My Trophy Kitchen

By Maureen Smith 

          I’ve become hooked on watching HGTV.  Which one of the three houses will they select?  The one with the view that’s pricey; the one with the ‘man room’ in the basement, but that is too far from work or the fixer-upper that’s close to a park?  It’s always nice to see them three or more months later, all settled in, finally married with baby and friends coming over for a toast.  

          Best of all are the comments from the young couples: “Oh, we’ll have to put in granite countertops.” “This is so ’80s.” “This bathroom will have to go.”  My rejoinders: What’s wrong with kitchen tile? Weren’t the ‘80s just yesterday? How could you destroy the charm of the claw-foot tub? I’m now convinced that this show is what inspired us into the bizarre idea of redoing our kitchen. Why should we live with an outdated kitchen?  It will be good for resale when we opt for assisted living.  It all started with a burner going out on our stove, which reminded us that the ice maker was no longer working in the fridge and the parquet floor had no more layers left to sand.  My cabinet drawers didn’t pull out and I’d forgotten what goodies were in the very back — spices older than I am.  Suddenly, we are looking at our miserable kitchen with new eyes.  Even our children are getting new kitchens, so maybe they won’t be too upset about us spending their inheritance. 

          My decorator friends convinced me that with a major redo I would need help. It’s a process, they said. This was an understatement. The first decision is to find a kitchen planner (KP).  It is important to collect thousands of kitchen pictures so the KP can determine your taste.  A good KP will also visit your home and make suggestions like pushing back walls or taking out the downstairs bathroom (which is one of the reasons we bought the house in the first place). All of these were immediately nixed.  We are told that we have to ‘think out of the box.’ We’re trying. 

          At this point we were inspired by an architect friend visiting us from Los Angeles.  He shared his four points to consider when undertaking any major redo:  First, consider what already exists that is of great value and quality that should not be messed up.  Second, think of what already exists that has value, but isn’t quite right and could be improved.  Third, determine what exists that is unwanted or beyond repair that should simply be taken out.  Fourth, decide what is missing, needed and perhaps is the stimulus for initiating the whole project. 

          These four points were a big help. We decided that we like the layout of our kitchen.  We just want appliances that work and maybe a new look that will make the cover of Southern Living magazine. We decided to go for it. 

          Before this decision my life was relatively calm. Now I’m losing sleep worrying about my choice of two different kinds of wood for the cabinets. Will it be too much for my small kitchen?  Was tile a good idea for the floor?  Will it be too hard on the legs and too cold on the feet?  Should I go with the light, medium or darker shade of green for the walls?  There are astronomical numbers of countertop choices. Then I worry about these privileged sort of worries I have while there are so many real problems in the world.  At the floor place, the marble place and the appliance place, I run into other redoers equally confused and conflicted by all the decisions facing them.  Should we form a support group? 

          The real irony of this whole project is that in our stage of life, cooking has become very simple. Large dinner parties are a thing of the past. When we get together with friends, we discuss which restaurant we wish to visit.  Our china, crystal and silver stays neatly tucked away in a chest. One contractor suggested that perhaps this will be our “trophy kitchen.”   Sounds good to me. 

          During construction we set up a little kitchen area in our TV room with a chest holding a microwave and toaster oven on top. Our refrigerator was moved to the deck.  It’s amazing what food can be put on a plate with these basic appliances.  In fact I began to wonder if we really needed a kitchen.  For weeks it has been pointless to clean because the workmen would be back the next day creating more dust.  Besides, I have no idea where my cleaning materials are hidden.  The dining room has become our storage place for every item from our kitchen and the living room has been scrunched to one end to provide a place for the cabinets when they arrive.  We carved out a narrow path to the front door from our den for escape purposes.  Not a pretty picture. 

          Now I am proud to report that this project is ending. Baseboards and trim are being installed, knobs put on cabinets and each new appliance is sliding into its place. The counters arrive this week and then the real work begins for me — finding places for all the stuff we took out of the kitchen in the beginning. This is stuff that we have lived without remarkably well for weeks.  Now come decisions about what to keep and what to pitch.  Already the outdated spices and canned goods have been jettisoned. Pictures will go back on the walls and baskets back on top of cabinets. Best of all, to the relief of my friends, I can once again carry on a conversation without the word “kitchen” being in every sentence.

          One thing. I was joking about making this a trophy kitchen. I’ve signed my husband up for cooking classes.


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