To Dream a Kitchen

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    I remember that first morning when we stood in this doorway and took in all the cabinets, counters, and ceramic tile that finally belonged to us.

    We had no groceries in the fridge or utensils in the drawers, and almost all of our stuff was still stacked in boxes around the house. But we dug out the coffeemaker and gave it a place of honor next to the sink.

    And as we sipped our first official cup and looked out the window at our new backyard, the light gently pointed out the Tudor-style handles on the dark knotty pine, the wheezy ceiling fan directly above, and the oddball corner pantry with its heavy, six-paneled door.

    That was eight years ago, and even then, everything was out of date by several decades. But once upon a time, this kitschy style had been another family’s dream kitchen from top to bottom, and standing here now, I can only think how glad we were to have it be ours – pitted grout, tired faucet fixtures, and all.

    There are other details to recall, and I might linger here and think of more to say. If it weren’t for all the thumping and banging.

    Because when workmen arrive to turn your old kitchen into something worthy of the twenty-first century, there’s no time to waste. The guys push past me with sledgehammers, crowbars, and power tools, ready to rip everything down to the studs and throw it all into the massive dumpster outside.

    But it was time, I suppose. And I’ve heard all the reasons why. They say we’d have a hard time selling the house if the kitchen weren’t up to snuff. My wife won’t invite people over because the lower cabinet doors have been dog-eared, literally, by the puppy that refuses to stop chewing them. Then there’s the financial advisor who views the cost as a balance sheet. You’re not spending money, he says. You’re just transferring assets from one location to another. He seems to forget that the renovation won’t include an ATM next to the new electric range.

    Still, I get it, I guess, even though I’m happy enough with just a sink for stacking dishes and a microwave for reheating coffee. And though I’ve spent all this time looking past cabinetry that no longer snaps closed properly and blind shelving that holds stuff we’ve long since forgotten about, I do like the thought of old wood-on-wood drawers giving way to smooth-rolling hardware and the notion of a pullout, hinged door hiding a corner carousel where our Tupperware will go to live out the rest of its days.

    Let yourself get sucked into an all-out “reno,” and pretty soon you’ll find yourself disappearing down the kitchen-design drain. I came to this project knowing next to nothing about dishwashers. Now I can match nearly every brand and model to its advertised decibel level. We’ll need two pendant lights to hang over the new island planned for the center of the room; I am now an expert in wattage, lumens and the finer points of bulbology. And don’t get me started on different species of backsplash tile (okay, twist my arm: subway, bevel, crackle, glass, and rope trim to add extra pop).

    The kitchen even haunts my dreams. I toss and turn as I mull the unspeakable upcharge for adding glass to an upper cabinet door. And how to support the island countertop’s 12-inch offset overhang? Speaking of counters, the slab guys tell us we choose White Carrera marble at our own peril. Marble is soft. Marble will gouge. Just look at marble the wrong way and it will scratch. We shouldn’t let marble within 100 miles of our kitchen.

    Naturally, we choose marble. Maybe, if we’re lucky, our new kitchen won’t produce anything of nutritional value – just the same old microwaved chicken nuggets and endless bowls of Apple Jacks – and we’ll never need to touch the counters at all. That’s our life these days anyway, since everything from the pantry and cabinets is now piled high on the porch. The coffeemaker, perking in the dining room window and loyal to the last, provides the only fresh consumable in the house.

    Don’t worry about us, though. You can join us for meals anytime in our offsite kitchen, otherwise known as Chipotle, as we patiently look forward to returning from exile.

    In my restless and discombobulated sleep, I see the kitchen that is to be. Perfectly aligned doors and drawers close with vacuum-like precision. The dishwasher emits so few decibels that I wonder if it’s even running. The marble counters inspire a new sense of purpose about regular cleaning and polishing, and the tile completes a look that brings to mind Ancient Rome (and Olive Garden). The full-size stainless-steel sink is wide and deep enough to wash the dog in.

    But it will take me a long time to stop turning left instead of right when I throw the trash away. And I will miss the fussy garbage disposal I babied year after year and which now sits ignominiously in the driveway. I’d grown to accept the wasted space, the ill-fitting latches and the constant search for paper napkins that turned out to have been there, way in the back, all along. The new kitchen will be new and white and shiny and pretty. But it won’t be the same.

    Neither will we, though, and that is as it should be. The kids are growing up, and I suppose it’s time to retire the crayon drawings and the dump truck magnets that have been stuck to the fridge for so long. There will probably be less milk spilled, fewer glasses falling on the new wood floor, and not as many years left to sit together around the island we always wanted.

    And one day, another family will come along to make this house their home, and stand in this doorway, and look upon these painted walls and new décor and the kitchen dream we made come true, and shake their heads, and wonder aloud: What could they possibly have been thinking?

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    Tony Farrell
    Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.