01. October 2004 · Comments Off on In Touch With My Inner Martha: All That and the Kitchen Sink · Categories: Domestic, General

My house was built by a fairly reputable builder, about 20 years ago….but even the reputable builders and developers depend on 18-wheeler truckload quantities of standard light fixtures, faucets, appliances, cabinets, doors, windows and doorknobs to meet a budget and make a profit on the resulting houses. This may lend a depressing air of uniformity to those houses… all the neighbors whose houses were built at the same time as mine have the same louver doors in the closets, and the same doorknobs, even if the layout of the house vary considerably, they will have the same Formica kitchen countertops, and the same cheap-ass metal sink.

I, for one, do not fall into the trap set by the various glamorous magazines and TV shows, singing the praises of people who renovate some 70, or 100 or 170 year old domicile, and discover thereby all the joys of historic craftsmanship, and wonderful history, and solid woodwork worth preserving. I had friends (OK, they were the parents of Blondie’s good friend) in Ogden, Utah, who through sentimentality found themselves trapped into rehabbing an 1895 Italianate 3-story townhouse on 5th Street in Ogden, which turned into “The House From Hell”. Not only had it been built by the lowest bidder (no fine original woodwork there!) but any existing historical bits had been trashed by previous owners, to the point where the only interesting relics they uncovered consisted of copies of the local newspaper, circa 1942, which had been used to insulate a clumsily added 2nd storey kitchen addition. They wound up hating the whole place with a passion, admitting that if they only knew at the beginning what they knew at the end, they would have gutted the entire place, top to bottom inside the 2ft. thick brick shell, and rebuilt it from scratch. Indeed, they only were happy, once they unloaded the brick albatross in favor of a nice 1920ies bungalow in the 15th Street area, which hardly needed any work at all. Historic houses… pheh!

There is an up side in my settling for dull suburban conformity— all those various house fittings are standard, and easily swapped for something off the shelf at Lowe’s or Home Depot, or the shelves of the local hardware store, which alters not nor fails me ever. And it also has the side-benefit of being— even though it is usually the most inexpensive (read “cheapest!”) always an aesthetic step up; the new fixtures, faucets and knobs always look a thousand times better than what they replaced, which makes me wonder if the fittings installed by the really low-rent builders are made out of soda straws and heavy-gage tinfoil.

Even what the builders installed around here has a limited life, and I have been able to track the trajectory of replacement among my neighbors by the rubbish put out for the semi-annual bulk trash pickup. After about twenty years, most everyone has had to replace the privacy fences, the stove and dishwasher, the hot-water heater. The wall-to-wall carpets have been ripped out and replaced with new carpet, tile, parquet. Sunrooms, porches, entryways, terraces and decks have been replaced or added. Sinks and toilets and cabinets have been replaced here and there, and one of my neighbors remarked, as I was admiring the ambitious pile of fence staves and 2 x 4s that was scheduled to be transformed into a new fence over the Labor Day holiday
“Wait until you replace the kitchen sink…it is such a lightweight piece of shit, you can pick up the whole thing and hold it with two fingers.”
“Really….” I said, thoughtfully. Come to think on it, the kitchen sink and countertop were the last things in my kitchen that I had not already re-done, and they were the one jarring note remaining, in a house that was boringly white and beige when I first moved in. Now the concrete floor was stenciled like Tuscan tile, the cabinets were the color of cream, and the cabinet door and drawer fronts navy-blue, to match the collection of Spanish and Greek blue and white pottery. I sewed curtains out of blue and white striped fabric, and replaced the beige stove, dishwasher and oven hood with a better grade of plain white appliances. I would have liked to replace the countertops and sink… something in hand-painted Italian tile or maybe corian with an integral sink. I would also like a gas-fired Aga range, a small villa in the California wine country, and a two door sportster Jag, in racing green with nickel trim, but I know damn well I will not get any of them until the book sells a great many more copies… so on the next trip to Home Depot I check out the kitchen sinks.
“That one,” says one of the unexpectedly present and helpful sales staff, “An excellent sink. Enamel over steel, but it weighs 300 hundred pounds… now this one… same size, good quality— cast fiberglass with a porcelain finish. Thirty pounds, and about half the price.”
Even assuming I could round up enough assistance to get a 300 pound sink out of the back of the VEV, I can’t see replacing the el cheapo tin sink with something that much heavier. I imagine the poor old unreinforced kitchen cabinets that have supported it lo these many years collapsing utterly under the strain of this burden. I take note of the make and model of the white, cast fiberglass sink, and wander off to the paint department, to order a gallon of paint specially formulated for garage floors. This paint can be used for other areas…. And they can mix it up for you in any color you like.
(To be continued)

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