Janine Stone: ‘Knowing who to work with, their capabilities and specialisms, is as important as the design itself’

The interior of a beautiful building is often what leaves the most enduring impression in a visitor’s memory; carefully crafted joinery, staircases, plasterwork and floors combine to create a coherent whole that summons up the spirit of its past. Jeremy Spencer of Janine Stone tells Country Life's Giles Kime the lessons we have to learn from past and present examples.

Janine Stone is noted for its integrated, tailor-made joinery. What does fine internal joinery lend to an interior?

I have been passionate about furniture design and joinery throughout my architectural career and nearly signed up to study furniture design when I visited Parnham House College in the early 1990s, after my RIBA part 1 architectural qualification, and saw John Makepeace’s and the students’ striking work revelling in the natural beauty of wood.

The internal architectural elements, such as floors, walls, ceilings, skirtings, cornices, doors, architraves and staircases, all have the potential for refined, integrated design. They all combine to form the interior language that may be recognisable to a period in time — Georgian, Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, Modernist or influences from styles around the world. Their size, plan, section, material and profiles all set the interior style and their development has played a big part in grand houses over the centuries.

From the late 15th century, oak-panelled rooms demonstrated how designers and craftsmen brought together these elements using the best techniques available, with carvings and panels often complementing the finest tapestries. Today, we have so many more materials and techniques at our disposal, but the joy of creating beautiful interior architecture with increasing elaboration or timeless simplicity remains as strong as ever. Adding concealed or secret elements to a house is always intriguing.

We’ve designed secret doors to private stairs in master suites that take you to the spa area, concealed safes between doorways, sunken wine cellars and pivoting bookcases that reveal hidden storage. The history of built-in furniture is as old as domestic architecture. Working with great joinery companies, refining the design and the way anything built in relates to all the other adjacent elements is vital.

Allowing most of the fine work to be done in the workshops and slotted in on site always helps the process and timelines. All the elements that will be fixed at different times during the project need to co-ordinate with one other with a degree of flexibility that remains all but invisible when complete. This gives the appearance of a harmony that is one of our great strengths at Janine Stone.

Knowing who to work with, their capabilities and specialisms is as important as the design itself. Janine Stone’s team of architects and interior designers has been fortunate to nurture great relationships with some amazing artisans and cabinetry workshops, both in the UK and Europe, who are able to help us fine-tune and develop beautiful fitted joinery for a new build or renovation project.

The selection of unusual wood veneers, the hand-finishing or the simple ingenuity of knowing how to build the piece so it looks seamless without revealing how it’s made is all part of what differentiates the truly great interiors from average ones. Many clients love this stage of the interior project and will enjoy visiting the workshops to see the progress and witness the attention to detail first hand.

Are there any examples of interior architecture you are inspired by?

I relish the inventiveness and execution of the picture-room recess display storage and the library window partitions in Sir John Soane’s Museum, London WC2, and as a total contrast I’m also fascinated by Shigeru Ban’s evolving ‘furniture houses’, which stand on wardrobes and bookshelves with repetitive modules that have a structural and storage role — they are even made to be earthquake resistant.

What is the history of decorative plasterwork in architecture and how do you exploit its qualities?

The advent of fibrous plaster in the mid-19th-century gave new decorative possibilities to interiors and was used extensively. There are vast records of standard sectional profiles used over the past 160 years and still available today. Before that, decorative plasterwork was hand-modelled in lime-based plasters and was very time-consuming to produce. Original fibrous plasterwork can be matched and new profiles can be created; it’s an extremely versatile, strong and stable material.

Apart from being ideal to master the junction between wall and ceiling as a cornice, we use it in a multitude of technical and aesthetic ways, concealing lighting, ventilation and air cooling. However, it’s often best left simply mastering the top corners of a room, creating a play of light and shadow that can emphasise the height, create an illusion of it and add to the overall aesthetics. I love the way Lutyens subtly splits the plaster ceiling cornices and those atop panelling and joinery at Castle Drogo, Devon, underscoring the vertical expression of the window reveals.

What role do beautiful staircases play in your house designs?

Staircases were and remain a great indicator of status in a house, from the main staircase to the back staircase for staff. Cantilevered stone staircases are the most eye-catching, with a slim, elegant section showcasing the beauty and strength of stone. With wrought or cast-metal balusters and a mahogany curving handrail, they have so much to display. Revived from Palladian times by Inigo Jones at the Queen’s House in Greenwich, they continue to impress.

Their place in the plan for the layout of a building is critical to allow it both to be seen and control the house’s circulation, and their sculptural potential is something that we always endeavour to bring out, whatever their material combination; simple metal flowing shapes, glass to emphasise the light, stone, or beautifully turned timber.

One of my current favourite staircases is designed by Foster and Partners for the Dolunay Villa in Turkey, which has been built by The Stone Masonry Company. The firm has been developing ways to make post tensioned stone structures for years and its projects range from traditional Georgian cantilever staircases to gravity-defying reinforced helixes.

Janine Stone & Co specialises in building and renovating residential projects, incorporating architecture, interior design and construction management, and has been providing Country Life with insights and expertise through this ‘Masterclass’ series for the past few months.

To speak with Janine Stone & Co, please telephone 020–7349 8888 or visit www.janinestone.com