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Illustration of a kitchen with gray island and appliance.s Sunny Eckerle

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The lonely islands

There’s a false promise in the perfection of a Nancy Meyers kitchen

My kitchen is super ugly. I am not being dramatic. My kitchen is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, with every single element of “What the fuck went wrong here?”: overhead lighting, brown and beige and ochre linoleum floors, pine cabinets, a refrigerator that has a lot going for it over the former one (it actually works) but is just hideously enormous, the worst but not the only example of everything being in the wrong place.

“I am truly in awe of the person who decided to arrange the items in this kitchen this way,” says my Friend Who Has The Best Taste Out of All My Friends. I can’t take credit for its badness. We rented this house and then bought it; renovating it is not in the immediate future (please find me on Venmo.) That said, while this kitchen is not my fault, it is my kitchen.

And so, when a moment comes around like the one last week when everyone on the internet was oohing and ahhing over Nancy Meyer’s intensely expensive, meticulously planned kitchen, what could I say? What possible take can I have on two islands—on a range the size of most people’s beds, on a dozen matching green glass water bottles, and two ovens—other than, well, yeah it’s not my style but if someone offered it to me, I’d take it?

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The comments fascinated me more than the kitchen itself. They seemed almost universally pro: “No wonder there are always beautiful kitchens in your movies!” and “Exactly what I dreamed/hoped your kitchen would look like.” Another: “I’ve been watching all of your movies during quarantine. Giving my pregnancy hormones so many amazing feelings ❤️.”

Surely, I thought, there is more to say about this kitchen than “I love it,” and, “It looks like a kitchen in your movies,” because it basically looks like the kitchen in all rich people’s houses, and people in movies, certainly Nancy Meyers’s characters, are rich. I get that people like and covet the kitchen. But I wanted to know more about the kitchen, to look behind its pendant lights reflecting in marble countertops. So I turned to two people I thought could offer, if not objective perspectives on the Meyers kitchen, then at least informed and useful ones. The first, quoted above—my Friend Who Has The Best Taste of All My Friends—and second, My Rich Friend, Whose Kitchen Is Actually Bigger and Better Than Nancy Meyers’s, and also has Two (kitchen) Islands.

We will hereafter refer them as Best Taste and Two Islands.

Two Islands (her islands are actually peninsulas, FWIW) lives in a beautiful six-bedroom house with a pool, a few blocks from the beach in Los Angeles. Her kitchen is the size of an actual one-bedroom apartment in New York. It has those extremely enviable white Caesarstone countertops. I saw the material once in a store and said to my boyfriend, a furniture maker, “Why can’t we just get this stuff?” and he laughed at me and kept walking. It certainly falls under the category of A Meyers Kitchen.

Two Islands, who is in her late 50s and still very beautiful, even though she always says she is not, initially took a slightly distant, analytic approach to the Meyers kitchen, pointing out that Meyers and her husband/former colleague Charles Shyer split in 1999, and that “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003) was her first post-marriage movie, and features her first real kitchen porn: a white enamel bread box, a stainless steel tea kettle (a Meyers staple), a panelized dishwasher, and a trash compactor. “All her movies are about women who can’t find love but are actually amazing, but a man has to spend some time with her to figure it out, often in her kitchen,” she said. “To me, it’s not about the kitchen. The kitchen represents something else to her; it’s like a sign that you’ve arrived, and you’re fully adult, and your life is how you want it now.” Two Island’s voice got a little thin and strained.

There followed a silence where I am confident Two Islands and I were both thinking about recent unfortunate events in Two Islands’ personal life. She excused herself to check the timer on the sourdough bread she was proofing in one of her two ovens. When she came back she looked at Meyers’s Instagram post again. “I have that exact range, the classic six burner with the griddle in the middle,” she said.

“Six burners?” I asked. “I mean, does anyone ever actually use six burners all at once?”

“I’m actually using them all right now,” Two Islands replied coolly. (Two Islands: 1. Classic Sealioning Behavior: 0). She said that sure, Meyers’s kitchen was extravagant, but it was a cook’s kitchen. “So as someone who is a cook — the two islands, room to bake cakes, make bread — I see it as the center of the home that has been custom-designed as a place where people can gather and eat. It isn’t just about the luxury, it’s about the utility.”

I have definitely been well fed in Two Islands’ beautiful kitchen. I will not deny this. She makes the best bread I have ever eaten. That said, people (people like me) prepare great food in terrible kitchens. (Correction: By the way, my boyfriend read this story and before saying “good job” or anything shouted “our cabinets are oak, our floor is vinyl” not pine and linoleum; we regret the error.) And, more importantly, I kind of thought we were getting somewhere with what the Meyers kitchen represented rather than what it actually did: She had been hinting at its false promises. But then she had started to get—well, very real estate agent-like, for lack of a better word, telling me that the kitchen was, well, simply there to deliver hospitality, and what could be wrong with that? In other words, she was making an emotional retreat. A slight pall fell over our Zoom. I wanted to say, “But how do you really feel?” but did not have the courage.

