I used to want a kitchen with black and white tile and red appliances. This was in middle school, when I started taking stacks of magazines home from the free box at the library. Better Homes & Gardens, House Beautiful, Metropolitan Home. I looked at all the ads for Pella windows and Kohler faucets. One summer, my family camped near a Kohler showroom and took a tour, walking up and down aisles of toilets, tubs and shower stalls. My dad told us we were going to the Great Wall of China and said we were here, standing in front of a two-story high display of mounted toilets. I hadn’t known how lovely your plumbing could look, if you had the money.
I built my house on car rides, usually to the grocery store or church. I returned again and again to my kitchen, its smooth black and white tile floor. The magazines showed stainless steel appliances, not red. I swapped out my fridge and range. I kept the wall phone red. And the soda fountain stools at my high counter were cherry vinyl. The sink was deep, with a tall upside down J faucet.
We could eat on the patio, at the glass-topped table, next to the kidney-shaped swimming pool.
I didn’t venture much past my kitchen. I cut out a floor plan of a house I liked and kept it for years, unfolding the page and deciding how I might modify the upstairs, if I wanted a studio or darkroom. Sometimes I flipped through JC Penney catalogues and folded the corners of pages: heavy bedroom sets with fat pillows or matching cribs and change tables, for when the baby came. I imagined having a toothbrush holder on the wall under the vanity mirror, instead of the plastic cup we used. I thought I might put candles on my dining table.
But I think I returned to my kitchen so often because the kitchen was central to our family. It’s the best room in the house; ours had ugly orange and gold linoleum and cabinets that stuck in the summer and Mom who had breakfast ready in the morning and dinner in the oven at night. At our kitchen table we sang Happy Birthday and decorated leaf sugar cookies with icing the colors of autumn; we made Valentine’s Day mailboxes for elementary school parties; we made messes on the counter, learning to cook and bake. And so I wanted my kitchen to be the best room in my house, big enough and full enough, with sunlight coming in.