For Timothy Lalley of Timothy Lalley Kitchens, a custom cabinet shop in Port Austin, kitchens weren’t always a part of the plan. He graduated college with degrees in biology and chemistry, spent three years in the Peace Corps, worked at a horse farm, and, throughout his journey, pursued jobs and roles that helped him discover and nurture his passion for woodworking — especially the art of handcrafting fine cabinetry. Now, with more than 40 years in the business and a reputation for impeccable work and unsurpassed skills, Lalley is thrilled to be doing what he loves.
In 1995, Lalley, together with his wife, Bonnie (an artist whose collage-style work can be found on page 32 of the Fall 2022 issue), and their then 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, moved from their home in Grand Rapids to Port Austin, a resort town that sees its 600-person population balloon during the warmer months thanks to its proximity to Lake Huron, its beaches, and its campgrounds and summer cottages. Bonnie’s sister and brother-in-law had purchased an old home there that needed work and, knowing that the Lalleys were looking to relocate out of the city, Bonnie’s brother-in-law proposed they move out to the property.
“We didn’t know if he was just joking, but then he said, ‘I just bought this place and I need somebody to run the project and do the renovation for me,’” says Lalley, who had worked with custom home builders for years. “So we drove over one weekend and absolutely fell in love with Port Austin. We went back to Grand Rapids, put our house up for sale, and sold it.”
While running the remodel, Lalley and his family lived in the home’s carriage house. An on-site barn proved useful as his new cabinet shop but, as business grew, he moved into a storefront just outside of town. The new space proved to be a boon, as Lalley was able to attract the attention of new clients including builder Sid Berridge, who became a mentor to Lalley and ultimately suggested he move the business to a building Berridge owned that was ideal for giving Lalley’s work the publicity it deserved.
“Once I committed to the move we sat down and designed it as a cabinet shop. And it’s just beautiful,” Lalley says. “It was a good move.” More than 10 years later, Lalley credits Berridge for the success he’s had in the community. “He gave me a good place to start from.”
Lalley, who works alone, designs, handcrafts, and installs original custom cabinets (his “bread and butter”), furniture, doors, mantels, and more through his showroom and workshop near downtown Port Austin. He says he recently completed an 8-foot-long solid maple trestle dining table for his brother in Minnesota, a project that was “so special because I knew where it was going.” He’s also an official — and Michigan’s only — dealer of Brighton Cabinetry, a small Illinois-based cabinet manufacturer.
Lalley is often influenced by the clean and classic lines of kitchens found in the English countryside (think Shaker-style cabinets and painted wood) — a timeless style that blends seamlessly in the homes and cottages that dot the Lake Huron shore. While every project is designed based on the specific customer’s needs and the look they request, it’s Lalley’s unwavering attention to detail and his unrivaled craftsmanship that defines his work. “For a number of years in Grand Rapids, I trimmed houses. I did all the finish work, and that really helped me develop a good eye for a quality job. I try and carry that through in everything I do.
“I was doing cabinet work a bit before I got married to Bonnie, but I think being married to her, as an artist, she’s taught me how to look at things and how to be more observant,” Lalley says. He also praises his daughter, now a curator in Chicago, for helping him to learn how to “look at things differently.”
With a slew of exciting jobs planned this year, including work on newly constructed homes as well as a project in the beautiful Pointe aux Barques, a private enclave of historic cottages (“I love working on these old homes because you’re right on the water, back in the woods, looking out over these bluffs. It’s a fun place to work”), Lalley says he feels “pretty fortunate” to be doing what he loves.
“I’m 69 years old and people say, ‘Well, geez, you’re getting ready to retire, aren’t you?’ And I say no! Why do I want to retire? I like what I do.”