Suddenly, my computer started to ding and ding. It was Good Taste texting me. In the way of the tortured genius, her texts came in little staccato bursts, “I’m sorry,” and “I hope you can get someone else,” and “I couldn’t even talk about the Nancy Meyers kitchen because it made me way too upset” and then bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, for at least a minute, which suggested to me she was composing an aria.

“Sorry,” I said to Two Islands, as I tried to turn off my notifications. “It’s my other friend telling me she can’t talk about the Nancy Meyers kitchen, because it upsets her too much, except in telling me that she can’t talk about the Nancy Meyers kitchen... she is... really…” the aria appeared on my screen. “Saying great things about the Nancy Meyers kitchen.”

“Oh, cool, I want to hear it. Read it to me while I slap and fold my bread,” said Two Islands, talking louder as she moved the approximately 4,000 feet from one peninsula, the cooking peninsula, one side home to her laptop and various work papers, to the other that enormous range, with its stainless steel enamel kettle and clean copper pots, sparkling in the California sunlight, and surrounded by glass jars of preserved lemons, glowing in it. She passed the Autonomous Zone of the Jura Giga 6 Automatic Coffee Machine until she finally crossed the border to the other peninsula, the Sovereign Nation of Breadmaking. “Go ahead. I can hear you,” she called.

I hesitated. Good Taste was not holding back, and the things she was saying were—how do I put this?—sort of direct attacks on everything Two Islands represents? “I’m not sure you need to hear this,” I said.

“Please! I have never felt such a strong desire to hear the opinion of another human,” Two Islands called over the sound of two pounds of bread dough falling squarely onto approximately $15,000 worth of counter space.

So I read it aloud: “Sarah. I can’t do it. This kitchen is making me angry. This subject is so close to the bone for me. All that is coming out of me is resentment about inequality and the normalization of privilege that Hollywood condones. I don’t have anything nice to say, in fact I’m ripping it apart, and, I don’t want to do that, this is someone’s home? Like a real person? She probably loves her stupid kitchen with its platter of matching water bottles that no one is around to drink.”

Two Islands had made her way back to her computer during this rant, and now she gasped as if stabbed and she held her face, still a very pretty one despite her protestations, and her Edvard Munch expression, in her hands. “Wow,” she said, but then nodded for me to go on.

“I hate the double islands the same way I hate duallies driven by small boys don’t get that ‘conservative’ means ‘white supremacist,’” Good Taste went on. “Is this even a real kitchen? Where is the dirt, the pet stains, the one dish that isn’t alabaster. This is what people want. A life that looks like a movie or a Pinterest page. A life that is varying degrees of out of reach for most everyone else. So we can pretend we aren’t here for a minute so we can pretend we are permanent and mean something, to leech material enjoyment from a system that is literally killing the home we ALL share.”

Now Two Islands was massaging her temples. I felt bad. I agreed with Best Taste, but was still worried it might hurt or threaten Two Islands, who had recently gone through a terrible divorce, and who had been most pained, it seemed, by the comment about drinking the fancy water alone. I did not want Two Islands to be forced to feel worse than she has felt over these last two years.

But then, Two Islands lifted up her head. She looked sad, but also calm and clear. “I mean, if I’m totally honest, what this kitchen actually evokes for me is loneliness, and the hope that if you make everything look perfect, it will actually be perfect. I’m a privileged Hollywood person, and I almost feel like the fancy kitchen is a jinx. The only reason I have this kitchen is because my ex-husband wanted this super-fancy house and I didn’t even want it, but I was like, well, if we’re going to get it, I might as well have the dream kitchen. But then my husband left me. And unlike Nancy Meyers, I was unable to create a fantasy life with Diane Keaton as my doppelganger. Instead, I’m just living alone, like Nancy Meyers, with a big giant kitchen. And so my dream has become my nightmare.” Her eyes went wide as she realized she’d been talking for some time. “Oh, shit,” she said. “I overproofed my bread.”

When she was gone, her computer started to ding, text after text. When she came back she read them. “Holy shit. Holy shit. You’re not going to believe this. The weirdest thing just happened.”

It was the weirdest thing: The texts were from her ex-husband. Not the most recent one—the mean one, who left her all alone with her fancy kitchen—but the nice one, the one before that, the one she left for the mean one, making a mistake she had thought she could never rectify. She read one of them aloud. “I thought it looked like that husband of yours had disappeared from your social media,” he texted. Two Islands shook her head and said holy shit once again: “He just got divorced too.”

I said they would have to get martinis in a hotel bar and laugh about old times.

And she said, “Doubtful. I may live in a Nancy Meyers fantasy kitchen, but that’s where the fantasy ends—rather abruptly, I might add.”

I got one more text from Best Taste. It just said, “I don’t know, maybe I’m just jealous.”

“Tell her she’s actually not,” said Two Islands. “She’s just right.”