"There is no reason, either in prose or in rhyme, why a whole house should not be a poem." Ella Church Rodman
With any luck, your Mother's Day weekend was as wonderful as was mine. As one day cannot hold the full celebration, the "holiday" has been elevated--in my family anyway--to the entire weekend. It starts on Thursday night and extends 'til midnight on Sunday. Extra lounging in an excusable indulgence, as is extra chocolate, extra newspaper perusing, and extra sleep.
And if that's not quite enough, in this section of Connecticut where we make our home, kitchen tours have been perfectly calibrated to Mother's Day "weekend," and so I became happily transplanted to two different towns...with a third this coming week...all in the name of "Happy Mother's Day." Call it wonderful coincidence or perfect event planning: celebrating the hearth gets to us mothers' hearts whether we like it or not.
These tours, quite spectacular in every imaginable way, go beyond the familiar house tour offered by many historical societies or trusts for historic preservation in cities across the country. They zoom in specifically on the most honored room in the house: the kitchen. Architects and kitchen designers stand for the duration of the tour, beaming with pride over the perfectly appointed rooms they have created for their clients. As they should. Most of the work is exquisite and deserves recognition.
And recognize we patrons did in full force. Attended by hundreds of would-be renovators scourging the tour for ideas, curiosity seekers anxious to see what the next-door neighbor has been up to, professionals simply checking out the competition, and HGTV and Food Network junkies by the truckloads, the kitchens on tour scratch our collective itch.
As a wannabe kitchen renovator (my oven is falling apart, my fridge door hardly stays shut and my stove is on its last leg), I had a strong desire to see what folks are doing in kitchens around my neck of the woods. Granted, Fairfield County, Connecticut can be a rather daunting neck to grasp; the most difficult part is simply getting my brain wrapped around the scope of the kitchens on tour. For we're not talking merely ripping up vinyl flooring and replacing it with hardwood here. We're talking six burner professional ranges, imported marble countertops, double Sub Zero's, handmade tile backsplashes and handpainted friezes. Copper countertops and double-wide limestone farm sinks. Trips to Europe--with interior designer in tow--in search of that perfect armoire. Or vacations spent trolling through the Paris flea market for the grandest chandelier. One of the homes undertook a four-year renovation; granted, its 10,000 square foot size required a committed team of experts in order to eventually pull it off. But its final result--impressive, certainly--boggled my mind.
Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with any of these indulgences. We can call it "protecting our investment" or "infusing our home with beauty" or "doing careful research." The kitchens on tour were, with few exceptions, veritable works of art.
And as a visual artist, I appreciate the need for transformative beauty as much, if not more than, the next person. Indeed, my need to fill my kitchen with things that I love, things that I find beautiful, is a highly motivating adventure for me. Ever in search of wonderful roosters or lamps or linens or candles: I'm almost always on the hunt.
But as I tromped through house after house, I remained inspired most by understatement, as always. By the antique and smallish house that didn't scream "Look at me!" Which spoke to me through its quietly unassuming authenticity. Of wonderful proportions, clean color and organic materials. Of beautiful, yet simple, fabrics. I like things that are gorgeous. But I like them to come at me in the same way that nature does. "The earth laughs in flowers," Emerson wrote, and certainly their beauty is inescapable for those willing to slow down long enough to fully appreciate it. But flowers don't scream. They softly persuade. They whisper "Come hither."
As I go about the initial steps towards a complete kitchen re-do, I hope I can translate my need for organic beauty to the designer with whom I will eventually work side-by-side. I hope my desire for open shelving, a rather common solution in kitchens across Europe, overrides designer's dreams of expansive (and expensive) full-scale cabinetry. I hope that my desire for a glass-doored refrigerator, one which I've held for more than two decades, is not met with skepticism by well-intentioned planners who worry that children's fingerprints and messy living habits will intrude on the assumptive need for impeccable order and cleanliness. I hope that my desire to impart my own stamp, through my collections formed over nearly a quarter century of marriage, will not be met with a "professional's" desire for something less artsy. Or for something that appeals to his or her aesthetic, rather than to mine.
For the one thing I had hoped to see more of in these wonderfully designed kitchens was the owner's handprint. Or that of their children. I would have loved to have seen a crumb or two. Or some suggestion that the owners actually cooked there. That dough was, on some days, actually rolled out on the marble countertop and that vegetables were stir-fried on one of those six burners. Indeed, the phrase "working kitchen" has evolved in order to distinguish between those kitchens which are designed to be merely beautiful versus those in which homeowners actually cook.
I'd like to think that some kitchens stand--from decades of use or from recent renovation--where roasts are basted and hearts are repaired. Where bills are paid and where lunchboxes are packed. Where we value the notion of nurturing: through meals and through conversation. With preparation along with presentation.
Few things tug at our heartstrings as do our kitchens. We have long recognized them as the hearth of the home. Let's just hope that in the real estate frenzy--as well as in the overly-consumptive age in which we find ourselves--that we keep the heart in the hearth of our homes. And that we are able to translate it aesthetically so that our loved ones can benefit. Via fabulous aromas or soothing patterns and color. Through folk art collections or through hand-crafted dinner plates. Through pottery or placemats.
For therein lies the challenge. As always. Infusing the hearth with heart.