Monday, May 21, 2007

Renovating the Heart of the Home

In towns across New England, spring house tours—and specifically kitchen tours—sprout up like crocuses on a cool May Morning. Synced up to perfectly align with Mother’s Day, they provide women the distinct voyeuristic pleasure of peeking inside the lives of those who might otherwise hide behind barriers—physical or economic—too high to otherwise scale.

Such was the case this past week when in my own tiny town seven homes were opened for our annual kitchen tour. This Friday I will also visit a Designer Showhouse with a girlfriend; others dot the weeks ahead, but hey, you can only peek into so many lives. As is usually my observation at the end of the day: we have become proficient fluffers and featherers of our nests. Call it the cocooning movement, call it a thrust in home entertaining…or call it the desire for conspicuous consumption: we are decorating and renovating our homes like there is no tomorrow!

I cannot criticize the efforts of these best-intentioned homeowners. For I am officially in their ranks. Previously involved in an extensive renovation of the third floor of our house, we have also done less glamorous projects. We’ve ripped up carpeting to lay down hardwood. Removed wallpaper to paint ceilings to floors. Replaced lighting fixtures. Added bamboo shades and silk panels. And now we are getting ready to enter the kitchen demolition phase. The builder is lined up. Plans drawn. Master carpenter commissioned. Appliances configured.

I fully understand the angst.

Somewhere between the eighties and the start of the new millennium, we collectively (as a nation) decided that a completely remodeled, bells-and-whistle-loaded kitchen would be the benchmark for a good house. That whether we cooked or not, we needed industrial-strength appliances. That we required six burners, even if our family was small or our nest was getting emptier and quieter. That we had to have stainless steel, regardless of its penchant for attracting tiny fingerprints. That cabinets had to be perfectly configured. Drawers had to silently glide.

I spent a good deal of time sorting all of this out. Trying to get our heads—and our checkbook—wrapped around the scope of the project. To figure out what was really necessary and what was purely frivolous. In doing my research, I stumbled across an interesting little statistic that claims that most people do a kitchen renovation because of—drum roll please—peer pressure! That it’s not only to get a house up to speed or for re-sale or for aesthetics or because we might want to improve the odds that we’ll actually cook in it. We want renovated kitchens because our friend did it. Or our neighbor. Geez.

Chances are, you are either in the midst of a renovation yourself, you have just finished one or you are about to go down the path towards one. So keep your eyes open for the following trends:

1)Glass-fronted refrigerators. Martha Stewart just put one in her New York house. They’ll certainly be the rage within a year. I wanted one—in fact, it was the one thing I requested in my own renovation—but I’m not getting it. Couldn’t get anyone in my family to come on board with me. Couldn’t get anyone excited about keeping it looking the way they do in the magazine ads for them. But stay tuned. They’re going to be big.

2)Stone countertops that are not granite. Granite has been used. A lot. We’re now seeing stone that is not in the ubiquitous category. Look for more limestone and marble. And some very good stone look-alikes.

3)Steamer ovens. OK. I think this is a guy thing. I tried to convince my husband that an old-fashioned pot works just fine when heated over an open flame, but he is convinced that we’ll eat more steamed broccoli if we buy a unit designed for just that. (And steamed fish, chicken and cauliflower, too.) Whatever. They’re a great size for a wall or island installation and are selling like hotcakes.

4)Warming drawers. Seems like I’m in the minority here by not getting one. But something’s gotta give. Can’t have everything. They do a great job of keeping things warm until everyone gets home from soccer and piano lessons.

5)Fabulous hardware. Look for wonderful knobs, drawer pulls and hinges. Available in a huge variety of styles and finishes, these will impact character to your cabinetry and add the visual punch that the room deserves.

6)Lighting fixtures take up space. Look for wrought iron in black and bronze finishes. Saw quite a lot of interesting ones at market. All price points, styles and shapes. Lighting has really taken a place of prominence in the overall room design and budget.

Kitchens reign supreme as the official stamp of the home. They mark the personality of the homeowners. Of their tastes and of their stage in life. They are the first room to which would-be home buyers make their first beeline and the real deal maker—or breaker—of the home. As you wake up your senses and follow the call of spring (and you can feel it, can’t you?), open your eyes and minds to the endless possibilities, creative stirrings and nurturing opportunities in this most important room. They don’t call it the heart of the home for nothin’.

Blessings on your week,


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It’s What Mom Really Wants for Mother’s Day

A good night’s sleep. Without interruption.

A clean house. Without asking for it.

Food in the fridge. With the shelves cleaned out before the new stuff goes in.

Breakfast in bed. With dark chocolate on the side.

Time to read a book. Without pictures.

Laundry folded. As if you knew that.

What mom really wants for Mother’s Day is for you to be her mind-reader. To know before she even asks for it what it is she really wants.

Moms of newborns and toddlers are too sleep-deprived to be articulate. You need to figure her out because she cannot quite put her desires into words. Moms of teens are too emotionally-charged to be sensible. You need to understand that she is hormonally-challenged (very low in the estrogen department) at exactly the same time that she is parenting other hormonally-challenged creatures (very high in the testosterone or estrogen departments) who, for the first time ever, are witty enough, quick enough and strong enough to stand up to her! (I never understood this law of nature by the way!) Moms with fully-grown kids are both thrilled at new-found freedoms but saddened by the lack of feathers in their nests. You need to provide her with the stimulation of which she had become accustomed.

I find that my own desires for Mother’s Day change with each passing year. They have ranged from getting away from it all to a deep-seated desire to be particularly close to home. From hoping for another baby to praying for a completely-healed teenager. And from material desires ranging from a new mixer for my kitchen to a completely new kitchen.

Motherhood always involves evolution. For its twists and turns take us to places both fully-expected and completely improbable. It requires re-invention, both of yourself and of your role. I marvel now at how I evolved from picking up my toddler’s toys only to stand back and watch them pick up after themselves for a few golden years…only to evolve once again to having to pick up after them as their teen brains have seemingly cleared out all of those cells holding the memory of exactly how to do just that!

However you choose—or happen—to spend this Mother’s Day, I hope that it gives you just the space you desire. Whether in the company of those you love or in the solitude of total silence; at home or far away; with your spouse and kids or without. That you get one day—if only one—to be the queen of your castle and of your kingdom. Big or small. Noisy or quiet. Celebrate the lives in your care. And may you feel blessed.

Wishing you a wonderful week!