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My Mother's Kitchen: Freed from the Grips of 1950s Formica

Overview (A.K.A. How My Mom Put Up with Me Over the Years)

There’s a bit of a role reversal with my Mom and I. Having a daughter who is a Professional Organizer is probably a challenge. I’m sure there’s a lot of eye-rolling when I walk in the door hours before our scheduled Downton Abbey viewing when I say, “Oh, let’s reorganize the linen closet today Mom! It’ll be fun!” or “Oh, let’s go through all those old books in the basement! It’ll be fun!” Not.

My Mom was ready to renovate her kitchen. She had given it a lot of thought and wanted to get my take. She gave the all-clear in May and we were off to the races! My other half had enormous expertise with renovating, he’s got good ideas, and I am working with trades in people’s homes all the time, so we were a good pair to help her through the entire process. I was also in the throes of helping a client with a major renovation and I was in a high-functioning project-management-renovation-mode.

After some deliberation, The Home Depot was chosen to do the renovation. I have only good things to say about The Home Depot's Kitchen services, speaking from this experience. They offer fantastic planning services, brought in great trades that my Mom really liked, and they were friendly and respectful throughout every stage. Challenges (A.K.A. Stuff that Was Bugging My Mom)

Weaving through the space-time continuum at my Mom’s house was possible. I could step into the kitchen, feast my eyes on the vintage formica countertop, the ancient telephone jack still mounted on the wall and the original cabinetry from the 1950’s (the only positive thing I can say about the cabinets is that they were solid wood). I think somewhere along the way when the original owner moved in, he did some sort of “customizing”. The points of pain were: *the dishwasher wasn’t built-in - it had a different height and depth, basically making it a drag to wipe the counters and you had to protect your hips from bruising *some cabinets didn’t close properly - she used an elastic band to keep two cabinets from swinging open all the time *there was no working ventilation fan *the drawers were almost unusable - without any drawer slides, opening them and closing them repeatedly made one insane *you had to bend down and crane your neck to get a can of tuna (side benefit - save on yoga classes!) *the counter around the sink was water damaged *the vinyl flooring was curling and was slippery at the front entrance *the built-in wooden butcher-block was getting worn - it was similar to a three hundred year-old museum artifact and had that worn out look from the test of time *the absence of task lighting *the very ancient and precarious IKEA cookbook shelf that was like a melting glacier. We would wonder when “the big day” would come when it collapsed under the weight of the Ina Garten and Julia Child books!

The Solution (A.K.A. How My Mom Cooked with a Microwave for 4 Months)

Renovating a kitchen is not convenient. You have to give up a key part of the most-used space in the home for a while. My Mom was a major trooper. She mastered the art of microwave cooking. (She now has a fantastic huge (LIKE HUGE - LIKE BIGLY) microwave that she claims she cannot live without). She washed her dishes in the laundry tub. After 30 years she re-ignited her relationship with TV dinners.

We met with The Home Depot on a regular basis, mapping out the layout, choosing cabinetry, knobs, a faucet, lighting, appliances, flooring, backsplash and the list goes on. It never ceases to amaze me how much decision-making goes into what seems like a fairly straight forward project. There are A LOT of choices. The one thing I learned about my Mom during this process is that she has amazing, decisive, decision-making skills. Maybe that comes from rearing three children. She also made really brilliant design choices. Maybe because I’m a bit sentimental about the whole thing, but I think this is one of my most favourite projects!

I guess the thing about kitchens is that you make them work. My Mom and I made countless dishes together in the old kitchen. It had its quirks, but she dealt with it. She put up with my crazy ideas about making gourmet-this and gourmet-that. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn’t. I attempted complicated recipes from the chocolate genius Marcel Desaulniers. I remember at the 11th hour on one Christmas Eve, gluing together my Martha Stewart meringue mushrooms with ganache for my Woodland-Themed Bouche de Noel! (That one looked pretty good). I remember the very teary Christmas when I presented my Mom with a nicely organized, bindered heirloom cookbook which included an archive of her recipe tear-outs from when we were tots (similar to the Jell-O Apricot Salad below!), heirloom family recipes and recipes she had typed out in the early 70s to keep tabs on her typing speed.

I’m happy that my Mom crossed off all the things on her wish list, and is now enjoying her new space. It was a great experience, with eye-rolling kept to a minimum - right Mom? Cause I know you’re reading this! And thanks for spell-checking it. :)


“This was an eventful and mind boggling (and a bit scary) journey for me and it would not have evolved into the sanity preserving process that it was without the amazing expertise and support of Kathleen and her better half. They were with me every step of the way. Not only did they help with design choices, attend meetings at The Home Depot, but they interrupted their busy lives to do all the painting!  I love my new kitchen and have deleted the physicality of the old one from my mind, but all the memories and events that took place in that space, our hub of family events, live on. Now, happily, we have a sparkling, up-to-date kitchen in which to celebrate new happy family events…..concoct "gourmet" meals, use the "bigly" microwave or just hang out. Heartfelt thanks to you both for your kindness, love and support.”

- Sandra

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