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Kitchen of the Week: Rethinking Perfection in a Cabinetmaker’s Own Kitchen in Maine

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Kitchen of the Week: Rethinking Perfection in a Cabinetmaker’s Own Kitchen in Maine

July 29, 2021

Ben Block has hand-crafted countless kitchens all over the state of Maine via his company, Block Brothers Custom Cabinets, based in Northport. But the one he sent our way this spring is by far his most personal: his own family kitchen 25 minutes away in Morrill, Maine.

The project began when Ben and his then-fiancé, Morgan, were moving out of Ben’s family home, built by his parents. “It was a tough decision to move on from there because of my family history in that home, but we finally decided we wanted to look for a new place in the summer of 2017,” writes Ben. “We thought we might find an investment or fixer-upper to live in for a few years before we started a family, but luckily for us, only days into our property hunt, this home and land popped up. The house is relatively new (2007 ish), super well built by a former builder (now our neighbor, John), and situated on 20 acres of beautiful fields. We knew once we saw it in person that we had found our spot.”

What would become the kitchen was, at that point, a wood shop with exposed insulation and knotty pine walls—in other words, a blank slate. “A monstrous, ancient 20-inch planer sat roughly where our range is now,” Ben recalls. Still, “after the first showing, we started daydreaming about an eventual kitchen plan.”

The end result is the product of care and community—with some details going back decades. Ben and his crew at Block Brothers made nearly everything in their own workshop, from the ash drawers to the wood countertops to a glass-fronted display cabinet made from red birch wood that Ben’s dad, a former sawyer, had prepared 25 years before. There’s an ingenious hanging pot rack of Ben and Morgan’s own design. The couple ended up getting married in the fields surrounding the house the summer after they bought it. Then Andrew, the couple’s now two-year-old son, arrived and made it a true family space.

In building out this cookspace, Ben turned his practice in building finely made kitchens towards the über personal. His mantra? Intimacy over perfection. “This kitchen design was an intentional departure from my own pursuit of perfectionism,” says Ben. “Morgan and I did not try to design the ‘perfect kitchen’ but rather tried to create a space that was perfect just for us. This is something we consciously talk about having learned from our Andrew,” he writes. “Andrew was born with Down syndrome and in my humble opinion is the most incredible kid in the world. I’ve long been a perfectionist in life and work, and Andrew has shifted the way I define perfection, which I think this shows in this kitchen design.”

Join us for a tour of this personal, labor-of-love space.

Photography by Jared Kuzia.

&#8\2\20;morgan and i had always been drawn to kitchens that managed to fee 9
Above: “Morgan and I had always been drawn to kitchens that managed to feel informal with an eclectic mix of materials and finishes without sacrificing quality and craftsmanship. ” writes Ben. “We wanted the space to look and feel so nice that it would make us want to spend all of our time there. Rather than fill huge walls with as many fancy cabinets as we could cram in, we wanted it to feel like a collection of furniture that fit together just right.”

In that spirit, the pair opted for wood countertops, crafted in the Block Brothers workshop. “We chose wood countertops over maybe a more practical material, knowing that the scratches and dings and smudges and stains will tell our family’s story over the years,” writes Ben.

the family had good bones to work with. &#8\2\20;the floors are the same fl 10
Above: The family had good bones to work with. “The floors are the same floors that were in John’s wood shop: white pine boards from trees he cut down on the property,” writes Ben. The couple hired a crew to sand the dark brown paint off and coat them with a white-tinted sealer and a matte water-based topcoat. The paned windows are also original: “All we did was new trim,” says Ben.

The kitchen is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Railings (on the base cabinets) and Wimborne White (walls, trim, and ceiling). Note the exposed hot-water pipes to the left of the range, which run from the boiler to the upstairs radiators. “They were gray plastic when the space was a wood shop, but we changed to copper and decided to highlight them rather than hide them,” writes Ben.

the sink is english fireclay by shaws, and the faucet is by barber wilsons. &am 11
Above: The sink is English fireclay by Shaws, and the faucet is by Barber Wilsons. “We pieced the components of the pendants together ourselves,” writes Ben. The couple had originally wanted ceramic shades, “but we came across these hand-blown glass shades from Olde Brick Lighting and thought they worked perfectly without blocking any of the view or light from the windows.”
&#8\2\20;morgan and i designed the pot rack and enlisted a marine rigging c 12
Above: “Morgan and I designed the pot rack and enlisted a marine rigging company that usually works on yachts and schooners to help us with the rope work,” writes Ben.

“With the relatively limited width between the two windows, we didn’t want anything huge that would stick out awkwardly into the room,” he adds, nor did the couple want “anything that felt overly luxury-kitchen-ish or overly industrial.” Their favorite design was built out in ash with a liming wax finish and rigging work by Maloney Marine Rigging in Southport, Maine. “For all of your concerned practical readers,” adds Ben: “There is a small brass safety bar tied into the line that keeps everything from crashing all the way down if a certain toddler ever gets tall enough to reach the cleat on the wall.” There’s also a pop-up vent hidden from view behind the Lacanche range, which “came on a ship from France mid-pandemic,” Ben adds.

Above: “Morgan found the bottles and labels on Etsy, and we made custom ash drawer inserts to fit them,” Ben writes of the satisfying spice drawer.
on one end of the kitchen is a glass fronted display cabinet, in keeping with t 15
Above: On one end of the kitchen is a glass-fronted display cabinet, in keeping with the couple’s vision of well-crafted furniture in lieu of traditional cabinetry. “My father, who was a sawyer, sawed the figured red birch inside the display cabinet around 25 years ago, and the lumber sat drying in my family’s basement until just the right project came along,” writes Ben. The crew at Block Brothers transformed it into a freestanding place to store plates and glassware.
the display cabinet, open. wondering where the fridge is? it&#8\2\17;s a sm 16
Above: The display cabinet, open. Wondering where the fridge is? It’s a small stainless-steel Fisher & Paykel concealed inside a built-in cabinet on the wall opposite the range. “Certified kitchen designers might say it’s too small and way too far from the main working area in the kitchen, but this is one of the ways we chose aesthetics over traditional kitchen function,” Ben says. “We didn’t want to eat up the space where the display cabinet and shelf are and instead chose something understated and tucked out of the way.”
&#8\2\20;the countertops and island are built out of texas pecan that i sou 17
Above: “The countertops and island are built out of Texas pecan that I sourced from a small family sawmill there,” Ben writes. The wooden table-as-island adds prep space and a place for the family to gather.

We’ve admired quite a few kitchens in Maine. Take a look at three favorites:

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