Kitchen Chaos: Part One

June 11, 2023 Betsy Voreacos

Kitchen Chaos: Part One

“This isn’t the first time you’ve done your kitchen, is it?” my friend, Robin, asked when I started jabbering on our walk the other day.

I furrowed my brow until I realized I’ve been talking about re-doing my kitchen for almost 20 years.

Once upon a time we were living in a chaotic little house on the other side of town, cooking in an apartment-sized galley kitchen complete with a brick-look linoleum floor. There was no outlet nor place on the counter to house the microwave and toaster – essentials in the care and feeding of seven, nine and eleven-year-olds. So the appliances sat askew between the dog food and recycling bins on a wobbly IKEA cabinet in the dining room, which was not really a dining room at all, but a four-season, completely shaded sun porch. The kitchen itself was dark and dingy– the kind of dinge that curled and yellowed the plaid contact papered walls.

Somehow, someway, I convinced my ever-loving spouse that it would be in our best interests to knock out a wall, update the cabinets, counters, floors, walls, ceilings, exhaust fan, appliances, etc, etc, etc and finally experience the joy of cooking.

I didn’t have much of a vision beyond an inexplicable, unwavering desire for red countertops, a demand my handsome contractor received with a cocked eyebrow. But the client is always right, so there’s that. I knew nothing of construction or costs or the toll it would take on our tumultuous family lifestyle. But my sister, Nancy, knows these things. More importantly, she knows what I can and cannot endure. She reasoned that since we were already bursting at the seams perhaps we’d be better served by putting that money into procuring more space rather than more bling.

I responded loudly and emphatically, as I am wont to do. There was absolutely no way I would or could pack up a family of five and move. I’d rather die stacked in squalor than attack that animal.

But she had planted the seed. And before long it germinated into full-fledged house hunting.

Again, I didn’t have much of a vision. All I knew was that I wanted new.

Which was why when my friend, Kerri, told me about a house for sale next door to hers I refused to look at it. It was built in the 1920s which made it old.

“Trust me, it’s perfect!” she protested. “They’ve renovated it. Just come look.”

“I’m not buying an old house,” I said and went to check it out.

 As I rolled my eyes up the creaking stairs, I conceded that yes, it oozed charm and yes, it had that long longed for front porch. But despite the newly refinished hardwood floors, updated bathrooms, and the huge inhabitable basement and attic, it was still an old, un-air-conditioned house.

I made our way into the kitchen where the realtor, who grew up in the house, began to apologize.

“I knew whoever bought our childhood home would want to do their own kitchen renovation,” she said. “So I couldn’t bear to tear out my mother’s …..


Needless to say, we’ve been living here for more than 17 years.

That 1960’s Formica kitchen has served us well. But years of hard living with dogs and children and children’s friends and children’s friends has taken its toll. And so when the oven took its final breath in tandem with the pandemic, I re-launched my campaign for a new kitchen.

My spouse and I found ourselves at a standstill. I was ready for an assisted living community two decades ago. He wants to stay in this house until death do us part, and perhaps beyond. I suggested that he visit me in my warm-weather cruise-ship-on-land every month or so. He conceded that one kitchen would be more fiscally responsible than two residences.

After pouring over Pinterest, Houzz, random websites and Facebook pages for months, I pretty much knew everything about remodeling a kitchen – including every possible contractor scam, cabinet debacle and unfixable mistake that could or would happen. I learned that I absolutely did not want a farmer’s sink, needed a built-in for newspaper recycling (those four papers a day fill a kitchen corner quickly), would rather have cold, hard tile than try to match hardwood with the rest of the floors, had zero interest in a counter-depth refrigerator and would rather die from whatever it is in a gas stove that is killing us than switch to electric.

But there were so many, many other decisions that I simply could not make, even though I was so, so far from having to make them. Light switch and outlet location; cabinet color, cabinet style, cabinet brand, cabinet pulls; sink color, style, substance, as well as faucet brand, style and finish; lighting – chandelier, recessed, pendant or all of the above; backsplash – bright and bold, subway or square, blue, yellow, green, orange or a multi-colored funky pattern; countertop – quartz, quartzite, granite, marble, stainless steel, maybe even concrete; new sliding door or buff up the old; wall color, trim color; oh, and don’t forget the powder room; appliances – keep the newish old ones hoping they’ll last another five years or scrap them all for new and fancy, which would of course mean even more decisions.

This is what looped through my brain as I spiraled and stalled. Friends lost their enthusiasm, no longer offering their help. I assured the ever-eager spouse that I had it all under control, not able to admit my anguish after begging for the kitchen for most of our married life. And so the days and weeks and months, and yes, years ticked by. Without a workable range. But we did have a really trusty toaster oven.

Finally, this past fall after yet another handsome contractor finished a gnarly project next door, I nabbed him, signing and sealing the deal with a start date the week before Thanksgiving. Now one of my many claims to fame is that I have never hosted a Thanksgiving dinner and never plan to. Though that was my excuse for delaying the demolition, truth be told, the holiday had nothing to do with it. It was pure, unadulterated fear.

For the next several months as I continued to read and rely on all those social media posts for personal advice, one jumped out at me. “Just keep in mind,” a recent renovator wrote. “It is only a kitchen.”

For sure. It’s not like having a bilateral mastectomy, or a hip replacement when you still have a four year old, or getting both knees replaced at the same time. It’s not like having a hysterectomy or losing your gall bladder to pancreatitis resulting in a three-week hospital stay while thick in child-rearing. I’ve done those things and survived them all.

I continued to channel my It’s only a kitchen mantra every day until May when I could stall no longer.

I know that I am hashtag blessed and fully acknowledge my champagne problems (one of them being the inordinate amount of money I’m spending to see a certain singer who penned that tune). I am also well aware that we live in a world of unhoused humans and suffering souls and people being persecuted for how they vote, who they love and how they look.

Though as much as I’d love to claim it so, none of the above have any place in my kitchen decision resistance.

More likely it’s because those chaotic, complaint-filled days weren’t so bad after all. Maybe all those chicken-roll ups and make-shift tacos weren’t worthy of the venom-spewed “I’m not a short-order cook!” – because, well, I was. Maybe those bottles of vodka hidden in plain site that mysteriously turned to water were actually a godsend – at least they were drinking in our house, not out driving the streets. I think of all the mismatched silverware, half of it brought here from the Hargraves’ house, glue globs on the counter, the birth announcements, wedding invitations, graduation pictures, magnets filled with silly sentiments like, “If you haven’t grown up by 50, you don’t have to,” all adorning the old and still magnetic refrigerator. The deep scratches on the brand new, meaning hours old, dining room table caused by an over-zealous sixth grader doing his homework, the screen door that keeps the dog out but the flies in, the rippled vinyl floor, the bright blue walls, the red peace sign, the polka dot curtains that as the daughter says, “it’s like living in a clown house.”

I’ve been trying to figure myself out my entire life. And sometimes when I give it enough thought, like 20 years, it suddenly all makes sense. My kitchen indecision has nothing to do with not being able to choose between quartz and granite, Agreeable Gray or Accessible Beige, overlay or inset cabinets. All of them will work just fine. But none of them will bring back that clown-house of a life that I juggled so precariously for so very long.

I plan to enjoy my calm and peaceful renovation. I will try not to freak out when the first cabinet chips, the ice maker stops working or the grout gets dirty. I will continue to remind myself that it is only a kitchen.

But when i finally get to my new and shiny assisted living facility, I promise you, the first thing I’m going to do is replace the inevitable dull decor with…you guessed it…red countertops.