Since we moved to our new home in Old Northeast, a persistent discussion between my wife Ellen and me has involved the inadequacies of our little kitchen here. We should have seen this problem coming. Our Long Island home in New York had a great kitchen. It was big enough to have couches and a television along with a nice fireplace. There was no better place to be snuggled up looking out through the French doors at the winter snow, a fall sunset, or to watch the spring cherry blossoms wafting down onto the deck. When we entertained, the kitchen was where everyone would hang out. The whole family could get involved in our meal preparations and clean up. Many of our fondest holiday memories happened in that kitchen.
If you’ve followed my previous columns in the Northeast Journal, you know we made the big move from Long Island to St. Pete in January of this year. With each passing week in our new hometown, we discovered new people, new things to do, and new places to eat. We were really enjoying St. Pete. In fact, I was enjoying it so much that my doctor informed me that I had gained 20 pounds since coming to Florida. Yikes!
Despite all of our good experiences, the inadequacies of our little kitchen continued to nag at us. Storage and counter space was a fraction of what we were used to. The range was smaller. We only had one oven. As for couches and a fireplace – fuggedaboudit. We made a conscious decision to live in the house for a while before deciding what to do about the kitchen. But we saw a kitchen do-over as a ‘when’ rather than an ‘if.’
After about three months we broke down and visited a kitchen designer. It took him a few weeks to prepare detailed plans. The problem was, he couldn’t do anything about its size. After all his work, what we had was a design that gave us the same tiny kitchen with fancy new cabinets and a huge price tag to boot.
We did a lot of our kitchen fretting while sitting on our Key West-style front porch. We discovered that – even on very hot days – the porch with its big ceiling fans was pretty tolerable. Sitting on the porch, we could see our neighbors working in their yards, walking their dogs, or riding bikes. It was nice. By just saying hello to people as they passed, we became much more engaged with our neighbors than we ever were on Long Island.
I found myself spending a lot more time on the porch than Ellen did. I always knew Ellen was a much sweeter person than me – apparently mosquitoes shared that opinion. Actually, it was better for me to be on the porch with Ellen, since the mosquitoes would completely ignore me and flock to her. If we were going to achieve porch-time parity in our relationship, we would need to think about screening the space.
First step was to replace some rotted wood railings. I also wanted to expand the top rail to make it more like a countertop surrounding the outside of the porch deck. That way, if we were entertaining out there, people would have a place to set a dish or a drink, or just have something to lean on. As we started the process, it began to dawn on me that we were creating an entertainment space on the front porch that, though very different from our Long Island kitchen, might be just as appealing and far more appropriate for Florida. It was also a tiny fraction of the cost of a kitchen redo.
The result was exactly what we had hoped for. We now have a comfortable, bug-free screened-in space big enough to hold the whole family or a decent-sized gathering of neighbors and friends. When the weather is nice, we can leave the front door open so the house can get fresh air without bugs. The porch ceiling is high enough that on chilly nights we can set up our little fire feature on the porch deck.
We will get the chance to fully experience our porch in action over the next several months, especially as our northern friends and family make their way down for a visit. Ellen suggested that the porch might be a good place for the Christmas tree. Christmas on the porch on a chilly December morning warmed by our little propane fire pit sounded good to me. I also looked forward to our first neighborhood porch happy hour. We were beginning to see the possibilities.
As a space for entertaining, reading a book, or just watching the world go by, I think we nailed it. Our yearning for our Long Island kitchen has been replaced by our enjoyment of our panoramic porch. As Jimmy Buffet put it so well in his classic song, Changes in Latitude – Changes in Attitude: “Oh, yesterdays are over my shoulder. So I can’t look back for too long. There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me. And I know that I can’t go wrong.”