The heart of the home

Barbara Kay, National Post · Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010

My 2011 will begin with a bang. Literally. When we return from our annual Laurentian Yuletide holiday in early January, our contractor and his crew will show up at the new, smaller house we bought last month and start demolishing its 30-year old kitchen.

As faithful readers of this column will remember, planning the kitchen put me into a state of existential angst over the use to which the island dividing the kitchen from the dining room would be put. Stove or sink? Chef or servant? I simply could not make up my mind.

So in my Dec. 3 column, "Island of Doubt," I solicited the opinions of my readers.

People, you have no idea how passionate folks are about their kitchens! I had more than 60 responses, far more than I expected.

It wasn't the numbers of emails that impressed me so much as the tone: Much of the feedback was quite passionate. People have ardent views on where a sink and a stovetop should be -- indeed, about kitchens in general as the heart of the home. Deep conviction lent persuasive power to champions of both options.

My niece-by-marriage, for example, a sweet and never argumentative young woman, wrote me a spirited email expressing astonishment that one could put anything but the sink in the island: "There's nothing to talk about!" she as good as scolded me. Both my sisters also insisted it had to be the sink, and simply scoffed (a little testily, I might add) at my stovetop argument, as if island stovetops were the spawn of conspiracy theorists.

And yet numerically the final mail tally favoured the stovetop, two thirds to one third. I noticed that the stovetop advocacy was more heavily represented by men, the sinks by women. Cooking is a "sacred ritual," said James M., and people congregating around the island -- everyone agreed they would no matter what was in the island -- would take far more pleasure in watching food cook than dishes accumulate.

But the minority of women who didn't like the sink in the island were if anything more adamant than those in favour. "Food should be kept far away from grimy washing stations!" opined Barbara M. Architect Toby R. also lobbied strenuously for a sink-free island because of its attendant paraphernalia -- sponges, rags, soap dispensers and so forth -- and because "you need a backsplash behind the sink."

The more I read, the more tormented I became. Then the clouds parted and clarity poured in. There is no rule! It is all about you, the captain of your ship, or in this case kitchen. Who are you? The people promoting the stovetop seemed to like the idea that their guests would be watching them cook, and that the cooking would be part of the entertaining process. The sink proponents (judging by my sisters, anyway) are people who keep their kitchens exquisitely clean, never allowing dishes to pile up, or washed dishes to sit around to dry by the sink.

I am not either of these people. I don't like people standing around watching while I cook. I always have everything ready before guests arrive, so I can give them my full attention. On the other hand, I am not compulsive about cleaning every water glass as it is placed in the sink. My sink is rarely a shining empty vessel.

I began to pay more attention to the seven or eight people who wrote and begged me to consider keeping the island free of anything, even if it meant sacrificing storage or counter space.

Many of my respondents asked me to tell them who "won" the debate. Answer: In the good old Canadian tradition, we are compromising. We are putting the big sink in the countertop, we are removing some storage to create a second countertop for the stove and we are putting a very small food prep sink in the island. It will be scarcely noticeable, it will never see a dirty dish and it will give me a nice view for cooking's most time-consuming processes.

I am at peace. It is the right decision for me. A heartfelt thank you to all those wonderful readers who shared their renovation stories and pictures and ideas, and who encouraged me to go with my own habits and instincts. If my editor lets me, I'll post pictures of the finished product in May. Happy New Year to all my readers.