Laundry Rooms With More
Not just a grungy basement space anymore, the cleanup center can be as handsome as any other room in the house—and even more useful
As you work your way up that list of fall home-improvement projects, remodeling the laundry room may not rank. But considering that the average American family does—gulp!—400 loads of laundry a year, maybe it should. Fact is, more homeowners are calling on architects and designers to help upgrade those often dim, dank, and unwelcoming spaces where they while away so much of their lives.
"The laundry room has turned into the hamper, the mudroom, the catch-all storage area," says Duo Dickinson, an architect in Madison, Connecticut, who adds home office, craft room, indoor potting area, and pet-washing station, to that, well, laundry list. And now, tricked out with first-class features such as custom cabinets, built-in ironing boards, and purr-quiet machines, the new harder-working laundry room is (when possible) migrating from the isolated basement. Find it on first and second floors, where the washer is just a dishrag's throw away from the kitchen, or a diaper's toss from the nursery.
Overseeing homework and Internet access is a must for most parents of school-age kids. Problem is, such supervision typically occurs in the kitchen where food is also being prepped and the dinner table set. When devising a solution to the multitasking mania in their old kitchen, Richard and Wendy Cohen decided that in their new Riverwood, Illinois, house they'd preserve the kitchen for eating, and move computing and project crafting to a combination home office and laundry center.
Located off the garage, the Cohens' laundry room is shaped like a Popsicle (five mudroom lockers and a powder room are in the "stick").
Wide file drawers accommodate legal folders, and open shelves provide storage for phone books and school directories.
A mail-sorting station has a slot for every family member.
A roll-away craft table adjacent to the desk doubles as a clothes-folding surface.
Dirties for the dry cleaner are cleverly placed in a standard pull-out garbage bin fitted with a cloth liner.
A pullout ironing board is camouflaged behind a false drawer front.
Often a house's back door is the main door, and its vestibule the mudroom and makeshift laundry room where dirty footprints, drippy umbrellas, and cast-off clothing are on display for the homeowners and, even worse, their guests to see. Such was the case in this 19th-century farmstead in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where family members were always peeling off their mucky clothes and tossing them right into the washer before making their way to the adjoining kitchen.
So when undertaking a renovation of this high-traffic, multipurpose entryway, designer Barbara Herr was charged with not only making the space more functional but presentable, too.
For starters, Herr commissioned two banks of wood base cabinets finished with an oil-based paint that resists mildew (moisture can be a problem in laundry areas) to flank opposite walls of the long, rectangular space.
Custom cabinets by Premier Custom Built
Two pull-out bins contain potting soil and garden clippings.
A butcher-block countertop provides an ideal surface for cutting flowers on one side, while providing a smooth table for folding clothes on the other.
Open shelves above both units hold cleaning supplies and vases.
A terra-cotta tile floor is easy to sweep and mop but also gives the new laundry room a warm and rustic feel that's well-suited to an old farmhouse. "Now it looks like a real entrance," says Herr.
If you've got athletic adolescents, then you've undoubtedly spent myriad hours sorting through and washing team uniforms, often in that windowless cave otherwise known as the basement. For Dana Cristee, wife to Jeff and mother of three sports-mad boys, doing the family's usual three loads a day in their old house also meant schlepping overflowing clothes baskets from second-floor bedrooms. "I was always going up and down the stairs to our basement," says Dana. "And spending what seemed like more time down there than in our living room."
When planning the layout of their new Shingle-style house in Carmel, Indiana, Dana and Jeff vowed not to repeat the cycle and consolidated a number of their household's needs into a laundry room-meets-family room on the first floor.
Their wish list included a built-in laundry chute to eliminate perilous trips down the stairs.
An after-school meeting area is made up of an island and stools where the boys could access the home's WiFi network on their laptops.
A shower stall is a convenient place to bathe the dog in.
A double bowl soaking sink and an ironing center allows Jeff to press his golf shirts.
Undercounter cubbies contain laundry baskets. A slate floor running from the hallway off the garage, through the laundry room, and into the kitchen unites the space with the rest of the house.
Slate floor by Architectural Brick & Tile
Long drawers store gift-wrap and ribbons.
Subtle details make the space function better: Clipped corners on the island prevent bumps and bruises and hip-high counters make folding easier.
A hanging rod in the shower serves as a drip-dry rack.
Whether as the primary wash-and-dry center or a secondary one, upstairs laundry rooms are gaining in popularity.
You've seen them in tiny apartments: laundry closets with stackable washers and dryers. But today, you're just as likely to spot one on the second floor of a larger house, say, off the master bath to function as a hamper for damp towels, says Minneapolis architect Christine Albertsson. Thanks to new compact and quieter machines, the upstairs laundry room—often the second such dedicated space in the house—is a growing trend for homeowners who want their laundry as close as possible to the dirty clothes and bed linens.
Upstairs laundry rooms require planning. Consider the following:
Flooding: Install the washer over a shower base with a floor drain (required by some local building codes), or a pan that'll funnel water to plumbing waste lines running to the basement, and be sure to hook the machine to an automatic shutoff valve—a must for downstairs washers, too.
Placement: New machines are quieter, but they still vibrate and thus shouldn't share bedroom walls. If your machine is level, it won't rock on the floor, says Albertsson. But in older homes, where floors are often uneven, put motion-arresting pads under the washer.
Venting: Ventless dryers (which use condensers to wring out water) are an option for second-floor laundry rooms. Common in Europe and Asia, they're becoming popular here. Albertsson cautions, however, that the machines are pricey and may take longer to dry your clothes. If your laundry room shares an outside wall, it's still best to use a conventional dryer that vents outdoors.
Noise: Choose cast-iron pipes over PVC, which don't muffle water sounds well. Wrapping pipes with insulation will also cut down on noise. And seek out machines engineered for quiet function. Bosch's Nexxt washers and dryers, for example, are so quiet you wouldn't even know they were on.