Sunday, June 1, 2008

*"C" is for Countertops

(*apologies to Sue Grafton)

Ro: The plan was to give myself a few weeks off. To reconnect with friends and family that I had alienated in the last six self-absorbed months. It lasted about three days. Then I got the bright idea to do a mini-renovation in my kitchen. Nothing major. Nothing structural - not a facelift, just a little botox. Dream on.

In the same way that I haven't quite taken the kool-aid on HDTV, the world of Sub-Zero fridges, pro-style ovens and trendy countertops escapes me. I've done more research on countertops recently than I've done on book three. I don't even know what half of this stuff is, but I'm beginning to feel countertop envy. I have (shudder) a tile countertop. When I revealed that to a prospective contractor over the phone yesterday - there was a little pause - as if I'd said something so pitiful he didn't quite know how to respond. Oh, I'm so sorry - I know a support group.

Anyone who's been to my home knows I'm just as likely to have a $5 lamp from Goodwill as a $15,000 oriental carpet (which my dog routinely barfs on.) I'm an equal opportunity shopper. But do I really need a $20,000 countertop? Does anyone? Is it honed by Vestals?

Two fresh-faced guys in khaki pants and Polo shirts showed up today (at different times) to explain it to me. Now I have a headache. I'm supposed to pick out my own stone, too. Who am I? Michelangelo? Can't I just say, give me the gray stuff?Apparently not. This reminds me of my wedding. When the caterer asked me if I wanted sprigs of rosemary to tie around the napkins.

HALLIE: For a very short while, I was watching that show where people shop for houses and talk about how they're going to make them over, and it was making me crazy about the kitchen which we redid when we bought our house in the early '80s. My countertop is Formica, the color of those green highway signs... I still love it, but suddenly I'm thinking (provide scary music) **MARBLE**. Which of course leads to thoughts of light pine cabinets. Which leads to lots of money and lots of stuff I simply CAN live without. When we bought our house it had no kitchen counters at all--really, none. And a cast-iron sink that hung over a radiator. And a few WW II-era pink metal Sears cabinets. We loved the house because no one had spent a gazillion dollars on fixtures that weren't our taste.

I'm just back from BEA and heard Thomas Friedman give the keynote speech on his new book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" Tough messages for tough times. I wish "fixing" the world were as easy as fixing the kitchen with new countertops.

HANK: Did you use the rosemary? We should blog about weddings someday.Anyway. Kitchens. (Although we should probably talk about Thomas Friedman.) We got Corian a few years ago. I decided (scary music) that granite was, cold. I mean, it would feel cold to the touch.
So the Corian person came with samples. A thousand million samples. White, I said, gimme white. White with specks. (At the same time I was thinking, hmm, maybe black with specks. But we were trying to lighten up the place so I figured black wasn't the best answer.) It looks great. And years later, perfectly new.
But the countertop came with a VIDEO. A VIDEO. I'm supposed to watch a video about countertops?? I didn't. (But I always, in those cases, worry there might be something in the video that says, about halfway through, congratulations! You watched this and now you get a million dollars. Still, probably not, so it's not worth it.)

Digression: we got a GPS. And it came with a DVD that you're supposed to watch to find out how to work it. Hey. Note to sellers: I'm NOT going to watch a dvd instruction book. I'd rather not read an instruction BOOK, if I'm going to not do something.
Anyway. Me? I just want kitchen cabinet doors with glass. But then someone will have to come over and clean the inside of the cabinets. And rearrange the stuff inside.(I do have this idea though: what if I got photos of lovely, you know, pasta and cookies and interestingly gourmet things, and pasted them behind the glass. You know, faux food. It could work!)
Let us know what you decide, Ro!

RO: That's a inside the cabinets of neatly stacked things to camo the messy stuff.
I did not go with the sprigs of rosemary..I thought she was insane. My husband's assistant at the time did my whole wedding ..all I did was buy the dress and show up. I didn't even get my hair done, I went to a basketball game that day. My maid of honor was waiting for me at the Plaza. She was freaking because the game went into overtime. (That was back in the day when the Knicks were still good and actually got into the playoffs.)

I do realize kitchen makeovers are not the hot issue in many parts of the world, and I could build an annex to my library in Tanzania with what it will cost me for this "touch-up." Maybe I'm being influenced by all of these house shows on television...

BTW You will LOVE the GPS. Have you named her yet? (Mine's Tomasina)

ROBERTA: Part of my counter is refinished chestnut, recovered from a barn, then varnished with six coats of marine varnish. Absolutely stunning. Except I won't let anyone chop anywhere near it lest it be marred. So that's a lesson--if it's too nice, it's a little hard to enjoy:).
I was going to suggest weddings last week as I celebrated my 16th anniversary. We'll do it soon...after we straighten out the world...

RO: Can we start with my kitchen?


  1. Unless you never actually cook, countertops gets dirty. You have to clean them--a lot. Get whatever is most durable and doesn't show dirt.

    I once spent several months housesitting for someone who had "updated" her kitchen with black granite countertops. Very pretty, but every waterstain showed. Always.

    Unless you are in love with your sponge, stay away from stone (which also absorbs stains). But Roberta's idea of (well-protected) salvaged wood sounds lovely.

  2. Countertops? Thought you had this guy on this one, huh? No, no, no -
    Well, I have to say this - you are all amazing! Right from Hallie's minimilist roots to Hanks corian tops!!

    Here's my story - so, my house was built in the early eighties. Nice 4 bedroom tudor colonial. With formica countertops - throughout. Fortunately, the orignal colors have become a distant memory, all the result of a small inheritance my wife received. About 8 years ago we did carpets, full interior paint and countertops in the kitchen and 2 1/2 baths. Wow, sounds so middle class, you know? You mystery ladies, being in the New England area live in these very cool sounding houses. Of course, New England - isn't that where mysteries were born - and definitely breed? I mean your whole house should be a tax deduction for inspiration. Of course try to get that by the IRS!!!

