Thoughts from a ‘Dated’ Kitchen

     I have a dated kitchen.  For the six years I’ve lived in my house, I didn’t even realize my kitchen was dated.  In fact, I thought it was a wonderful kitchen–large, spacious, full of light, beautiful cabinets, an island, tile floor. 

     But now that my husband and I are in the process of selling our house (not a pleasant process for a seller in this buyers’ market), I have learned that this kitchen I love is ‘dated.’  The report we get from virtually every prospective buyer is that the kitchen would require a complete renovation.

      I can understand that some might say it’s time to replace our 20+ year-old oven and stove;  they do look a bit worn.  But our motto has been, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’  So it took me by surprise to hear that so many other features in our kitchen are seen as hopelessly  ‘out of style.’   But why would these features have to be replaced before any prospective buyer could consider living here? 

     For instance, we are told that no one uses 8-inch floor tiles any more.  The tiles now in place (so 20th century!) would have to go, in favor of the now-popular 12-inch tiles.  And our perfectly serviceable, pleasant-looking formica counter-tops would have to be ripped out, in favor of the now-popular granite.  And it doesn’t seem to matter that our oak cabinets, attractive (we think) and in good condition, are not the kind of kitchen cabinets now in vogue.  They’ve got to go!

     What does it mean that functional, decent-looking kitchen features must be replaced with the very newest forms available? 

     As I ponder this question, it seems to me there are a couple of issues at work here.  One is materialism.  Our society has become so wealthy that a kitchen, once a place valued mainly for its food preparation and storage functions, is now a place to display one’s affluence and style.  A kitchen has beome a statement, it seems to me.  “I’m a (high-priced) granite counter-top sort of person, not the lower-class laminate type.”  

     I can understand how a kitchen, a car, or clothing can all be forms of self-expression, even at times, of beauty.  A kitchen, like any other human creation, can have an aesthetic dimension.  Even so, it seems that, more and more, people are identified with their things, especially when the things are new, expensive, and desired by others.  Just how much of an emphasis on things is healthy?  

     A strong identification with objects can lead to waste, the other issue that our kitchen plight brings to my mind.  In our wealthy society (we’re still the wealthiest society the planet has ever seen, even if cracks are forming in the economy), one is able to replace perfectly adequate but ‘dated’ 8-inch tiles with the up-to-date larger tiles simply because one would prefer the newest over anything older.  The same is true for counter-tops and cabinets.

     I am a life-long environmentalist, and so the ethic of conserving is in my bones.  I tend to use things until they are used up, rather than get rid of them when something new comes along.  Why expend the earth’s resources and energy in destroying perfectly good counter-tops and cabinets and a nice tile floor, and in putting in new replacements, which also have a cost in resources and energy?

      But it’s not a simple matter of saying, “Caring for the earth means not replacing anything unles it’s absolutely necessary.”  My kitchen musings are but one example of the many choices we middle-class Americans face every day.  How much are we entitled to give ourselves what we want, just because we want it?  And when, instead, should we ask ourselves to forgeo a new car, a new pair of shoes, or a trip because of its negative impact on the planet?  

     With such a large human population (closing in on 7 billion), and with so many of us now able to have so much of what we want, our daily actions affect Mother Earth, especially by contributing to global warming.

     Be that as it may, selling our house in today’s society means we’re paying a price for our lovely but unfashionable kitchen.  Maybe we should just wait another 25 years to sell.  By then, our kitchen may have moved beyond ‘dated,’ into the realm of ‘retro,’ just like a current kitchen that sports a 1950s dinette set and juke box!   

6 Responses to “Thoughts from a ‘Dated’ Kitchen”

  1. Ann Riccardi Says:

    April, I loved this essay. We are getting a tankless hot water heater and the contractor said that he knew a decorator who could update our house! It came as surprise to us since we thought our house looked great.


  2. Jim Z. Says:

    Beware those 12″ tiles on any sub-floor that is anything but absolutely flat and well-supported. Once installed, they can develop hairline cracks (right down the middle of a line of tiles) in response to even the least bit of house settling.

    I’m with you on interiors. There are so many ways of keeping the basic bones of a house and sprucing them up with such things as paint, elbow grease-cleaning, etc. In a prior house I installed wood veneer on the cabinet doors of the entire kitchen, high and low (maybe 18-20 cabinet doors). Glued the stuff on each door one by one, and it looked so good I surprised myself. Hate to think that the new owners ripped all that out after we sold!

  3. Gail Says:

    Blame HGTV. I love to watch it to get ideas on how to repair things that don’t work for me. But they push granite left and right and pooh pooh most other types of counters. But most of their house hunters are also looking for 180,000 + houses, not the everyday person price so it’s obvious who they gear their shows to. It has to be a statement of some kind that we let a TV show dictate our tastes. It’s keeping up with the Jones like always.

  4. Jim Z. Says:

    Oh, and Tung-oil finish. This stuff (after cleaning wood surfaces with something like Murphy’s oil soap and a kitchen brush), that comes in clear or with a stain color, can make even the most tired-looking wood surfaces look classy and new.

    I use a brush to apply it, can require multiple coats depending on the original condition of your surface.

    Most of the time stripping old finish not required, just cleaning (very dirty surfaces may require denatured alcohol and fine steel wool before the oil soap). No urethane varnish on the top – you just add another coat of tung oil finish every several years to refresh.

    I even did this to an old desk at my former office, and others asked me to finish theirs, too.

  5. Diane Says:

    I enjoy beautiful interiors, but it is the beauty part that matters to me, not that appliances are “up to date.” I remember travelling to a little centuries old church with grooves in the floor tiles from the many souls who had crossed the threshold in search of spiritual sustenance. Now, which is more beautiful: 12 inch tiles, or the worn ones of that church?
    But it seems that it is not always the case that people prefer new materials in interiors. Antiques are popular, and some people try to get the aged look with certain paint techniques. I don’t know what the difference is between desirable “patina” and merely, “dated.” Perhaps something to do with perceived class?
    I’m not a particular fan of Shaker style furniture, but I do appreciate that the simplicity of the style can frame the inner beauty of those and the life that happens around it. Maybe if the prospective buyers of your house knew you, they would love the kitchen, too!

  6. April Says:

    Diane, I am moved by your image of the worn floor tiles in the old church and the inner beauty they represent. I also like your image of the simple Shaker furniture serving as a frame for the inner beauty of those who use it.

    Your comments are helping me to see a distinction between beautiful objects as showy displays of affluence and beautiful objects as thoughtful expressions of our deepest selves.

    Thank you.

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