Janet Combs (copy)

Janet Combs

“Where’s the pheasant bench?” my husband calls from the dining area into the kitchen, where I’m loading the dishwasher.

“What?” I say.

I’m looking for the pleasant wench,” he repeats, louder.

Although one potential, saucy response could be “right here,” I respond with the more accurate “I can’t hear you.”

He comes around the wall of cabinets into the kitchen and restates his question, “Where’s the crescent wrench?”

Surprisingly, this column is not being brought to you by Miracle-Ear. Although I eagerly anticipate hearing loss in the next decade — the way I was overjoyed to discover the need for reading glasses in the last one — it’s not time yet. This lack of effective communication is due to the kitchen design in our fixer-upper. And it’s next on the list for demolition and reconstruction, after which we may in fact need a Miracle-Ear.

I remember when we first saw photos of our home on Zillow. The kitchen shots showed a strip of an opening through which we could spy another space. We wondered what it could be. It was only after we walked through the home did we discover that just beyond the kitchen was a dining area or breakfast nook. The opening between the cabinets hung from the ceiling and the countertop was a narrow strip running the full length of the room, just 18 inches wide.

“This is weird,” I said.

“It’s a pass-through,” my husband said. “You know, so you can serve and clear from the kitchen area without having to walk around this hanging wall of cabinets,” he explained.

“Still weird,” I said.

This is a curious design, indeed, because when you are in the kitchen and individuals are standing in the dining area, you just see their torsos. This gives the kitchen and dining areas —

ostensibly the most social, convivial parts of a home — a ghastly, disconnected feel. Plus, if people in the dining area want to talk to someone in the kitchen, they either have to be seated at the table, so their voices shoot through the pass-through opening, or crouching with their heads just above the pass-through counter. Otherwise, voices reverberate off the cabinets and are distorted as illustrated in the opening example.

In the beginning, we frequently referenced an old “Saturday Night Live” skit, shouting “cheeseburger — cheeseburger” whenever one or the other of us passed food through the magic window. But this has grown tiresome, as has having to shout between the two rooms.

My husband had a great idea early on; he drew an arch on the wall in the dining room side, to show how we could connect the spaces as well as bring more light into the kitchen area. Now it’s time to tear out the kitchen cabinets on the other side of that wall, which will cause us to refinish the remaining cabinets, which will cause us to get new countertops. Sometimes owning a fixer-upper is like one long "Cat-in-the-Hat" job, where cleaning up one area leads to yet another area, which leads to yet another.

In fact, I’ve been inspired to create the fixer-upper version of that classic book. I envision this as an audio book for hardworking adults that comes with a complimentary carafe of red wine and a Miracle-Ear:

The sun surely shined,

On another great day,

But Janet and Rich

Did not go out to play.

It is not time for fun!

Stay away from the beach!

We will get out our tools,

And a bucket of bleach.

We’ll sledgehammer walls

With a bang and a crash

To the recycle center

We’ll haul all our trash.

And on the way back,

Call for carry-out supper,

Cause that’s how it’s done

In our fixer-upper.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Contact her at www.janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.