authors Kim Berndtson | July 3, 2017
As it emerges from basements and back rooms, the once-lowly laundry room is taking on a new role and rank – and sometimes even a new name – morphing into a space that’s so much more than simply a place to hide the washer and dryer.
“The laundry room has become very sophisticated,” says Tom Nyland, dtCabinetry, in Libertyville, IL. “These days, we’re thinking about laundry rooms in such a different way.”
His business partner, Debbie Broughton, agrees. “We’re designing a lot more laundry rooms…and they’re not your mother’s laundry rooms. We approach these rooms as their own space that requires design engineering, just like a kitchen or bathroom. It is no longer the place where old kitchen cabinets get hung!”
Laundry rooms have gone through several transitions, first moving out of the basement and onto the first floor where they were more visible, but still somewhat neglected.
“Not much attention, or respect, has been given to the laundry room,” says Mike Thulson, designer at JM Kitchen & Bath, in Denver, CO. “But I am finding that is changing.”
More recently, laundry rooms have been making a move to the second floor, oftentimes close to the master bedroom or as part of a master closet. “Second-floor laundries have an advantage in that they are located where most of the dirty clothes, sheets, etc. are generated,” says Richard Ourso, Ourso Designs, in Baton Rouge, LA.
Wherever their location, clients are asking for more from their laundry rooms, both in functionality and in design.
“People want to mitigate it looking strictly utilitarian…like a room where purpose is purpose,” says Missy Clifton, Architectural Kitchens & Baths, in Lexington, KY. “It’s similar to the attention people started giving to powder rooms a few years ago…where they wanted to make a statement and be a little more clever. Now, that’s how they view their laundry rooms. They want to make them enjoyable.”
Molly McCabe, CLIPP, AKBD, CGP, CAPS, A Kitchen That Works, in Bainbridge Island, WA, agrees. “This space is deserving of design,” says the designer, who owns the firm with her husband, Clive Pardy. “We want to make it pleasant and inviting…to take the drudgery out of the space. So many laundry rooms have been an afterthought…something added to the back of the house.”
A POINT OF DIFFERENTIATION
The greater prominence being placed on this often-forgotten room can make it a profitable venture for kitchen and bath designers who readily apply their talents for creating functional and beautiful spaces with cabinetry, countertops and appliances, similar to what they already do in the kitchen.
“Many laundry rooms need cabinetry and countertops, which is what we already do,” says Ourso, who indicates that currently about 20% of his firm’s jobs include a laundry room. “One project I’m designing now has as much cabinetry and as many appliances as a kitchen, in addition to sinks, faucets, etc. These rooms have a lot of potential, and they are often overlooked areas that many designers don’t spend a lot of time on, yet they can really set you apart from others. For us, it’s a place where we really shine, and where we take great pride.”
Broughton and Nyland are also reaping the benefits of the room’s transformation from ignored to celebrated. In fact, for this duo, laundry room designs now account for 25% of all jobs. Much of that growth has been experienced in just the last three years.
“After the recent recession, people put money into other rooms and ‘cheapened out’ the laundry room,” says Broughton. “Often, it was the only room that was not given much attention or budget when a house was being built. After being in the home for two to three years, homeowners are ready to have it match the quality of the rest of the house. In older homes, it is often the last room to be redone, so homeowners want it to be more in line with all of the other updates…more stylish and functional with better storage.”
As support, Broughton references a current project in a two-year-old home where the laundry room is being upgraded because it isn’t on par with the rest of the rooms. The firm also recently finished a laundry room in another relatively new home with a beautiful kitchen and bathroom and cheaply done laundry room. “The homeowners were sleeping and, in the middle of the night, the cabinets simply fell off the wall,” she reports.
Ourso has also seen and experienced the dismissal of the laundry room by others. “The laundry room has been the most overlooked and under-designed space in the home,” he states, noting that many new construction projects minimize its importance. “Architects and builders will design the space for just a washer and dryer, then move on.”
Ourso’s firm often assesses whole-house plans, focusing on function and storage in kitchens, baths, closets, outdoor kitchens, utility rooms, garages, etc. –“anything that has functional use of space,” he continues. “When I tell clients about neat ideas for laundry rooms, it immediately validates us. They realize that we pay attention to the details.”
