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.
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/.
We are on the cusp of a new Arts and Crafts period led by new craftsmen and the circumstances of its coming are remarkably similar to the original.
Arts and Crafts (version 1.0) started in the UK in around 1880 and it spread across Europe rapidly. It followed a period of huge change in the UK, a period in which industrialisation totally changed the lives or ordinary working people. The arts and crafts movement poured scorn on the mechanisation and materials of industry, and it was in many ways a cry for help. This new movement focussed on design, on craft and on 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. We have followed twenty years of extraordinary technological change, both in manufacturing and computing, and there is an underlying feeling that society is yearning to get back to working with its hands. People are suffering from TMT (Too Much Tech). In the same way that the burgeoning Victorian industrial mass manufacturing methods placed limits on design (the design of cast iron bridges were controlled by the way the parts could be manufactured), so too have modern automated manufacturing methods steered high street design of today. Modern furniture looks the way it does (often bland) because its design is restricted by the functionality of the machinery that makes it at scale. To overcome this technical constraint, the furniture is marketed slickly and heavily using budgets made available through the large profits generated. The consumer is none the wiser. If the tail is manufacturing, design is the dog, and both then and now, the tail has been wagging the dog. The new craftsmen are fighting against this and it’s producing wonderful furniture rooted in rooted in craftsmanship and narrative.
Take bespoke kitchen and architectural joinery design and craftsmanship, a field we specialise in. For the last 10 years, interiors magazines have been groaning with mass produced ranges of pre-designed kitchen furniture. These products are pre-designed so rooms can be laid out rapidly, and the furniture is designed in such a way that it can be mass produced, allowing manufacturers and kitchen retailers to generate significant margins through economies of scale. Their motivations are financial in much the same way as were the motivations of the Victorian industrial manufacturer. It is an approach which has made many people very rich, but we would argue an approach that will not continue to delight future generations. It is a temporary approach, and one we have written about before.
A small group of designers and craftsmen, ourselves included, have never subscribed to this approach. Our company vision is that great design and craftsmanship will be thriving in 100 years, and if we are to create Britain’s future heritage today we have to design and make furniture which will sit appropriately and elegantly into its surrounding architecture for centuries. This simply cannot be achieved with automated processes which constrain design. Each room we design requires its own very personal touch. Each moulding and the materials we chose for each project have to be intensively scrutinized to ensure they will still look as good today as they will for the next generation. This is why Artichoke only makes around 20 kitchens a year; you cannot mass produce one offs.
A recent article in the Spectator backs this up. The piece focuses on the work of George Saumarez Smith, a partner at classical architects ADAM Architecture. The premise of the piece is that while classicism never went away, it did become unfashionable for a period before now coming back. That’s the great thing about classicism. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and eventually it always comes back. You can only achieve the quality that authentic classical and traditional design demands by designing and making it properly in the first place; with love, by hand, and with an obsessively focussed attention to detail. And herein lies the problem. To create the level of detail needed to pull off a fine classical or traditional interior requires complete dedication to the craft and a rigorous focus on the detail; and this doesn’t sit well with shareholders looking to make a fast buck. So they turn to automation. How many public craft based design or cabinet makers do you know?
As designers we often take inspiration from the great periods of classical English architecture, from early Georgian to Edwardian. We take a particular interest in period house detail, materials and finishes because they are the ones we love and admire the most. They are almost always the ones created by hand, with love. As craftsmen, we make furniture with integrity using traditional skills, not because we are stuck in the past, but because these methods have yet to be improved on by modern technology. Naturally we embrace technologies which make us more efficient, but when it comes to the integrity of our furniture, we do not believe in taking short cuts. Ever.
At Artichoke, we’ve always been arts and crafts; creating Britain’s future heritage cannot be achieved any other way.
Welcome to Arts and Crafts V.02. We hope you enjoy the ride.
Artichoke is regularly asked to design bespoke kitchens in listed buildings. Quite often these listed buildings have been purchased by new owners who are unclear about the listing process, what it means, and how it effects them.
The rules were altered by HM Customs and Excise in 2012 and this short article will help explain what the listing process means and how it effects the kitchen in your listed buildings project.
Grade I Listed Buildings
These are of deemed to be of exceptional interest and sometimes considered to be internationally important; only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I. In these buildings it is typical for English Heritage to be adamant that the existing interior detail must remain unaltered and untouched (including architectural joinery, light switches, and plaster work). Designing bespoke kitchens into Grade 1 buildings can be full of issues, usually involving extraction routes, methods of fixing into the existing fabric of the building (which can often be made up of soft lime mortar and rubble walls), interference of the existing joinery and so on.
Artichoke was recently asked to design a kitchen for the West Apartment at Burley-on-the-Hill which was built in 1690 in the style of Sir Christopher Wren. In 1909, the West Wing was almost completely destroyed by fire and the joinery inside this part of the house has a very Edwardian feel. Despite the fact that it is modern in comparison to the rest of the house, it is still Grade 1 listed and the panelling in the kitchen could not be touched in any way.
Grade II* Listed Buildings
These are deemed by English Heritage as particularly important buildings of more than special interest (Grade II); around 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*. There are many reasons why a building can be awarded Grade II* status. It maybe that they are houses that while not particularly grand, are particularly important examples of local vernacular and they are in essence “Grade II but of particular significance” . It is likely that a Grade II* house will have a particularly special interior or interior features which will be treated in the same say as Grade 1 features in that English Heritage will not allow them to be touched or altered.
Depending on the features and their location, English Heritage can be more relaxed (although not much!) about designing kitchens and furniture into these properties. For instance, it maybe that a farmhouse has a particularly special roof structure which is the reason the house has a II* listing. In this case, English Heritage will be willing to discuss extensions to the house within reason.
Grade II Listed Buildings
These are buildings that are considered nationally important and of special interest; 92% of all listed buildings are in this class and it is the most likely grade of listing for a home owner. This is a good example of a recent Artichoke bespoke kitchen designed into a Grade II listed building.
While permissions for alterations are down to the discretion of the individual listed planning officer, in Artichoke’s experience it is the exterior of the building that they are focused on more. While the interior is still of importance, they are often a little more relaxed.
Regardless of the listing of your house, it is important to stress that Listing is not seen a preservation order preventing change. Listing has a reason, and that is to identify the life stages of a building and it’s various characters.
Listing does not freeze a building in time, it simply means that listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to that building which might affect its special interest. Listed buildings can be altered, extended and sometimes even demolished within government planning guidance.
Listed Property, Bespoke Kitchens and VAT
Pre 2012 it used to be the case that a bespoke kitchen built into a new extension of a listed building was zero rated for VAT (or rather the built in/fixed items such as the Aga, furniture and extraction were zero rated).
Since 2012, the Government decided to “simplify” things, and sadly for many listed property homeowners, VAT relief on approved alterations was removed (although if you had applied for Listed Building Consent before 21 March 2012, zero rating will still apply for approved alterations until 30 September 2015.)
There are still VAT advantages available for work on buildings that have been unoccupied for more than 2 years, for a change of use from commercial to residential use and for a change in the number of individual dwellings within a property – eg splitting a house into flats.
Other than that, we’re sorry to say, it’s the full 20%!
We would caveat the above by stating that we are neither nor lawyers or accountants, but designers of fine bespoke kitchens. For a final adjudication on whether your project could be awarded reduced rate status, please speak with a trained professional! in the past we have found the HMRC team extremely helpful and they do publish a book which we have used to advise our clients ion kitchens in listed buildings. For more information on VAT in listed buildings, you can follow this link VAT in building and construction.
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.