I lied in my last column when I told you I don’t watch reality TV. I confess there is one type I do watch: home improvement shows.
I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for fairy tales.
Having lived through a traumatic renovation a dozen years ago that took twice as long as scheduled and cost double the amount quoted, I am irresistibly drawn to the escapist fantasy of a six-week, on-budget renovation. I love the final reveal that shows off a completely finished, fully furnished, gorgeous space rather than a punch list full of problems and a contractor who has disappeared onto another jobsite, never to be seen again.
Besides offering escapist fantasy, the shows are quite educational. I now know more than I ever dreamed I needed to about knob-and-tube wiring, insulation, foundation leaks, kitchen islands, the evils of mold and the uses of chair rails.
And I’ve learned new phrases: “subway tile,” “engineered hardwood,” and in particular, “open concept.” That last one is all the rage in home design TV.
In every TV renovation, either the home buyers come in wanting it or the designers urge it on them. It involves tearing down as many walls as possible to create the highly coveted openness.
I am not sure when that idea first emerged in home design. It wasn’t around in 1940, when my cute little Spanish-style bungalow was built. Or even decades later, when I bought it in the late nineties. At that time, as I recall, one of my house’s chief attractions was its separate dining room — and the convenient swinging door that could be closed to keep kitchen mess out of sight during a dinner party.
I loved my house’s individual rooms with their separate functions. I was much more bothered by the limited closet space, lone bathroom and lack of access to the backyard — the problems I solved when I renovated the back of the house.
I didn’t feel a need to touch the front. The kitchen wasn’t ideal, but it worked. The dining room, located conveniently next to the kitchen through said swinging door, served me well. Over the years, I have had any number of gatherings at the dining table positioned in the center under the light fixture.
But home entertaining has evolved. Folks now are more comfortable meandering around drink in hand, leaning on counters chatting, than sitting sedately on the sofa waiting to be called to dine. My guests don’t stay in the living room that my house builder designated for their enjoyment. Instead, they all crowd into the one room that has a hard time accommodating them — my too-compact kitchen.
That makes finishing the cooking difficult (not to mention hazardous). But when I shoo them out, I can’t join in the fun. I feel bad that I am being a poor hostess, not to mention missing my own party.
Uh-oh. I know I shouldn’t have watched all those shows with their swinging sledge hammers. They’ve gotten into my head. But I can’t fight it. I’ve started to actively hate the wall that separates me from my guests.
The trauma of my last renovation has finally faded and my bank account has recovered. I’m ready to talk to designers and contractors again.
I have some ideas to propose. It’s all simple stuff: Replace the cabinets and counters. Get new appliances. Install an island. Extend the wood floors. Change out the light fixtures. And of course, tear down that wall.
Piece of cake. It shouldn’t be expensive and could probably be done in, say, six weeks.
Well, maybe seven weeks. I suspect the wall holds up the roof, so it might require some engineering. But it just takes installing a beam. No problem. They do it on TV all the time.
And it would be worth it. With that wall down, my home would have flow. All the rooms would work better. They would feel bigger and airier. The house would be … open.
What a concept.
El Presidente Cocktail
From Imbibe magazine
Before I can think about renovations, I first have some traveling to do. By the time this appears in print, I will be in Havana on a culinary-based tour. I’m hoping to return with many stories and recipes to share with you.
As you may have noticed, President Obama graciously volunteered to go in as our advance man, to check things out and make sure all was in readiness for us. As thanks and in honor of his visit, I am bringing you the recipe for a classic Cuban cocktail, El Presidente.
1½ oz. white rum
1½ oz. white vermouth
1 tsp. orange Curaçao or Grand Marnier
1/2 tsp. grenadine*
Fresh-cut orange peel
Maraschino cherry (optional)
*Commercial grenadine can be nasty stuff made with corn syrup and red dye, so look for the real deal or make your own by heating 1 cup of unsweetened pomegranate juice with one cup of sugar until the sugar dissolves. Cool and add about 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 to 3 dashes of orange flower water.
With a long-handled bar spoon, stir the rum, vermouth, Curacao and grenadine together with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled glass. Twist a strip of orange peel over the top to release the oils and drop in or discard. If desired, garnish with a cherry.