The Crumb That Fell Off the Cake

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The Sandhu family's completed, remodeled kitchen.

by Sarah Sandhu

This was never about a remodel, it was about creating a space to have your best meal ever. Our house has beautiful bones, much like all the people who have gathered with us to share delicious and disastrous meals, endless coffee chats and impromptu wine pours. 

The kitchen space, when we acquired it, was a finished canvas but the truth is it was missing that feeling of home. The dark cabinets, the uneven floors and unconventional angled island left us lacking for cohesion and felt like scooter races from my childhood where everyone would frantically bump into each other.

The Sandhu kitchen before their remodel.

One of my earliest memories growing up in my childhood home is of a pot about to bubble over, its lid rattling in agitation — my mom was making homemade syrup or choke-cherry wine. I’m not certain of which one it was, but I was certain I wouldn’t like either. What I do recall is the reactions of her friends — the smiles that ensued, the laughter that followed and the community that gathered. My grandmother was a professional baker, not certified, but all learned through generations of exceptional women creators. Her specialty was carefully crafting heavy cream and butter into every delectable dessert and delightfully feeding it to all. I should be a chef. I am not, if you have had an outrageous meal at my house, it is likely I was in the kitchen!  

Years later, my husband and I, having a penchant for world travel, have had some unique experiences – from being invited into quaint family kitchens in Tuscany to peeping through the pocket doors of the secret working kitchens of Delhi. Each step of the intricate prep work, to the placement of cutlery, sometimes only a single piece, makes an impact. You learn and every meal leaves a mark in the process. With my lineage and our world travel, you would think we were ready for creating our dream kitchen, little did we know the endless surprises that awaited. 

My talents lie in the creative aspect: finesse, finish and yes, I have had to learn about fit and function. From experience, I know that great projects take a village. If you want to go far, go with many hands, if you want to go slow, go alone. The hardest part was finding my tribe. I met with several designers, all wonderful in their vision, but weren’t able to bring my vision to life. Then it dawned on me, my vision wasn’t just about the aesthetics of the design, but about the experiences of living within the space – the tea table I had admired at a friend’s house, the patterns of the grocer’s aisle, and the function of the tables in restaurants where I have dined. When I realized this, the experience I wanted to create suddenly came into focus. 

Outside of the normal stresses of a remodel – contractor delays, budget overruns and knowing your color wheel, we had to reckon with the realities of the pandemic. For example, supply shortages, delayed deliveries and higher prices. I like to leave those rational aspects to bankers, bean counters and my husband. On the plus side, we were home to experience every tile cut, every counter measured and our girls memorized every shade of Sherman Williams beige. But most memorable was the brown-sugared honey ham sandwiches my husband prepared in the make-shift kitchen in the laundry room, which we all enjoyed together, including our general contractor and subcontractors. 

When things get messy – plates caked with sawdust, thick plastic coverings on furniture you can’t identify and the 45th day of eating from paper plates the idea of firing oneself and running off to a hotel isn’t far-fetched. Oddly enough, it gets easier and all the advice and learning gleaned from friends and advisors seem to fall into place. 

  • Trusted referrals are the new gold – don’t be shy to ask when you see craftsmanship that you love. Take in all the advice from the people who live this, learn from their learning and most importantly don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Use social media for ideas and stay far away from trends that will be outdated before they can be finished. 
  • Visit as many studios as possible. Feel the marble, see how the range hood functions, work a pot-filler, learn which surfaces can handle heat.
  • Bring home endless samples and  memorize the color wheel –  decide if you want warm or cool, traditional or modern. Know these words, live them and then stick to them. I had temporarily put a ban on saying the words “grey” and “white” while doing this remodel and our kitchen is better for it.
  • Throw away your budget. You will most certainly, without a doubt, go over it. Trust me, you heard it here first. Try or don’t, but know that all things have value, you decide what you are willing to spend.

Most importantly, when you are finishing a project, working a redesign, or preparing a multi-tiered cake, look at the whole and not the crumb and love every single, imperfect piece of it.

The first phase of our renovation finished on May 26th, only two months behind schedule. Phase two will begin in late fall.

To me, nothing feels better than coming home. And nothing creates a better feeling than sharing laughter with the people you love and enjoying your best meal. And my hope is that your best meal is in my kitchen.

Sarah Sandhu is a wife, mother of two girls and has a rescue pit-bull named Gilles. She is also a storyteller and marketing executive who has written for several Fortune 50 companies, and has been featured in LeanIn.Org, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and on a national TV commercial. Stay tuned for her next creative piece, her debut novel, The Obvious One Out – scheduled to publish in 2022! Be sure to put it on your reading list. For professional inquiries, contact Sarah at: sarahwsandhu@gmail.com

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