understanding for household life to create beautiful and practical spaces which add value to our client’s houses for many generations.
Bringing the Art Director’s creative idea to life required a delicate touch. Matthew Cook is one of the UK’s greatest reportage artists with a wonderful ability to observe real life. And it’s real life which Artichoke deals with daily. The design decisions we make for our clients, and the quality of our craftsmanship, directly affects how they and their families live in their homes for many generations.
Matthew is not only a professional illustrator but also an experienced soldier having undertaken two tours of Afghanistan as a corporal with the Parachute Regiment in the TA. His work has been commissioned widely in publications such as Country Life, The Spectator and The Times, and we are delighted he agreed to illustrate our advertising. You can see more of Matthew Cook’s work here: https://www.theartworksinc.com/portfolio/matthew-cook/.
The interior design of many of our most treasured country houses in many ways reflects the characteristics of the English themselves. Restrained, understated, subtle and, occasionally, elegant.
These are all traits the Artichoke design team tries to inject into the kitchens and furniture we design for our client’s country houses. Many of these attributes are successfully delivered through the physical form of the furniture we design, such as the period mouldings we create for each piece, the width of the door frames we design and the proportion of the furniture. Achieving elegance through form can quickly be tarnished if the materials then chosen to adorn it are not well considered.
Our view here at Artichoke is that if a designer creates beautifully detailed kitchen furniture, very little else needs then to be added to detract from it. This is particularly so with classical furniture where mouldings and shadow inject a wonderful flow and ripple into the face of the work. Contemporary kitchens are so often adorned with striking and flamboyant marbles because the furniture itself has little creative substance to it. By introducing a bold patterned marble, the designer is simply deflecting attention away from the fact the furniture is principally flat and lifeless.
It is inevitable that as designers and makers of kitchens and domestic areas of country houses, we have a view on which marble worktops look most appropriate in traditional environments. Despite our work being principally in English country houses, we tend not to suggest English stones for many of our kitchen worktops. While many of them are extremely hard wearing (such as slates available from Lancashire), few of them can be used for pieces such as cook’s tables or islands. This is mainly due to the nature of their extraction from the rock bed. Most English stones are blasted from the quarry face with explosives, resulting in eccentric sized blocks usually no wider than two metres. By contrast, marble slabs are cut from the quarry face in huge rectangular blocks, allowing for a much greater size of slab (typically up to three metres in length). This makes marble much more practical to use in kitchen design. We explore which stones perform best for kitchen worktops in another blog ‘Ideas for Kitchen Worktops’.
In the Georgian and Edwardian periods of English architecture, Carrara was the favoured marble of choice. Not only was it readily available, but its quiet and understated graining also reflected the characteristics of the English themselves. It is luxurious without being opulent and it has a more understated veining compared to other more ‘vulgar’ marbles. It can be seen in many of England’s finest country houses such as Chatsworth. Marble Arch is built from Carrara. It has been described as the elegant workhorse of the kitchen, and it ages beautifully.
From a longevity point of view, Carrara marble is also timeless. This works well with our designs which we create to sit comfortably and elegantly into their architectural surroundings for many years. If we are to create furniture today that will be admired by future generations (in much the same way that today we admire work created in houses like Chatsworth), then it is worth remembering Carrara for your project.
Up until the early 20th Century, the typical English country house was principally built from timber, stone and brick; simple when compared to the plethora of material types, fixtures and fittings available to today’s architect.
Of the timber choices available to those building country houses in the 18th and 19th centuries, the most common were European Walnut, Mahogany, Russian Deal, English Oak and English Elm. These timbers had different roles to play in the make up of the English country house, with Walnut and Mahogany being favoured for the more decorative elements and Russian Deal, Elm and Oak for the more constructional. Each had their part to play.
Fast forward to today, and most clients renovating a country house are increasingly sensitive to the original materials used to build it. But are the original timber species used still available, and what are the alternatives if they are not?
European Walnut and Mahogany
Then: Until the early 1700s Walnut was by far the most popular of the decorative hardwoods for use in English country houses. It had a soft colour and an interesting grain. But access to fine quality walnut ceased after 1709 when the Great Frost, the harshest European winter for 500 years, killed off much of the walnut stock in France. This triggered English cabinet-makers to look elsewhere for alternatives, with mahogany proving the outright winner. In 1721 the British Parliament removed all import duties from timber imported into Britain from the British colonies, instantly stimulating the trade in West Indian timbers including, most importantly, mahogany. With no competition from walnut, imports of mahogany into England rose from 525 tons a year in 1740 to more than 30,000 tons in 1788. In a relatively short period of time, mahogany had become the most popular timber for luxury furniture and architectural joinery in the country houses of England.
