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Archive for the ‘Case Studies’ Category

Case Study – The English Walnut Kitchen, Bath

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Our ‘Case Studies’ are an opportunity to take a more in depth look at projects from a design perspective…

Our latest kitchen is a bit different from our previous projects. This is entirely made out of solid native wood; English walnut and sycamore. In many ways it is also the most subtle kitchen we have ever made, being in a beautiful Georgian rectory on the edge of Bath, it needed to sit comfortably with the period architectural detail and yet be modern and practical.

We have made film that follows this project all the way from cutting the first boards of walnut, through the months of cabinet work, to the fitting and final completion in December 2012… It was recently described as “the best kitchen video ever made” by KBB kitchen journalist and blogger Grahame Morrison. See what you think!

The project came about through having already made a number of pieces of furniture for the clients, including a stunning pair of English walnut pivot drawer console tables. It’s through this I realised they had a love of native walnut, not only commissioning these but having a number of very high quality antique pieces in the same material. It was some months later when they contacted me to see if we might be interested in designing a new kitchen.

Unusually they had a very clear idea of what they wanted with lots resolved, even down to some basic CAD floorplans and an appliance list. Despite being a big Georgian house with high ceilings the kitchen space is relatively small, so the design needed to be compact. It was the island that still needed the most resolution but we quickly came to a conclusion on a shape that would fulfill all the storage, seating, work surface and practical needs, whilst being an impressive focal point. Needless to say we couldn’t resist adding soft curves to make the space flow and circulation around the island easier.

The key question was still material. They wanted something warm and rich, but not too dark. The list was narrowed down to oak, elm of English walnut, much lighter and more characterful than the American Black walnut which is widely available. All these woods are from the UK, I was (I always am) keen to use native timber, as were the clients. Now it just happens that we had a good stack of native walnut that we had sourced and cut ourselves in 2009, it was ready to use and the colour was perfect – light compared to many trees. This is one of the challenges using the walnut, every tree is full of individual character, colour and texture. Finding two that match can be hell. The other issue is that they have a very high wastage factor – you do end up throwing alot of it away due to faults, knots, shakes, and a light and sometimes ugly sapwood. On top of that the woodworm love it! So not an easy material, and we only just had enough by the look of it.

We also had to find another timber for the internal solid timber panels and interior elements. In the end we fixed on sycamore, partly because it added visual lightness but also it was a beautiful partner to the walnut. The main island worktop was also made out of sycamore. I like the fact that there is a strong tradition of using sycamore for tops – you often see it in the kitchens of large estate houses where it is scrubbed daily, creating a lovely patina.

But if this kitchen is about one thing – it is celebrating what I believe is the most beautiful timber on Earth, English walnut. Ironically, because it is so full of character it actually makes it very difficult to use: For example laying up 3 pieces to form the centre of a door panel – sometimes one piece just won’t work because of grain or colour, even though it’s stunning it gets rejected (hopefully to find it’s place in another panel somewhere). Of course the same issue arises between sets doors on a run and individual cabinets that are adjacent to one-another, it all has to appear visually harmonious which is much more difficult to achieve than you might think.

At first glance the kitchen furniture looks quite traditional, but look a little closer and you will realise there are subtle things going on. We have created solid frame doors with a solid centre panel, but the panels sit flush with the frame, highlighted by a 3mm recess all round the centre panel that creates a crisp, graphic shadow line. Also instead of the stiles (the vertical rails running up each side of the door) going the full length as is normal, it’s the top and bottom horizontal rails that are dominant. This means we can use one piece of timber across 3 or 4 doors with the grain running through. These long runs create ‘landscape pictures’ in wood. These details also carry across the curved doors which we made by cutting up solid timber into a pack of consecutive veneers then laminating them back together over a curved mould. Lots of work to make sure there is no visual difference in appearance. The other reason for using those horizontal rails across door sets was to help balance the very tall squat nature of the room – strong horizontals making the kitchen seem lower and wider. It works!

