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STYLE & CULTURE | THE GUY CHRONICLES

A marriage up against the accent wall

October 16, 2002|CHRIS ERSKINE

You know you're in trouble when you learn that Ralph Lauren makes paint, and your wife is telling the Korean painter -- who speaks very little English, as opposed to the wife, who speaks perhaps too much English -- that she wants him to go to another paint store, not the one that sells Ralph Lauren. She wants him to match the shade of Ralph Lauren paint at the other store, so that she doesn't have to pay Ralph Lauren prices. Understand this one little scene and you'll understand our life.

"I think he knew what I was talking about," she says as the painter stumbles off.

"I thought you made yourself perfectly clear," I say.

Poor painter. She has him so confused that he doesn't know whether he's supposed to be buying paint or polo shirts. I expect him to return wearing a Ralph Lauren pullover.

"That's the color!" my wife will shout, pointing to his shirt.

The painter will smile, relieved.

"But a little less yellow," she'll say.

And back out the door he'll go, off to buy another shirt.

Rome wasn't renovated in a day, and neither was our little house. The work started two years ago and continues to this day, saddled by various work stoppages, money conflicts, miscommunications and unplanned pregnancies.

It's like a WPA project that never ends. Inspectors knock on the door at all hours. Workers come and workers go. Oscar. Damian. Ralph Lauren.

"I like the green," I say, looking through the paint chips.

"The willow hedge?" my wife asks.

"The green," I say.

But there is no "green" anymore. There's Irish spurge. Kauai. Willow hedge. Mt. Rainier. Chamois. Peony. Mexican feather grass.

Those are all names of paints. People are paid to sit around all day and come up with names like these, eliminating "green" from the vocabulary.

And you can't just pick one wall color anymore. There's this accent wall you have to paint. Never heard of an accent wall? You will. The accent wall is where your wife determines that one wall inside your home -- just one -- will be painted a deeper shade of peony, or whatever color you've spent two weeks deciding on. In my limited experience, an accent wall doubles the joy in a marriage. And that's a lot of joy.

"Whatever you pick is fine," I say.

"But I want your help," insists my pregnant bride.

"Like with the cabinets?" I say.

"Sure," she says, "like with the cabinets."

There's a disaster, the cabinets. I know the cabinet guy by one name: Efi.

He's spoken about in the reverential tones usually reserved for messiahs or gifted center fielders. The guy makes cabinets, for chrissakes. In our over-designed little suburb, I guess that makes him Willie Mays.

"This is going to be so great," my wife says, looking at the new base cabinets.

"That Elvis sure does nice work," I say.

"Efi," she says. "His name is Efi."

"You sure?"

"Yes."

Pause. Because I don't believe anyone is really named Efi.

"How come I never see this Elvis guy?"

"He's busy," she says. "He had a kitchen on the cover of House Magazine."

This is the story I've heard many times, how Elvis got a kitchen on the cover of House Magazine and suddenly he received 50 calls from all around the world about some butcher block/center island thing he's created. We're lucky to get Efi, I'm told. He's very much in demand.

Suddenly, everybody is getting stuff in magazines. My friend Don just redid a family room that is being featured on Audio Visual Magazine. The cover, too. Puts a lot of pressure on a husband. Shouldn't a renovation be quick, simple and private? No. Now you need a publicist.

Here's what Time magazine says (its own cover slathered with renovation pictures): The kitchen has become "the home's ego, the place where owners ... strut their stuff."

"The kitchen can't be contained anymore, so it blends into that live-eat-play space often called a great room... ," Time says. "The idea is to allow family togetherness and personal space at the same time, meaning never having to reach a consensus about what to do together."

That's a relief, that consensus part. The last time we reached a consensus was on our wedding night, when we decided to wait another few days before having kids.

But that was a long time ago. Before Viking stoves and $2,000 refrigerators that are smarter than Socrates. If I'm going to pay that kind of money for a fridge, I expect a trace of humility. No ego. A humble home.

"Men have taken to cooking and made it into a hobby and a locus of consumption and gadgetry," design critic Thomas Hine told Time.

Well, I still haven't found the "locus" yet, but our cabinets came in just fine. They look OK. They look like cabinets. In a month, they'll have scuff marks and dirty palm prints. The dog will be licking pancake syrup from their handsome doors.

"I love them," my wife says, caressing the naked maple.

"Elvis is a genius," I say.

"Efi," my wife says.

"Whatever."

For a week, we discuss what color to stain the new cabinets. A dark walnut. A light caramel. Mt. Rainier. Baked Alaska.

We go with the cherry. Magically, the cherry stain gives the cabinets the sheen of a brand new Rawlings baseball glove. I walk into the kitchen and hear a playoff crowd. I smell peanuts. I hear Adam Kennedy home runs.

"Maybe they should be lighter?" my wife wonders as the last layer of lacquer dries.

"No!" I yell, a playoff-caliber scream.

And our little renovation moves on.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published Wednesdays. He can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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