Against the Grain
The creations at Hemingway Custom Cabinetry are truly one of a kind
written with Ann Kaiser
photographs by Tim Lee
Savvy homeowners want houses that reflect their personal style—and for many, that means no off-the-shelf furnishings or fixtures, including cabinetry. Stock (or even “semi-custom”) boxes are simply out of the question. Many turn to interior designers and architects who have long cultivated professional relationships with workrooms where custom cabinetry is crafted to their precise specifications.
This option can require deep pockets, blind trust and the patience of a saint. But there is another way to go: There’s a resource in Black Rock that offers all of the benefits of custom work without the middleman—with extraordinary attention to detail and a surprisingly personal touch.
I admit that when I was assigned to check out Hemingway Custom Cabinetry and Architectural Millwork, I had no idea how complex cabinetmaking could be. So I set out to discover the ins and outs of the process—and what makes this shop special.
I was immediately wowed by the size and scope of Hemingway’s 12,000-square-foot factory and showroom. Owner George Krawiec explained that his crew usually has between seven and 10 projects going on at once, with kitchen cabinets comprising nearly half of them. But if it’s made of wood, Hemingway can craft it—from a single bookcase to an entire library.
So let’s say I want a vanity; where would we begin?
Krawiec shows me a picture book to see if anything catches my eye, and he asks a lot of questions. Do I like this wood, that hardware? How tall and wide do I want the piece to be, with how many drawers? Next, we take a walk through the showroom for more ideas and inspiration, and so I can see and feel finished pieces; they’re solid and smooth to the touch. “It’s a visual experience for people,” says Krawiec of his showroom. Not surprisingly, it’s the finish in his stunning cherry-wood office that clients ask for most.
A tour of the workroom follows, so I can see for myself how the vanity I have in mind will be produced. Since nothing is outsourced, the plans for my piece will make their way down the line, through the entire assembly process, so that every craftsperson can see how it is supposed to look. And if a worker notices something that isn’t quite right, the piece will be pulled so the problem can be fixed before it gets too far down the line. “It’s not a mistake until it leaves the building,” says Krawiec.
Once I’ve decided on the basics, I’m shown a rough sketch and given a price quote. The next step is meeting with one of Hemingway’s designers who will help me work out the particulars. Before long I’ll see a detailed drawing that includes every joint, drawer, handle and knob. After I’ve signed off on the design, the piece goes into production.
Since they pride themselves on quality, there’s no skimping on construction materials here. Maple is used for all painted pieces, doors, frames, drawer fronts, etc., and everything gets two coats of primer and a topcoat of paint with varnish. For extra moisture protection, plywood that’s pre-finished on both sides is used in cabinet interiors. Most cabinets take from four to six weeks to design and six to eight weeks to build. There’s an added benefit to having everything happen under one roof: You can visit your piece as it’s being made, make a change mid-stream if necessary, and/or ask that delivery be staggered according to your needs.
By the end of my visit, I feel I understand the cabinetmaking process better than most people—and I have to say I’m impressed.
There’s no doubt that “custom” is an absolute at Hemingway. While Krawiec asserts that his seasoned pros won’t just say “yes” to every request if they feel it’s the wrong choice, they will walk you through the design process and make suggestions. In the end, they will do everything to ensure that the client is completely satisfied.
Another plus: In business for 10 years, Hemingway doesn’t aim to be trendy. “We’re the tuxedo or gown you put in your closet, and then take out in twenty years and it still looks good,” says Krawiec. “We’re timeless.”