The Better Homes and Gardens photo shoot of our kitchen was a day and a half long--but what it revealed about my psyche will take much longer to sort through. When we bought our 1930’s home, it featured charming original attributes like a galley kitchen with cabinets that swelled open in the summer and stuck shut in the winter. The kitchen was so narrow that I had to turn sideways when my kids came charging through. It was not a place for gathering. And yet, we’d all shoehorn in there.
My husband first knew he was in trouble when I lugged home Mick DeGiulio’s “Kitchen Centric” book. It’s heavy and so stuffed with glossy design ideas that merely carrying it to the couch builds muscle. I’d sit with a cup of tea and dream, dream, dream. Then I’d scribble my ideas and wants into a notebook.
I started with the functions I’d like in a new kitchen (if you’ve read prior entries about my alphabetical spice organizing and my obsessive Disney planning, my need to list isn’t a surprise). I detailed things like: a place for kids to do homework; a baking area; low storage for kid’s snacks. My mistake was in leaving the list out in easy view. When I next saw it my husband had oh-so-helpfully added: a place to store food, a place to cook food, a place to eat food, and so on.
Now that we had a good list, we needed some help making it happen. Enter Houzz.com. It’s a home design website that a friend told me about it and I became instantly hooked. If you haven’t visited the site, finish this post first because once you go, you won’t come back. Houzz is a rabbit hole. I typed in “vintage white kitchen” and within minutes, I had opened seventeen tabs of lighting fixtures, countertops and old-timey knobs. I tagged kitchens I loved and soon I noticed something: many of them were by the same designer.
We met Rebekah Zaveloff and signed her for the design job before she could have second thoughts. 913 emails, 30 drawings, 8 months, and three ranges later, our new kitchen was complete. Rebekah then sent Megan, a photographer, over to record the results for her own portfolio and for my good pal, Houzz. The next time I heard from Megan, she was politely asking if she could pitch our kitchen remodel along with my blog as a magazine story. Um, let me think about it...two seconds later...Yes!
She emailed to say that Better Homes and Gardens: Kitchen and Bath was interested. The shoot was scheduled. Then rescheduled. Then rescheduled again with the new date almost one year from Megan’s first visit.
When Megan arrives on Friday, October 25th for the first day of shooting, I feel almost surprised to see her. The wait was so long for this event that it had ceased to seem real; sort of like losing your virginity. And, like first sex, the magazine shoot was exciting and humbling in equal measure.
It starts for me when I find myself obsessively preparing for the photo shoot. I clean the kitchen beyond reason, touch up spots where the paint is dinged, and throw out all of the “ugly” stuff in the fridge (even though its innards aren’t even on the planned photo list). I. Can’t. Stop.
|Re-styling of my styling.|
When my daughter was first learning to make her bed, she wanted it just right. Not wanted--needed. She bawled over each wrinkle. She angrily tore the bed apart and started over. I would tell her it looked beautiful; that it doesn’t have to be perfect. As I crawl around the kitchen floor inspecting for crumbs, I realize that I haven’t set the best example in that department.
For the shoot, I was asked to bake so that the goodies can be used as props. I spend a day and night making: two apple-walnut cakes with caramel icing (recipe below); fat sugar-crusted blueberry muffins, and oversized sea salt chocolate chip cookies. When I usher Megan in, my kitchen looks great; I look as wired and overeager as Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black.
Welcome to my kitchen; I made a cake for you.
As Megan brings in prop after prop, my den starts to look like World Market. And little by little, my careful styling choices begin migrating from my kitchen into my dining room. Among the rejects: grandma’s candy dish, two chocolate chip bins (newly filled to the brim), and a teetering stack of cookbooks. Megan dumps the goldfish into a large Ziploc and replaces them with a more muted and healthy granola mix (that my kids would never actually eat). I feel like the novice model who shows up for her first day of work proudly having done her own makeup and is promptly handed a washcloth to scrub it off. It stings my pride a little.
As my kitchen’s non-photo-worthy items begin to fill the dining room, there seem to be more things out of my kitchen than in. The countertop does look better with ceramic bins of fresh blueberries. Different cookbooks take the place of mine--recipes from “Coyote Cafe” and “Canyon Ranch” representing wonderful places I’ve never been. My kitchen has ceased to be mine and has become a set--the sort of staged place where people pretend that their lives are better than ours. It looks great; makes me wish I had a kitchen like that.
The photographer Werner and his assistant Dustin arrive and more hours pass as they take test shots and make adjustments: show more sconce, straighten the stools, light on, light off, fix crooked towel, move the too-prominent dark utensil, swap droopy tulips for perky sunflowers. The first real photo isn’t snapped until almost four hours into the day.