    Back on topic - after we redid the kitchen tops in a beveled custom light grey formica with a white Kohler sink and high spout faucet for accent and added a Stainless (Clean Steel) side by side it looked awesome. Especially, after I refinished all the honey oak cabinetry. BTW, I did that throughout the house with all the matching oak vanities. I knew I arrived when a work associate came in and said, "Hey, where'd you get the new cabinets?" I just smiled. Forty bucks of satin varnish, very fine steel wool and a little carefully matched stain had done its job.

    The real topping came when we followed the advice of our interior decorator friend who showed us how to tuck the big screen in the corner. The TV is NOT the focal point of the room - like that great hi def drop down screen that Jan's ingenious husband came up with.

    I spent all day - wiring all the controls to the surround sound under the floor and across the room. Very awesome theater set up to review movies and scripts, as well as crash videos.

    Now, eight years later for the partially sad and partially happy part - my wife wants to change it all again - Waaaa...waaa...waaaa, oh yeah and , bohoo, bohoo... sobs rack my little male body as I contemplate the upheaval!!!

    Oh, but here is a silver lining in all this darkness, good news even - Hi Def is coming to MTV his self - in another room now when the big screen goes. Hmmm... perhaps ... there could be something here that will lighten the load... as long as it's bigger than Bob's, you know?!!!


  3. Gah. I have ugly countertops in my kitchen (formica in a faux speckled grey kinduva pseudo-something). And my house was built in 1938! It deserves better, but anytime we do a redo, it's always something sexier (refinishing hardwood floors, for example, or pretty new arts&crafts tile in a bathroom). However, the countertops in the kitchen are ugly, and your post leads me to reconsider priorities. I may want to repaint the guestroom upstairs, but really ... I look at those freakin' countertops

  4. My little brain is spinning from all of this stuff. just came back from two marble/granite places. Can't I just to something write a book?

    Sheila, you're right. And, as you may have guessed...I don't love my sponge. grateful you got eight years out of that last reno!

    A propos....
    A man wakes up in the hospital, bandaged from head to foot.

    The doctor comes in and says, 'Ah, I see you've regained consciousness.

    Now, you probably won't remember, but you were in a big pile-up accident on the freeway. You're going to be okay, you'll walk again and everything, but..... Something happened. I'm trying to break this gently, but the fact is, your 'willy' was chopped off in the wreck, and we were unable to find it.'

    The man groans, but the doctor goes on, 'You've got $90,000 in insurance compensation coming to you, and we have the technology now to build you a new willy that will work as well as your old one did - better in fact! But the thing is, it doesn't come cheap. It's $10,000
    an inch."
    The man perks up at this.
    'So,' the doctor says, 'it's for you to decide how many inches you want. But it's s something you'd better discuss with your wife. I mean, if you had a five inch one before, and you decide to go for a nine incher, she might be a bit put out. But if you had a nine inch one before, and you decide only to invest in a five incher this time, she might be disappointed. So it's important that she plays a role in helping you make the decision.'
    The man agrees to talk with his wife. The doctor comes back the next day.
    "So have you decided'
    'I have,' says the man.
    'And has she helped you in making the decision?'
    'She has,' says the man.
    'And what is it?' asks the doctor.
    'We're getting a new kitchen.'

  5. I LOVE arts and crafts tiles...vintage?

  6. Sorry. I just have to add -

    And then the doctor says, "And how do you feel about that sir?"

    "It won't be bigger than Bob's!"

    So... this sure brings the importance of kitchen into sharp focus!!!

    And, I thought it was just a word and place!!!


  7. Yes'm vintage! Very dear, which is why I can only afford to put a stripe of 'em around the bathtub area, at best.

  8. Our GPS is--Jeeps. ANd yes, I'm in love with her.

  9. A group of co-workers and I just recently trekked down to RI for a "Women in Law Enforcement" conference and had a blast with the GPS by filling in the pleasant voice with what it REALLY would say were it able to speak freely:

    "Look for your nearest legal U-turn, Idiot, because you obviously were distracted by the sale sign at IKEA..."

    "Recalculating directions, Idiot, because you're so busy checking your makeup in the rearview mirror that you missed the turnoff..."

    "Recalculating, because you think you knew the directions better than I do, but you obviously don't...Idiot!"

    Rebels that we are, we did NOT follow directions all the way. Take that, Tomasina!

    Felicia Donovan

  10. Yes..."Recalculating"...(jerk.) "Turn around"...(jerk.)

  11. I have a friend (named Jane) who says her GPS sometimes barks at her:

    Jane, you ignorant slut ...

    as heard on SNL all those years ago.

    Airliner cockpits have had voice alerts for a good while, and the majority (all?) of them are in a female voice, because research indicates that male pilots will pay more attention to a female voice in the cockpit than a male one. (Chalk it up to how many male voices are already present in the cockpit, coming from ATC, etc. -- these devices were created in a decidedly masculine era for aviation, out of which we have moved only somewhat forward).


    Sometimes you'll hear the voice talking behind the cockpit door when the pilots are going through their checklist and verifying functionality. You'll hear "Too low, gear. Too low, gear", "Terrain. Terrain" and "Stall, stall, stall" among other things.

    My pilot friends, many of whom had similar voices in their military aircraft, call the voice 'Bitchin' Betty.'

    I love to hassle them when we fly together, imitating Betty with comments like "Landing ...sucked. Landing ...sucked."

    They could do it right back at me, if only they could get their voices high enough.