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Wizard Pantry

In the late 1970s my family began remodeling and expanding a saltbox farmhouse built near the end of the 19th century. Situated just outside a tiny town on seven acres bordered along its south edge by a creek and along the north edge by a narrow but well-paved farm and market road, the old farmhouse surrounded by ancient live and burl oaks with a few other tree species like elm and Bois D'arc supporting massive mustang grape vines was a delightful sight for passersby. My parent's loved it and made an offer to purchase not long after finding it which was accepted and within a few weeks we all went to work on the overgrown land and the old farmhouse to transform the property into a comfortable home.

Inside it wasn't much to look at. Its wallpaper plastered over thin fabric tacked to plank-oak walls had for the most part fallen away, exposing countless narrow cracks between wide, vertical boards barely planed and edged into smoothness–century-old oakwood any antique fine woods collector would have loved to have salvaged for reuse in furniture making or cabinetry projects. We chose to leave the planks in place undisturbed since they were supporting members keeping the house erect and proceeded building new walls over them.

While interior finish work was underway we all pondered the best design for the kitchen pantry. My parents wanted a large pantry with easy access not too far from stove and sink but there wasn't room enough to construct a walk-in pantry without sacrificing a lot of porch space. Eventually the corner of a wide cabinet and drawer wall between kitchen and game room became the best location for the pantry. Collaborating imaginatively we all provided key ideas which coalesced to become a nice, sturdy solution.

It's a spacious floor-to-ceiling design with a swing-out corner (instead of a standard cabinet door) which has served well in its role now for forty years. I've always loved the design but even more so I loved how that design slowly, lovingly came into being.

Every member of our family contributed, providing ideas and most of us worked on constructing it, but none of us can remember exactly who came up with the basic overall design idea. It most likely came about through numerous extensive conversations on the subject as the rest of the remodeling work was happening throughout the house, slowly gelling into it final form through a delightfully indefinable organic process only close knit members of family can muster.

Working as a weldor in steel construction of lakeside structures and boat docks at the time, I do recall my main contribution being the angle iron shelving framework installed inside the swing-out corner of the pantry. One of my father's contributions was use of a full-length piano hinge to prevent sagging over time as those shelves were loaded up with shelf-stable foodstuff.

My brothers and father worked together designing and constructing the rest of the pantry's interior shelving, the small, handy-dandy step/toolbox combo at the bottom which neatly slides out of sight and advised on the exterior cabinet wood and trim applied. Even though we all had a pretty clear vision of the final product, none of us fully understood how unique it would be until the finishing touches were wrapped up, the nautical brass latch was unlatched and the pantry was opened for the first time as we all stood around it watching.

The impact of it was significant and we all stood around looking back and forth at the pantry and then at each other as we realized how sweet the design actually was. Then we debated its durability for a while, swinging it open and such, latching and unlatching the nautical latch. I said I didn't expect it to hold up very long at all.

"It looks great but I don't see it holding up for more than a few years, max," I said.

My father was more certain about its sound construction and durability under daily use. "That piano hinge will hold...keep it from sagging any at all," he replied. The rest of us nodded dubiously. We talked some about what else we might be able to do to strengthen it a little more, but we never applied any changes.

That full-length piano hinge has held it in place straight and true over decades, just as my father predicted it would from the first time it was loaded up with foodstuff to this very day, amazing me to no end.

But the real wizardry of the pantry is revealed when it's unlatched and the massive corner smoothly swings on that long, thoroughly attached piano hinge, revealing the sizable larder it conceals in glorious fashion each time someone opens it, making me smile and recall the fun we all had collaborating on its creation from scratch as a family. I don't think we could have come up with anything better than this.

A perfect outcome.

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