At this point, my house is a mess--extra props everywhere and a tangle of wires leading to lights and computers. The viewfinder of the camera is a moving circle of beauty; when it scoots even an inch, the new space it points to is gussied while the bit it has left behind falls into disrepair. This bears true even in the micro-detail of the sunflowers--those facing the camera are giant and happy while the unphotographed ones at the back are droopy and only serving to hold the others in place. But what appears on those computer screens is art. It is my kitchen as gleaming and bright as it’s ever looked. The staged world is better than the real one; we all like our reality edited.
Tomorrow, my kids and I will be part of that “reality.” Megan begins reviewing my clothing choices for the next day. Pants, skirts, dresses and shoes are laid out on our pool table. Everything is too: bright, patterned, dark, white, baggy, red, casual, dressy. I make trip after trip upstairs carting options down. No. Nope. Not gonna work. It feels so personal, this combing through and rejection of the very clothing I own. Megan has successfully restyled my kitchen and it appears that I am next on the list.
When we finally agree on an outfit, I am ashamed to admit that I blurt out defensively, “For the record, I would never actually wear this outfit together like this with both the pants and top so loose and shapeless.” Megan responds with, “You might be glad to be wearing something more loose--the camera can catch some really unflattering side angles.” Touche. Now I’m left wondering what exactly she’s noticed about my side angles.
As she leaves for the day, Megan reminds me to iron all of the clothing selections. Iron? Oh, you mean that thing I use to melt Hama beads? Ever the procrastinator, I’m ironing the next morning as the kids and I are called to “the set.” We wriggle into our still-hot clothes as I offer some stern words to my kids: “Just for the next two hours I am asking you to be cooperative. Just listen and do what you’re told. Can you do that?” They both nod. My son is lying.
Kids and dogs. That’s the old joke, the retort to “What’s the hardest thing to photograph?” And yet, the very first picture taken that morning is a gorgeous one of my daughter perched on the library ladder with our Boston Terrier staring adoringly up at her. They are naturals and I feel pride as if they are some reflection of me.
Then my son is called into frame. He whines at having to put down his video game. He half-listens to the direction he’s given then immediately offers alternatives for “better” pictures. I shoot him a look and remind him to smile. He smiles that annoying grin of his that makes it hard to accuse him of non-compliance because after all he is smiling but it’s one that blares sarcasm, “You wanted a smile? Well, here it is.”
I use my grocery store voice, pleasant but delivered through clenched teeth, ”Sweetheart, please try to look like you are having fun. Or else.” Each time he’s called in for a photo, it’s the same sequence: complaining from him, threatening from me. By the end of the morning, I hate him. And I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.
|My son has a few suggestions.|
If I can swell at my daughter’s behavior on this day then I can also deflate at my son’s. I question my mothering skill. I wonder why I didn’t instill a better spirit of helpfulness in my child. I worry about the opinions of the strangers in my home.
When I later tell a friend about the process, he tells me not to take it so personally. He reminds me that, “They’re not interested in you; they’re interested in your kitchen.” And he’s right--the kitchen is the star; I’m a bit player included only because of my association, like the director’s cousin they let stand in the background as DeNiro robs a bank. I had allowed the role to go to my head.
My quest for perfection had pointed out all about me that is not. I felt frustrated at my inadequate props, closet, and worst of all, kids. That short day and a half exaggerated my worst traits and has left me with plenty to consider in terms of self-improvement.
The magazine editor lets me know that our kitchen will be featured in December--of, um, 2014. It gives me twelve months to take a step back and remember to give myself and those around me a break; to care less about what others think; to enjoy more and worry less. I have enough time to adjust my attitude before I get to gaze upon glossy images of my “perfect” kitchen and family.
The day after the shoot, my daughter and I bake cookies just for fun. And our family spends the afternoon playing games. We act silly and laugh. Those genuinely happy moments look a lot like the ones we tried to contrive for the cameras.
Betty Crocker’s Apple-Walnut Cake
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 large apples, peeled, shredded (about 2 cups)
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 12-cup fluted tube cake pan with shortening; lightly flour.
In large bowl, beat brown sugar, oil and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients except walnuts and apples; beat on low speed until smooth. With spoon, gently stir in walnuts and apples. Spoon batter into pan.
Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Place heatproof plate upside down over pan; turn plate and pan over. Remove pan. Cool 30 minutes.
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 packed brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
In a small saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; cool for 5-10 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Drizzle over cake.