The clients selected a granite called Antique Labrador from Bristol Marble, they went with a sample of the actual timbers so they could get a good idea of what it would look like. Like the timber this is a subtle choice. It has strong blue/grey tone which does not make an obvious partner to the warm orange/green/browns of the walnut, but it does work. We also picked out the blue by using a similar blue leather on drawer linings throughout. As far as other colours go, the other major feature of the space is the impressive Black Everhot range cooker. This is the largest 150cm version and looks much more contemporary than the traditional Aga. The top of the cooker has lots of visible stainless steel which links it visually to other appliances and items around the room. The walls are a warm off white and then off course there is the sycamore top on the island. The dominant colour and theme of the room is that rythmic walnut though.

From a design perspective it’s a really cohesive space, but as always there are favorite bits that stand out to me. The real triumph is the addition of a sideboard type piece into the island. Sitting higher than and protruding from the rest of the island helps give this element a separate identity – a piece of furniture within a piece of furniture. Because it has a granite top it also acts as a serving area for hot plates and dishes before they get taken to the adjacent dining area. The drawer at the top is a single wide cutlery drawer which shimmers with shinny silver things when opened.

What else, well I love the fact there are no handles to distract from the purity of the timber, that big slab of very slightly rippled sycamore on the island top (too much ripple would have been overpowering), the bookshelves over the microwave, the bespoke walnut trays in the tray alcove and even the recycling bin cabinet! That was the last piece in, it’s free standing and looks just like a tall boy cabinet, but it’s life is as a glamorous bin – well 4 bins to be precise, such are the complexities of modern life!

I love this kitchen, because at first sight you might just walk through, but like the best music, it has depth and grows on you. Using solid hardwood to make anything other than a very traditional looking kitchen is a challenge, it’s no accident they look that way. What you see in a Shaker style kitchen for example is very efficient use of the material; working with its strengths and aesthetics. In many ways our cabinetry is also bound by those tried and trusted rules but, we subtly changed them, using the limitations of designing in solid wood as a positive start point to develop from.

Is a solid wood kitchen better than a veneered one? I think this is a question I will come back to and explore in more detail. As a designer I can certainly be more flamboyant using veneers – playing with grain direction, using woods and combinations of woods in a more decorative way, forming curves and shapes more easily. But there is something honest about real wood that I feel as a designer, I know the makers also feel that on the bench. It has soul, it feels like a priviladge to use, especially English walnut.

If you’d like to talk to Simon about a kitchen project please get in contact, initial conversations and ideas cost nothing. For more of our kitchen case studies click here.

All images taken by Double Exposure Photographic / Video work by Watershed PR

Case Study – Elm and Quilted Maple Kitchen, Poole

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Our ‘Case Studies’ are an opportunity to take a more in depth look at projects from a design perspective…

My blog started in 2009, so there are major projects we completed before then which have not been featured as ‘Case Studies’ that we are very proud of, this is another one of those.

I first meet Richard and Alison during Dorset Art Weeks 2006 when they visited my old studios at Slepe. Since then we have continued to design interiors and furniture for their home in Poole, and have more planned for 2013. Sometimes you meet potential clients and you know (well think you know) that things are going to work well, both from a design perspective and a personal one. Over the 15 years my business has been running I’ve been lucky to have worked for some great clients, many of whom have become good friends. Richard and Alison would certainly count among them.

The property is a classic red brick Edwardian house with lots of original features, lovely proportions and a very high build quality. They wanted to add an extension at the back of the house that was in character, but also bridged the outdoor space with a new kitchen / living area – a space where they and their children would spend much of their time. Of course they had seen previous spaces we had designed – in particular the Surrey walnut and elm kitchen (featured in a previous case study) and loved the use of soft curves which help the space flow and create visual drama.

Within the kitchen space we also had a walk-in larder to incorporate and a dining table and chairs to design, so plenty to keep us busy! The start point for me is always to understand how a family live and interact, how they cook, what they cook, how they socialise (my clients always do!) and how they envisage this might change over time. It’s a detailed interogation, but the more I can get from a client at this stage the more longevity this crucial living space will have. Understanding the clients leads to good spacial design ideas.

