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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy photos High-efficiency washers and dryers are bigger than traditional models, so pick the appliances before you design.

  • Homeowners want lots of natural light in a laundry room: It’s aesthetically pleasing and makes it easier to tackle stains.

Saturday, November 14, 2015 10:09 pm

Laundry rooms to long for

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Ask what Allison Brackmann Hanford thought she’d be designing after she graduated from IPFW’s interior design program a couple of years back, and the answer comes quickly.

"Kitchens and bathrooms," the 26-year-old says.

But then the real world intervened. Right up there with the two workhorses of the home has been a third design challenge.

Laundry rooms.

"I do more kitchens, but laundry rooms are very popular to design right now," she says. "They’re right up there. If you’re a busy family and you have kids, you spend a lot of time in that room. 

"You want it to be comfortable and functional. You want it to work."

Indeed, much has changed in expectations for – and design of – laundry facilities, area designers say. Tucked away in a corner of the basement next to the hot water heater and maybe the sump pump, laundry spaces used to be an afterthought. It was a rare laundry room that had a cabinet for detergent storage, let alone any room to set up an ironing board or a sewing machine for mending.

Now, however, laundry rooms have crept out of the shadows, and even if they remain hidden, it’s by design.

In some new homes, you’ll find the laundry area hiding in the master suite, between the closet and the master bath. Or, the laundry room is part of what designers call "the family foyer," the place at the back of the house where family members enter – and the business of home organization gets done.

Take the laundry room Jhonelle Kees, designer for Fort Wayne’s Quality Crafted Homes, is putting together for a young family building a home in the northeast new Timber Ridge addition.

The 13-by-8-foot room closes off from the rest of the house with a pocket door and has "lots of cabinetry" to accommodate its multiuse, Kees says – as a laundry facility, yes, but also as a homework and crafts space for the kids and a home office for mom.

"The pocket door is really simple and handy. You can close it, so you can leave out whatever you were working on and pick up wherever you left off later, Kees says, noting that the room frees up the kitchen island or the dining room table from projects and homework.

"You can leave things out if you have guests without feeling messy. You close the (laundry room) door, and no one comes in there when company comes."

Many laundry rooms these days include locker-style cabinets or hooks and cubbies for coats, backpacks, shoes and boots, with built-in hampers for shed clothing such as sports uniforms and dirty socks, Brackmann Hanford says.

"Kids can drop off their stuff by the back door of the home and not drag it through the house," she says.

Josh Bremer, owner of Bremer Homes LLC in Fort Wayne, says people are willing to devote more space in their homes to laundry rooms, with rooms the size of a small bedroom not uncommon.

"What’s trending now is … people realize they spend a lot of time in the laundry room, and it’s more a room than what it used to be. It used to be a closet," he says. "If they spend almost as much time in the laundry room as the kitchen if they have a family, they don’t want it to be a dungeon." 

So, lots of natural light, including a window, is a big request in laundry rooms, for practical reasons as well as aesthetics. After all, he says, "if you’re cleaning a stain off a piece of clothing, you want to be able to see it.

Clean white and light- ;­colored cabinetry and pastel blue and green and light- ;­neutral paint schemes also are trending, he says. "Light and airy" is the look, he says. "My opinion is the lighter the room, the happier and the cheerier it will be."

People also want a drying rack, even if it’s just a clothes bar between cabinets, and a long counter for folding, as well as a separate sink, says Bremer, who adds that a larger laundry room might even have a separate island, with a utility sink and space for folding.  

Brackmann Hanford says part of the trend to more designed laundry spaces can be traced to the design of new washers and dryers. 

High-efficiency models have different dimensions than conventional top- and front-loaders, tending to be taller, deeper front to back and in some cases wider. Sometimes they just won’t fit under existing cabinets, so homeowners decide to start over, she says.

She has her clients pick their appliances before she begins designing because of the importance of their dimensions.

Granite Ridge Builders used high-efficiency appliances in the laundry room of its nextSTEP model home showcasing green and smart design, says Lonnie Norris, vice president for sales. Not only does the washer use half as much water as a conventional unit, he says, but the machine also is self-diagnostic. 

"With an iPhone, you can literally put your phone up to it and it will tell you what’s wrong, so the repair guy, before he comes out, can know what to bring," he says. Another laundry innovation of the house, he adds, is that the dryer vent is equipped with an automatic lint alarm to prevent fires. 

But Kees says she’s noticed lately that homeowners haven’t been sold on the newer appliances – she’s seen more conventional top loaders and stacking units being used. At Quality Crafted, she says, the hot laundry style is the master bedroom pass-through.

The style is popular with empty-nest couples and with families, especially in ranch-style homes and villas, Kees says. It also serves well when a home doesn’t have a basement, and it’s becoming more common as builders try to cut new-home costs.

"You pass through the laundry into the master closet and then into the master bathroom," she says. "We’ve been doing pass-throughs for about 10 years now, but people want what they see. We just did one in a show house, and it went boom from there."

Brackmann Hanford says she traces the boom in laundry design to Houzz.com, a website featuring home design ideas and photos. "People started seeing how laundry rooms could be done, and that started the trend around here," she says. 

Indeed, Houzz recently featured a laundry room with a huge center island, a granite top and a marble-look floor reflecting a crystal chandelier. That height of laundry luxury might not have come to Fort Wayne – yet.  

"No," says builder Bremer, asked if he’s ever put a chandelier into a laundry room. "We haven’t ever done that." 

rsalter@jg.net