The Kitchen That Got Away

Why do we tackle certain home renovations and leave others undone?

When we put our last house on the market in spring 2018, we attracted the now-normal flood of showings and bids over asking price. In the end, we went with the family who sent us a love letter extolling the beauty of our home’s grand staircase, the possibilities of its roomy backyard, and the “years of memories we will build…on the front porch with the red door.”

Photo Illustration by Brittany Dexter

Of note: They did not remark on our kitchen. What a snub! I mean, who would not be ga-ga over painted and mismatched pine cabinets, bland Formica counters, gray linoleum floor gone yellow in spots, and knotty pine paneling hiding behind layers of paint? Well, the new owners. The ones with the love letter. 

They gutted our kitchen within the year, installing custom cabinets and high-end appliances with a supersized, gleaming white quartz counter/bar where a wall once separated the kitchen and dining room. It is a House Beautiful photo spread. It’s everything I would have loved when it was mine. But there were kids with extracurriculars, first in grade school, then high school, then college. And groceries. And cars. And dogs. And so many other needs in that 100-year-old, high-ceiled, wood-floored, three-story Money Pit.

And we’d hit reno fatigue after ripping out and replacing kitchens in our first, second, and third This Old House addresses. By No. 4, our money and time were needed elsewhere. So we never created the of my dreams.

Instead, with our three kids now (mostly) gone, we moved to a smaller house in the same neighborhood. We have (mostly) one-floor living, lush landscaping, and a spacious deck that overlooks a park and provides secluded al fresco dining. The neighbors are great. The street is quiet. And for the first time in my adult life, I can park my car in a no-bike, clutter-free double garage I open with the push of a button.

And the kitchen? It’s fine. Perfectly fine. The cabinets and counters are newish. We replaced most of the appliances. The eat-in space has plenty of light. Two built-ins hold most of my china. 

But, like the house around it, the kitchen is small. The cabinets we added make it feel even smaller. It’s tight with more than one cook at the counter. When we entertain, we have to set up tables in other rooms.

Meanwhile, a half-mile away, at the charming old Money Pit our children will always consider home, other children are doing their homework on that silky slab of a counter, while their dad (a real chef!) is prepping dinner on the other side and their mom is setting a table in a roomy dining room not walled off from the kitchen.

With fresh energy and funds, a new family made our tired old kitchen the showstopper we’d always dreamed of but never realized. 

When (if?) they ever sell, their kitchen will be the first line of any love letters coming their way. When (if?) we ever sell again, I’m hoping a hidden deck and super-sweet garage seal the deal.

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