15 March 2008

Suburban chill --my rant of the day

Someone called me yesterday looking for an "Italian" kitchen.

Every time my phone rings, I treat whoever's on the line with as much courtesy and respect as I can muster. I feel it's my duty to deal with people honestly. There is no such thing as a stupid question or a request too outlandish so far as I'm concerned. However, the flip side of that is that I do not believe that since a client or potential client suggests something that I have to go along with it or that I have to suffer foolishness.

As soon as I heard "Italian" kitchen I knew exactly what she was after. I mean, I hear that description a couple of times a week. And baby, it is nails on a chalkboard. Before I heard the back story, I already knew the back story. Someone and her husband or girlfriends had been on a parade of homes in a suburb and saw a bunch of 4000 square foot builder's models and wants to recreate what she saw. Fine. Let's talk about what goes into those things.

To the left is a kitchen I worked on a couple of years ago. It is in a model home in a suburb and to an alarming number of people, that suburb represents the good life. To an even more alarming number of people, this model represents a dream home. But it's an empty shell, a cartoon of a home. This kitchen had a price tag of about $180,000 but lacks anything resembling a sense of home or place. It's gigantic and in its hurry to cram as much detail and ostentation into the space, it leaves out human needs completely. Someone cooking at the range can't converse with someone sitting at the bar waiting to be fed. Someone cleaning up the dishes is isolated from anyone else in the room. You'd need a Segway to get from the fridge to the seating area. Aside from the bottles of oil on the counter and the pasta displayed in jars, there is nothing Italian about it. It is Italy as seen through the filters of Disney World and the Las Vegas Strip. It represents the complete separation of form from function and will make marriages disintegrate and kids turn dope fiends.

To the left is an actual Italian kitchen in an actual Italian home in Sorrento. Through a combination of timing and resourcefulness, I'll be standing at this sink and looking out this window for two weeks in May. This is what I think of as a real Italian kitchen. It's tiny, inconvenient, quirky and maddeningly inefficient. Italy in a nutshell in other words. This kitchen has four cabinets, a sink, a cook top and an unobstructed view of the Bay of Naples.

It makes tears well up in my eyes when I look at it, but only because I cannot wait to get there. I couldn't imagine trying to prepare a meal in it every day. Clearly, this authentic Italian kitchen isn't what my caller had in mind.

So there's a middle road somewhere and this caller and I will find it together. Exhibit A is beyond her means and this is someone who adores her family --she loves being a Mom. That first kitchen is a model, a mirage. It isn't real. So rather than immitating a commercial set, she and I are going to work out a design that will empower her to continue be the great Mother she is already. We'll put together a room that brings her family closer together --it will lend itself to their connectedness rather than dissolving it. At the end of the day; that's a real and worthy goal. It's also why I do what I do.

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