By Kiley Jacques
Bath, Maine-based Kennebec Co. is known for its handcrafted, period-inspired cabinetry. The 20-person team designs and builds custom kitchens in harmony with a home’s architectural style—spanning the 17th to 20th centuries. With the majority of their client base in New England, that means a focus on early American elements.
With a nod to the builders of world-renowned ships built on the Kennebec River’s shores, Kennebec Co. employs centuries-old techniques and fine craftsmanship skills. Using hand-selected, high-quality grades of premium solid woods, traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery, and hand- applied finishes, they create kitchens in keeping with a home’s history. Quarter-sawn woods; panels of plank-cut boards bearing growth rings; grain-matched drawers; hand-planed and sanded surfaces with textured antique effect; and specially formulated stains and dyes all work together to create setting-sensitive cabinetry of the highest caliber.
Always looking to reveal and celebrate the grain of a wood, Kennebec Co. cabinets’ decorative elements are kept to a minimum to make evident the design’s purity as well as the quality of the materials—a timeless, understated simplicity characterizes all cabinets.
Their work extends beyond kitchen cabinets though, as company president James Stewart points out: “We built a reputation of being a period kitchen company, but that has grown over the years to be more than just traditional cabinetry.” That reputation now includes strong client relations and an unparalleled sensitivity to the entirety of a home’s historical references. “The theme through all of our work is that we really take the time to bring together the spirit of the home with the needs of the homeowner through a pretty personalized design process.”
Whenever possible, they lay out design plans right in the home. Though based in Maine, they travel across the country to work with clients personally. “Regardless of where we are, we try to get to know the home and the homeowner [to inform] the design.”
Their work is found in and accommodates a wide range of settings—from early American to mid-century to contemporary. In Georgian period homes on the North Shore of Boston, for example, hand-planed pine is commonly found. Kennebec Co., therefore, offers custom, quarter-sawn Northeastern white pine cabinetry, both painted and stained. “It really fits that scenario…it really looks like it could be original but when you open it up, it brings all the functionality of a modern kitchen,” says Stewart.
He goes on to describe a recent project in Danvers, Massachusetts, that fit cabinetry for an early 20th-century Foursquare home: “After multiple meetings with the homeowner discussing design and material choices, we decided on hand-painted cabinetry built from quarter-sawn hard maple. We chose quarter-sawn maple for its superior stability.” They went with a hand-painted Benjamin Moore Advance finish to fit the age and feel of the home. “The homeowners really desired an element of natural wood in their design to complement the paint, so we recommended a tiger maple countertop for the baking workstation in the corner.”
According to the homeowners of that project, “Kennebec’s sensitivity to the period aesthetics…the meticulous attention to the detail in planning and fabrication…every aspect of our installation was nothing short of phenomenal. The craftsmanship, fit and finish, were superb.”
It is important to note that the people behind Kennebec Co. take environmental stewardship seriously; they offer sustainably harvested wood, U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-approved plywood, and water-based low-VOC stains and finishes. Furthermore, a recently added engineering department ensures waste is reduced every step of the way during the building and installation processes.
No matter the project, no matter the materials, for the team at Kennebec Co. “stability and consistency of the quality” are always the goal. So, too, is cabinetry fit for the period. “A common thing to hear,” says Stewart, “is that the cabinetry looks like it’s always been there.”