My husband, Les, and I gave each other a high five on Wednesday morning, when we signed over a down payment for a shiny new kitchen. It is a big decision to chuck it all and start over, especially with such a hefty price tag. But nobody will be shedding a tear in our house when this kitchen goes. We are hopelessly cluttered, land-locked and in each other’s way. I am exhausted from complaining about our shortage of counter space and storage, inefficient flow that is result of a poor original design (who had the idea to put the refrigerator next to the wall?), and especially the lack of decent light. We have talked and dreamed about doing this for a couple of years, and after our year in lockdown, we finally decided that something had to give.
For me, the commitment to remodel is a personal one, and it is scary. I have been down this kitchen makeover road before, and it did not end the way you see the big reveal in so many HGTV makeover shows. I won’t terrify you with the details, but I will summarize my DIY misadventure this way—remodeling projects sometimes reveal hidden truths to the homeowners, and not only in the form of moldy walls or termite infestations.
In a previous life, I had a vision for restoring the kitchen in a new-to-us-but-chronologically-old home. Along the way, several previous owners had “redone” the kitchen, but not very thoughtfully and certainly not in keeping with the 1927 bungalow’s character. Removal of all the old stuff (including five clunky layers of flooring, which exposed the most gorgeous original antique heart pine) was amusing and liberating, but the installation of our new expectations went off the rails, and just kept going. Much of the trouble could have been avoided, but for my spouse’s loyalty of keeping peace with the contractor, who was a social acquaintance. My desperate pleas for reset fell on deaf ears.
As the weeks morphed into months, I watched in silenced horror as my dream eroded into something more aligned with the contractor’s abilities or undeclared time constraints or perhaps his own vision—I’m not really sure—and my confidence in the outcome quickly followed. It was during this excruciating, exhausting project that I learned two important truths. First, don’t hire a friend to do work on your home, especially if you are emotionally invested in the outcome. Second, a home renovation project can make or break a fragile relationship. Frankly, I think it should be a required exercise for people contemplating marriage. In my case, the “big reveal” was a glaring situation of irreconcilable differences. Of course, dear reader, it was never really about the kitchen. Cracks in any foundation cannot be repaired with a fresh coat of paint.
A few years after my past nightmare project began, I made a clumsy exit from the yet-unfinished kitchen—and also from my marriage. I put down roots in a tiny duplex apartment with the smallest kitchen known to mankind. It was quiet (except when the neighbor was home, which is entirely another story) and I was learning how to be me again. When anxious thoughts woke me up at 3 a.m., I calmed myself by making handmade pasta. Sometimes I had popcorn and wine for dinner, and nobody cared or complained. Other times, I invited friends over and basked in the joy of entertaining, something I loved but rarely got to do during the previous decade. I nurtured a sourdough starter and learned how to make beautiful bread. I got better at smiling and my love for cooking intensified.
Not all was lost, and I was reminded of this by a wise, unexpected philosopher who spoke a wonderfully hopeful truth:
Fast forward about two years to a vastly different scene, set in a different kitchen in a different part of town. I had been dating Les for a few months and on one evening, after much laughter and a bottle of wine and cleaning up dishes after a meal that we had cooked together in his kitchen, I felt a shiver run down my spine as my mind’s eye caught a glimpse of the future—it would one day be our kitchen. Don’t ask me how I knew, but two years after that, he became my husband. We have had some good times in this kitchen, and Les and I have turned out some incredible feasts, despite our less-than-fab space.
This kitchen we are giving up has no hold on Les, and I am delighted that we are on the same page with the updates we have planned—new cabinets and countertops, a new layout, better traffic flow and the promise of more storage. And lighting, lots of new lighting. We have replaced all of the appliances within the past couple of years, and we are keeping those. Well, except the microwave. In support of my passion for baking, we will introduce my own special space in a presently unused corner. I am so excited!
The contract we signed this week puts our project into the trusted hands of a reputable contractor whose design partners have helped us select some beautiful materials. We hope that we have designed the perfect solutions to our storage needs and spatial challenges. When the work begins at the end of summer, we will be expelled from the kitchen for about eight weeks, and we are doing some creative planning to make that part of the ride more tolerable and, perhaps, even enjoyable.
And we have a few fun surprises that will involve you, dear reader. Our cabinets are bursting with pantry items that we must thin out—and fast. In keeping with our playful personalities, we are turning it into a game, and I can’t wait to share that with you. Les and I will not break under the pressure of this remodel because we will be having way too much fun!
It’s the end of my kitchen as I know it, and I feel fine.