Pattern 199: A SUNNY COUNTER
Today’s pattern, 199: A SUNNY COUNTER, reveals the biggest flaw in our previous house, and one I try to remember when I feel sad about leaving all that we did love about the house.
The problem the pattern confronts:
“Dark kitchens are depressing. The kitchen needs the sun more than the other rooms, not less.” p. 917
Don’t be fooled by photography. Above is our kitchen in Moab, which in this photo looks brighter than the kitchen at the top of this post, but you can see the natural light hitting its counters. Sadly our kitchen received very little natural light. It was my least favorite part of the house, though there was still much to love about it. The house itself had great light, but the kitchen did not. In many ways, it was a galley kitchen, with all but the sink along two walls. I actually liked that it was a small kitchen when we first moved in. I was 34 years old, and honestly hadn’t spent that much time in our kitchens.
To put 2004 into perspective, you should know that I went back to work when Aidan was 18 months old. I taught high school English at Crater High full time, taught courses for Southern Oregon Online Schools, and also had a job with the Oregon Writing Project at Southern Oregon University as their technology liaison. That seems crazy to me now, but I was afraid to give up the jobs that allowed me to work from home for the first 18 months of Aidan’s life. I wanted to take a year sabbatical from my classroom teaching job again, when we had a second child. So even though Brian and I had been alternating who cooked each night for years, I gave little time or energy to cooking.
Once we moved to Moab, and I left teaching, I became the main cook and Brian became the main breadwinner. Brian still cooks the Thanksgiving turkey, and occasionally grills or makes pasta, but the kitchen became my domain.
I often wish I had known at 34, when we were building the house, all the things that would matter most to me in a kitchen’s layout. Here you can see the lone source of sunlight. That big wall---why in the world is the window so small? Brian and I talked about someday expanding it and moving the sink and counters to those walls, but then we’d reconsider. Our boys might need to go to college someday, and kitchen renovations are crazy expensive.
I thought the slate tile was gorgeous, and it was, until I stood on it all day cooking for a party and could feel that hard stone all the way up my spine. Because it was full of groves, it was also a beast to clean. Sweeping was pointless. I had to vacuum and get down on my hands and knees. It destroyed string mops. And that Colorado slate counter top. I have no excuse for that other than 1) we thought we would stay in Utah for five years at most, so we didn’t want to pay for natural stone, 2) we were in a rush to make decisions on every surface and aspect of that house all at the same time, and 3) I was clueless.
Pinterest didn’t exist in 2004. I immediately regretted the countertops, which just made the kitchen darker. We were planning on putting in light stone eventually. The irony is that our new home has granite, but it is black.
The MLS “BEFORE” photo of our kitchen in Golden.
Hopefully by this time next week, those cabinets will all be white. But the granite will have to stay for now. I’d love butcher block counters, but Brian isn’t a fan. Nor is he a fan of Carrera marble, which would be my next choice. Neither of us are fans of spending money if we don’t have to, so the dark granite will stay. For now.
The solution the pattern presents:
“Place the main part of the kitchen counter on the south and southeast side of the kitchen, with big windows around it, so that sun can flood in and fill the kitchen with yellow light both morning and afternoon.”
The authors also provide this super technical sketch to illustrate their point:
Bizarre and charming at the same time, isn’t it?
“Give the windows a view toward a garden or the area where children play - Windows Overlooking Life (192). If storage space is tight, you can build open shelves for bowls and plates and plants right across the windows and still let in the sun - Open Shelves (200). Build the counter as a special part of the room, integral with the building structure, able to take many modifications later - Thickening The Outer Walls (211). Use Warm Colors (250) around the window to soften and warm the sunlight.”
Above is a good example of the way each pattern builds and intertwines with other patterns, as Alexander refers to four other ones in that final paragraph.
Source: 1912 Bungalow
Having shelves across the windows isn’t ideal, but it is a much better alternative to one lonely window just above the sink.
Our new (to us) kitchen might be on the northwest side of the house. However the window does have a view of where the children will play, and I’m grateful for all the light those French doors provide. We’ll be taking out that cabinet above the dishwasher, which I hope will allow a bit more light from the window. The window has a big herb box, which I feel I should be grateful for but am not. The upstairs deck is over the patio right outside the window, so there is very little direct sunlight. I like defused light, but I’m still not sure about the herb box bump out.
We’ll take down the florescent big box, lighten the walls and cabinets, add hardware and some open shelves. We’re excited. I’m 44 now, and know two things I didn’t ten years ago: natural light is essential for any room to feel alive or welcoming, and the kitchen isn’t just a workspace for cooking. It is the center piece of a home.
Tomorrow we’ll dive deeper into the unique role of the kitchen by looking at Pattern 139: The Farmhouse Kitchen.
This post is part of Myquillin Smith’s Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts on A Pattern Language linked here, and other blogs participating in the challenge (and writing on different topics) here.