Laundry rooms were once utilitarian spaces hidden away in basements or small, windowless rooms. But not anymore: Now they’re getting the full designer treatment.
“A lot of my clients are starting with the idea of the laundry room being one of the most important spaces of their home,” said Ashley Martin, an interior designer in Winter Park, Fla. As people continue to move away from formality in favor of relaxed, casual living, the laundry room is “becoming a showpiece,” she said, instead of something to hide.
And who knows? A well-designed laundry room may make washing dirty clothes just a little less onerous. “The things that we don’t love to do as grown-ups become a little more pleasant when the spaces are beautiful,” said Bria Hammel, an interior designer based in St. Paul, Minn. “I do think it helps brighten your day, and it’s a space a lot of people spend more time in than they realize.”
We asked Ms. Martin, Ms. Hammel and other designers for advice on how to create a space that might make you look forward to doing laundry.
Will It Be a Dedicated Space, or Multipurpose?
Some laundry rooms are dedicated solely to doing laundry, but it often makes sense to incorporate several functions into a single room.
In a house they recently designed, the partners of Rehabitat, a design firm in Avon, Conn., combined an open laundry area with a mudroom. “It’s actually kind of a small laundry, but it feels like a bigger room because there aren’t a ton of walls, and it’s mostly cabinetry,” said Emily Barry, who runs the firm with her mother, Diane Schmunk.
In other homes, they have tucked a laundry area into a nook beside the kitchen pantry or concealed stacked laundry machines behind closet doors in a powder room. “They’re not full-size machines — they’re a little smaller,” so they can fit in the closet, Ms. Schmunk said. “It doesn’t look at all like a laundry room until you open the doors.”
While designing a house for a family with three dogs in Rye, N.Y., Kati Curtis, a New York-based designer, created a room with one side dedicated to laundry and the other to pet care. “It’s a laundry/dog crate/doggy shower room,” Ms. Curtis said. In the middle of the space, she placed an island on casters that can be repositioned to hold folded laundry one day and dog-grooming tools the next.
Plan Work Areas
Anything that makes doing laundry easier is a good idea. One obvious strategy is to have a counter where you can stash baskets and bottles of detergent, and also fold clean clothes. “We always want a folding area,” said Wendy Word, an interior designer based in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Often, she said, the ideal spot for a counter is directly above the laundry machines, if they’re front-loading and installed side by side. So if you’re buying new front-loading machines, don’t automatically assume that you need platforms to set them on. Yes, that will make the insides of the machines easier to access and could provide some storage space below, but it will also make it harder to have a folding counter on top, as the surface could be too high.
If you have a top-loading washing machine — or if the tops of your machines are too high to accommodate a useful counter — a good place to put the counter is beside a sink, which is another helpful thing to have. “A lot of times, people think they don’t need a sink, but there’s always a time when you need to soak or rinse something out and you don’t want to put it in an area that has had food in it,” like the kitchen sink, Ms. Hammel said.
It doesn’t have to be an enormous utility sink, she added. A modestly sized kitchen- or bathroom-style sink is usually sufficient.
Add Storage and Hanging Space
In a kitchen, open shelves and glass-front cabinets are useful for showing off favorite dishes and glasses. But that’s not the case in a laundry room, where bottles of detergent, fabric softener and stain remover are rarely worth exhibiting.
“Closed storage is paramount,” Ms. Curtis said. “We want it to be easily accessible, and for everything inside those cabinets to be perfectly planned, but out of sight.”
If you have garments to hang dry, but you’re tired of wrestling with flimsy, collapsible racks, you may want to include some hanging space. Rehabitat’s solution is to install drapery rods on the undersides of upper cabinets. When there isn’t cabinetry, Ms. Hammel sometimes runs ordinary closet rods wall to wall, or installs lengths of clothesline.
If you want to lay sweaters flat to dry, rather than risk having them stretch out on hangers, another option is to build slide-out drying shelves. Essentially thin drawers within your cabinetry, they typically have a mesh, wire or slatted bottom for air circulation.
Other choices include wall-mounted racks that fold down when needed, from stores like the Home Depot and Pottery Barn, and ceiling-mounted racks that lower on a pulley system, like those made by PulleyMaid, Sheila Maid and George & Willy.
It’s also wise to think about where you’ll put your hampers. Ms. Curtis sometimes builds hamper storage into the cabinetry, behind doors. Other designers, like Ms. Hammel and the partners at Rehabitat, incorporate parking spaces for rolling laundry carts beneath counters.
Take Some Decorative Risks
An all-white laundry room can look institutional, but one finished in interesting colors and patterns can feel like a destination.
In the laundry room Ms. Curtis designed in Rye, she chose simple white quartz counters for durability, but coated the cabinets in light-blue lacquer and added a backsplash of hand-painted hexagonal tile from Tabarka Studio and a tiled floor with a different interlocking pattern. “I do believe that even if it’s a laundry room or other utility room, it should still have some fun elements,” she said. “It’s almost like it’s a commercial-kitchen-grade area where you can hose it all down, but it still looks beautiful.”
Wallpaper is another option, but Ms. Word often prefers to tile walls, creating surfaces that are easy to clean. In various projects, she has installed expanses of bright yellow, green or blue rectangular tile to add a punch of color that isn’t easily scuffed or scratched.
Cabinet hardware should be just as striking as the knobs and handles you choose for a kitchen, she said, noting that she often favors pulls from Waterworks.
Underfoot, highly patterned encaustic cement tile has proved to be a laundry-room trend with legs, but some designers prefer porcelain tile that offers a similar look in an easier-to-maintain material. “We love when we can find a ceramic or porcelain tile that looks like a cement tile,” Ms. Hammel said, “because it’s more durable than cement tile, doesn’t need to be sealed and requires a little less maintenance.”
Focus on Lighting and Art
One easy way to make the laundry room more than a bare-bones utility space is to install an eye-catching decorative light fixture. “They bring in so much character,” said Ms. Barry, of Rehabitat, who recently installed a pair of factory-style pendants to light a laundry room in Connecticut.
Ms. Curtis suggested adding layers of lighting, as you would in any other room. In the laundry room she designed in Rye, she included ceiling lights for general lighting, a large decorative pendant from Circa Lighting for a statement, and under-cabinet lighting to illuminate the work surfaces.
And don’t forget the art and accessories: Framed artworks and sculptural objects can add personality and make any space more interesting.
“Our accessory budgets for laundry rooms are just as healthy as our accessory budgets for bedrooms,” Ms. Martin said. “Artwork and pretty things that can go on the countertops just finish off the space.”