I grew up in a house where all the action took place in the kitchen. The main reason being that it was the only always-warm room in the house, thanks to my mum’s deep, long (still continuing) love affair with her Aga and her desire to manage the heating bills. As a result, it was the place you’d always find people and the family dog, who liked to lie in front of said Aga.
If you’ve never heard of an Aga, it’s an always-on range that used to be fueled by wood or oil, but more commonly these days is powered by gas. The burners are huge cast iron plates or hobs that stay permanently hot under domed polished chrome hinged lids: one for boiling, one for simmering. You can even make toast by using a device that looks like a torture contraption and setting it on the plate. Be warned, it can burn in an instant. And there are two ovens; the top oven (super hot) and the bottom oven (better for plate warming).
As you can imagine adjusting the heat for either the stove top or the oven is a nigh on impossible task that requires pulling a pan halfway off the hob or putting a “cold shelf” in the hot oven to reduce the temperature. This is not an appliance most people want to cook on, unless you’re English and dream of bringing nearly-frozen newborn lambs back to life while roasting your Sunday beef at the same time.
Anyway, I digress. Point is, I love kitchens because they feel like a gathering place (aren’t they where the best parties happen after all?) and I can’t feel connected to my home until the kitchen is just right. The other reason it’s my favorite room in the house is because this is where the magic happens. Where a pile of seemingly unrelated ingredients can be coaxed into a dish that is nourishing, enjoyable and tasty to eat.
When we lived in San Francisco I perfected my kitchen: a beautiful island with a vegetable prep sink, a big stainless steel range and fridge; a neat cubby for the microwave. A button-free (at least to the eye) dishwasher. It took me about a decade of scrimping and saving and remodeling and then remodeling again, but I did it. And then I sold my house. And I kind of had to start all over again.
To the uninitiated, the kitchen I inherited when I moved to Sonoma Co. is a delight. Pretty new cabinets painted a French country white, Carrera marble counters, a ginormous La Cornue range, a hulking Viking fridge and dishwasher to match. But on closer inspection, it just isn’t functional to someone who likes to spend tons of time in the kitchen, cook with others, or at least hang out and chat to people while I’m working away in the kitchen.
For instance, there are just four drawers and they are teeny! (I can just about get a wine opener and a spatula in one drawer.) China and glassware has to reside in a charming, very antiquated hutch, but the glass is cracked and the doors don’t work properly. Counter space is limited and lighting comes from two unpleasant square fluorescent fixtures.
Because this is a Victorian house, the kitchen is very much cordoned off from the rest of the house, not integrated into the living space to reflect the way we live today. Sure, I adore the back “butler’s” stairs and the little walk-in pantry, but overall it just hasn’t captured my heart.
I have sat on plans to improve this work/live space for close to two years and not had the nerve to pull the trigger. For one thing, I questioned whether the investment would pay off if I sell, and two, did I really have the heart to rip out the charming pieces of history represented by the hutch?
Just last week, I made the decision to go for it. The demo has begun. The dust abounds and there are about five guys roaming around downstairs at any one time. I question my wisdom still, but am excited to end up with a space where I can create and invent. In the meantime, most of my upcoming posts may be limited to adventures outside of the kitchen. I will keep you updated.
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