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To remodel or move, that is the question

In an area where homes are coming up faster than dandelions, and remodeling the old to make it look even older is considered sport, it might seem strange that there are those of us among you who have never undertaken a major home improvement project.

But that's about to change. The Heatons may be remodeling! The only hope is that the work will be done before one or both of the Heaton adults are hauled off on felony charges.

Kevin and I have been married for 33 years this August. In all that time we have only owned two homes and have never done a major remodeling job anywhere we've lived. When the apartment or house got too small, we just moved. When we moved to Hudson in 1989, we found the perfect house. It was immaculate. There wasn't a mark on a wall, the carpet was spotless, the landscaping completely done, even the fireplace was clean. I remember Kevin saying as we collapsed on the couch the day we moved in. "I wonder how long it will take us to trash the place?" About 15 years.

The house isn't so much trashed as lived in, very lived in. We use every square inch of our house, increasingly so as the kids grow up. There just seems to be stuff everywhere from every year we've been here, not to mention the stuff we dragged over from the last place.

What designers like to call traffic patterns in a house have become more like narrow garden paths for us. And just like garden paths, a look to either side and you are likely to discover something you haven't seen in a while or find an area in danger of being overgrown.

But there are other problems at the house on North View Pass, and they can no longer be ignored. And since we spend the majority of family time in the kitchen either talking food, preparing it or eating, that's the room that needs the most help fast. Mind you it has taken me years to prepare Kevin for this. About five years ago I started talking about a new kitchen, and he just didn't listen. He responded with the grim picture of our retirement after putting kids through college and paying for health insurance. I kept talking and he admonished me to get my priorities straight - didn't we need reliable transportation more than fancy floor covering? I kept talking and heard from him that function is far more important than appearance and if something was functional, what was the problem? I kept talking, but by now my voice was becoming slightly more shrill and I began to fantasize about other means of communication that might better emphasize the growing urgency of the project. Sharp objects came to mind.

I don't know exactly what did it - the wild look in my eye or the threat that interest rates might start up again - but miraculously he has agreed the time is right. But like everything in our lives, it is really only the beginning of all the fun.

I hate picking stuff out, whether it's cars or houses or what to wear on Monday. Kevin loves it, but makes it into something akin to the Manhattan Project, requiring research and data and exploration of every possible contingency. This is not a good combination. Just talking about what I might like vs. what he (who doesn't cook much more than a fried egg) feels is necessary in a kitchen resulted in a three-day sulk and had the kids asking if they could maybe give boarding school a try.

He doesn't understand what's wrong with our little U-shaped kitchen. He likes that it is the center of the universe for our family and that we gather around the counter about 98 percent of the time, kind of like the Waltons in their old farm kitchen. I agree that it is the hub of the house, but now that everybody is taller than me, it is really starting to get on my nerves having them all come home to roost right where I am trying to make them a meal.

In this new layout, I'm turning the tables, literally. When they walk in, it's me on one side and them on the other. It may cost me more but I'm thinking of having a car alarm installed, and when they try to get past the island into my territory, it will blast them out of the room. If that doesn't work, I might try one of those laser lights that will take a bead on them if they cross the divide, and threaten bodily harm if they don't vacate the area immediately.

Fortunately, I won't need any of these high-tech devices, according to the professionals. I can achieve this all with just a functional floor design. I'm skeptical, but I'm willing to try it. We gave one design a try this weekend. It was Mother's Day so when I asked Kevin to help me "tape" a possible design on the floor, he could hardly refuse. That didn't mean we didn't fight - he takes his scale drawings very seriously while I have based my life on "what's an inch or two here or there?"

I have no imagination so it was difficult even with the blue tape all over to imagine what my new kitchen would look like. Kevin was not impressed. I spent the next hour walking through this area and that to prove to him it was fine. I could open the oven door and still get by. Well, sort of - if I didn't mind warming my "buns" as I did it. And while my feet stayed within the lines, other parts of me where bumping into virtual reality all over the place.

The counter stools would fit at the new island. It's just that we would have to have an order for coming to and from the table if we were going to avoid gridlock, and everybody would have to mind that no-elbows rule. Someone suggested that we get smaller stools. It's a great idea for our thin visitors, but we have those heavy-duty jobs for a reason. Hello!

As I grew more frustrated, Kevin did have one constructive suggestion. "Maybe if we round all the corners, we could cut down on the abdominal injuries at least."

I was ready to throw in the towel but I sought help and I feel better today. This thing might actually happen, and what's not to love about being without anywhere to cook for weeks on end. I could get used to that.

I think we're ready to take the plunge. All that's left to do now is borrow the money and get Kevin to sign a living will. Just in case.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604