NOT MANY FAMILIES can say they have a kitchen countertop that incorporates a wood carving of Yoda, never mind a giant sun. In fact, this family is the only one. A 14-foot-long twig and resin countertop made by Vermont artist Barre Pinske is one of a kind.
The unique creation is the centerpiece of Jill Guzzi and Eric Harnden's new kitchen, designed by Tom Murdough of Boston-based Murdough Design. Although Murdough is a minimalist and Guzzi more of a maximalist, the couple hired him after falling for the lake house Murdough designed for his own family in New Hampshire. (The families became friends when their now 9-year-olds were in preschool.)
Murdough overhauled the fairly typical kitchen and informal dining area in the Lincoln home by opening up the interior, swapping traditional windows with modern expanses of glass, and adding huge custom sliders that lead to the patio and pool. Local contractor Brian Perkins did the work, embedding a steel beam in the ceiling so the load-bearing wall separating the original kitchen and dining area could come out.
The new light-filled space is a hub of activity where Guzzi and Harnden spend time with their kids — Greer, 15, Quinn, 12, and twins Parke and Spencer, 9 — whether they are cooking, eating, studying, or just hanging out. In addition to the long stretch of island, there's a homework area, a game table, and a reading nook next to a new wood stove.
The couple discovered Pinske's work when Harnden had the idea of commissioning an artist to carve a sculpture out of a tree trunk in the backyard. Google led Guzzi to the chain-saw artist in Chester, Vermont, and his work instantly captivated her. She proposed that Pinske create the countertop that would become not just the room's focal point but also a symbol of the family's interests. "The kids all suggested different shapes," Guzzi says. "There's a bird, a fish, a turtle, and an apple and even a stick gnawed on by a beaver they found outside their grandparents' cabin in New Hampshire."
The process was both labor-intensive and highly creative, involving a chain saw and a bandsaw. Pinske collected, dried, and sliced branches ("there's aromatic cedar from Vermont and lots of green poison sumac," he says), carved whimsical shapes as directed by the family (the aforementioned Yoda and company), composed and glued the elements on a plywood substructure, and flooded the entire spread with resin. Pinske then sliced off the top layer with a router, sanded what remained, undertook a tedious burping process to eliminate air bubbles, and sealed it. (Search "Barre Pinske Twig and Resin Countertop" on YouTube to see the video.)
Murdough designed a stainless steel support for the countertop, a sleek counterpoint to its quirkiness. Guzzi added an array of industrial-style stools around three sides of the island, where the family gathers for meals. Above it, she hung a series of four pendants covered in preserved moss by Bronx-based Studio Jota. She found them on Etsy, the site she calls "my best friend during this project."
A photograph of a Jackson Hole mountainscape in a cherry frame inspired the space's color and material palette. Guzzi knew she wanted deep blue walls to echo the sky (she settled on Benjamin Moore Hudson Bay), fern green accents to echo the grasslands, and warm cherrywood cabinets. The new flooring is character-grade hickory with lots of natural grain. Murdough chose a grayish-beige Caesarstone countertop with a clean edge and thin profile to contrast with the rustic elements. "I think the result fulfills Jill and Eric's vision for an eclectic arrangement of finishes and furnishings," Murdough says. "It's funky and kid-centric, the very essence of the family."
The space functions exactly as Guzzi and Harnden had hoped, and they are indeed thrilled with the aesthetic collaboration. Guzzi says, "Tom is all straight lines, 'less is more,' and I'm colorful and folk art-y. He had to rein me in a couple of times, but we're friends, so he can tell me: 'Stop. Enough is enough!' "
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