Kitchen Kaper

Kitchen Kaper

I had decided to renovate my kitchen. Not that I would do the renovating, mind you. I was definitely leaving this to the experts. I asked around and found out that the simplest, least expensive course of action was to contact the kitchen department at an area lumber company or one of those super-sized hardware stores that seem to appear every five miles. Because these stores sold cabinets and, in the case of that large retailer, appliances, at huge mark-ups they were more than happy to give me a design for “free.”

Fortunately, I had an acquaintance who was a pretty big dude, professionally speaking, at a large, local lumber supply store. He introduced me to one of his top designers, Stephanie. Stephanie was a real find. I gave her the measurements of my walls, sink, refrigerator, etc. and she transformed them into something worthy of House Beautiful . She faxed me a number of different designs before we ever met in person. Things were going swimmingly up until that face-to-face, the sit-down, as they say on “The Sopranos.”

As we sat at her desk looking at my one-dimensional dream kitchen Stephanie began questioning me. Did I want real wood for the cabinets? Did I want granite for the countertops? Would I be getting a downdraft stovetop?   Did I want soffits? Did I want glass on my potato drawer? I expected her to shine a glaring light in my eyes and wire me to a lie detector at any minute. I stared dumbly at her. What would a cabinet me made of if not wood (this was a lumber store after all)? I don’t put potatoes in a drawer, especially not one where the whole world would see their roots taking over the receptacle.   Granite was for tombstones wasn’t it?   No, I was getting a normal stovetop, thank you very much. Downdraft sounded a lot like wind shear and I was having none of that in my kitchen. And what in God’s name was a soffit?

I was not an educated consumer when it came to kitchen remodeling and my failure to study was showing badly. This kitchen business was serious stuff. It had its own language, its own publishing industry, even its own TV shows. I was out of my league.

So I called in a coach. Yeah, a kitchen coach. Actually it was a coaching team. First up to bat with me was my friend Beth.   She had just gotten her new kitchen and was flush with the excitement of choosing a wine rack and cookbook nook. She had cabinets that rolled out and an oven the size of a Kia sedan. Beth had helped me take my measurements so felt strongly about the birth of my new room. She accompanied me on my next visit to Stephanie’s lair. As I sat like a recent immigrant who didn’t understand English Beth snapped answers out like bullets from an Ouzi. Yes, she wants real wood, preferably walnut with a nice grain and a satin finish. No, she doesn’t want a potato drawer, but a tri-colored pasta drawer with a tinted glass front might be nice. Granite was a little over the top. How about a nice, imitation-granite Corian? A downdraft stovetop was de rigueur because that hood is so ’60s. And, last but not least, soffits were simply out of the question. She has her grandmother’s cranberry-glass plates to display, for God’s sake!

Beth then handed me over to the second base coach, the affable contractor Bob.   Bob had installed Beth’s hidden trashcan, her YUPPIE wine rack and that Martha Stewart cookbook nook, little wooden bars included. Bob came over to my house, took more precise measurements and looked at Stephanie’s drawings. Seeing the space had given him some new ideas and he agreed to meet with Steph and me at her office. We all got together and this time I was more like an immigrant who’d been in the country for six months and had a vague understanding of the language, but only if you spoke slowly, loudly and with hand gestures.   Stephanie would talk to Bob and Bob would turn to me kindly, explaining in very simple terms what cute, young Stephie had just said about the supporting wall. He even drew me little diagrams with arrows. By the time I left I think I knew what was happening, but only glancingly. I felt okay about it though, like when your doctor says lots of things that you don’t understand but he says them in such a nice, calm tone that you’re sure you’ll live.

With home plate in clear view, I snagged the third base coach, my best friend, and amateur appliance expert, Linda. Linda looked at appliance catalogs like some men looked at Playboy. Our visit to a local stove, refrigerator, dishwasher store was almost embarrassing, as Linda stood enraptured in front of a French convection oven with red enamel accents. It was $3000. Now I knew why it was the size of a compact car. It cost the same. I’d bet it had more horsepower too. I dabbed the drool off Linda’s chin and we moved on.