McCabe also uses her expertise in laundry room design to establish her worth to clients. “It’s important for designers to demonstrate to their clients how the laundry room impacts their daily function, and how we can make the space more efficient, ergonomic and pleasant,” she says.
Oftentimes, the laundry room is part of a mud room and is located at the door where the homeowners enter their house, McCabe continues. “When that room is inadequate or isn’t laid out properly, it can be a ‘downer’ every time they come in,” she says. “It’s important to share with clients how their laundry room can improve their daily life. That can sound trite, but there are a lot of dysfunctional laundry rooms.”
Clifton agrees, noting that kitchen and bath designers are uniquely positioned to solve the challenges of those deficient rooms and how they relate to others within the home. “Clients don’t typically come to us just to redo their kitchen or bath, even though their thoughts may start there,” she says. “We recently completed a project that started as a kitchen remodel for a mother with two active sons. The kitchen was the main focus, but as she thought more about it, she realized she had a dinky laundry room located right off the kitchen that would get a lot of wear and tear. She needed the whole footprint to function so both rooms needed to be redone to better serve the family’s entrance into the home.
“Projects are typically more than just one room,” she continues. “When designers talk to clients, they hear their struggles and their wishes to make their lives easier. They see the space. They see the pieces, the parts and the family. They are the ones who can create a living solution, one that extends beyond a kitchen or bath project, and beyond simply a place for a washer and dryer.”
Thulson also recognizes the value a laundry room can bring to his clients’ lives, and how that value boomerangs back to his own business. “When it comes to designing laundry rooms, it isn’t always about how to make more money,” he says. “Instead, it’s about getting people excited about their new space.”
He relates that, at the beginning of a conversation about laundry rooms, clients may not be particularly excited about them. “I often hear…‘and oh, the laundry room…we’ll just do that in white,’” he says. “That’s when I like to introduce a conversation about what they like and don’t like about their current laundry room so they can see the value of making it a nice space. They appreciate that I think outside the box…that I help them make a space – which they weren’t expecting much from – nice. They may not ever love to do laundry, but it may not bother them as much. I’m trying to create environments that make people appreciate being home, enjoying their castle.”
Broughton and Nyland also take notice when clients start talking about laundry rooms as an afterthought, using the opportunity to start a dialog about how they can make upgrades. “A lot of times people just haven’t thought about it, so we talk about the interesting things we can do,” says Broughton. “We recently finished a project for someone where she wanted to just use her old kitchen cabinets. When we showed her all the things she could do to make her laundry room spectacular, she decided to delay the project and save money so she can have what she wants, instead of band-aiding it.”
Discussions may start with creating a functional and beautiful place to wash and dry clothes, but they often end by incorporating much more.
“We definitely use the term multi-purpose room,” says Ourso. “A laundry room’s foundation may be the washer and dryer, but there are so many more functions that are often added to the space. It can start as a laundry room, but that isn’t where it needs to end.”
As such, Ourso has embraced everything from wrapping and arts/crafts stations to home offices/desk areas. “Many times, this space is conveniently located near the kitchen, so people can add pantries for overflow kitchen storage, and even wine refrigerators,” he says. “I’m designing one now that has a gun safe and a refrigerator and freezer since my client is a hunter. It will also serve as their ‘dirty’ kitchen, so when they entertain, dirty items can be brought into this area, leaving their main kitchen clean and organized.”
Thulson also sees these spaces as great multi-function rooms, sometimes incorporating an area for crafts as well. “Parents can have their kids in the room doing projects while they’re doing laundry so they aren’t separated in a different room,” he says.
Clifton adds that laundry rooms are often termed ‘utilized’ rooms. “It often goes beyond even a utility room,” she says. “It’s really about designing a place to get things done.”
For clients of Architectural Kitchens & Baths, that can mean everything from pet bathing/food storage/crate areas to technology centers for charging electronics. Discussions can also focus on how to accommodate hobbies and their related equipment such as for hunting and golf. “It’s about providing a place for everything so everything is in its place,” says Clifton.
