CKC #18: The kitchen hope chest story


Once upon a time, a DIY kitchen remodel project began, involving people with no tools, knowledge or skills. They had purchased a Portland craftsman home that had been neglected for quite a few years as the people who lived in it aged and relied on a slightly younger neighbor to do any improvements.

This slightly younger neighbor had a questionable approach to home improvement. For example, when he painted walls, if there was a bookcase in the room, he would just paint right up to the edge of the bookcase. When people who owned the home moved out because they were no longer able to live alone, the furniture went with them. The next inhabitants were left with walls that had multiple layers of paint, and they could tell what the position of the bookcase had been at each painting.

A similar condition could be seen on the floors. When they needed to be refinished, the handy neighbor would paint up to the edge of the area rugs, again establishing a historical record of rug sizes and order of paint color usage.

The kitchen was perhaps the worst room in the house. Someone – no doubt the slightly younger handy neighbor – had painted every surface with very very thick oil based paint, including the glass in the glass doors on all the cabinets. The color was an unfortunate choice, I would put it somewhere in the diarrhea yellow range. And as the elderly owners grew increasingly frail, food spills in the cabinets were overlooked. A notable example was a jar of molasses that had spilled on the top shelf of one of the upper cabinets and over the years, slowly made its way down the wall, eventually pooling at the bottom of the lowest part of the lower cabinet. The resulting residue was resistant to every cleansing item applied, both conventional and unconventional.

Eventually, the decision was made to remove all the cabinets and start over. The plaster covered with yellow paint was covered with sheetrock. I must pause to point out consensus was not reached on this point, me being in the minority. I tried to remove the yellow paint from the wood around the window, but merely succeeded in nearly burning down the house. So I took the flamethrower back to the rental place and threw in the towel.

The cabinets were made by a woman who introduced herself as a cabinet maker when we met her at the community garden. This is where I learned you really do need to check people’s references lest they overestimate their powers. The cabinets fairly sucked. And there were completely non-functional. The kind where you really do have to insert your entire body into the cabinet to reach things that make their way to the back, and even then things remain that you can’t recover. I would estimate that only about 10% of the total cabinet space was reachable, therefore 90% was wasted space. It was impossible to devise an organization system that could survive this formation.

And then there were the counters…yes, the ones I tiled and grouted. Without tools, knowledge or skills. This is where I learned that people too poor to hire someone to do work that requires those three items should not take the DIY approach. Really. It’s not a good idea. The cabinets didn’t really line up with the sink, the grout got slopped all over the damn place, it slide down the side of the stove where the “cabinetmaker” had left a gap. I can’t even bear to reveal the rest.

It was totally impossible to keep anything clean in this kitchen. To show you how bad it was, when Ric moved in he put a piece of linoleum on a counter. Did you catch that? A piece of loose linoleum was an improvement over the tile and grout. Enough said.

It was one of those situations where you have to grow blinders on your eyes and pretend not to see the reality that faces you when you enter the room. I just trained myself to achieve oblivion, a condition that lasted more than 30 years. Yes, I am embarrassed to admit that we have suffered through this kitchen for more than three decades. I’m very good at oblivion. And I had bigger fish to fry.

My blinders started to develop cracks about five years ago, then about two years ago big pieces of them began to shatter and fall. I could no longer bear this kitchen. It made me sick.

So after I paid off the mortgage, I took the money I had been applying to paying it off early and started a kitchen fund. Then my accumulated miles I had built up traveling were set to expire, but I couldn’t really go anywhere, so I cashed them in to get one of those big KitchenAid mixer things in bright red! It gave me hope. And I began to buy little kitchen items I liked when I came across them, a bright purple potholder here, some colorful measuring cups there, and put them in a box I called my new kitchen hope chest.

The rule I made for myself was I couldn’t use any of these new items in an old kitchen. They had to be saved for the new one. And it worked.

This spring we decided the fund was big enough to go for it. So we called my dear friend from high school who is a contractor and asked if he would oversee the project. He agreed (thank you, Paul) and we are underway.

You won’t believe how big that hope chest has grown. If I tell you it now includes two chairs and two bar stools, maybe you will have an idea. I’m not counting all the money I spent purchasing these things as part of the cost of the kitchen because, well, because I don’t really want to know how much I spent. [And I really don’t want Ric to find out :-)]

I’m so glad we weren’t here when the demo crew did their thing because they may have asked questions… kind of like when you go to a hairdresser for a first visit and she asks, “Who cut your hair last?”

And while I take no responsibility for the decision to put drywall on top of lath and plaster, I wouldn’t really have wanted to have to answer them when they asked, “Who did these counters anyway?”




3 responses

  1. I helped my sister remove lathe and plaster from her living room a few years ago. We still talk about it. Sheetrock was not a bad decision. The plaster on her walls was mixed with animal hair. Animal. Hair. Yes, we could have hired someone, but where’s the fun in that?

    • Hmmm, animal hair in plaster? On purpose? I wonder where the hair came from? Were actual animals involved? Or maybe the plasterer brought his shedding dog to the work site? The possibilities are nearly endless…