They responded very positively to the more exciting ideas like building a huge curved wall across the room to house the fridge and ovens, but also hide the larder behind. They also loved the fact we had created so many storage ideas like the sideboard / drinks cabinet, curved glass glazed units and the protruding eliptical work-surface and cabinet below. Alison also wanted an island with lots of storage, worktop, bar seating, and all the wet services in. There is lots going on in this space but I think we somehow succeeded in making it work and perhaps more importantly look uncluttered and sophisticated.

Materials wise – they were happy to be brave with colour, texture and timber choice. The palette runs from mazur birch and quilted maple on the lighter scale – seen working together most effectively on that curved fridge wall. Then as the mid range tone we used red elm, most obviously on the island. The ‘feature’ doors were in a dark burr elm which also had a hint of redness. This was deliberate and echoed the red of the Aga and other objects in the room. We often use a strong colour to break the brown mid tones of the woods which can get a bit mono-tonal, especially if used with subtle wall paints and flooring as in this case.

There is lots of curved surface in the kitchen, in fact there is not much that’s straight. I’m certainly not a designer that could be described as ‘minimal’- but there are plenty of others pursuing that crown of dullness. We have become experts in creating those timber curved doors and drawers over the years. We also utilised curved glass on many of the display cabinets, not a cheap option and not very forgiving either. If you get a radius slightly wrong – you can tweak timber, but you can’t tweak glass. We also used a black laminated glass top for the island bar top after lots of discussion about the right material. All the other worktops are a lovely Madura Gold granite, with lots of subtle colour and character.

I love the fact this space is so exhuberant – full of touches that are not neccesary, and yes – they do add expense. Yet it’s those elements like the gently curved fridge wall with the hidden door into the larder space (insanely difficult to make by the way) and the rounded display shelves at the end of that run that are my favorite.

Other favorite bits – I love those bespoke handles on the feature doors, designed by us; we used a small engineering company for the stainless work. There is a real pleasure in finding other people who want to deliver the same attention to detail in another material. IP Engineering are a tiny outfit but they love a challenge! The other handles weren’t exactly ‘off the peg’ either, they came from one of my favorite metalworkers called Ged Kennett who makes wonderful stuff in all sorts of metals.

Earlier this year we redesigned the utility area in the room behind to match the materials in the kitchen and maximise storage. In doing this I spent a lot of time in the house again and realised just how much I like this kitchen. It’s five years old now but still looks as fresh as the day we walked out after fitting. That’s partly because my kitchens are not fashionable: I see each one and the clients that will use them as a unique design challenge which demand a completely new solution.

I’ll leave you with my favorite view as you walk into the kitchen…

The kitchen was designed by me but made at Halstock Cabinet Makers, whom I worked very closely with for many years. At the time my own workshops were too small to do this kind of work, something we resolved in 2007 by moving to our new workshops at Briantspuddle, Dorset. We now design and make all our kitchens and interior projects ‘in-house’.

Case Study – Tudor Arcade Public Seating

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Our ‘Case Studies’ are an opportunity to take a more in depth look at projects from a design perspective…

Tudor Arcade Bench 006 Low

Simon Thomas Pirie were asked to replace the existing public seating in Tudor Arcade, a medium sized retail development in Dorchester, which was going through a substantial renovation and refresh. The new public seating was to act as a focal point, a meeting place and conversation piece on top of its existing seating and resting functions.

We were approached by Hutchison Kivotos Architects of London to develop design concepts. They came to us as they wanted to source high quality craftsmanship within Dorset. ‘Craft’ was a key element in the refurbishment of the arcade; this was also reflected in new skylight roof structures for which we also helped source sustainable local materials for.

Tudor Arc 009

The final form of the bench is a snaking question mark, providing over 11 metres of seating in one run. The scorched oak seat slats follow the gently curved shape. Contrasting natural oak chair and bench forms rise to form seating opportunities on all faces; single throne like chairs, love seats (side by side but on opposite faces), 3-seater benches as well as areas of open bench.

This helps to create all sorts of sitting opportunities and social interactions (or not in the case the single seats at each end). The inside face of the curve offers some natural protection from the stream of shoppers passing and trolleys heading into the Waitrose store just metres away.

