The Art of Artichoke’s specialist finishing

The brilliance of hand-finishing

May 1, 2024

The hand application of traditional finishes is a dying art. Throughout our 30 years of business we’ve seen numerous examples of well-made cabinetry let down by their maker’s failure to get the finishing right.

Making and period finishing (or polishing) are completely different disciplines. In the UK and especially the US the art of period finishing has slowly become victim to mechanisation and modern pressure spraying methods.   As efficiencies boost profit, something often has to give.  That something is often hand finishing.

Close-up view of a wooden apothecary cabinet with multiple small drawers, each featuring different styles of handles.

Mixing a finish for a project is an alchemical process. It doesn’t come out of a tin.

While period finishes are more complex to apply than modern techniques they do offer more versatility – allowing for human touch to impact the finished result.  They need mixing by hand and an experienced human eye to achieve the right colour balance. Fundamentally they require craftsmen and women to make aesthetic decisions.

Crucially, because these finishes are applied by hand and not machine, they are not uniform. So every piece produced in the Artichoke workshops is bespoke in the way it is designed, made and finished. 

Our team of period wood finishers have the skill to apply this bespoke texture and patina to wooden detail allowing it to seamlessly blend into its period setting.  Similarly, in newly built houses our joinery has a transformative effect – wooden elements, artfully finished, settle a new house and provide instant depth and character.  

The alchemy of Artichoke

Over decades of experience, we have built up finishing techniques that are unique to us and none come out of a bottle.  To recreate the feel of antique wood requires a certain alchemy.  Staining wood is like creating a painting. It has taken us many years of trial and error to formulate authentic period finishing techniques.  It’s how we make furniture look 300 years old but which is hardy enough for life in a modern day setting.

Close-up of a wooden cabinet with two drawers, each featuring a central, round, metal pull handle. the surfaces display a sleek finish with visible grain textures.

Finishing to last a lifetime

The purpose of a finish is to seal the timber to give it luster, depth and warmth.  It is driven by practical needs – unfinished wood is porous to the touch so stains and marks easily.  The application of a finish makes it resilient, the appropriate finish determined by how the joinery will be used and its context.

We all age differently and wood is the same

Antique furniture ages over time.  Its patina evolves through the years with human touch, exposure to sunlight and different temperatures and conditions.  To replicate the effect this passage of time has on wood, we have to accelerate the aging process.  How?  We imagine what might have happened to the furniture if it really had been in situ for decades – in terms of its colour, texture, dirt and exposure to light.

A large wooden shelving unit filled with various items including shoes, books, a soccer ball, and some photographs, set against a white wall in a room with a tiled floor and a small rug.

The look and feel of the wood

Our master finishers have a background in furniture restoration – skilled in repairing old pieces using newer pieces of wood to match and look good. To re-create this we use a whole variety of techniques to replicate the subtle knocks and indentations that only period wood carries as a signature of its past.

In colour, different timbers react differently over time. Darker timber exposed to natural light lightens, while when lighter timber is exposed, it becomes darker. You can’t simply colour wood to replicate the effects of sun bleach or by applying lighter stains.  Instead, we use a variety of materials to wash out natural colours in the timbers and to add colour back in. We then layer finishes over the top – adding polish to replicate what happens over time.

A time and place for spray finishes

There are situations that benefit from a modern approach.  For example, unless specified otherwise by our client, we spray paint the interior carcasses of kitchen cupboards and cabinets. We finish these interiors  in a more contemporary way to give durability.  The finish will be harder wearing, better suited to the wear and tear typical in kitchens or back of house.

Elegant kitchen with dark green cabinetry, marble backsplash, and wooden counter. decor includes a floral arrangement and neatly stacked dishes on a table in the foreground.

Time is our favourite tool

To make furniture that feels settled in its environment requires a building of layers which takes many hours to build up.  We’ve outlined how these processes can’t be replicated by machines.  Rather, a huge input of labour is required.  Hand finishing is therefore an expensive luxury and plays a key part in the creation of our furniture. To see examples of Artichoke’s expert finishing, please visit the Interiors section and browse some of our projects.