To Hell with Crate and Barrel

I have a confession to make: I am in love.

Although it’s not what you think.

Okay, it is what you think.

But we’ll get to that later.

What I’d like to talk about today is my house.

I had high hopes if it being done by the Holidays (“the Holidays” being not so much a fixed place in time, but rather an ambiguous, ever-changing target, usually reserved for Crate and Barrel catalogues) but Thanksgiving flew by, then Christmas, then New Years and I am still living out of boxes, sitting at my desk, checking my watch and wondering “Where are those damn contractors?”

house with debris

We’ll talk about contractors another time—oh the stories I have to tell!—but for now, let’s fast forward to the day before New Year’s Eve.

I had hoped to have the walls painted; the new floors laid; the furniture I’d spent all summer reupholstering on display in all of its thrift-shop glory. I’d bought matching favors for all my overnight guests and a trio of mirror tiles on which to display them. I’d even made a centerpiece of sea glass and bone-colored branches, and a real, authentic garland for my front porch, all out of materials I’d salvaged from the house in Maryland after the last storm had taken its toll on the backyard.

But the contractors hadn’t finished their work yet. The new window was just leaning in the old window’s shadow. The new door hadn’t even arrived yet. The walls weren’t ready to paint and I was driven to such distraction by the whole ordeal that I couldn’t even pick out paint colors if I’d wanted to.

Up until that point, early in the morning on the day before New Year’s Eve, I had been infatuated with my house. If I’d had ultrasound photos, I would have posted them on Facebook; if I had caught my house’s first smile, or first laugh, or first steps on my iPhone, I would have shown the films round to all my friends; if I could have wrapped it up and taken it to Maryland for Thanksgiving with me, I would have. But instead, as I got ready to make the annual pilgrimage, I sat down on the steps of my house and actually got a little misty, even though I was only leaving it for a few days, and even though it was still woefully unfinished.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I knew it would take longer and cost more than I expected. What I didn’t know what how much longer, how much more, and no amount of pre-planning, organizing, budgeting, and keeping my expectations “realistic” could ward off the impending meltdown.

And on the day before New Year’s Eve, it finally happened.

“I hate this place!” I cried.

My mother, who had come by for me to hem her skirt for New Year’s Eve, took a deep breath. “You have fifteen minutes,” she said.


“Fifteen minutes to complain about your house and that’s it. I’m not going to spend the next two hours listening to this. I could have never owned a home at your age if I hadn’t been married. And it’s getting there, it’s going to look great when it’s all finished.”


So I complained, and got a bit emotional to think of my poor centerpiece that would never be seen, but I was ready to move on well before the 15 minute limit and made myself a cup of tea. Only I’d forgotten that I’d already pre-shaken my almond milk and removed the cap so it was ready to pour. As such, when I went to shake my almond milk as I always do, it attacked me, right in the eye. If you’ve never shot almond milk into your eye, take my word on this: it hurts. Much more than you think it would.

The whole thing was so pathetic that I started crying, and then laughing, and then, with my mother’s help, formulating a plan.

“I’ll come back later tonight,” she said. “With mops. We will get this place looking good. You’ll see.”

It’s not until the following evening, as I pour drinks and watch my best friend from high school trying to dance the merengue with her new boyfriend in my living room—my living room—that I realize it’s not about looking like a Crate and Barrel catalogue (although my assemblage of centerpieces and party favors pretty much does if I do say so myself).  It’s about what happens between the unpainted walls, on top of the unfinished floors.

5 Responses to “To Hell with Crate and Barrel”

  1. aimeelojeski

    I always tell my best friend she has 30 minutes to complain, and then she needs to find a new perspective. It seems you have a very wise mother. I hope your house is coming along great!

  2. Ann St. Vincent

    This is lovely – so exciting to have a place of your own that you can also make exactly what you want. And i like that 15 minute idea. I may nees to use that 🙂

  3. petitepaumee

    Kat, you are the one who made the unfinished house a home! you definitely made all your guests feel welcome and comfortable and that’s a true art! The details of house renovation and decoration will sort themselves out, but it’s the spirit and atmosphere inside that count 🙂


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