Now: Mahogany is no longer imported from the Americas although we do have old stock on supply which is reserved for very specific country house projects and feature architectural joinery doors. The only true mahogany currently imported into the UK is African Mahogany which is lighter in colour than Brazilian or Cuban mahogany which tend to be very dark orange. African mahogany also has a slightly wilder grain pattern. Between the two, our timber of choice would always be European Walnut for its softer colouring, its figure and its provenance.
Then: Russian deal is a high quality softwood grown in the Baltic regions of northern Russia, typically from Archangel and Onega. It is slow grown, tall, straight and dense, and with its fine grain is ideal for making hand painted interior architectural joinery. It was considered poor for exterior use however, with Rivington’s Building Construction Guide (published in 1875) declaring it unfit for work exposed to the damp shores of the UK. A more in depth piece on Russian Deal was written by us a few years ago, triggered by the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace where much of the joinery in the wonderful period locations were made of this material.
Now: Russian Deal is tough to get hold of, not because it is scarce but because the timber yards in Russia will only sell it by the boatload and the boards offered are only 1 inch thick. Specialist companies such as Artichoke are of no commercial interest to these yards. Scandinavian Redwood is the next best alternative. It’s almost identical albeit being a slightly smaller tree. Artichoke uses Scandinavian Redwood in listed country house projects where organisations such as Historic England require it or we feel it will benefit the feel of the final room and character of the furniture. The grain certainly looks good when over painted, and we have recently used it when designing and making a kitchen based around the National Trust’s kitchen at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. Images from this project can be found here. The reason most furniture makers do not use Scandinavian Redwood is principally because of timber movement which can make it more unpredictable in modern homes with more aggressive heating set ups. Poplar or tulipwood is (in our mind) a more sensible choice if the project is to have a crisp hand painted finish with no grain grinning through the paint. It is resin and almost knot free and dense if you buy it from the right sources.
Then: English oak is rot resistant, making it ideal for exterior joinery and boat building (many Queen Anne and early Georgian English country houses feature repurposed supporting oak beams which once formed part of our naval fleet). Oak’s ability to resist rot, combined with its immense strength and availability, made it the perfect building material for timber framed houses, and many of the originals are still standing. Of course, much of England’s ancient forests are either now protected or gone.
Now: English oak is very much readily available in the UK, although it tends to be farm or estate grown, meaning the trees have not been cared for as a commercial commodity would typically be. This makes the quality of the available material quite unpredictable and inconsistent for interior furniture such as libraries or room panelling. Our climate in Northern Europe also means English oak trees grow slowly with wild grain patterns often being a feature. English oak is also a darker shade of brown than European oak and, combined with wild grain patterns and knots, can make the furniture appear quite rustic without careful selection. At Artichoke we prefer oak from southern France where our oak trees are grown commercially and therefore managed as a crop. Buying oak for a project from the same single stand in the same area of a woodland also gives us the confidence in knowing we will receive a high quality product with a consistent honey colour throughout. Having an excellent relationship with your supply chain is vital if the work is to stand the test of time for hundreds of years.
English Oak also makes an excellent flooring material; it ages beautifully and is hard wearing. Our friends at Weldon Flooring are worth talking to if you are working in an historic or new build English country house in need of a beautiful oak floor.
Then: Like English Oak, English Elm is known for its rot resistant qualities making it suitable for exterior work. As one of the largest deciduous trees in the UK, it was commonly used as a building material for roof frames and supporting beams. While extremely strong with an immense ability to withstand crushing forces, it was not as popular as English oak because it tends to move and split. This is the reason that smaller English country houses, and those with agricultural links, tended to favour English Elm. In the smaller English country house, cost was a factor and you could get more out of the larger trunk.
Now: Dutch Elm disease ravaged the UK’s population of English Elm between 1970 and 1990, and there are now few left, making English Elm pretty exclusive. The stock we now use for English country house work tends to be quite gnarled and rustic in appearance, so like English Oak it needs to be selected carefully. For a large English country house project we would nowadays consider European Elm, which is the same species but grown in Europe. Like oak, this material tends to be more consistent in its growth and straighter grained making it a good choice for doors and architectural joinery.
So in conclusion, for clients renovating or building an English country house, it is entirely possible to use timber that is appropriate to the period or to the original building materials, although its origin of source may now be different to the original.
If you are focussed on using the correct timber and materials for your country house project and are motivated to create furniture which will become an integral part of its architecture for many years to come, we’d love to hear about it!