Phil Hugo: Stirring up more than food in the kitchen

By Phil Hugo - Guest Columnist

I’m in the basement working on a project when I hear my wife Karen exclaim: “I love my kitchen!”

I walk to the steps and proclaim: “I thought it was our kitchen!”

“You’re right — it is.”

It would not be the first time within the past year I have heard Karen make such a pronouncement or a variation thereof. I’ve even echoed her sentiments a time or two. We’ve been sharing this humble home for a tick over a quarter of a century, and prior to the past year, neither of us had uttered such words regarding our kitchen.

Why now, in 2021? It’s amazing how a remodeled kitchen can affect one’s emotions. If you have been through the process or the ordeal — depending on how you look at it — you most likely know the elation of which I speak.

Our house was built in 1929, and the small galley kitchen had no doubt offered up its share of culinary successes and mishaps. Tasty meatloaf and yellow birthday cakes. Overflowing pots of soup and burnt toast. That’s a lot of years of someone rattling pots and pans, the uttering of a few choice words (myself included) and perhaps some minor blood loss caused by operator error while using a sharp knife. Ouch!

As kitchen remodels go, this wasn’t just new cupboards, paint, lights and flooring. It was a total gut out — taking it down to the skeleton. Judging by the January 10, 1957, date on the underside of the sink, the kitchen could have been remodeled in the late ’50s. That may have included opening up an outside wall and adding a small breakfast nook over a crawl space to extend the kitchen. Our project involved demolishing that addition, digging out the crawl space and replacing a deteriorating basement wall that tied into that part of the kitchen. Are you getting the picture? Hence, the need for a seven-month timeline to get us back to a working kitchen.

When you tear out plaster and lathe and everything else, you never know what you might find. Maybe a paper bag full of money? Or a gun used in the commission of a crime stashed in the wall? I did find a stained kraft bag under the base unit next to the sink. Could there be? Alas, there was no currency in it, but it did have the name Kohli written on it. I struck out on the firearm as well.

However, at the opposite end of the sink under another base unit, I found twelve random pieces of two puzzles that I’m studying as I write this. I can say with certainty one puzzle is about “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Evidence for the other puzzle is less conclusive as the only identifiable feature is what appears to be donkey ears. Does anyone out there want to hazard a guess on that puzzle?

If you’ve done a major remodeling project — we did the living room and dining room a few years ago — you know the importance of having reliable, experienced trades-people in your corner. Also, it is a bonus if you have certain skill sets that you as the owner can apply to the job, as do I. Some call it sweat equity.

If a couple doesn’t want to end up in divorce court, it is important that they are of the same mind when it comes to certain aspects of the projects. While Karen understands the importance of blocks and mortar, wiring, drywall, etc, she defers to my knowledge about such items. Her voice matters on accouterments like cabinets, countertops, floor choices and a color scheme. Fortunately, we were in sync on those things.

I’ll spare you details of the old and tired, but the lighting was poor, cupboard doors were brown varnished plywood and the linoleum floor looked like — are you ready for this — an abstract painting of flaked vomit. On the positive side, it hid the dirt well.

There are many benefits to having a modern kitchen, with creature comfort being one of them. Energy-efficient windows and insulation stymie the inward flow of cold air and summer’s heat. Karen comments how warm the kitchen is on these cold winter mornings when she starts her day. It gets back to that exclamation about loving her kitchen.

In a galley or, as I like to call it, a two-butt XL kitchen, you only have so much space to work with, so the use of off-white and light gray colors makes the room appear to be larger than it is. It is well lit, and that in itself makes for a pleasant space to rustle up some grub. Throw in a white marble laminate countertop and a light multi-shades of gray weathered wood floor and … let’s say it’s a kitchen fit to hang out in.

When one of the installers asked if my wife picked out the flooring, I responded that it was a joint decision. When he saw the red quartz stone sink he wondered if we were Buckeye fans. Nope. We just wanted a bright accent color to set things off. No allegiance there, as Karen grew up a Wolverine, and I’m a Nebraska Cornhusker for life.

The entire project came off without a hitch, and here we are, celebrating one year of enjoying the use of our kitchen — a space we both love.

As I finish this essay, I smell the raspberry Jell-O, chicken and rice soup and oatmeal, some of which Karen will share with her mother. A healthy dose of sunshine is also an important ingredient in any kitchen.

But you know what? Just because you have a brand spanking new kitchen doesn’t necessarily mean the food is going to taste better. Not for one “Does it need more salt?” moment. That would be like a musician saying: “If I had a better harp I’d be able to make music that lifts the soul.” Sure, a sharp knife works better and is safer to use than a dull one, but it is a skill set one needs to hone with that tool and all others we use, along with a sense of passion that goes into the joy of cooking and baking.

Whoever ends up as a guest in our home, we hope they too will come to feel a sense of love for our kitchen, especially as we sit down to the table and break bread together. Bon appetit!

By Phil Hugo

Guest Columnist

Phil Hugo lives in Lima.

Phil Hugo lives in Lima.

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