In yesterday’s print edition of the AJC I wrote about our kitchen renovation. After many years we’re finally getting rid of a space that never really worked.
This kitchen was too inviting
I had pictured the demolition of our home’s kitchen like a cinematic car crash — a slow-motion ballet of violence. Shards of wood, ceramic and granite would go flying through the air. And our contractors, with sledgehammers slung over their shoulders, would be attacking the counters with an expression akin to bloodlust in their eyes.
But after hearing an hour of banging and crashing downstairs, I warily wander down to find appliances and cabinet doors missing. The loud crashes belied a precision-tuned dismantling. The kitchen looked much as it had before — ordinary, sad, grimy.
One young man who had a chaw of tobacco stuck under his lip had found a hidden bag of Japanese eggplant pickles and asked me many questions about them. He was clearly a budding foodie.
Did it feel like the heart was being ripped from our home? A little. This kitchen had been the selling point when we bought the house 13 years ago. We had moved from a house with a small, windowless, off-to-the-side kitchen that only two people could comfortably cook in. We had had too many dinner parties where guests wanted a part of the cooking action but had to clamor at the kitchen’s periphery, like clubgoers behind a velvet rope.
When we found this house, the kitchen was a brand new remodel with a sea of gleaming green granite. It had everything I wanted: a bank of windows, gas burners, dual ovens, an enormous pantry and a fantastic central island where I could stand, chop onions and look out to the lush green backyard. This split-level island was fancy, fancy — with a sink, dishwasher and prep area on its lower level and an L-shaped eating surface on its upper level. And it seemed like it was made for entertaining. Something about the kitchen cried, “Come one, come all.”
As soon as we moved in, an official from the Decatur Tour of Homes who had heard about the kitchen inquired if we wanted to be included. I demurred with a laugh. Anyone who knows about our unusual approach to house cleaning and home decoration knows that we don’t aspire to be on a tour of homes. But, still …
Our first really big dinner was a class party for our daughter’s new school, with about 20 sets of parents milling about. I made a big pot of Thai chicken curry. As I stood by the stove to fish out a piece and check for seasoning, the headmaster’s wife joined me. We ate chicken with our fingers as I added some more fish sauce and lime juice to brighten the sauce. This was what I had always wanted.
But then I found it was difficult to get the party served. That one 3-by-2 square of counter space where I could cook was also the one place where everyone wanted to drop their drinks. I kept moving the chips and salsa away from my counter, and it kept finding its way back. Because the space in front of the island was so narrow, everyone decided to join me on the cooking side. I couldn’t open the oven without asking three people to move.
Every subsequent party followed suit. With the whole downstairs to choose from, guests would inevitably stand between me and my tiny work surface.
Other issues soon began to surface. Those counters were fashioned from tile, not a solid slab. Let me be the first to say that grout and food prep do not mix. All those windows meant no hanging cabinets and, thus, no place for dishes until I retrofitted the coat closet. The fridge-stove-sink triangle had a sharp corner of granite tile poking into it. The L-shaped eating counter made for strange dinner table energy, as no one faces each other and no food could be passed across.
There was endless space in lower cabinets, which invited all kinds of clutter. Last weekend we cleaned out these things, pitching some and saving others. The Barney the Dinosaur cake pan? Pitched. The aluminum turkey roaster from my aunt who had Alzheimer’s? Saved (and never to be used).
Our new kitchen has been designed so four or five people who want to cook can do so, but others will be diverted by a wide, bright area with stools, counters and a drinks fridge. We have a friend who designs homes and talks often of “energy, ” and she seems thrilled with the energy potential of our new space.
An hour has passed since I started writing this column, and when I poke downstairs for a look, the granite counter (along with the colonies of microorganisms living in its grout) is gone.
“Good riddance, ” I think, before a rush of memories choke my mind: Of eight little girls after a sleepover huddled around that counter as I flip blueberry pancakes. Of snorting with laughter with my kids as we stretched a sheet of fresh pasta down the entire length of the counter. Of standing with my wife by that little square of usable space and burning our fingers on hot chestnuts. And of the countless times I ran smack into a guest as I turned from the stove, laughing and saying, “It looks like you need another glass of wine.”