Monday, November 28, 2011

Oh, Home Depot, you and your siren call...

In one of my favorite movies, "Truly, Madly, Deeply." the character of Nina, played by Juliet Stevenson,  is talking with a friend about the flat she lives in and owns. It seems there is something new wrong with it every day.

"I know it's a ridiculous flat," she says, "but I think it could be -- will be -- beautiful."

That's how I feel about my place. For the most part, it's not a ridiculous flat. Built in the 1920s, it has that era's sensible design: economy of space combined with simple style and beautiful workmanship. Good closet space, large main room, good-sized bathroom with clever built-in cabinets, and a bedroom that, while small, perfectly -- if snugly -- holds my double bed, two dressers, a bureau, a china cabinet, and a steamer trunk. (It also currently holds a small bookshelf, blearily pushed into the room in the middle of a night after I was awakened by the sound of Sparrow making a midnight snack of it. Not a lot of walking-around room, but easy enough to navigate.

The "dining room" and kitchen are another matter. They are the ridiculous part; at least, the kitchen is.

It was not always so. These rooms, which lie in a shotgun layout from the main room, were originally models of economic design. A whopping six feet across, the dining room bridges the living room and the kitchen (which is also six feet wide). The original French doors that divided it from the living room are, sadly,  long gone, as is the folding Murphy table that used to sit inside a cabinet-like apparatus in the wall. My downstairs neighbor still has his; by opening oak doors, you pull down the table, and from it out fold two benches, one on either side. When you are done, you fold it back up. Beautiful.

The original kitchens had plenty of floor-to ceiling cabinet space, making the small kitchen seem uncramped. In contrast, what I have now is a joke among friends who visit. You literally cannot have two people in the kitchen at  the same time. The previous owner installed standard-sized cabinets, including one base cabinet that results in a full nineteen inches of clearance.

Cooking is a marvel of ballet, T'ai Chi, and yoga as I pivot, matador-like,  to allow drawers to open, and stack mixing bowls anywhere I can on rare surface areas. On the bright side, I can reach everything with little movement; on the other, making a meal is less an act of cooking than of contortion.

I decided to remove the base cabinet and replace it with something cheap, since I have no money for remodeling. So it was that I alley-picked a nice old wooden dresser being thrown out by an older resident up the street. It would fit perfectly, and this holiday weekend I decided to get things rolling.

I removed the contents of the cabinet and surveyed the interior. I started by trying to remove the quarter-round molding at the floor level. And that's when I realized that when they put the new floor in, they did not sit the cabinet on top of the new floor; they cut a hole so that it sat on the old floor. I would need plywood to build it up and hide the yuckiness.

My neighbor C--and I drove to Home Depot, as she'd been wanting to make a trip. Neither of us found most of what we wanted, but I did pick out a nice cheap piece of plywood and brought it to a Dude in Orange to cut it to size for me. While we waited, an older gentleman walked up with a thick, trimmed tree branch about as tall as I.

"Every year, we put up a tree. This year, I decide I'm going to make a cross to celebrate our Lord Jesus," he said, in an accent I couldn't pin down. "I need to cut this; it's the part that goes across and it's too big and heavy."

We discussed his plans and his design, and he wondered how he would stabilize the cross piece. C-- and I were intrigued, and we began brainstorming.

"You could bolt it to the upright, then drive a spike in the back, and tie rope in an X around the branches, using the spike to hold it in place." I suggested. 

"My wife suggested that same thing," he said.

"Clearly, your wife is a very intelligent woman," I said.

I also picked up some high-gloss tangerine paint, and when I got back home spent about five hours priming and painting the dresser. It looks fantastic. The plywood is waiting in the kitchen. I'm determined to have it done by Christmas. Then, priming and painting the entire kitchen. 

I know it's a ridiculous flat, but I think it could be -- will be -- beautiful.


peacefulmayhem said...

I love your place. Including the kitchen. Please tell me you took before pix, and definitely take more as you go along! :)

I'd love to see your neighbor's table, that sounds really cool!

Have fun!

karen said...

I'm definitely awaiting for pictures.

I have a really cool table, it is also completely ridiculous.

It is a roll-top, it had been my grandmother's. It emanates from a heavy linen chest, but the roll top has long since come loose which means not only does it not come out smoothly, it also does not sit flat.

I have tried to find someone interested and brave enough to work with it, but to no avail. Instead, I plan to come up with a solution ... you know, one day.

I think your place will be beautiful one day. I like to think that its original occupant was a gangster's moll. Right?!

Anonymous said...

Many families gather in the kitchen countertops and it is truly the focal point of the home. Other people only use the kitchen for cooking and want to focus improvements on function and efficiency. The first step to improving your kitchen is to determine which type of person you are and plan accordingly.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of kitchen countertops materials to choose from and there are good looking but cheaper alternatives to granite and polished marble if you want a stunning kitchen.

JC said...

There will be photos! Karen, one day you will discover a use for the rolltop, and it will all be so clear why ou have it.

Suzie, thanks for the tips -- I actually took a kitchen-design class once; the sort-of-fun challenge to mine is that it has a very particular set of constraints in terms of use vs. flow. Also, I can't afford to tear it all out and start over, first because I'm broke, and also because I'm very underwater with my mortgage, making it foolish to sink any real money into the place. What I have liked, though (for "someday") are either quartz countertops of the colored concrete with the pieces of recycled bottles embedded in it for color. Gorgeous!! But it is fun to have to be creative. I am enjoying it.