People ask me,…

People ask me, periodically, whether the renovation was worthwhile. I've said, more than once, that I think having kids cost me about a book per child in terms of lost writing time, and someone once asked how many books the renovation cost. About one book, I would say now. At the height of it, and even though we had a general contractor overseeing the project, it was eating 10-20 hours a week from me. And yes, this is because I am a little obsessive and research-oriented and apparently have to consume 4-10 books on renovating kitchens and quite a few shelter magazines before I feel comfortable picking out a countertop, but there it is, that's how I am. I didn't realize it before I started, but now I know.

Would I do it again? Yes. Even though we ran months over schedule and a scary amount over budget. We were at a friend's house recently -- they spent a similar amount, for a similar-sized, similar-aged house. And they bought it freshly-painted, and moved right in. So what did our time buy us? Customization. I have, it turns out, very specific tastes. Many of the homes we looked at had recently renovated kitchens, and I was unhappy with almost all of them, because they'd been renovated to something beautiful, but very far from my taste. I really wanted the chance to make a kitchen, a house, that was exactly fitted to our function and our tastes.

I didn't really know what my taste was at the start of this project -- I find many aesthetics beautiful. Medieval design, modern, rustic, global, Indian / Moroccan, Victorian (up to and including lots and lots of wallpaper), mad scientist / steampunk, etc. and so on. There are touches of all of these in the house, as it ended up, but the overriding feel, I would say, is modern Victorian. High ceilings, tall windows, art glass (in a restrained usage), lots of light, push-button switches, an industrial edge, lots of plants, rich colors, open shelving, separate rooms with wide doorways (we've stored the actual doors in the garage).

Now, when I look around, everything is beautiful to my eyes. I know it's not for everyone. Blue kitchen cabinets are quirky. Dark colors on the walls are depressing to a lot of people. When I look at pictures of what people like on Pinterest, there's a ton of white -- white walls, white cabinets, white furniture. That holds very little appeal to me, although I do like a white clawfoot tub, and white dishes. I wonder whether the desire for white is coming from wanting more space, more light, more openness in the home? I wonder whether removing some of the clutter would fill the same urge? This is the sort of thing my head has been filled with during this whole renovation process, and it's left precious little room for writing.

But I think that's okay. Kevin keeps asking me why I'm still looking at design elements on Pinterest, when we're so close to done. The thing is, designing this house has been a creative, artistic process. It satisfies the same part of my brain that likes to knit, to cook, to garden, and even to write. I can't turn it off, and I don't really want to. It's often been intensely frustrating, especially as budget and schedule ran up against their limits, or when I was trying to mesh my own design desires with those of Kevin, and the functional needs of the children. But remarkably satisfying nonetheless, creating functional beauty.

A few people have suggested that I could do this for a living, which I find really flattering. If I did, I'd want to do it properly -- go back to school, learn the fundamentals, more than you can get from just watching HGTV and reading coffee table design books. I don't have time for another career -- I'm too invested in writing to walk away from it and start all over. But there's definitely an appeal.

If I had extra time and money, I might well try flipping houses -- buying old historic properties, renovating and restoring them to something that acknowledges the beauty of the past, but also functions well with the needs of the present. And if a friend wants me to come over and talk to them about their space -- how they can re-envision the layout, or bring their love of curves and color into a beige box, I think that would be awfully satisfying. I've learned so much in this process; it seems a shame not to use some of that knowledge, going forwards.

In the end, it just makes me so happy, glancing up from my laptop to see beauty all around me. I know that doesn't matter to everyone -- Kev, I think, could be almost as happy in the beige box, as long as he had a good mug of hot coffee nearby. But for me, beauty lifts my spirits, and brings pleasure to the everyday. A lovely kitchen is a joy forever, god wot.

And now, back to writing books.

