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Kitchen of the Week: A Couple’s Summer Kitchen in a Former Lobster Shack

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Kitchen of the Week: A Couple’s Summer Kitchen in a Former Lobster Shack

May 26, 2022

Last summer, arriving for a weekend stay in a small cottage built over an inlet in Harpswell, Maine, my partner and I followed our host, Lili Liu, on a tour of the cluster of buildings—former lobstering shacks—at the water’s edge. At the end she showed us to our cottage and excused herself to clean up after a dinner party. “This is the summer kitchen,” she told us as she ducked into a sixth small building with exposed wood walls, windows looking out at the inlet, and a long table down the center, strewn with empty wineglasses and oyster shells, the remnants of a good party.

Today we’re taking a tour of this, the summer cook space of Lili, a designer, and Blake Civiello, an architect (and Maine native). The couple were living in Los Angeles in 2018 (where Lili is from) when they started to think about taking a break from city living—and Blake began “obsessively looking” (his words) for a spot to land. “This particular property showed up overnight and was discovered very early in the morning, Pacific time,” he says. “I was so excited to see an old commercial lobster pound that had been well preserved and was charmingly odd. I decided to take a chance and wake Lili up with the photos (she’s not a morning person). Luckily, she was as excited as I was. The photos showed the epitome of patina from the decades of hard use and love.”

The 100-year-old property was, long ago, a popular ferry destination for day-trippers from Portland, some 40 miles south (by land). What’s now the summer kitchen—or the Galley, as Blake and Lili call it—was previously a commercial lobster and clam business called Ben’s Lobsters, then an art gallery. Since buying the property and relocating cross-country, from LA to Harpswell, the couple have revived the classic Maine buildings—and turned the lobster pound-turned-gallery into a simple but no less magical space for long, languid summer dinners.

Join us for a look.

Photography courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu, except where noted.

the cluster of buildings as seen from the dock. at the center, with the skyligh 9
Above: The cluster of buildings as seen from the dock. At the center, with the skylight, is the summer kitchen. Photograph by Tide to Pine, courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu.
brea, the couple&#8\2\17;s three year old chesapeake bay retriever (&#8 10
Above: Brea, the couple’s three-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever (“favorite food: blueberries”) waits outside the summer kitchen, or Galley.

“Originally, this was the actual lobster pound building with a large wooden tank in the center,” Blake says. “Ben’s Lobsters used a pump to circulate fresh ocean water through the tank, and we heard from Ben’s adult grandson about the yearly tank maintenance he had to do growing up. It was also pointed out to us that the tank imprint can still be seen in the floor today.” Around 2000, another owner purchased the property. “He made various buildings into watercolor painting studios, matting production, and storage. The ‘Galley,’ as we call it, was actually his ‘Gallery’ for selling a few paintings as a side gig. In fact, the ‘open’ signs still inside the Galley were from his small art business.”

the kitchen takes up the room downstairs. come maine&#8\2\17;s warm season, 11
Above: The kitchen takes up the room downstairs. Come Maine’s warm season, in May, the couple closes up the kitchen in their home across the patio and exclusively uses the Galley. “We’re avid hosts and enjoy having people over to share the Galley, from cooking together and dinners to just hanging out,” says Blake. It also becomes an ad-hoc office, with laptops set up at the table.
&#8\2\20;we started with a blank slate, converting what was a very basic ar 12
Above: “We started with a blank slate, converting what was a very basic art gallery into a fully functioning kitchen,” Blake says. “We had to add power, seasonal water and sewer lines, as well as a small propane heating system to combat the shoulder season chill.” The fittings are simple, like a stainless-steel sink that’s a workhorse in the summer months. In lieu of drawers, there are slide-out wooden toolboxes.
the long central dining table is paired with caned chairs and the most standout 13
Above: The long central dining table is paired with caned chairs and the most standout element of all: a view over the water. Photograph by Tide to Pine, courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu.
&#8\2\20;we combined the utilitarian toolbox drawers with a family sized it 14
Above: “We combined the utilitarian toolbox drawers with a family-sized Italian range as well as wooden countertops,” says Blake.
on the stairs leading to the upstairs loft: bric a brac from the building&# 15
Above: On the stairs leading to the upstairs loft: bric-a-brac from the building’s past. “The decor and design decisions are an extension of the spirit of the property: a hard-working, utilitarian shell full of quirky, loving, handmade details which evolved through the years to better serve the businesses they housed,” Blake says.
alongside the utilitarian fittings, there are glimpses of summer&#8\2\17;s  16
Above: Alongside the utilitarian fittings, there are glimpses of summer’s beauty. “The shell string was homemade using garden jute and the oyster shells form Ferda Farms, the amazing small oyster farmer we have right outside our windows,” says Blake. “We’ve made a collection of things over the years which tell the story of us—from handmade wooden spoons to Asian woks to vintage cast-iron pans to oyster knives collected from all over—all on full daily display.  Together it melds into a style which, we hope, makes a comfortable space to create and gather.” Photograph by Tide to Pine, courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu.

Above: “The kitchen really extends out into the surrounds,” says Blake: setting up a wok on the front step, grilling by the water, “or collecting fresh ocean water for the traditional lobster boil. The outdoors become indoors.” Here, the couple harvests seafood off the dock for a summer meal. Photograph by Tide to Pine, courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu.

lili at the stove, pre dinner party, making a cantonese lobster noodle dish &am 19
Above: Lili at the stove, pre-dinner party, making a Cantonese lobster noodle dish “which we have been working on perfecting and serving to anyone who is willing,” says Blake. “It’s made with fresh lobster locally harvested by Clarence (a relative of the Ben’s Lobsters family, who still actively lobsters from the property), a wheat-based noodle, ginger, and scallions, all combined with a rich stock. It’s delicious and a very different lobster dish from the Maine tradition.” Photograph by Tide to Pine, courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu.

Above: The view in the Maine fog, and fresh-caught oysters beside fresh-picked Maine blooms. Photograph by Tide to Pine, courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu.

after thanksgiving, the couple closes up the building for the season. &#8\2 22
Above: After Thanksgiving, the couple closes up the building for the season. “The water lines are drained and appliances shut down,” says Blake. “The ritual of closing it down is a sign of the coming winter and consolidation into our smaller and warmer main-house kitchen.” Photograph by Tide to Pine, courtesy of Blake Civiello and Lili Liu.

“Leaving the kitchen each season makes us miss and appreciate the space even more,” says Blake. “The excitement of reopening in the spring is energizing and a lovely feeling, like working in the garden on the first beautiful spring day.”

N.B. We’re featuring Maine homes, destinations, and design details all week to celebrate the release of our new book, Remodelista in MaineFor more favorites, see:

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