Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Etymology Of A Kitchen Island

“Please, let’s keep them, we can store 'em in the basement.”

I was pleading a little. A group of men stood in a circle in the parking lot, listening.

“Look, I’ve restored houses, sat on a committee that loaned money to restore historic properties and been a Realtor selling hundreds of historic homes, so trust me, I've learned this: people do work on historic properties convinced their project is the final word – that no one will ever want to change their perfect remodel. But that’s almost never true!”

The Presbyterian Church was being restored. I was begging the construction committee to put the weathered, original 1893, quartersawn white oak doors in storage rather than throw them away. The committee chair was a good man. He gave it a solid think, then shook his head and said, “Throw them in the dumpster.”

So I hauled the doors to my garage, a block away, stored them on-edge against a wall. I spent years trying to find them a home, banging my car door against them a couple times a week.

The back & sides of the new island, under construction in my garage.
A month ago I cut up 2 of those church doors to make the back and sides of our new kitchen island.

I’m a windows open guy. For years my family’s Sunday mornings have been anchored by the ringing of that church’s bell. When my middle son, Jack was an acolyte, he donned a robe and took his turns ringing the bell to announce the start of services.

When the island is installed, you’ll be able to cook or sit at it and look out toward the church bell tower.

When I first moved to town, my ex and I rented the first floor of a big, late 1890s home a block and a half down the back alley from here. There, our first baby, Cal, had textbook colic. He’d start crying at about 5:00 each afternoon and shriek like he was on fire until around 11:00. Nothing calmed him.

Nothing that is, but music.

The old house had a built-in, 10-foot long white oak bookcase we'd filled with books, albums, CDs, and a sound system. I’d sit beside those honey-colored shelves with baby Cal laid facedown across my lap, drinking a beer and patting his little back as he cried, listening to R.E.M., Ella Fitzgerald or Crash Test Dummies, soon discovering that his crying would stop for 20 or 30 seconds at the start of a new song and it's fresh sound or rhythm. So I slid my chair close to the bookshelves, pulled down it's little raised panel cabinet door to rest my beer upon it, and I changed the track on the CD the moment he started to cry. His sobs would stop in a sputter, his body pulling inward, as if clutching the sound against his stomach, and he was silent for half a minute – like the gears were turning in his tiny head, puzzling over the wonder of the compelling rhythmic noises. Then he’d start screaming again. I’d advance the track. He’d fall silent again. And on this went.

At lower left, the raised panel door from the old rental down the alley.
Lemme tell ya, babies react to the cosmic swoon of Ella, the baritone proclamations of Crash Test Dummies and the sometimes anxious, sometimes urgent pleading of Michael Stipe.

When Cal was a teenager, long after we moved to this house, the city was demolishing that grand old rental for a parking lot. A friend and I went in and did the salvage. As I was pulling the planks of that bookcase apart, Cal appeared in the doorway and spent an hour exploring the place.

The cabinet framework and little raised-panel door on the kitchen island I’m building came from the bookcase where I once worked for an hour or two each night trying to quiet that troubled baby.

Cal got a degree in Japanese, teaches English just outside Tokyo, and married a brilliant and beautiful Japanese woman. Visiting with them last October, many nights Cal and I drank beers around their kitchen table playing songs we liked for each other on our phones or youTube: “Have you heard this one?”

Twenty years ago I'd walk my youngest, a daughter named Sally in a stroller around the neighborhood. One evening we passed down an alley and found 3 old table leaves leaned up against a trashcan. The stain was dark and the finish dirty, but I could see they were white oak. I struggled to keep them tucked under an arm while pushing Sally home.

Those table leaves make up the drawer fronts on the new kitchen island.
The 7 layers of floor that were on top of the original artificially-grained kit-
chen floor. The top left, yellow/tan was the first added layer. Lower right is
an 1926 newspaper stuck to the floor beneath the oldest layer.

There are new children from a 2nd marriage in this house now and we’re totally renovating the kitchen. Stripping up 2 solid inches of flooring, we counted 8 floors– an 1890s artificially-grained poplar floor covered with 7 later layers of linoleum and vinyl and 2 added layers of sub floor. Beneath those floors, the timber-frame, barn-like joints of the original 1870 incarnation of the house were revealed, attached to the “high-tech” balloon framing of the 1895 additions.  The new island, this “Frankenstein island,” made up of pieces and parts of ancient virgin forests that were timbered and milled into lumber that outfitted this neighborhood 120+ years ago, will straddle the confluence of the various eras of this house.

Nothing here is one thing. It is not just the existing neighborhood you see, nor one house or one marriage or one family, it is many generations and more than a century of architectural styles and interior d├ęcor fashions, pulled apart and pushed back together, the gloriously loved and beautifully fucked-up DNA of our old house, embodied in a brand new kitchen island.

This late 1890s photo of boys playing with tops beside Noblesville's Presbyterian Church shows (top/center) one of the doors I used for the side panels of my kitchen island.

“A broken man, an abandoned house, and a lonely woman—all the makings for a beautiful, haunting tale of loss, forgiveness, and redemption. The Salvage Man is a lovely, bitter sweet story you won’t soon forget. I loved it!”
Sherri Wood Emmons, author of The Seventh Mother

“Meyer turns the pages of history with gentle care and a warm heart, creating a story I’ll remember forever. Thank you Kurt Meyer for opening a door to my beloved town’s past and allowing me to travel the streets and meet the people of Noblesville 1893.”
Susan Crandall, Author of Whistling Past the Graveyard