A deconstructed kitchen


“Let’s buy a house,” Zak said. We were eating at a homemade table in the dining nook of a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment and were debating re-signing the lease. The apartment wasn’t exactly spacious or new. The apartment manager had described it has “cozy and well cared for” when we had first visit the complex.


“A house is a good investment. We’ll pay the same thing we’re paying for rent, but we’ll own it. We’ll have assets. If you don’t want to buy a house, I can buy one.” He paused for a second smiling to himself. “You could still live there.”

I gasped and laughed.

“I don’t know a house doesn’t seem like a smart investment to me,” I said. “They’re so expensive and prices just keep going up. Plus, like, they need work. If something breaks here, we just call Shae and she sends someone to fix it in like a day. That’s nice. If a thing breaks at a house we own, we have to have the money to pay someone to fix it.”

We went back and forth like this for months. I fail to see the long-term value in home-buying; Zak is insistent that renting is for idiots. Meanwhile, the real estate market just keeps climbing up and up and the availability of housing keeps shrinking.

I kept looking at houses around us that were for sale. We went back and forth on the kind of house we wanted. I wanted something small, near my work, that didn’t need much work. Zak wanted a project house, some place with a yard for the dog, and room to grow, close to his work and family.

We couldn’t agree on a damn thing.

We looked at what felt like hundreds of houses. We scoured the internet looking for the latest listings and met our realtor there as fast as we could. Often, the houses were sold while we were looking at them or the day after. Within minutes of seeing a house we could both agree on, we made an offer.

The house had been listed less than a day. The owner countered. We couldn’t see paying that much for a house so close to the freeway. We countered anyway. The owners accepted a different offer.

We kept looking. Apparently there was a house on every block in this valley we needed to see. We started taking lunches to look at houses, we raced to look at houses before work and after work. House hunting was like a terrible sport where no one won.

We saw houses that were unlivable. We saw houses that needed work. We saw houses that had been remodeled into mazes. We saw houses that had been updated. We saw houses that had been flipped. We saw houses that were practically mansions. We saw so many houses I couldn’t walk into a building without noticing the finishes right away.

Finally, we saw a house that seemed okay. The asking price was within our budget (thank god for pre-approvals) it had plenty of room for us and then some more. But the house needed a lot of work. It was easy to see the house had been well-cared for, but it hadn’t been updated since 1992. There was wall-to-wall carpet upstairs and downstairs. The walls had once been spray painted white, but it had since yellowed to a dingy gray due to age and smoke. There were distinct scrabbling noises coming from the chimney, which kept me on edge the entire time we walked through the darkened house. The kitchen had large, square pink tiles setting it off from the sunken living room. We sent in an offer within 12 hours of the listing going up. The sellers accepted right away.

We were shocked. I didn’t think we would get the house. I now had to face the reality of giving in on every single thing when it came to the house hunting process. Zak and I went back to the house with our pup in the morning.

The sky was bright blue, it was unusually warm, we opened the back gate and walked through the small yard. In the light of day, the house wasn’t as intimidating. It was kind of cute even. Since we couldn’t go inside, I forgot about the raccoons in the chimney, the yellowed paint, the filthy carpet, and the pink tile. We let Archer run around and annoy the hell out of the neighbor dogs. We talked about where we could put a garden and patio.

I started dreaming about everything the house could be.

I asked Zak if he would build me my dream kitchen. He said he would.

After that agreeing to everything house-related was easy.  We moved into the place 45 days later with the help of our families and friends. It was terrifying.

We lived in the basement so we could remodel the upstairs. The sewer line almost immediately backed up forcing us to flee the basement and move upstairs when everything flooded.

The electricity kept going on and off. The dryer couldn’t be on at the same time as the lights in the kitchen. Sometimes the lights in the basement would just go out.

We called five different plumbers, we called an electrician. They got things working again and we were out of money before we had even started the remodel.

We waited a little longer. Then we decided we had enough to get started.

Zak filled in the sunken living room. He ripped out all the carpet and the garish tile. He tore out a closet to make bedroom into the den it really wanted to be. I painted ceilings, walls, and closets. We laid down new flooring throughout the upstairs, we put up trim boards. We spent so many weekends at Home Depot, I have a favorite cashier and paint guy.

We’re still working on the house.

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Currently, the kitchen has less than five feet of counter. A quarter of the cabinets have been trashed. The remaining cabinets are in disarray. The microwave is in the basement along with the roasting pans, the blender, and the bar set. The coffee maker is slammed next to the knife block. The dishwasher makes it impossible to open a drawer. The fridge has been moved to the living room and back to the kitchen. It acts as both counter top and fridge in the current set up.

We live with a deconstructed kitchen.

Now, the new cabinets and sink are sitting in the garage. The counter top is en route from California. We’ll buy a hood soon. Then we’ll start building shelving and an island. We replace the plumbing, the cabinetry, the counter top, and add some more. We’re building a kitchen we want to cook in.

It’s not exactly my dream kitchen, but it is a home where everything from the paintings on the walls to the salad on the plates was crafted with love.

For ongoing updates of our house remodel follow me on Instagram! @kristamaesmith



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