The Kitchens of Distinction


I was a scholarship student in the UK thirty odd years ago and there was a semi-well known band at the time called The Kitchens of Distinction. I have no memory of what their music even sounded like, but the name stayed with me. It was ironic and suggested a certain late 1980s anti-bougie sentiment. Hold that thought.

Two months ago my husband and I bought a new apartment. We’d been looking for a slightly bigger place for a very long time, but here in San Francisco the real estate market is tight and insanely expensive. Our incredibly patient real estate agent Loida probably showed us a hundred places over the last decade. Every once in a while she’d reach out, say she had a property we might like, and each time it fell short in one way or another. You want a great place? That’ll be $2,000,000. You want an “affordable” place? That will be worse than what we already have. So we did nothing.

Then this place appeared. It hadn’t officially been presented for sale yet. Loida had just received the keys. The sellers were out-of-town family who had inherited the property from an elderly aunt. They had a specific price in mind and wanted a quick sale. Loida put together a proposal for light renovations and staging of the property. If they spend $37,000 up front it would almost certainly sell for $300,000 more than in its current condition. The sellers wanted no part of that plan. They wanted to do exactly nothing so long as they got their price, even though that price was significantly below the market value. We offered precisely that number on the spot and they accepted the next day. There was no competition and no negotiating. Everyone got exactly what they wanted and the sale was fast and easy. This is the value of a really good agent who knows you, knows the market, and has the right personal connections. She earned every penny of her commission.

The sale wrapped up over two months ago. Since then we’ve done nothing to the place and continue to live in our old apartment. We’re currently getting official drawings and paperwork done in preparation for some renovations. We each have very different ideas about what needs to be done and how much time, money, and effort should be expended on the project. I believe the existing space is basically good the way it is. There are some mechanical issues that need to be addressed since some of the pipes and wires are a century old, but the general configuration is solid.

For me, once those health and safety concerns are corrected mostly the place just needs to be scrubbed clean and painted. Yes, a few relatively simple upgrades would make a big difference. But mostly I want to preserve the 1924 era character of the space because it has really good bones and functions perfectly well as is. I’m also not keen on dragging out the process in an environment of inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain disruptions. I don’t need or want a Kitchen of Distinction.

Read the rest of this piece at Granola Shotgun.

Johnny Sanphillippo is an amateur architecture buff with a passionate interest in where and how we all live and occupy the landscape, from small rural towns to skyscrapers and everything in between. He travels often, conducts interviews with people of interest, and gathers photos and video of places worth talking about (which he often shares on Strong Towns). Johnny writes for Strong Towns, and his blog, Granola Shotgun.

Photos: by the author.