Kitchen Lessons

We are moving to a new house (!!!) As soon as we move, we will renovate the kitchen. Not because our tastes are so exacting, but because right now the kitchen features bright green formica countertops, broken tile floors, and a white plastic kitchen sink that looks like the aftermath of when Julia Stiles died her hair black in The Bourne Ultimatum.

I’ve always wanted a chance like this. I love decor, and I even considered going to school for interior design when I left law. That dream died on Math Mountain, however – when I realized how much calculation is required to ensure that things fit into the special little spaces you’ve envisioned, I abandoned all hope of doing this professionally. Given my lack of numerical aptitude, my life would have become a giant storage facility filled with things I thought would fit, but didn’t. Thank God you can make a living with words!

I thought that this chance to do our kitchen would be wonderful, though. I could work with the people who know the math, and just focus on the fun parts – the stuff and the things!

Ten minutes in Home Depot ruined this fantasy. Walking through the kitchen section, I was completely overwhelmed. The 53d838e50fb52a31874f7c63ec44d447cabinet selection alone made me queasy – there were at least four different manufacturers, each with 20-50 styles of cabinet facings, and no clear way to discern between them. I thought I was in pretty good shape because I knew my preference for maple, but who would have guessed that this still left 57 different variations from which to choose?

We swam through a similarly endless sea of possibilities in the flooring section…and then with appliances. I lost it somewhere in the room of countertop options, overwhelmed by all the talk of granite vs. solid surface (aren’t most surfaces you’d put in a kitchen “solid”?) vs. quartz/marble/butcher block/stainless steel.   And all the pictures were of these MAMMOTH SHOW KITCHENS, with enough square footage to house and feed the Duggars. But as the Duggars are unlikely to visit us in here in greater Boston, our kitchen is a little more…intimate. One will not have to shout to be heard from one side to the other.  I just kept thinking, “This is so much money. If I blow it, and pick things we don’t like, we’ll have to live with this expensive failure, every day, FOREVER.”

I learned something in all of this: I don’t care all THAT much about kitchen specs. I’d like something that is sort of a base level of nice + functional, and I can make it work from there. As Gretchen Rubin points out in her book, Happier at Home, It’s just too much pressure to have every single item in my home make some sort of statement about who I am.

So I pulled back from the kitchen madness, and gave some thought to what I want my house to feel like. And the word that came to mind was comfortable.

I don’t want an intimidating kitchen, or a place where people come in and immediately comment on some unique and noticeable aspect of the design. I want a kitchen where people come in and, without even realizing it, relax.  A place where they’re drawn to a chair or a stool and sit down without asking, where I can set a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in front of them and they’ll start sipping as we chat, without worrying what might happen if the beverage drips or spills.  (Ditto for the pizza we’ll order, because all my friends know I can’t talk and cook at the same time).  I want a kitchen to live in, not a kitchen to admire.  It may sound dumb that this was revelatory for me (especially given my hesitant relationship with food prep) but it was. I learned that my decorating “style” is more a decorating “feel.”

On Friday, we went to a local appliance store – one of the places where the owner helps you spec out your cabinets, and his son’s best friend shows you different features on the dishwashers you might consider. It was So. Much. Better. We picked out a basic, pretty cabinet in about ten minutes, and the appliances didn’t take much longer. I still can’t decide about countertops, not because I need things to be perfect, but because when I look at granite/quartz/etc. for too long, it starts to look like so many amoebas floating around under a microscope slide in science class. So I have to decide what sort of science project we’ll want to look at for the next decade. But we’ll figure that out.

I realize that it’s a huge gift to be able to design a kitchen. I don’t want to overlook this blessing, just because I got overwhelmed in a big box store. It makes me think of how many times in life, God wants to bless us with something, but we struggle to receive it  because the blessing comes with responsibility, and the agency to make choices…and the risk that we might choose wrong.  Maybe one way to (as the picture above says) “Completely ruin your kitchen remodel” is to put more pressure on those cabinets and countertops than they can bear – to try and have them tell all the people in your imagination exactly who and how and what you are in your imagination, the version you hope will cause them to respect, love, and admire you.  I’m not sure there’s a kitchen in the world that has ever pulled that off.

I think it might be better to have it be a cozy place in which my “best imagination” is replaced by the unexpected ways real life unfolds.

And there you have it, my Monday manifesto: “The Metaphysics of Kitchen Design”!

Thanks for reading :)

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