Hand-made wooden utensils made from sustainably harvested New England hardwoods.
Imagine being thrust into a situation where your best option is to part with the majority of your worldly possessions, and downsize to a 150 square foot cabin in the woods. It was that scenario that set these two former cabinetmakers on a path of living a much simpler yet more fulfilling life. Meb Boden and her husband Tom Vaiciulis, the owners of Meb’s Kitchenwares have fewer items these days, but are doing what they love together. Each beautiful hand crafted wooden kitchen utensil, cutting board, and vessel are made from New England hardwoods, in their rural, 600-square-foot workshop in Woodstock, Connecticut.
Going back to the days when Meb and Tom first met puts perspective on their ability to work and live together in what many might consider tight quarters. Early on in their relationship, they discovered they were “grand partners” at sea and decided to rent storage space for all their belonging back East so they could travel amid Caribbean palms and turquoise waters. For 3 years, they called their 35 year old, all teak sailboat home and made small furniture pieces and stained glass in their island workshop. Life in international waters was mostly filled with sunshine until the day that arson destroyed their workshop and turned their life upside down. “Fortunately we’re “lemonade” kind of people: as in “Wow, that’s a pretty sour lemon—let’s make lemonade!” Meb remarked. This unfortunate situation made them re-evaluate where they were living and what was really important in their lives. They moved back to Connecticut and built as what she describes as an “elegant” yet quaint 150 square foot cabin on property they bought from family.
“We have fewer things but what items we do have are ones we treasure and are handmade by people we know,” Meg reflected. “We cut our own firewood, light with oil lamps and commute 3 miles to our rented, on-the-grid workshop,” she added. “Our 21-acre homestead is constantly changing with the additions of gardens and pathways, fruit trees and assorted outbuildings. They are currently in the process of increasing their living space to a “lavish” 600-800 square feet.
From Cabinetmaking to Kitchenwares:
When Tom and Meb were making cabinets it was Tom who designed and built while Meb did the finishing work. It was as she described “pretty dull work” until they got the idea of making cheese knives for Christmas presents out of their cabinet leftovers. “I just LOVED making the freeform pieces,” she expressed. “Its less precise and methodical than cabinet making.” Friends appreciated the gifts and encouraged them to sell them locally and at craft fairs. Meb dove into her new form of woodworking with enthusiasm and saw a parallel with the boating world. ” I loved the freeform lifestyle and the tight-knit community of craftspeople, a subculture similar to our yachting family” she said. Tom continued to make cabinets until he was able to join her full time.
Choosing the right kind of wood is a crucial first step in this type of woodworking. Although Oak is abundant where they live, and is great for firewood, furniture and framing, its open grain which can trap food and germs is unsuitable for their purpose. They use mainly Maple, Cherry, Black Walnut, and Birch – all top grade New England hardwoods that have a range of colors and distinctive grain patterns. They enjoy trekking to Northern Vermont, (the source for local hardwood yards) where they climb 50 foot high stacks of lumber sorting through rough stock to find the finest-figured grains. Next step is laying out the design, then cutting and carving each item one at a time.
“In the workshop as at home, we exploit our “in sync” brains and fingers. We handpick each board, debate how best to use its grain & figure. We leave bits for each other to play with. We finish each other’s work. The result is a collaborative dance, with surprises along the way.”
When you hold one of their woodenware products in your hand, you’ll realize why it’s quality versus the quantity that makes a difference. “We imagine unknown hands enjoying the sensuous shapes, smooth textures, and luscious wood grains,” said Meb. “We picture our utensils creating delectable recipes in kitchens around the world.”
With proper care Meb’s Kitchenwares will shine for many generations to come.
This Profile was created by Connie Fitch, Freelance writer, marketing, and video production professional based in Connecticut.
Page updated February 27, 2011