Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Three Years Ago I Invented Blogging And Wrote This

[Author's Note: Four years ago all I had was dial-up Internet access, but started an Internet business anyway. Like with everything else, I was a cranky autodidact, and painfully taught myself HTML by fooling around with FrontPage, toggling back and forth in the WYSIWYG window to compare the code to the appearance of the page. I had no idea there was anything like a community of blogs, and just started writing essays on my What's New page. Here's one from 2005 I'm not ashamed of.]

{Editor's Note: You spelled forego wrong. I fixed it. See, you do belong on the Internet.}

[Updated: This is my favorite kind of mistake. Anwyn pointed out that I was wrong when I thought I was wrong. I'll take it up with the editor tomorrow, while shaving.]

[Author's Note: There is no editor}

Now, I'm going to forgo maundering on about the good old days, because this is thirty years before I was in the game, so to speak, and I don't have a dog in that fight.

But look at that room. It's glorious. You'd kill for a kitchen that pleasant to be in, and we'd get you to sign the closing papers before you noticed there isn't a dishwasher, unless you count the girls in the chairs. Please keep in mind, this is not the rich folk's house, or it wouldn't be here. They were just regular people, like you and me, or maybe just me; you might be an Admiral or Rock Star or somesuch; I don't know.

Let's go over what they knew about a kitchen then, that they don't know now.

First of all, look at the light. I'm referring to the light emanating from the yellow orb in the sky, which rarely gets into houses these days. The big girl on the right is reading, and that looks like a great place to do it. Two things bring in that light. First, the ceiling is high enough, but not vaulted. Designers vault rooms willy-nilly now, and make gloomy, echoey, medieval caverns out of rooms that should be close and homey. Kitchens get it a lot these days. You generally need four or five hundred thousand million watts of lighting in a vaulted ceiling kitchen to approach what they've got here, streaming right in. ( I might be a little off with my calculations on footcandles there, but I stand by the gist of it.)

That ceiling looks nine feet high. You can get a fairly airy ceiling by simply specifying full eight foot studs for the first floor wall framing of your house, and gain 4 inches for a few bucks. You'll save people like me from getting cracked in the head by your inexplicable ceiling fans on a 7'-8" ceiling that way.

The ceiling would undoubtedly have been white calcimined plaster, to reflect the light. Calcimine was a form of paste used in lieu of paint on ceilings, that you had to wash off before recoating. Everyone forgot that eventually, and painted over it, and it peeled forever. Your recollection of endlessly peeling Victorian and WWI vintage house ceilings generally traces back to calcimine. In the fifties, peopled stapled asbestos and cardboard tiles over the flaking paint, in the sixties they tried acoustic drop ceilings, the seventies tried swirled sand textured paint over the mess, and the eighties tried the judicious use of the wrecking ball.

But everyone's forgot to make the ceiling high enough to make the room proportionate to its length and width, allow the windows to be tall and stately, and let in extra air and light. Your present kitchen is almost undoubtedly larger than this, and I ask you, could you fit those four children into yours while you worked at the sink? (Count the shoes, there's four, trust me) The designer knew enough to put windows on two walls in the room, and not just one. It's possible to get natural light into a room with the windows ganged on one wall, but its hard to do, and unlikely you'll manage it. Lighting your face from one side alone makes for interesting Beatles album covers, but it's no way to live.

Look at the pantry cabinet on the facing wall. it's in a niche, to allow you to get around the room, with a nice flat counter to display what is obviously a prized possession, with room to spare for day to day use as a work surface. Lovely. Now, even expensive kitchen cabinets are really crummy these days. They're more often than not made from particle board covered with plastic woodgrain paper with a design imprint that looks like someone who liked Lawrence Welk a lot drew it originally. The only real wood on cabinets now is the doors, and they always are overlaid on the face, not inset like the picture. They are overlaid to save the manufacturer trouble, not give you a better looking thing; these cabinets have the doors inset into the frame, which is fussy, and looks terrific, and is not like most modern cabinets. The modern version looks more like the box a cabinet comes in than a cabinet itself.

The cabinets here are painted, probably glossy white, looked spiffy, reflected the glorious light some more, cleaned easily, and could be refurbished when they got to worn by a conscientious homeowner. Nowadays, since you've ponied up all that money for your cabinets, they're probably solid hardwood faces, with uninteresting grain, dark enough to soak too much of the light up, and make you add still more lightbulbs to try to see in there. They're sprayed with a thin couple of coats of nitrocellulose lacquer, which is tough as nails, at least until it isn't, which is fairly soon, and can't be rejuvenated by hand, and end up in the trash every ten years, no matter what you paid for them.

