Everything but the Kitchen Sink
You’ve heard the expression “Everything but the kitchen sink?” Well, when renting an apartment in Europe, they take that expression literally. The biggest shock to foreigners moving to Europe is that when you finally choose your dream apartment whether it’s in Paris, Amsterdam or Berlin, often the kitchen cabinets are NOT included. When a resident moves out of their apartment they take the kitchen sink, cabinets and lighting fixtures with them. Sometimes the residents even take their floor boards! Now that’s a real life decorating dilemma!
Fortunately, when I found my new apartment in Berlin after my husband and I had to move after having a fire in our previous apartment, the floors came with the new flat… but the gorgeous black granite countertops, sleek black cabinetry and Miele appliances I swooned over when real estate shopping didn’t. I was required to buy a kitchen to go in my new apartment. Lucky for me I was just about to leave for New Orleans along with The Daily Basics Editor Cynthia Bogart to attend KBIS – The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show – as part of BlogTourNola. Equipped with tools of the trade, I returned to Europe ready to tackle my kitchen design…. and then manna from heaven dropped into my new home. The former residents emailed asking, “Do you want to buy our kitchen?”
I’d already priced out a kitchen at IKEA – and for 6 to 7,000 Euros ($7,800 – #10,400) I could have outfitted my kitchen on-the-cheap with a stylish unit. The former residents of my abode had spent 16,000 Euros ($21,000) only 2 years earlier on designing a gourmet kitchen and they were willing to offer it to me for half the price they paid. Firstly, because I’m a Green Girl loving the motto of recycling & reusing and secondly, because I love a bargain and thirdly, it was sooo much easier to NOT have to install a new kitchen myself, I jumped at the opportunity.
The fact that the previous tenant had chosen a top quality kitchen just added to the incentive. Both the oven and dishwasher were Miele and this family-owned German brand has been creating top-of-the-line domestic products since 1889. One snag, however: the new kitchen didn’t come with a refrigerator – I still needed to buy one. In Europe typically you would choose a dorm-size refrigerator built into your cabinetry. In fact, below my island there is a little 2 ½ foot tall cut out where the fridge should go. No Way Jose! I’d just been in the USA and I
decided that I was going to do my German kitchen with American style! I forked out the 2K for the side-by-side refrigerator-freezer Panasonic, an energy-efficient and beefy model renowned for its 3 special food storage compartments that keep food fresh with LED lights to retain vitamins. In truth, I didn’t buy this refrigerator for the vitamins. I bought it for the C.P. – aka, Cocktail Potential. It had an ice maker! After over a dozen years as an American living in Europe I decided I’d had enough with going native and eschewing ice along with the rest of the continent. I wanted ice and I wanted it now. But what to do with the little spot in the cabinetry dedicated to where the fridge should go? We’re going wine fridge shopping… and you know I love Miele. While we haven’t made the purchase yet we’re looking at having a Miele under cabinet wine cooler built in!
Before I lost my home and almost all its contents in a fire back in November, my kitchen style had been more country traditional. This new kitchen was going along with my mantra of creating my new home post-fire with a new decorative style. My mentality is “you can’t compare apples to oranges.” If I keep the same style of decorating post-fire I will simply miss what I lost but by creating a new look I am opening myself up to new opportunities. That said, my new home may be industrial-modern in an uber cool loft in Berlin instead of a traditional historically-listed alt-bau, but that doesn’t mean I’m kicking antiques to the wayside. My new home in Berlin will still be filled with antiques, vintage pieces and family heirlooms but the style will have a decisively fresh and modern take.
Making lemonade out of some seriously sour lemons in restarting home décor post-fire, I’m also trying to buy those things I’ve always wanted but never had. Owning Europe’s largest antique shopping tour company – and traveling the continent for a living – I’ve got the inside track on this. I’ve always wanted to buy gorgeous silver domes for doing “Voila” moments when I throw dinner parties at home. So the first accessory I bought for my kitchen was 6 antique silver-plated serving domes (205 GBP or $317) and a meat dome (120 GBP or $185.) so I could wow visitors. Purchased in England on an Antiques Diva Tour at The Blanchard Collective these finds give my kitchen just the elegant old world feel I was looking for.
Speaking of the old world, I traveled to India with my husband in March (he on business, me along for the ride) and did a little antique excavating in Mumbai. At the Thieves Market I bought a gorgeous pair of 18th C Indo-Portuguese religious relics that originated in a cathedral in Goa. These wooden alter screens now rest alongside a silver tea pot my mother gave me for Christmas, adding an exotic touch from my travels above my Bora stovetop with built-in vent-hood. Yep, the air sucks down into the stovetop instead of from above with an overhead vent. And while these serious antiques added just the rustic touch I was looking for in my kitchen décor, I didn’t want to verge too far from the industrial vibe I was shooting for.
At one of my favorite antique shops in England – Spencer Swaffer Antiques – I bought an industrial stainless steel grocer’s scale from Brighton (223 GBP or $345.) that is simply steampunk. Watch this space… I suspect this won’t be the last time you hear Spencer Swaffer mentioned in this “Lessons in Real Life Decorating” European series, for I’ve got my eye on more of his pieces for other places in my home. His entire collection from the Gustavian tables to the French chandeliers and English side chairs are personally selected by Spencer to imbibe his client’s homes with his signature style that’s effortlessly glamorous, achingly stylish and full of old money grandeur with a humorous undertone.
While I’m tempted to start telling you about the plans I’m making for my dining room (which just so happens to be that igloo-shaped room you see in the pictures in the background behind my kitchen – it’s the former malt roasting room in this building that we live in which use to be the Old Malt House for the Schultheiss Brewery), for now we’re talking kitchens. And you can’t have a kitchen without pots and pans. While my antique furniture tastes tend to be more Mediterranean, in my kitchen (and cars) I’m all about perfect German engineering. For my cookware I chose WMF – Wuerttemberg Metalware Factory. Like Miele this traditional German company has ruled the domestic products market since they came on the scene at the end of the 1800s.
I was fortunate that we were able to salvage a family heirloom after our fire – the silver flatware set that my great, great grandparents brought with them from England when they immigrated to America. Having this piece of history helps make my new home in Berlin feel like home. We were also able to salvage our extensive glassware and crystal collection of wine goblets for every size and occasion. I even decanted my dish soap into a crystal decanter with an Eiffel Tower silver stopper so I can be chic while sudsing my duds. I may not yet have a couch to sit on and I may still be sleeping on an air mattress while we wait the 2 months it takes for our bed to be made, but I have champagne glasses to serve a party of 50! Now that’s what I call “priorities”!
This might be an understatement, but between you and me, starting over after having lost everything is not easy. Daily I turn around in my kitchen looking for something I used to have but now don’t… whether it’s a recipe in my grandma’s handwriting or a potato masher, a can opener or even soup bowls. But as my husband and I begin to decorate our new home, we’re embarking on a new life together, creating new memories. I sometimes grab my husband’s hand and pretend we’re newlyweds, remembering those days when we were first married and hadn’t yet made our house a home.
When it comes down to it, you can lose everything you’ve got – whether it be in a fire, a hurricane, a tornado or flood, but a house isn’t just built by brick and mortar or the possessions that crowd the rooms. A house becomes a home when it’s filled with love and I’m lucky in love. My cup runneth over. And incidentally, if that cup were a coffee cup instead of my heart, it’d be filled with a DeLonghi Nespresso maker or tea kettle… when it comes to caffeine, it’s got to be Italian!