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November 12. 2012 6:55PM

High-end Claremont cabinetry manufacturer Crown Point grew from founder Norm Stowell's contracting work


Traditional details and modern conveniences come together in this classic Crown Point kitchen with cabinetry finished in Farrow & Ball's Pointing. (COURTESY CROWN POINT CABINETRY)

CLAREMONT -- The Stowell family may have started out their carpentry lives rationing hot dogs and making 50 cents a day, but these days, their custom cabinetry has managed to make it into major magazines and homes all over the world.

The Claremont-based Crown Point Cabinetry sprang up in Norm and Deanna Stowell's garage 35 years ago and has become not only a homegrown success story, but one of the major employers in the area. These days, Stowell's son Brian runs the company, which specializes in handcrafted, all-wood cabinetry for kitchens, baths, laundry rooms and other spaces.

The 53-year-old Brian Stowell started out working for his dad when he was 10.

"We grew up very poor, and I can remember my mom talking to my dad in the very late '60s - he did construction on nights and weekends because he was a school teacher and he was trying to feed seven kids," Stowell said. "And she said one day, 'These kids are driving me crazy. You need some help. Isn't there something that they can do?'"

So at 10 years old, Stowell went off with two of his brothers to work with their dad which meant -in the summer- 12- and 14-hour days, seven days a week at 50 cents a day, building houses.

"We didn't mind (the pay) because that meant we could buy one Matchbox car a day," he said. "We looked forward to Labor Day like it was Christmas because it meant we were going back to school. We would shingle roofs, we would build chimneys- I mean he was a contractor who built houses and did remodels, so you name it, we did it."

Eventually Norm Stowell decided to go into business for himself building cabinets in his garage and at one point had his wife and all seven kids working for his company. He never took a vacation until one day his wife convinced him he they had to take a trip.

The trip involved air travel, which the elder Stowell hated. So one by one, he asked all of his kids who - if something should happen to him and his wife on the trip - would want to be in charge of the business. Brian Stowell was the only one who said he would - and the only one the others suggested should take it on should it come down to it.

Brian Stowell ran the business under his father for 10 years before taking it over himself. During his tenure, he changed the business from selling cabinetry through dealers to selling cabinetry direct to customers. This has helped the business thrive, particular during tough economic times, since it eliminates the middle man and allows greater quality control and immediate remediation of any problems.

When it comes to design, Crown Point cabinetry starts in one of several styles including Arts & Crafts, Shaker, Victorian, Early American, and Traditional. There's also a style called Transitional, which is a blending of traditional and contemporary styles that can include elements such as frameless construction, self-closing, hidden hinges, draped valences and curved moldings.

Customers design the cabinets they want, usually beginning with one of these styles. From there the customer can put his or her spin on it with color, finishes-such as stains, authentic milk paint, classic paint and Farrow & Ball Estate eggshell paints - interesting hardware and framing.

Color has been a major trend lately, said Karen Laskoske, senior designer at Crown Point.

"You know for the last few years it's been white and all variations of white paint," she said. "But lately we're seeing color. For us I think it's mainly due to the palette of paint we're using right now with Farrow and Ball, which is the kind of paint we're using, and the color palette is huge."

Lakoske said that gray has been extremely popular. As with white you can pair color with gray. And by using gray, you have color, but aren't committed to something as bold as, say, red cabinetry. Further, she said, customers are liking the look of hand brushed paint on cabinets, which Crown Point does, and which offers a depth of color that other techniques do not.

In terms of style, Lakoske said, where customers used to ask for carved and more ornate designs, they are opting instead for cleaner lines and period style cabinetry.

"You can kind of tell for us that our styles are very classic and that's still a popular trend for us," Lakoske said.

Because most people who are remodeling want the results to last for years and years, they are sticking with classic lines and styles which are less likely to become dated.

"I think that's still why stained and natural wood are also still very popular," she said.

Once the cabinets are designed, the cabinet makers at Crown Point then build those pieces. The cabinetry is then blanket-wrapped and shipped on a specialty furniture carrier. The company doesn't install the cabinets; that is left to the builder, remodeler or homeowner.

The lead time on custom cabinetry averages 12 to 14 weeks and up to 16 weeks during spring and fall, which are the peak times of the year.

A Crown Point kitchen project typically falls in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, but prices vary widely.

mplenda@newstote.com


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