That fridge is really small, but the homeowners probably had spent their childhood with an icebox, or some without even that, and thought it was a marvel, no doubt. And it has the supple streamlined corners and clean white metal baked enamel glaze that says "clean" to me. You wouldn't feel the need to put wood panels on the front of your refrigerator if it looked that, well, cool.

The simple checked floor is terrific. Really underrated, that kind of simple decoration. The photographer is probably standing in the door that leads to a dining room, or a hallway or parlor if the house is small. The homeowner has hung a pretty little mirror on the wall, canted just so, so she can see behind her when she's at the sink, or alternately look out the window. People still make the mistake of making the sink a sad, lonely place to be, and occasionally make it even worse than bad, by running the cabinets right across with no window, and doom the user to hours of staring at nothing, their back to everyone, whether you have a dishwasher or not. For shame!

You all know me by now, and know full well that I'm going to steal the design for that gate leg table in the middle of the room. Oh yes. It's the perfect work island for food prep, and presto, open it up and you're eating the finest meal in the world, which is placed on the table direct from the oven or stove, by Mother's hand, surrounded by your loved ones, the clink of glass and china and cutlery a domestic symphony, the beaming faces of the children arrayed around the round table, with the late afternoon sun beaming in and the family beaming out.

Get some of that lost kitchen, as much as you can find, fit, or afford, and I'll bless it for you, right here and now.


Thud said...

I visited the store Expo the other day to get some ideas for a you say lots of interessting dark wood...I will not be buying.

PatHMV said...

I'm very fortunate that the kitchen cabinets (and the delightful built-in shelves and cabinets occupying one wall of my living room) are solid wood (ok, the larger expanses of sides and top are oak-veneered plywood, but none of it is MDF or particleboard). The doors are overlaid, not inset, but the stain is a nice golden oak, not a deep dark cherry or mahogany.

I'm with all the way (as you may have guessed) on the evils of contact-paper-veneered MDF and particleboard in modern furniture. Even the expensive stuff in the stores these days is, too often, that kind of garbage. I was shopping last year at a close-out sale, saw a beautiful chest-of-drawers deeply discounted because it was slightly damaged. I figured, I'm getting pretty handy with wood, I'll fix it up... then I took a closer look at it. A corner of the base had been smashed in... all fiberboard of some sort. No way to repair it. Arghhhh....

M.E. said...

Lovely post! I just realized that the kitchen cabinets in my aunt's house, which my grandparents built in the early 1920's, have those inset doors, with little latches so that you can really close them, if you like. They are tall, and solid, and inset into the wall, with counter underneath and more cabinets below, just like the picture. She used to have a delightful pantry with a little window, until she remodeled in the '70s and knocked out the pantry for more counter space, a dishwasher, and space to bring the fridge into the room instead of keeping it in the back hallway (a hangover from when it was really an icebox). It's still very lovely, however. Those wonderful cabinets make all the difference.

Anonymous said...

I've read your commentary on kitchens before and agree with almost all of it ... except the idea of prepping on your eating table. A certain amount of unnecessary work, and tables are usually too low to be comfortable for chopping, assembling, or any other kind of prep work.

That said ... my next house needs to be an old one. :( At least my ceiling fans are entirely explicable ... and not low enough to whack anybody.

Anonymous said...

I should clarify ... I read your *last* kitchen commentary, which also had the stuff in it about light, but I think it was different from this one. Anyway.

SippicanCottage said...

People used to knead dough on 30" high tables instead of counters at 36". It makes it easier to lean on the work with your arms straight. Mostly a lost art now.

The table is usually just a handy horizontal surface, useful to keep things off of the counters where you're actually working.

Anonymous said...

I can see that being expedient ... but I don't knead dough, I chop vegetables, a different set of movements entirely and high counters appreciated for it.

Anonymous said...

Also ... putting on my THAT GIRL editor's hat ... "forgo" is actually correct. Merriam-Webster has "forego" as a variant, although it's got a red line under it even as I type this--I didn't know Blogger would spellcheck me. Anyway, there are both ways: The foregoing, for instance, is spelled correctly, as are my forebears, but I will forgo giving many more examples for fear of confusion.

SippicanCottage said...