Alexandra Lange | Essays

Wives of the Architects

Gregory Ain House Model. Photographed by Ezra Stoller/ESTO.

She tried to open the kitchen window. It was stuck. She knew it was stuck. It had been stuck since the summer, two summers ago. In fact, she had known it would be stuck when her husband showed her the plan for the kitchen. The window rested on the countertop, set into a groove. The countertop was wood. The window in question was behind the sink, so the countertop got wet every day and, particularly in summer, the wood expanded and stuck to the window. Stuck like some adhesive not yet invented. Sometimes she considered sending her coffee cup through the window, but it was kind of expensive ($18), and if it were to break and they were to have not enough coffee cups she would be the one to have to drink coffee out of a glass. Or not at all. He would not notice its absence. He would probably notice the window, were it to break. But he would have to replace it the same way. That was the design. A sill would destroy everything.

She washed the dishes, trying not to break any. They couldn’t really afford more. The kids had broken several (he did not believe in plastic). But all the cabinets were glass, and anything less nice would make the whole kitchen look bad. She had promised to hide them in the closet, should anyone come over, but he just looked at her. He had never been in the closet (that’s where the food and the paper towel and the garbage bags were). He had not been there when the dishes were broken, either, but he had noticed the shards in the trash when he threw out his mail that night.

She went to the closet and got out the Swiffer. He did not know it was in there either. He had bought her a handmade broom to sweep the floor after meals. It swept very well, but there was no way to sweep up the bristles it dropped afterwards. The Swiffer worked better but it was green. No, teal. It was not a green that should have been admitted to the house. So she kept the broom next to the closet, resting against the little rest he had installed for it, so as not to mar the plaster and used the Swiffer once a day, at lunchtime. He had never been home for lunch. Dinner either. Not since the kids. He said the end of the workday was his time to sketch.

She had seen the plans for his latest house. It had wooden counters too. The client had come over one day, opened all the cabinets (but not the closet) and approved a counter just like theirs. She had been about to mention the window, but he whisked the client into the living room. Something about the coffee table. Theirs was new. Or it had been, when they got married. The client wanted vintage.

The beginning of a short story I have been writing in my head for years.

Inspired by Unhappy Hipsters.

And Remodelista.

And the poor wives of midcentury architects, alone in the suburbs with their kids and their architecture.

Also see Lewis Mumford, Not for Internal Use, The New Yorker, August 26, 1950 on Gregory Ain’s House in the Museum Garden.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

Comments [2]

ah you have plagiarised my life if not my words. Depressingly true and yet funny and wise. This is perfect - the tone, the voice, are just right.
You must continue. I can see it won't be a short story.
Some of my own thoughts on architects wives are recorded in a blog (far less elegant than yours):

liz ferrier

This is too funny! Both my husband and I are architects. We have wood counters, a handmade broom and no swiffer. I can not begin to list the things that have not been "improved" in our house because we like it authentic and "just so." We like to keep things honest in our 100 year old Tudor but the neighbors don't like the moss on our stucco and the lichen on the slate roof. I think we are the only living souls with crumbling interior plaster and brand new storm/screen windows that require a handyman to install.
Kristin Kligerman

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