11 thoughts on “People ask me,…”

  1. “…I think having kids cost me about a book per child in terms of lost writing time…”

    I don’t have kids, but from what I’ve heard, I’d expect a kid to ‘cost’ more than that. Or is that one book per year that the kid is around? Seriously though, this IS a beautiful kitchen, and you should be proud of what you did.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    For me, I lost about a year of writing time during the first two years of each kid’s life. This is with both kids in quite a bit of childcare — mostly, I just lost so much sleep at night that I could barely function during the day. Once they both started sleeping through the night, my brain improved and starting making fiction again. 🙂

  3. I noticed this too, that you enjoy design at a level that I don’t. I love bare white for walls, I want the art to be small and ephemeral? Not just flowers but little constellations of artifacts. Other than that, I do enjoy high ceilings, open layouts, blue cabinets (when freshly painted), modern appliances, open shelving. The question becomes how you can translate from your own personality and design goals to another person’s, which strikes me as deeply difficult.

    Also agree with Serge that there may be more books lost on the kids, yet.

  4. I stumbled on your blog back when you were asking for comments on the layout for the basement. Since then I have followed the progress of the house up to now. You accept the fact that you have spent extrordinary time reseaching and selecting the various elements of the house.
    In the Architecture office where I worked we had a saying: “If there’s not enough time to do it right, there’s always time to do it over(correctly)”. When you are going to live in your own place and will be looking at the same materials and color selections for a long time, it always requires more effort than you expected to create a final product. Good job on the house. All the photos you’ve posted show an owners personal touch.

  5. Sumana Harihareswara

    I just read a bit of “Home Comforts” by Cheryl Mendelson and its introduction emphasizes that making one’s surroundings comfortable is worthwhile and can improve one’s happiness. That’s a much more helpful way to look at it than “I am wrong and bad and worthless for not paying attention to the loveliness of my home.” The way you talk about home remodeling and decoration also helps — for you, it’s about joy and art.

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I can totally see the appeal of ephemeral art. I think for me, a similar desire gets satisfied by fresh flowers; every week, I’m bringing flowers into the house and arranging them. Sometimes a big bunch of a single variety, sometimes little sprigs in tiny bottles, etc. And then there’s seasonal decorations — we’re about to start making Valentine’s decorations around here. 🙂

    Sumana, I’m sorry it hasn’t been fun for you. I wish I could come visit, and we could spend some time brainstorming and coming up with neat ideas for cool and beautiful things for your space! I don’t think you should feel obliged to try to make it beautiful if that’s not a priority for you — I just know that for me, dingy surroundings are depressing.

    I don’t know what kind of shape your home is in — if you do want to try to change it, you might want to take a look at the Apartment Therapy book, which is a little woo-woo for me in places, but does also have a lot of practical suggestions on how to take a space that isn’t bringing you functional happiness and visual pleasure, and in small, manageable stages.

  7. Sumana Harihareswara

    Hmm, judging by your response, I fear I have misspoken and implied that something you’ve written hasn’t been fun for me! I have pre-existing anxiety over housekeeping and homemaking, and your blog and the Mendelson book are helpful. These days I try to remind myself that little steps are helpful too.

  8. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Oh, no, I think I was imprecise. I didn’t mean me or my writing — sorry that house-stuff isn’t fun for you, is what I meant. We’re all good. 🙂

  9. I guess by ephemeral I also mean that I don’t want to get stuck in putting up a piece of art that I like today when tomorrow I need something else. I like lots of stuff, from sculpture to abstract to smarmy pictures of snow on landscapes. But it’s like music, I don’t want peter gabriel on in the background all. the. time. and if I start putting up Monet, then I’ll want a mondrian and a rothko. But I don’t really want my walls to be a mashup of styles, I want to walk into the rothko room or the stained glass area or whatever. There must be a solution to my need for change, I thought about making art cubes where I can hang 6 of them and flip a switch and all 6 change from one style to another. oh, am I the only one who would be thrilled to have a make your own calder set, where whenever I’m overwhelmed with life I can take a day and make a sculpture, and then when I looked at that sculpture I’d remember how I worked out that crisis? not remotely victorian obviously.

  10. I don’t know that you’d want to flip houses. You really have to stick to deadlines and budgets — not much wiggle room if you want to make it work.

  11. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Yes, I wouldn’t want to try to flip houses for a profit. 🙂 I would fail! This is more the dream that someone will pay me to come and restore and adapt historic homes in interesting ways…

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