I realize I’m maybe pushing my luck on reader investment in my window treatments, but my editor is MIA again, so it’s just me over here calling the shots. I made another roller shade, this time for the kitchen, which makes a total of four me-made roller shades, and two me-made curtains, and no more blinds in this apartment at all (save the ones I stashed in the top of the closet for safe keeping).
The new shade is cut from three yards of exquisite madder-dyed kala cotton gingham which makes it exceedingly lightweight and just the kind of ethereal beauty I didn’t know I was hoping for in a kitchen window shade. Right now it’s a solution for the afternoon sun and when the leaves fall it will provide a bit of privacy needed for baking brownies in my undies on a Saturday after dark. More than anything, it offers a bit of color, a bit of good cheer, and an alternative to the PVC mini blind that was here before.
Conventional wisdom or just common sense would tell me that I probably shouldn’t have hung a botanically dyed textile in a sunny window without adding a fabric backing, just as I probably shouldn’t have hung a cloth shade in a kitchen window next to a stove that doesn’t have a hood or a fan to speak of. It will get dirty and it will fade and I don’t have a perfect plan for keeping it clean except, perhaps, to take it down from its hooks should I have the need to deep fry a batch of beignets. Good thing the objective here isn’t perfection and there’s a donut shop down the street.
For the better part of fifty years, my cousin Mildred and her husband Paul lived in a Manhattan apartment where the defining feature, to me anyway, was a tiny kitchen with metal kitchen cabinets that Mildred had covered in blue and orange floral contact paper. Despite knowing her for the entirety of my life, I didn’t visit Mildred at her home until my mid-twenties and when I first saw the cabinets they caught me delightfully off guard. The print was such a flashy bit exuberance to reconcile with her pearl necklaces and wool slacks and hair pinned in a tight coil on the back of her head. The dressed up cabinets suddenly had me picturing Mildred, who I’d only ever known as a revered elder, as a young woman. Did she climb on the counters to hang the paper, matching up the sticky sheets of vinyl, one cartoonish stamen to one oversized pistil? Did she smooth out the air bubbles from her perch on a fold out step ladder? Maybe Paul helped her. Maybe they laughed about their new blue and orange kitchen and clinked bottles of beer to celebrate their bit of domestic improvement. Maybe they walked back into the kitchen after dark and flipped on the lights to admire their handiwork and marvel at how they’d made a generic kitchen in an apartment complex with 11,000 nearly identical units, just a little bit closer to being theirs.
Will it last? Will we be able to clean it? Doesn’t matter, they might have decided.
By the time Mildred ended her lease and closed the apartment door for the last time, the contact paper cabinets had developed a two-tone finish. A five-inch circle around each cabinet handle had faded from use and cleaning and in those irregular orbs, the floral motif was all but totally obscured. Like everything else in that kitchen, the cabinets wouldn’t last to the next tenants. They were ripped out and and heaved into a dumpster along with the wall that made the room so tiny in the first place. Ad copy for the newly renovated apartments in Mildred and Paul’s old complex assures would-be tenants that the apartments feature “thoughtfully-designed layouts and the modern features that New Yorkers expect” including “stainless steel kitchen appliances, wine coolers, and white or speckled stone kitchen countertops.”
On my list of things that New Yorker’s expect from their apartments, are closets defined as rooms, neighbors who are too noisy, and neighbors who are too nosy, and neighbors who seem not to exist at all. New Yorkers might expect steam radiators that work overtime all winter and the rasping hum and drip drip of condensation from other people’s air conditioners all summer. They might expect walls that rattle from the roar of subterranean trains and views that get blocked up when a new building goes up, and a bodega on the corner that flashes its red lights and offer pints of ice cream and single rolls of toilet paper for times of great urgency.
New Yorkers, like people everywhere, might expect that they’ll manage, with varying degrees of success, to turn a place that’s been lived in by so many others into a place that looks lived in by them. None of the material progress we make in these spaces we call home are ours to keep forever. Some things last, some things don’t, but maybe fifty years will pass and this faded, greasy gingham kitchen window shade will still bring every bit of joy it’s brought in these bright and breezy early days. We don’t know. The only constant, as the cliché goes, is change.