Writer Brian Rutter thought his life was about the butcher, the baker and the custom cabinet maker. Then he looked a little closer.
“Do you want to go over and see Elise and Rob’s new outdoor kitchen?”
“What’s an outdoor kitchen?”
“They built a full kitchen next to their patio. Top-of-the-line everything. So they can cook outside all summer long. And it has a built-in spit. They can roast a whole pig!”
“Why would they want to do that? They’re Jewish. What would the rabbi think?”
“Listen here, king of bacon and eggs — who are you to pass judgment?”
And she’s right. I do love my pork. Perhaps it’s just “your-garden-is-greener-than-my-garden” envy turning me into the kosher police. I mean, how do you compete with a stainless steel kitchen in the suburban woods?
Everywhere I go someone in my town is upgrading, dismantling, redecorating and basically customizing their homes — from top to bottom, inside and out. Shaking up their lives with new shaker cabinets. Putting heat back into their marriage with a new steam shower. Fighting over the basement space — man cave or tranquil mediation space?
(Aside — what exactly is a man cave? Just because I’m on the Paleo diet doesn’t mean I’m a Neanderthal and need a ping-pong table to honor some bro code.)
It’s a virtual knock down, drag the old carpet out fight for the best finishes in town. Nothing cookie cutter when making those holiday cookies… we want it a cut above the rest of the neighborhood. Nothing says “seasons greetings” more than a computerized spice rack that twirls and whirls.
I’ve seen master bathrooms as glistening white as newly bleached teeth. Colonial American kitchens stacked to the rafters with European appliances. Family rooms saturated in floor-to-ceiling color. A cataclysmic cornucopia of silk flower arrangements and silvery balls.
Chance meetings in Home Goods or Home Depot lead to a lengthy discourse on the right décor for resale value. Forget Monday-night Football. I’m now watching Love It or List It with my wife and imagining a bedroom “oasis” not swallowed up by our king-side bed.
One’s house is not just a home but an ongoing home renovation project — with no beginning and definitely no end to the projects. From a new coat of paint to a total gut job, our daydreams and nightmares are about breathtaking possibilities and heart-wrenching impossibilities. I see soaring cathedral ceilings; my contractor sees a cracked foundation. We both see dollar signs.
And the thing is… once you’ve done the work, chest swelling with pride, the neighborhood wolves coming knocking, ready to pounce on your little red range hood. Stares and glares over your upholstered dining room chairs. Grins and grimaces about your granite slab.
Who are they to opine on our outdoor benches? Why are people talking behind other people’s backs about their backsplashes? Isn’t beauty in the eyes of the mortgage holder?
We work, pouring our sweat equity into our home’s equity, manifesting the life we want in fabric and flooring. Every picture painting a portrait of life as we know it, or want it to be Designer grade or glue gun assembled, the end product is the necessary means by which we live day in, day out.
But is that all it takes to live life in full bloom… a room full of wallpapered roses?
I once went to visit a coworker of my wife – an older woman about to retire after a lifetime of public service. When we arrived at her apartment, the living room consisted of two arm chairs and a television. She invited us to sit down.
About to buy our first house and move off to our suburban dream, we were at first upset that after years of hard work, there were only two chairs. No sofa, breakfront or coffee table. We had expected an apartment overfilled with chintz and damask curtains. Dusty knickknacks and lace doilies. A life well lived in furniture well worn.
Our manufactured innocence about the ideal home life, fueled by piles of doctor office magazines, had been baked in rustic artisan pots and shiny tea kettles, walk-in closets and farmhouse sinks. Something for everyone to see, touch and feel.
What we didn’t see in that somewhat empty room was the nurturing and raising of two children, sending them off to college to pursue their dreams. To achieve richer lives. To do better than their parents. What’s dreamy interior design if your children don’t get to live out their dreams?
So now, decades later, even though I like to pad around my house, enjoying the surround sound and roman shades, I remember to take in my family life at full throttle. Teenage showers running way too long. My wife making dinner. Dog napping in her bed. Soothing wind chimes on the deck.
Because I learned — while you can remodel every room in your house, you can’t model your life on a picture in a magazine.
Originally appeared on Burb Man.
Photo: Flickr/Brian Moloney