"The Challenge"
15 Jul 2011

"The Challenge"

By: Ryan Christensen

It was raining outside. The windows were cast with a patina of sleet, marring my view of the parking lot, though I did see the car pull in. It looked like a hearse: tinted windows whose sleek surface reflected the glittering rain, and a chrome grille beneath domed headlights that revealed a nightmarish face.

I skimmed through the layouts I’d set on the island. The name on the top of the package was Molloch. It was an Aspen. Standard set up. I thought this meeting would be easy. Boy was I wrong.

The customer walked into the foyer while I stood and waited to introduce myself. I did not know it was a woman until she removed the charcoal cloak she’d drawn over her shoulders, clasped only by a silver brooch that had beaded with water. Her face was pallid - it reminded me of soapstone. It was glabrous, line-less, imperfected only by her thin lips, colorless and pursed. I offered my hand to her, my business card casually slipped between my forefinger and thumb, and she took my fingers into her cold palm, dexterously gliding the card between her knuckles like a magician with the ace of spades.

“I’m Ryan. I’ll be taking care of your cabinets this morning.”

She only smiled, offering just a glimpse of the graying teeth beneath: “I know,” she said, her voice slithering between those teeth like wind through a sewer.

I took her to her layouts, still a little unsettled… uncertain. Her eyes were wise. She’d seen far and wide, this one. A woman of worldly experience, and something about that prospect seemed daunting, for she could not have eclipsed thirty. Her face was young. Her eyes were not.

“The way this works,” I explained, “is we go through your cabinet layouts and I clarify—”

“I know how this works. Or, rather, how this usually works. But I’m an unusual woman, Mr. Christensen. It would be highly irregular of me to accept your formalities. I’m here not to participate in a standardized consultation. No, I’m here to challenge you.”

“Sorry?” It was all I knew to say. She only regarded my retort with deadpanned indifference.

“You expected to go through the motions, did you not? You suspected I would be content with the paper strung out in front of me, that I would nod in agreement as you prattled on and on about a promo, wilfully ignorant, so consider this your first warning. I am aware you just recently returned from the Kitchen and Bath convention in Las Vegas. Ah, Las Vegas: were it not for this meeting, Mr. Christensen, I’m certain a few souls in the desert would herald my arrival. But I digress,” she leaned forward. “I’m here to challenge your complacency.”

“My complacence?”

“Oh yes. You designed a few show homes, did you not, and you’ve become so familiar with those specific layouts you’ve destined poor homeowners to duplicate those finishes only to disregard the inherent uniqueness of every individual. So I am here to challenge you to be unique. To be different. Do you understand, Mr. Christensen?”

“Is this… is this a joke?” I said, wanting to smile but somehow understanding it wouldn’t be smart.

“I rarely ever joke, Mr Christensen, but when I find warrant to, you would not be so narrow-minded not to get it."

“Then I guess I should ask you what you want from your kitchen?”

“I want what nobody else has chosen.”

“But that’s… there’s a very limited selection Ms. Molloch.”

“Think outside the box. Should I take your blatant ignorance to your superiors, Mr Christensen, for I can only surmise the flight to and accommodations in Nevada did not come out of your pocket? How would they feel to know you returned from this convention with nary an idea to share?”

I was silent.

“Good. Enlighten me.”

“Well, with the Aspen you have comfortable space along the range wall to extend the cabinets—”

“Ah yes, where one might choose to put a wine rack detail similar to the design found in the New Brighton Aspen show home. You enjoy your comfort zone, do you not?”

“I was going to say…you certainly could add a full height built-in, one with a wine rack design and glass doors, but really, isn’t the whole point of adding this extra cabinet so close to the Nook to create the illusion of a separate hutch?”

“Go on.”


“Well, consider this: you have paint grade cabinets. Ivory cabinets along the range and fridge wall, and then you have a hutch-like furniture piece on the very edge of the kitchen but it’s maple. It is stained a woodsy Brownstone to match the finish of your table…to pull together what otherwise might have been a separate element. So now you have a two-toned kitchen…you’ve paid the $360 two-tone fee and now you have the carte-blanch option to do the same to your island… or to do the same with your vanities upstairs. Now you have a disparate finish throughout the house, opening up more options for tile, for flooring…”

“But consider my appeal, Mr Christensen. I do not want a two-tone finish that would reflect the countless show homes with a similar design. Plus, if I were to select paint grade cabinets, I would not desecrate the scheme with natural wood.”

“Then pull out the General Paint fan,” I replied. “If you truly want to stand out, choose a paint color we do not offer as a standard on cabinets. Would you like a green hutch…a green island, or blue even? You’re not exactly tied to what you see on the wall, but if you’re going to select from the fan there are certain costs associated.”

“Surprise, surprise,” she said with mechanical irony.

“I know, but sometimes there’s a price for different.”

She only smiled, this time revealing tapered canines the color of thunderheads.

“The promo comes with an OTR, right? Can it and add a wood hood. A maple wood hood counter-balanced by paint grade; the hood is already the focal point of the wall, so why not truly point it out? Or keep the paint grade scheme but turn up the funk a notch: make the wood hood an olive-green. Have fun with the finish. I saw some high-gloss lacquered doors in Vegas that reminded me of those retro throwback designs you see as a means to re-integrate bygone styles into postmodern finishes. That way you have a wall-mounted plasma TV opposite a 1940's kitchen replete with stainless steel appliances: your house would be the very virtue of juxtaposition.”

“Ah yes, I do miss the simplicity of the 40's,” she said with but a hint of awkward nostalgia. She clasped her slender fingers. “But considering the moral implications of all that happened in the 40's, Mr Christensen, I would much prefer to leave that decade behind in the wake of memories.”

I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that.

“I am not fond of the pedestal sink in the half bath. It reminds me of Roman wash basins, strung about the bath houses only to be sullied by the masses. To carry the microbes of contagion. Enlighten me.”

“Delete it. Add a free-standing cabinet instead. Complement your modern kitchen with a vanity propped by columns, and then select a glass vessel sink, something that might catch and reflect the light above to turn your bathroom into something other than a way station. And get rid of the oval mirror above the pedestal as well. Add a framed mirror with the same finish as your cabinets. It will pull the theme of your house together.”

“But this has been done before.”

“Sure, but you can take an old concept and make it work in your house. Choose a crazy vessel sink. Innovation only works with established ideas.”


“Good what?” I asked.

“You see it now. You’re willing to see it.”

“To see what?”

“To see my challenge, Mr Christensen. To open your eyes to certain truths otherwise
ignored by conformity.” She stood up from her chair. “I saw the poll in your last blog questioning those with the motivation to choose whether they desired bamboo over your current standards. That was enlightening.”


“Because you’re looking past your options.” She turned to leave.

“Wait, Ms. Molloch, we haven’t done your meeting yet.”

“I heard what I came to hear,” she said without turning and for the briefest moment I thought it was a joke. I thought this was an elaborate prank determined to reel my nerves but I heard the door open and close, and heard the guttural rumble of her car roar to life in the parking lot, two angry rubicund eyes reversing through a slate sheet of rain.

I sat still for a moment. Silent. Just breathing. Had this just been a Faustian meeting, a mean to work beyond the template of my knowledge to scour other possibilities, to scour the unknown, to trade banter with the devil? I looked down at the plans. The name Molloch had disappeared from the layouts. If it had even been there.

Open your eyes to certain truths otherwise ignored by conformity. I understood. And I stood up as my next clients entered the design centre. My real clients - led to the island, only to be introduced to a consultant short a business card.