Blog Meditation

The Politically Correct Home Remodel

September 26, 2014
Our house is a reflection of ourselves.

Taking on a home remodel project is always daunting. It doesn’t matter the size or the intention; the minute a hole is torn into a wall of your house, on purpose, a sort of nauseous recklessness settles in and for me, as the homeowner and principal design decision-maker, I waffle and quail, constantly reassessing the task, asking myself whether the choices I make for the look of the house are right.

This is because a home is ultimately a reflection of who lives in it. I’m not talking about the superficial details: the dirty dishes in the sink, unmade beds, towels dropped into drooping damp curves on the bathroom floor. These sorts of extrinsic details either indicate that you are a slob at heart, or that you’re too busy to play catch up. What I’m getting at is much deeper than cleanliness; it has to do with your inner psyche. For example, what does the color yellow really say about who you are?

Our house is a reflection of ourselves.

How we design and color our homes gives the rest of the world a peek at our inner selves, a window to our souls, perhaps.

Part of what I do to help me with a home project is look at pictures. I look at a lot of pictures. Pictures on Pinterest, pictures in magazines, pictures in books and I take snapshots of homes I find attractive, wherever I happen upon them around the world. “Maybe I’ll put a stone wraparound porch on the front of our house,” I muse to Dr. K during a visit to the lower Hudson Valley in New York. His response is, “Oh God. Here we go.” That, or stony silence.

For our most recent home remodel, which involves tearing out just about everything in it (and outside of it, if I have to be truthful), I’ve even resorted to looking at articles online which only remotely touch on the topic of home fashion. It turns out that this sort of research has gone too far, pushing me over the edge — let’s call it The X Games of Home Remodeling Research — into an arena with spotlights too brightly lit, focusing on the concept that what a house looks like isn’t just important in a design aesthetic sort of way. This article brought to my attention that colors, patterns, and what sort of kitchen hood I selected to catch and channel cooking fumes had everything to do with who I was, and the persona I presented to the rest of the world. The article in the New York Times, dissecting the home design psychologies of seven Republican hopefuls from the last Presidential election, made me understand that if I chose pale yellow kitchen cabinets (which I have done), I ought to be rethinking that selection lest it make me look like a lily-livered coward. Or a Presidential wanna-be. It all hinged on if I picked the right yellow.

People who live in glass houses.

People who live in glass houses have a lot of windows to wash.

The bottom line is: what we make of our houses shows our taste, or lack of it. It also shows our mettle.

Why else would a company that manufactures wood range hoods to pop over your stove advertise that their products are “for discriminating homeowners.”

What did THAT mean? I asked Dr. K, and he said possibly it had something to do with hiring both male and female carpenters, but he wasn’t sure.

Discriminating. I looked the word up in my dictionary, and discovered that it could mean distinguishing, in the sense that if I picked a hood that was green rather than pale yellow (to match my kitchen cabinets) it would be obvious that my goal was to stand out amongst other people, and possibly not try to fit in. Pale yellow would, obviously, be the safer choice in that it would demonstrate to the world that I was a team player and wanted to get along, that I was accepting of any opinion. But then I read farther down that discriminating could mean I was capable of being discerning in my design choices, that I was “careful or fastidious in [my] selection.” Well, that certainly meant I had to go with the yellow hood, didn’t it? Carefully fastidious and blending in: isn’t that what most people want out of life?

I flipped through the hood designer’s catalog, hoping for further direction, only to be informed that a range hood could provide Elegance and Style, that my “taste and personality [could] be perfectly reflected” should I select their B-Series wooden range hood. It featured a photo of a hood in a nondescript color, not really white, not really tan, somewhere safely in between. Beige, let’s go with beige, and play it safe, shall we?

House in Christiania, Copenhagen

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One man’s garbage is another man’s art. One man’s yellow kitchen cabinets are. . .    Photo courtesy of J. Harrison Kemme.

Shuddering, I realized I could not go with either the butter yellow (Milquetoast!) or the eye-watering green hood! Did I want to shout to the world that I did not blend well with others? Did I want to let them know that I could easily melt with the first withering look of disdain?

I step away from the glossy brochure, step away from the house remodel, and take a jog around the nearby park. The grass is still lush and green, even as we edge the first week of autumn, and the flower beds, so meticulously planted by our city, bloom persistently, sensing in the nights’ chill that their days are numbered, that winter is coming, but they continue to bloom anyway.

Back now at the house, I look up at the empty space above the empty space, at the studs on the wall where someday soon will hang a hood, gracing my new stainless range. The hood is yet to be built; the range sits in a large crate in California, waiting for the word from the builder that it can be shipped here. I can see it even now in its ghostly silence: provider of sustenance, archetypal hearth of the home. The bare two-by-fours, leaking tree sap and glue, ancient bits of insulation stubbornly clinging, devoid of personality, whisper to me, “There are no limitations to what your imagination can conjure, the only limits to creativity are what you choose to allow others to impose upon your mind. Dress us as you like. Adorn us as you will.”

And the interpretations of others will certainly come. I don’t necessarily have to listen.

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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.

Award-winning Chick Lit author Emily Kemme writes about the quirks of human nature. Find musings, recipes, and satire on her blog, Feeding the Famished. Novels | Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage | In Search of Sushi Tora | Other works in progress

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  • Reply susan September 28, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Now, 15 years later, my carefully chosen brushed stainless hood is shrouded in a layer of dust that neither of us can reach to clean. Who knew that a decade and a half would bring back surgery and osteoporosis, so neither of us can climb the ladder to wipe down the surfaces. And who knew that we would eat so simply that the vent-a-hood is rarely needed? Our home-building choices reveal the visions of a younger couple, but do not necessarily reflect us now — there’s no reflection from the dusty surface anyway!

  • Reply Lynne September 26, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    I like it!

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