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        by C. Jeanette Tyson

Veronica Koltuniak and I are talking about kitchens and stuff. Tangerine-colored mixers and momís favorite recipes scrawled on index cards. Kid art and birthday party invitations, stacks of mail and the car keys. Friends and family propped and leaning, sprawled and draped. Food, here and there.   
     Roni knows her stuff. So well, in fact, that when Courtney Cox and David Arquette moved in together, they asked her to help sort theirs out. That was several years ago. Roni, since then, has had two children and relocated her interior design business to Austin. Courtney and David, since then, have taken that experience and, of course, created a television show. Interior designers are called in to make sense of two sensibilities. Brilliant. And cheaper than counseling.      
     Although Roniís designed two living rooms for the show, so far she hasnít tackled a kitchen. But sheíd love to, because sheís got a theory or two.

Letís start with the kitchen-as-train-depot theory.
     "Itís an interesting hub. I love how everybody ends up in the kitchen. Even though you have an extravagant houseówith dining rooms, living rooms, screening rooms--- still everyone ends up in the kitchen.
     One of the things I see happening as a trend and that I really like is that kitchens are becoming more a part of the main center of the house, as opposed to something off to the side or something youíre covering with a butlerís door."

     All that coming and going, of course, leads to chaos. "I like controlled chaos," Roni hastens to say. You mean you have ways of avoiding a train wreck? Please, share, please.
     Kid Art: Around her own breakfast nook, Roni has thin 4í x 8í sheets of sheet metal, acid-treated and buffed to a nice patina. "Pictures, birthday party invitations, artwork and everything else goes up on that wall and itís constantly changing. Itís an organic response to the situation in my home."
     Tiny, loose scraps of paper with pertinent phone numbers often discovered in a pool of maple syrup: Get rid of them. Instead get chalkboard paint. Itís again the train station idea. Where they are, where theyíre going, a wall you can point to with dramatic flourish when someoneís in big trouble for being late.
     Cookbooks and magazines: Put a bookshelf in the kitchen. If cookbooks are actively being used, they should be where you can get to them. And if theyíre not being used, then maybe they will be.
     Mail: Roni sees many kitchens functioning as quasi-office spaces these days and considers a small desk an appropriate landing pad for stuff coming to the kitchen from the outside. Or perhaps the wax paper could find somewhere else to live and that drawer could become a legal-sized filing system.
     Appliances and other clutter: "Do we really need the electric can opener? I think not. I think less is more." If youíre a fan of the shopping channel, this could apply to you.
     Pantries: Roni loves the ones that pull out so you can see your inventory. Loves not looking for the brown sugar five years later. Or finding it.
     But if the kitchen, or even the trendy kitchen-cum-laundry, is the functional heart that keeps the whole house running, what about the spiritual heart? The heart and soul? Must a kitchen rely only on a collection of Fiestaware for personality?
    "I have a strong aversion to the status kitchen. Having it looking just like the neighborís," Roni says.
     To keep that from happening, she has to be as much of a detective as a designer.
     "I talk to people, pick up clues about what theyíre like. What people wear, the books and magazines they read, all that stuff is telling. Then as a designer, I go in and paint a picture. I try to show the best presentation of who I think they are, showing them in their best light. They may not know what Iím going after, but I take those intrinsic clues and make a very personalized space."
     Roni tells me about the bowling lane top she used as a kitchen counter in Courtney and Davidís house. Wacky, you might think, but right up their alley.
     Sheís also a master-sleuth on eBay and in local antique shops and re-works found objects to add interest and texture to a dish. I mean, a room.
     One of my favorite pictures of my grandmother is actually one of me. It was taken when I was still in diapers, standing on a stool in her kitchen, making biscuits. I had a little pageboy haircut and a very serious expression. Thatís probably the last time I made biscuits, but damn was I cute. I canít see my grandmother but I can feel her hands in the bowl guiding mine. In keeping with the times, there werenít many things in the kitchen that werenít essential, in other words it wasnít decorated in any way, but when I think of her, I think of her there. And though I more often imagine my grandfather out in the world, he is there, too, in the windowsill full of cuttings and seedlings and things he was trying to grow.
     Kitchens change and they donít change. Youíre in the kitchen and youíre in the kitchen.
     Cross-stitch that.
C. Jeanette Tyson has bee pollen, tuna fish and peanut butter cereal in her pantry. Roni has mandarin oranges, pine nuts, roasted peppers and marshmallows. For dinner, or for design, you'd probably be better-served calling Roni at 512.347.8568. Roni's next appearance on "Mix It Up" will be December 24th at 7 p.m. on WE! Got a tip, suggestion, idea or feedback for A Little More on Your Plate? Send it to Jeanette at: foodie@austinmama.com


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