I finally settled on an American-made wall oven with a fancy-schmancy gas cooktop. All the TV shows said that gas was real cooks. Electric coils were for people who heated condensed tomato soup, then put it in the refrigerator for an hour and served it as gazpacho. I admit that I had done that once or twice in the past but I was ready to move up. I might actually sauté something instead of frying it. I couldn’t see much difference in the two procedures but I was willing to buy a sauté pan in hopes that it would know the difference.  

The dishwasher was standard issue, standard issue now including “pre-wash,” “sanitize,” “plate warm.” I could use the plate warm function when I threw my first amazing dinner party, a sautéing soiree, using the new digs. I chose a refrigerator that would give me chopped ice at the push of a button and had a little contraption inside that held wine horizontally. I was clueless as to why white wine can’t stand on its own too feet but you can already see that I wasn’t exactly Julia Child.

Once the appliances were decided, I had to figure out whether they should be black, white or stainless steel. That meant that I had to figure out the color of my cabinets. I always thought that wood was its own color. But, it turns out, that wood can be any color in the rainbow, or, more precisely, any color in the L’Oreal aisle at CVS. I looked at the furniture in my den, the room adjoining the kitchen and decided that I’d match it so that my happy family could flow seamlessly from eating to nesting. Cherry it was. Stainless it was. Brushed nickel hardware it was. I was finally getting the hang of this thing.

Then came Brian. Brian, The Floor Guy. Brian looked and sounded like a longshoreman but had an impeccable reputation as a master craftsman. He was the Picasso of Planking. The Fellini of Floors. The Hendrix of Hardwood. This genius was going to take my dingy, dark floor and make it a work of art. Strip it, screen it, stain it and seal it. Once again, I was in a foreign land. But Brian was such a commanding presence that I was willing to follow him to the lost continent of Atlantis if required. No questions asked. Just lots of “uh huhs,” “yeahs,” and “okey-dokeys.” Brian really got a kick out of the “okey-dokeys.” More amazing than Brian’s ability to transform strips of ordinary wood into ribbons of honey was his ability to tell tales of every house he’d been employed in. Brian was a free-spirited artist who’d inhaled one too many fumes, in my opinion. He had no editor and no silencer. I heard stories that would make the Desperate Housewives blush. But he told them with no malice and I found myself pouring out my own woeful tale of broken dreams and property tax increases. I knew he’d repeat it at the next house but I didn’t care. Something about his child-like honesty and brawny boisterousness made me want to tell him more than I’d ever told my shrink. I recommended that he become a correspondent on “Entertainment Tonight.” He roared with laughter and it sure beat Freud.

As demolition and re-construction began, I returned home from work every day to a new problem. The lazy Susan really was lazy and wouldn’t make a full turn, trapping my new Calphalon sauté pan in an airless abyss. The gas line had to be run through Tasmania. We had six extra cabinet doors but were short 11 shelves. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just use the doors as really nice shelves, but we couldn’t, according to Dr. Bob. Dust covered everything. The take-out clerk at Buddha’s Garden Restaurant and Nail Salon was beginning to seem like family. And a mouse family had to be relocated from behind the old refrigerator to the basement. They were not happy about downward mobility but, as I waved the glue trap through the air, they scurried frantically, almost cheerfully, down the cellar steps.

Three months, and $30,000 later my culinary castle was finished. I invited friends, neighbors, and the PSE&G meter reader to “ooh” and “aah” over my foodie fantasy . Beth declared it perfect, Bob thanked me for the check, Linda caressed the fridge. And Brian bellowed his blessing, but noted the 9,000 nails needed to silence my squeaky floorboards.    

Speaking of squeaks, the mice have moved back upstairs. Sometimes, late at night, I think I hear their tiny, tinny voices singing the theme from The Jeffersons . I’m so happy in my new space that I’ve tossed the glue traps and am humming right along