Love among the hardware

February 03, 1991|By Nora Frenkiel

*TC On a rain-swept Saturday morning, I am standing at the counter of a plumbing supply store, shaking the rain from my hair and debating the relative merits of cast-iron enamel vs. stainless steel sinks with a young salesman.

"Isn't it hard to keep clean?" I ask about the white enamel sink"Doesn't it chip easily?" I ask, with an urgency heretofore reserved for Chanel Red nail polish. Despite his best reassurances, I remain skeptical.

I have already had this exact conversation with three dozefriends, relatives, acquaintances and the unlucky woman who happened to be standing in front of me in the grocery checkout line buying a can of Scrub-Free.

If any of this seems familiar to you, you must have recently beestanding in my soggy shoes: No doubt, you, too, have been involved in the renovation of a kitchen.

Not so long ago I was a single soul, unembarrassed to feedrop-in friends heated-up Lean Cuisines. Now I am a woman who actually knows the difference between stainless and enamel. That is because I am now part of a couple living in a real home.

How this happened to me, and to thousands of working womejust like me, deserves a story all its own. And while coupling itself proved far easier than I suspected -- a perfect mate, I assure you, arrived just in time for me to prove my mother and all other naysayers wrong -- the hardest part I've found has been this seismic shift toward domesticity.

Confessions now come pouring out: Until three months ago I hanever been inside a Hechinger's. Now I'm on a first-name basis with a local store manager who advises me on all my houseware, i.e., lighting and ceiling fans. My vocabulary has expanded to include such words as Corian, Poggenpohl and Vulcan (as in stove, not the "Star Trek" variety.) The new Vogue magazine sits unread while I devour the latest copy of "101 Kitchen Ideas You Can Use."

I have also begun to care passionately about issues that woulhave seemed duller than no-wax floors just months ago. While I used to believe that relationships would live or die on arguments about religion and sex, I now know better. Take our battle on the subject of French doors leading to the deck.

"I want two 2-foot doors to accommodate the sidelight windopanels," the perfect mate insists.

"Two-foot doors," I say, haughtily. "Who do you know among uwho has hips that are only 24 inches across to fit through those doors?"

"You open both doors at the same time," he says, not yet givinin to anger.

"That's right," I say, with a shade too much sarcasm. "Youhands are full and you open both doors at the same time. Whoever heard of such a dumb idea?"

He walks away and I become a victim of the silent treatment for two days over this issue, until he acquiesces to my wishes, with a wistful look on his face. "I always give in," he says.

But that is not true. As the renovations continue, we find neareas of disagreement. We actually argue over backsplash. A year ago I didn't know what backsplash was. Now it's the center of my universe. (We're talking, of course, about the vertical counter that meets the horizontal kitchen counter top.) We agree on the brown Avonite counter. But I want a Cove backsplash, so it's one curving piece with no corners to clean. "It's $400 more," he says. "Don't be a princess. You can clean the corners."

On this point, he wins and I try my best to be a gracious loser.

But the truth is that I'm winning in ways I don't even understandI find the transition from single girl with minimal, as opposed to minimalist, living standards not always easy, but almost transcendentally rewarding. Maybe I was ready for this all along and my desire to have a real home -- and not just a space to store my newspapers and suitcases -- has finally caught up with me.

On holidays, I no longer have to find someplace to go. I'm already home, which means I have to rise to the occasion. In 1989, I made my first Thanksgiving feast. I was expecting my mate's mother, who because of faulty travel arrangements arrived the night after. Which turned out to be a good thing for both of us, because to tell the truth, there was a point at about 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day when I was hiding in my bathroom because I would never amount to that fabulous Martha Stewart kind of hostess. As I cried over my sink, with the water running, so no one would hear me, I stopped for a moment, realizing the house smelled like Thanksgiving, with the scent of rosemary, thyme and sweet potatoes filling the air.

It's kind of funny, after all this, that I haven't yet cooked sweepotatoes in the new kitchen. Yes, after all the arguments and compromises, the kitchen is done. We went with a cast-iron enamel sink, the one I bought myself at the plumbing supply company that rainy Saturday. It brings me pleasure to stand in the kitchen at that sink and look out those French doors -- the 2 1/2 -foot doors I wanted -- and feel I finally have a home of my own. I'm no longer waiting for life to happen. This is it. Domesticity may not come easy for me, but I know that it comes, by and by, in its own sweet time.

NORA FRENKIEL is a features writer on leave from The Sun.

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