Quality Control

Ben Block of Block Brothers Custom Cabinets in Searsport discusses the benefits of custom casework and dispels the myths. (Hint: It’s more affordable than you might think.)

Maureen Block pushed each of her three sons in a swing while she stacked boards at Block Brothers Lumber, the family sawmill that was located first in Epping, New Hampshire, and later in Monroe, Maine. When they were old enough to walk, the boys helped Maureen and their father, Andy, build a post-and-beam home on the Monroe property. After leaving the state for college and jobs crafting cabinetry and guitars, Ben returned in 2009 to live in his childhood home and launch a business whose name honors the one his parents started.

We caught up with Ben about his craft, ways to save on custom work, and running a business that mirrors the local food movement.

Q: Why are custom cabinets worth the investment?

A: The main things you’re getting are quality craftsmanship, quality design, and a really efficient use of your space. With a custom kitchen from us you don’t have a two-inch filler strip against the wall because a cabinet didn’t extend far enough, as often happens with off-the-shelf units, or a gap between the cabinet and a slanted wall in an old house. You don’t see seams between cabinets or a square cutout around a rounded farmhouse sink. Our cabinetry isn’t built for just anyone’s home; it’s tailored to each individual project.

Q: What about materials and finishes?

We use a combination of solid hardwood and ¾-inch plywood. You’re not going to find flimsy particleboard or thinner plywood stapled together anywhere on our cabinets. The wood is finished with a low-VOC, water-based lacquer we spray on in our shop so there aren’t any brushstrokes and you don’t get a plasticy, factory look.

Another benefit of customizing is you’re not limited in terms of wood species or door styles or layout. In a formal white kitchen we recently created a glass wall cabinet with corbels, beaded face frames, ogee-framed paneled ends, and heavy crown moulding. Inside we used knotty, weathered gray Douglas fir boards that had been outside for a bunch of Maine winters, creating a really nice juxtaposition.

Q: And if corbels and elaborate crown mouldings aren’t in your budget?

It’s definitely not true that custom means unaffordable. We work with a wide variety of price points and make compromises all the time to help people stay within their range — whether by shrinking the footprint of a kitchen, reducing the number of cabinets to what is truly needed, or steering them toward less expensive domestic hardwoods and simple door styles. We’re doing a kitchen now that has a section of really nice ash open shelving because upper cabinets would have put us over budget. What we don’t compromise on is the quality of our work. We use the same quality of joinery with poplar as we do with mahogany.

Q: Where do you source your products?

I equate what we’re doing to the local food movement. People want to know where the products they’re putting into their bodies come from and what went into producing them; the same questions should apply to the products we put in our homes. We source most of our lumber from Americas’ Wood Company in Washington, Maine and I encourage people to choose FSC-certified material [which mandates that it is sustainably harvested]. Our plywood from Atlantic Plywood Corporation in Westbrook meets the strictest regulations in the industry for formaldehyde content. We have an agreement with our customers —we know you can buy cabinets cheaper elsewhere but here you know what you’re getting — and we try to hold up our end of the bargain.

Portrait by: Jenny Nelson/Wylde Photography