Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hammered and Nailed #14 -- Curtain comes down on kitchen project

   This week marks five months since contractors sealed off our kitchen and began ripping out and remodeling.
     Now, at last, they are finally done—or at least what we consider "done," undeterred by the fact that they are still here, from time to time, and still working.     
     But there are a few tasks ahead—an electrical outlet that doesn't provide electricity, a molding and wall to be painted, a threshold to be sealed—quite a lot, really, yet not enough to counterbalance our fierce, burning, animal passion to have this thing really finished.     
     Just as a hotel will conduct its opening ceremony and let guests check in, even as workers are still tacking down carpet in the lobby, so we're dusting our hands and calling it finito.     
     That said, one task remains: the credit. That might sound odd, but, quiveringly aware of the grunting boorishness of the average suburban homeowner, I have made a point to try to thank people, and this is my chance. If my kitchen were a stage play—and at times it seems that way, something by Ibsen or O'Neill, with lots of shouting and jolting truths uncovered—then the curtain cannot be rung down without the actors, who worked so hard for so long, returning to the stage to take their bows. As with the theater, we'll run them out in reverse order of their centrality to the plot.
     First onto the stage, someone whose appearance was buried in Act One, almost two years ago, is Susan Regan, the Evanston architect we hired to design the kitchen. She offered much insight, such as pointing out we probably didn't want to put the oven where its door would swing open to block the kitchen entrance.
     She curtsies, and gives way to Arne Aabey, our cabinet guy at Home Depot, who handled the numerous cabinet crises—both their fault and ours—with  aplomb. He does one of those quick head dips, and turns away.
     From the left wing comes our appliance guy from Abt—which is a name, it can't be pointed out too many times, not an abbreviation—and from the right, the electrician from Able Electronics. I fumble through the program for their names but give up and return to clapping.     
      They bow, part, take their places stage left and stage right, and are replaced by Jay Sackett, of RocheBelle, the stone company, who babysat us during the excruciating process of picking the three most lush elements of our kitchen—the slate floors, granite countertops and limestone backsplash, handling the transaction with far more tenderness than a person would expect from one's brother-in-law. ("Your brother-in-law is Jay Sackett?" a contractor once said to me, eyes wide in wonder. "He is a god, a god of stone!")     
      Jay is joined by Krasimir Armeykov, of Exotic Marble and Tile, the company that fabricated and installed the stone. The applause swells here, since the stone work was perfect—a word not heard much when the subject is remodeling. Armeykov spent several days painstakingly installing the thousands of little 7/8th-inch square tiles, with the quiet air of a piano tuner. Not one tile was  crooked. He did much to redeem the former Soviet bloc in my eyes, and, after he finished, came over for a solemn handshake that spoke of that elusive quality in this country: pride in workmanship.     
      Then, the stars. Out comes the trio from AMV General Contractors—Lynn Hildred, Marine trim, with his shaved head and his unlit stub of a cigar clenched between his teeth; then Matt O'Connor, tall and smiling, and, of course, the boss, Tom Mulcrone, big and bearded, looking to me vaguely like a Biblical prophet, though unfailingly polite, even when he and my wife were arm-wrestling over the bill. These guys were not only good, but we liked them, which I am told has never happened in the history of home repair.     
      The three join hands ("Eee-yew!" they're saying, squirming in their enormous, well-maintained South Side homes—one of the drawbacks of finding yourself in somebody's fantasy sequence) and bow deeply as the audience begins standing up.     
      The guys turn and fling their arms downstage, in a gesture of welcome, as, beaming, her arms laden with roses, my wife, Edie, sweeps forward—heck, let's put her in a gown and a tiara with a neck full of Harry Winston gems—who oversaw the year of preparation and six months of construction, who listened to my Howard Beale-like rants, and nevertheless pulled it all together into something beautiful.     
      The audience is roaring and  whistling. Edie does one of those dainty Shakespearian flourishes—a very Gwyneth Paltrow gesture—as the ensemble, exchanging glances, bows as one.         
      Someone in the audience cries "author, author!" and, feigning modesty, I allow myself to rise from my seat and jog happily up the aisle where, as the guy who bored you with all this for the past year and, more importantly, paid for the thing, or at least will, in about 20 years, I take my bow. The audience falls to a hush, and I make the obligatory pompous speech:     
      "If a house is a stage where we live our lives, then the kitchen is center stage in our domestic dramas," I begin. "And just as we expect a proper frame--this proscenium arch, these red velvet curtains--in the theater, so it's important to give the scenery of our lives as much pizzazz as we can. I am no better a person now than I was three years ago, when we stood in the ruined, warping hellhole of a kitchen of the house we bought and pondered how in God's name we could fix it. But we did, together. Now, grabbing tea from these maple cabinets, heating the water on this mighty Wolf stove, placing my palms on the cool countertops while it boils, I feel better, finer, and more worthy than I would in a crappy kitchen. And that's what home remodeling is all about."     
     The cheers erupt.     
      "Yes, the play of life is fleeting. Just as my wife and I stood in this kitchen, pitying the aged couple we were buying the home from, so we will someday stand in our own decaying kitchen, 25 years hence, our children grown and fled while we face life in some grim, ammonia-scented senior facility, and be in turn pitied by some smug young couple who eye our kitchen, gagging, and think 'Stainless steel? What kind of people bought appliances made of stainless steel?'"     
     And here, a ripple of laughter.     
    "That is inevitable, and the way of the world. All we can do is enjoy our moments between then and now, moments which will be enhanced by this swell kitchen, and warmed by the memories of the struggle to make it  real, and all the good work of all these professionals around me. Thanks to all of them, especially my wife, and to all of you out there in newspaperland. I hope you have enjoyed yourselves."     
      We step back, the curtain drops, and our remodeling drama comes to an end.
                                   —Originally published May 18, 2003  



  1. This sentiment is exactly right. I have had few career projects or domestic drama which involved as much time, money, emotions, energy, and coordinating other people as a home remodelling project. I didn't realize it at the time, but I wanted the curtain call too.

    Great post, great series, and fingers crossed the kitchen still looks great.


  2. What a roller coaster ride this was, with all the scary twists and turns. But the kitchen turned out beautiful -- bravo.


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