One characteristic of all newlyweds or seasoned house hunters is their insistence upon stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and stone floors. The marketing genius who came up with the idea of going sockless must be the same one who brainwashed homebuyers into thinking they need a kitchen outfitted with “upgrades” to make their life complete.
Young couples looking for a “starter” house usually cringe when they enter kitchens and see traditional white appliances. Even couples who have “outgrown” their present home feel the same way. In the hunt for a new house, kitchens with “outdated” appliances are immediately considered unsatisfactory. People insist on the industrial look of stainless steel. I cannot understand why. One trip to the refrigerator, stove, toaster, or microwave and the new, unused look disappears. Fingerprints, bacon splatters, crumbs, and dust make themselves at home, deaf to the frustrated cries of their owners. And in order to maintain a look of sterility, kitchen appliances must shun the invasion of nostalgia, thus decorative magnets, kids’ drawings, and family photographs are stuffed in the junk drawer and forgotten.
Another must-have for homebuyers is granite, something I equate with tombstones. Nineteen years ago I was eager for a new challenge so I moved to Normal, Illinois and began working on my Ph.D. at Illinois State University. After two months, I became disillusioned with my decision because I felt like a freshman. I quit the program and looked for employment. The best I could find was a job selling final resting places to the living. Orientation took place in the offices located on the grounds of a well-maintained and perfectly groomed cemetery.
Although I was fairly certain everyone would eventually require such a place and the odds were in my favor for job security, I stayed only through the training period. When told on the last day of class that assisting in the removal of the departed was an integral part of the job, I ran for the door and my home in Michigan. So when I think of granite or marble, I think of the beautiful headstones and mausoleums sprinkled throughout that pristine graveyard in Normal.
Another homeowner craze I don’t understand is cold, hard, unfriendly floors. My feet have been good to me for 74 years. The last thing I would consider inflicting upon them is an unforgiving floor like slate, tile, or cement. Such floors might look beautiful, but in my opinion comfort trumps beauty every time. My nod to “updating” my mobile home kitchen was purchasing new white appliances when the green ones gave out after 40 years of faithful service. I installed new vinyl flooring in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms and replaced green shag carpeting in the living room with beige Berber.
Ideas about the perfect house have drastically changed over the years. A few generations ago a bride was thrilled if her husband provided a home that didn’t come with a mother-in-law, water pails in the kitchen, kerosene lighting, and an outhouse. If a white Frigidaire stood in place of the oak icebox, the bride was elated. If the wood-burning cookstove had a dial on the oven door registering a remotely accurate oven temperature, the lady knew she had married a winner. And if the kitchen woodbox was full, a Jungers oil heater warmed the front room, the roof didn’t leak, the sash windows were easy to open and close, linoleum covered the floor instead of dirt, and mice were kept to a minimum, the bride had found Utopia.
Kitchen in an Irish cottage
In kitchens of old, a checked oilcloth covered a table that was both countertop and dining area. A cupboard was a piece of furniture, not a row of rectangle boxes running up and down the kitchen walls. The closest thing to granite was the black speckled dishpan on the woodstove with the galvanized rinsing pan overturned on top of it. An indoor pump eliminated the need for water pails, and the washstand held the white enamel pan where everybody washed their hands after doing the barn chores. There was no such thing as a “starter” home or “outgrowing” a residence. You started and finished in the same house and loved it all the more for the lifetime of memories it held.
Trends come and go and the hype surrounding stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and unforgiving floors might eventually disappear. I hope so because as the old-time poet, Edgar A. Guest, noted: “it takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home”. I’ll take the liberty of putting my spin on that line and say it takes a whole lot more than “upgrades” to make a house a home.