Archive | February, 2011

Islands in the Dream

23 Feb

When we first moved to our home in 2000, the kitchen island trend was new. Not that kitchen islands were new. Those have been popular for decades now and of course most kitchens constructed since the 1980s have incorporated this functional counter into the “open plan” kitchen design. But for those of us trying to live an early 2000s life in a 1950s home, the kitchen island poses a problem.

I knew we had room for one. Our kitchen is decent size (not galley but pretty narrow) and MM’s family used it as an eat-in with a long, picnic-style table along the blank wall. I didn’t love that and we certainly didn’t need the big table (at that time there were no littles in our life) but I measured and determined we had room for a narrow island and a couple of chairs.

And while kitchen islands were popular, buying one “off the rack,” as a separate piece of furniture, was not. Now I see them everywhere—Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, that Sonoma wine catalog, but back then, not so much. Actually, I did find one. It was at a chic little kitchen boutique in town (and it was red, which I loved) but it was $1700 and that was about $1200 more than I wanted to spend. Thus began my search for a vintage piece that I could turn into a kitchen island.

What I found was this. I wish I knew the original function of this piece of furniture. I love its little doors and fun glass inserts. The bottom shelf makes a perfect storage spot for our collection of not-often-used cookbooks, and the wood was a nice contrast to our cream-painted cabinets.

The next challenge was the top. I needed something sanitary for eating and big enough for leg room and to push chairs under. What we settled on was a stainless steel top. I like the juxtaposition of the new shiny stainless finish with the vintage wood and feel of the piece. Plus it was really cheap. I bought inch-thick MDF and had it cut to size at Lowe’s (for probably $20—it was a long time ago, so I don’t totally remember) then found a metal shop in town that was able to top it and seal the sides with stainless steel for $85 (that I remember).

But I’ve got to be honest, stainless steel is a bitch to keep clean. Add two macaroni-and-cheese-loving, napkin-hating littles to the mix, and the thing looks decent about every two weeks (for the two hours between when our cleaning lady cleans and the kids have their next meal). But I do my best. I wipe it down two or three times a day, each time dreaming of the kitchen renovation to come—the big one where I tear down walls, pick a fingerprint-hiding countertop surface, and get those sweet self-closing drawers.

Worst House on the Block

11 Feb

Ten years ago when my then fiance asked me to consider buying the home he grew up in, I wasn’t so sure. His family had bought it in the early ’60s, raised five kids in it, and my husband was very sentimental about the neighborhood. Problem was (and probably even more so the reason he wanted to buy it), it was the worst house on the block. Think weed-filled grass, utilitarian metal siding, original windows (but not in a good way), a chain-link fence (still my nemesis) and no curb appeal. And that was only the outside. His mom divorced his dad when Michael (my husband and the youngest of the five) was only 12. She then invited tenants to live in the house to help make ends meet. Michael never knew what he was coming home to. Who would be living where?–a rodeo cowgirl in the basement, a Chinese mother and daughter in the back bedroom and an alcoholic who ended up dying in what is now our six-year-old’s room (don’t tell her).

The truth is Michael needed to buy that house. He  needed to reverse the bad karma that had built up since his parents’ divorce. He needed to prove that it could be a great house again, plus as a financial adviser, he knew it was a good investment. With a little TLC, it could be family home again. If I would commit to it for five years, he said, we could sell it, take the profit (“everyone” wants in this school district), and find something that we both like. My dad visited and said, “That’s a sandwich you don’t want to take a bite out of.” Thankfully I didn’t listen. My dad lacks vision, but I don’t.

Ten years, several tens of thousands of dollars, some sweat equity, lots and lots of imagination and rethinking, and we’re still there. We’ve turned it back into a great family home. And this blog is about that journey . . . the projects that led us to where we are and the ones to come. You see, I’m not done yet . . . not even close.