I wanted to create a strong contrast between black scorched bench area and the seat / bench elements. I had this vision of seeing the first end-on bench that faces up the arcade appearing to float like some kind of throne. The making processes of steam bending and scorching can be seen on the following video:

The bench is made from locally grown oak from the Illchester Estate. The estate woodland is managed by Andrew Poore, who was one of the first to establish FSC certification in UK forest management. Sourcing local materials whenever possible goes back to my Hooke Park College training in 1993/4 (part of John Makepeace’s Parnham Trust). As it happens Andy Poore was the Forestry consultant on that course.

Tudor Arc 021The other aspect of the Tudor Arcade bench project which gives me great pleasure is the combination of using very high-tech CNC manufacturing, combined with the rather low-tech discipline of steam bending. Both were key in the making process along with a great deal of hand craftsmanship. The contrasting finishes of the natural oak chair elements next to the black scorched and scrubbed oak of the curving bench slats is another very distinctive feature of the piece. This is clearly not an ‘off the shelf solution’ and that is something almost everyone recognised as we were installing it and talking to the public.

Since fitting the bench in early May 2012 we have heard and witnessed all sorts of lovely feedback. The seat is very well used by people of all ages, at lunchtimes and on sunny days it is often completely full. One of the nicest stories we have heard is of a large extended family pretending to be on a bus with dad walking along the bench issuing tickets to the children. In 15 years of making furniture professionally it’s the story which has given me most pleasure.

There is also another video which focuses on the fitting and completion of the bench, click here to view.

Tudor Arc 005

All still images by Double Exposure. Video work by Watreshed PR.

Branding & Website by We Are Creative.

Walnut and Elm Kitchen Surrey

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Our ‘Case Studies’ are an opportunity to take a more in depth look at projects from a design perspective…

My blog started in 2009, so there are major projects we completed before then which have not been featured as ‘Case Studies’ that we are very proud of, this is one of them.

Searchfield K1

Andrew, the client came across us through a feature in ’25 Beautiful Kitchens’ magazine – of our very first kitchen project. He was a serial entreprenuer who had become increasing interested in building luxury homes. So whilst this was my second bespoke kitchen it was also his second such exclusive development – a huge 7000 sq ft house in Farnham, Surrey. He’d already commissioned a Smallbone Kitchen in his first home so was used to the ‘language’ of bespoke kitchens but found the restrictions of fitting into the ranges frustrating.

Searchfield PlanWe got involved when the building was at the foundation stage, it was clearly going to be something dramatic. That’s also what he wanted for his kitchen – a big impact, with an eye on the resale value. So the brief was pretty expansive, design the most stunning kitchen possible. The space was huge which allowed me to be playful with the layout: The shape of the island, the cabinets of the oven wall and even the steps down into the kitchen from the hallway are all based on a series on circles radiating from a centre point, which is a low level drum cabinet with chopping surface. It’s not often I have the scope to be such a geometric purist.

The kitchen is adjacent to a large ‘family room’ through a set of feature glazed doors, the dining room is through another similar set. I talk about the client as a property developer but he is also a family man with a wife and two children, so that ‘wow’ factor needed to be balanced with creating a practical series of spaces with the kitchen being its functional core.

Searchfield De1After lots of playing with different timber combinations we produced some sample cabinet fronts – something we always do on a project like this. It was decided that black walnut and elm would be the main woods, but even within this we were looking for timbers and veneers with very specific grain and colour qualities. This involves actually going and selecting in the timber yards. It’s something we just do to get the detail spot on. As well as the main timbers we were also on the look out for a burr American black walnut, but something that had a large open swirling character rather than a busy intense burr, these open burrs are known as ‘clusters’. The granite and floor stone were of course given the same level of consideration.

The handles are also worth mentioning. Commissioned from a blacksmith called Ged Kennett in Somerset they are completely unique. Designed by Ged, myself and Andrew in hammered bronze to compliment the colour and texture palette of the kitchen. Ged ended up doing most of the door handles in the house, and there were lots of them! I do really enjoy working with other craftspeople and designers who are aiming at the same level of excellence as we do and a huge buzz to find people on the same wave length. (more…)