For Broughton and Nyland, first-floor laundries are often mudrooms, secondary kitchen storage and prep space. Second floor laundries might need to function as storage for cleaning supplies used upstairs, coffee stations or pet areas.
McCabe recently applied her design savvy to her own home and remodeled her laundry room, including additional functions such as a chef’s pantry that she can use to stage food when she entertains for guests who can often number up to 80. “When I talk to clients about laundry rooms, it’s important to demonstrate how they can be multi-purpose so the cost can be amortized over different functions,” she says. “For a lot of people, the laundry room can also be a craft room, a mud room, a pet grooming room and a flower arranging room, which is especially popular here because gardening is so prevalent. People will bring in flowers and produce from the backyard and they can prep them in the laundry room before going into the kitchen.”
Washers and dryers remain the priority in laundry rooms, and thanks to manufacturer advancements, they are no longer the appliances once relegated to the dark, dingy underground rooms of the past. They are more efficient and sophisticated, are available in an array of styles and colors and, in some cases, they are also smarter…with the ability to be controlled remotely via an app and even order detergent automatically.
Although not necessarily to the extent of kitchens, the cabinetry is increasingly being upgraded in these spaces as well, with customization that can accommodate ironing boards, laundry baskets, etc. “We can do so much with hamper and specialty storage,” says Broughton. “We just finished a project where we had two tall cabinets separated by a countertop. Our client will use one for broom, vacuum and mop storage and the second one for cleaning and laundry supplies.”
“She was so excited about the options,” adds Nyland. “People want to be organized, and they want customized storage for everything. It’s a hot button right now.”
Ourso finds storage is essential, too, especially specialized storage for laundry baskets. “Homeowners don’t have to put the baskets on top of the machines, or on the floor, which can easily get in the way of a door,” he says.
Thulson and Clifton see clients wanting to adjust the height of cabinets, similar to what’s being done in kitchens and bathrooms.
“A standard 36″ height doesn’t always work because front-load appliances are higher than that,” says Thulson.
“We’ve customized bathroom vanities and kitchen cabinetry to accommodate short and tall people,” adds Clifton. “Now, that isn’t unheard of in the laundry room.”
Adequate countertop space is another popular request. “People want a place to fold clothes,” says Thulson. “It’s a simple operation, but there needs to be surfaces to make that happen.”
For material selection, Clifton notes that countertops need to be stain resistant and easy to clean. “We’re not doing marble, but we may do materials that look like marble,” she says.
Drying racks or rods are often considered essentials as well. “Double hanging rods are a sort of trademark for me,” says Ourso. “I like to add a second rod above the first so empty hangers don’t clutter the main rod.”
McCabe also likes to include double rods, paying special attention to locating them in a logical, useful place. “I offset them so the lower one is pushed toward the back and is accessible at a low height,” she says. “The second one is higher and pulled forward so people can reach it.”
“Everyone wants a hanging rod of some sort, either hidden or visible,” adds Broughton. “For one project, we had the contractor help us select some piping that we turned into a hanging rack. It looks industrial and interesting.”
“In this amazingly charming home, no one would expect that loft feeling,” says Nyland. “But when you walk into the room, it offers a really unique feel. Our client is able to have her one contemporary space. That’s some of the beauty of these spaces…they don’t have to look like the kitchen. They can be something completely different.”
Ourso also often includes slat walls, similar to peg boards, where hooks, brackets, baskets and other accessories can provide easy access. “It works great on walls where there isn’t enough depth for cabinets,” he says. “Clients can hang ironing boards, aprons, etc.”
McCabe stresses the importance of adequate ventilation to prevent mold and reduce odors from dirty laundry. Including moisture alarms and a way to easily unhook the water supply, especially for second-floor laundry rooms, are imperative. “Finishes can be compromised because of the excess humidity,” she says, which is not only generated from laundry tasks, but also from plant seedlings that are often started in the laundry room by clients who love to garden.
Thulson and McCabe stress the importance of lighting, as well as a deep sink. “Good lighting from undercabinet lights and utility lights makes the space more inviting,” says Thulson. “And, if you’re doing other tasks such as crafts or wrapping presents, good illumination is imperative.” ▪