Spring Spruce-up, Part III: The Breakfast Nook Emergency Re-do

Posted May 9th, 2011 by Candice

Blame it on the Smithsonian, Gilmore Girls, and one cat's "delicate" stomach.  The breakfast room re-do was a case of calamity colliding with nostalgia.  Sprucing up the eating nook required the least new things, but the most angst.

I'd like to say it started with a new game Winchester invented, find-the-hidden-throw-up, but it really began with the kitchen that has haunted my imaginary houses since I was eleven.

On a rare outing, my uncle Benny took me and my cousin Eugene to the Smithsonian where I found myself transfixed in front of a "typical" 1930s kitchen display.  The mother cooked at the green enameled range.  The boy lay on the black and white linoleum and listened to the radio.  The father read the newspaper (grim news, no doubt) at a rectangular table covered with a red-and-white check oilcloth.  Jadeite salt and pepper shakers sat by his plate.  I stared at the rounded shoulders of the icebox with the motor on top like a little spaceship.  If I could have walked through the glass, I would have entered that kitchen and never left.

Fast-forward to the present.  On every junkin' trip, I'm subconsciously hunting for that kitchen, which boils down to specifics like the jadeite salt and peppers (at a reasonable price) and, most of all, that table.  I bought an enameled table sweetly decorated with decals for $50 and crammed it in one of the dormer alcoves of my office.  If I give up cake for three days, I can squeeze myself behind the table to work on art projects.  While the table is fine for my office, it's too big to fit in our breakfast room.  A round table works best in there.

I had just about gotten over the table-thing when I started watching Gilmore Girls.  I love the show, especially the scenes in Luke's Diner.  While everyone else is looking at Luke's handsome stubbly face, or even the juicy hamburgers served to customers, I'm ga-ga over the decor.  Luke's Diner is a haphazard collection of old formica kitchen tables and mismatched chairs.  Lorelai and Rory often sit at a drop-leaf enameled table edged in red.  I'm crazy about that table.  It takes me back to the Smithsonian display where home life is preserved behind glass and the "bad stuff" is safely contained in the father's newspaper.  Yeah, I know.  It's a lot to read in a kitchen table!

A month ago, I found a red-and-white drop-leaf enameled kitchen table.  I had already loaded the antique store counter with two typewriters, a lunchbox, an electric fan, and some old thermoses.  My junkin' cup runneth over, so to speak.  I patted the table wistfully and left.

Then I gave an all-day school talk in Richmond.  When I came home, my husband had fixed supper.  I noticed the instant I walked in the door that Winchester had thrown-up on the den rug, as obvious as an elephant in the bathtub, but my husband never saw it.  When a cat throws up, there's always a second little pile.  I located it on the mat in the breakfast room by the door that leads into the garage.  I cleaned up the rugs and it was time to eat.

My husband got up to fetch the coarse-grind pepper and slipped on the floor.  "I cleaned up Winchester's mess," I told him.  He went  outside to scrape his shoe, came back, sat down, and got up to get the hot sauce and slipped again.  "I cleaned my shoe!" he said, going out to clean the other shoe.  The third time he slipped, flinging butter across the room, I knew something was rotten in Winchester Land.

Under our table is a Target "oriental" rug with dark brown flowers.  On his throwing-up spree, Winchester had managed to leave a pile in each of the brown flowers.  We threw out the rug and I spent the evening on my hands and knees cleaning floors and one wall where the butter had been lobbed.

No more rug in the eating area, I decided.  But the bare floor made the room too clattery.  We needed something claw-and-mess-proof.  I decided to buy a sheet of black-and-white linoleum and have it cut to rug size.  I went to Lowe's the next morning and found exactly what I wanted in vinyl.  I would have to buy a 12 by 6 sheet but they would cut it for me.  But when the guy punched numbers in the computer he found they don't carry that flooring any more.

Next I went to a carpet and rug place.  I'd have to pay more but I knew I'd find what I wanted.  I did.  I ordered a 12 by 6 sheet and asked them to cut it to 6 by 9.  A few days later, we picked up the rug.  Back home, I realized it didn't fit.  Worse, the cut marks went through the middle of the squares.  My husband figured that the squares are 9 inches instead of 12 and that we'd have to have the rug re-cut to those measurements.  Back went the vinyl.  This time when we picked it up, it fit perfectly and the people at the carpet place stopped giving me strange looks.

The wooden table looked out of place on the vinyl rug.  I thought longingly of the red-enameled table at the antique mall.  But I also realized I would need new (different) chairs.  We had no place to store our nice oak table and chairs.  Not the attic, which doesn't really exist, and we can't squeeze a tiddly-wink in the garage.  I couldn't have the table but I could have the oilcloth tablecloth.  Scouring the Internet, I found Nanalulu's Linens and ordered three hard-to-find round genuine oilcloth tablecloths in retro prints.   

The rest of the breakfast nook required only small touches.  I repainted the half-table that holds my drop-side toaster and zinc egg crate (similar to the old milk crates) where I store my cookbooks, from sage green to red.  Now it blends in better with the old Costco step-stool.  I bought a new McCoy swan vase in yellow and that sweet little snack set in red and yellow.  I filled my old yellow McCoy vase with 60 percent off red tulips from Michaels. 

My Fiestaware is new (the older dishes are dangerous).  The food/nutrition cards in the plates were once used in home economics classes in the late fifties.  I keep them on my refrigerator, held with magnets. 

When I eat lunch, I almost feel I'm one of those people in the 1930s Smithsonian kitchen (don't go looking for it–it's been replaced by Julia Child's kitchen).   Winchester does not like the new vinyl rug.  When we first put it down, he sat in a white square, then in a black square.  Now he doesn't go near it.  However when he feels the urge, he has plenty of other rugs to leave "presents" for me.

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