Laundry rooms used to be dark, dreary spaces tucked out of sight in the basement or garage, and often weren’t even proper rooms. In recent decades, they’ve emerged as flex rooms with multi-functional identities and increased investment. The cabinetry, surfaces and appliances have all taken on greater style and their location at home has moved into more prominence.
The Covid Effect
This trend has been increasing since the pandemic began, as families seek to drop their outdoor clothing, shoes and packages close to their daily home entrance, rather than bringing everything deeper into the residence, and to make use of every square inch of space.
“Since Covid, we are seeing people rethink their spaces,” observes Nina Green, an interior designer in the greater Philadelphia area. “Now that clients are spending more time at home with each other, they are seeing ‘free space’ that could be put to use. The overall idea is that the space is attractive as well as functional.”
The “flex” role can be mud room, pet station, pantry, craft center or a combination of multiple functions. All of these purposes take advantage of the cleaning features of the laundry fixtures and appliances, as well as surfacing materials appropriate to hard use and low maintenance.
“We are seeing laundry areas combined with potting/plant rooms, Amazon and Costco closets, butler’s and bar pantries,” Green comments. She’s also seeing laundry areas incorporated into primary bedroom suites, closets, office/planning rooms, and playrooms,” she adds.
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Designing these into living areas has contributed to their increased style and attention. “That may include making the laundry units disappear with a panel or closet, while the rest of the room takes priority until laundry day,” Green says.
There are still dedicated laundry rooms, the designer says, and those are getting more investment too. “We embrace laundry units with stylish colors and build cabinetry and countertops around them, making the appliances a focal point.” The surrounding cabinetry also often includes integrated ironing boards, drying racks, trash cans, pullout hampers and baskets, and storage for laundry soaps, the designer notes.
“Doing the laundry requires many motor performance skills such as balance, bending at the knees and waist, reach, grip, manipulation, and endurance to name a few,” observes Wilmington, Delaware area occupational therapist Debra Young. “As we age, the laundry chore can become more challenging due to potential decreased range of motion, strength and endurance, muscle tightness and sometimes pain or discomfort.” Age can also impact vision, making the need for more light essential, and hearing, making the cycle signals or problem alerts harder to catch, she counsels.
“When considering older or disabled clients, our priority is to make sure that they have easy access to the laundry area,” Green shares. “Depending on the size of the home, the units may become part of the master closet, or it may be part of the mudroom where they will primarily enter/exit. If there is a larger family or property, we may even investigate having more than one unit strategically placed throughout the house.
“Location of the laundry area is critical to not only participation in the laundry task, but successful completion from start to finish,” Young advises. Where the client stores their laundered items and how easy it is to transport the laundry basket from there to the laundry area are considerations.
Stacked units are often the only option in bedroom suites or closets. “These might not always be ideal for people with mobility issues, as accessing the units may not be the most ideal if the client has a hard time bending or lifting items and some controls may not be ideally placed,” Green notes. (Top loaders can also be challenging for some users, Young points out, especially over time as they add stress to your joints.)
“I think it is important to take a Universal Design approach, which considers use of the laundry by persons of different age and ability levels, integrating more flexibility into the design of the laundry area to meet potentially changing needs while also providing a layer of ergonomic safety and convenience to all of the users,” Young suggests.
Laundry appliances have gotten more sophisticated in recent years and this has enhanced their ease of use. “Remote start with automatic detergent dispensing is a nice option to get the laundry started from anywhere in the house. Having the ability to track the wash cycle through an app and be alerted through your device that the cycle is done is helpful for those who may need redundancy with alarms and reminders, may need an alarm that is closer and therefore louder, as well as for persons who may just be busy juggling daily life,” Young comments. The occupational therapist also observes that smart home technology features can provide an added layer of convenience and reduce the mental and potentially physical energy to complete the laundry task.
Green’s clients like multi-load washers, smart soap dispensers, internal cleaning technology to prevent mold and mildew, enhanced settings for flat and air drying and fabric refresher appliances.
These are the most interesting laundry appliances to third generation retailer Debbie Schaeffer of Mrs. G in the Princeton, New Jersey suburbs. They offer “steam and sanitizing,” she observes for all kinds of fabrics, from business suits to bedding to the baby’s stuffed animals.
Schaeffer’s clients and Green’s also like dual basin washers. That small second wash drawer is great for quick items and kids’ sport clothes, Schaeffer says.
When it comes to configurations, the retailer says top load washers have gained popularity in recent years, and now sell about even with more efficient front loaders. Like many in the industry, she thought they were on their way out, but then mold created by water droplets trapped in the doors made many customers want to shift away from front loaders.
Even though the mold issues have been mostly resolved, Schaeffer says, “Consumer demand for top loaders are now driving manufacturers to offer more top loaders.” They can be a challenge for shorter users to fully unload, she points out.
Beyond the different configurations available, occupational therapist Young suggests taking these considerations into account when setting up a laundry area for yourself, a family member or client, particularly considering the age and any physical challenges of the user:
- Are the appliance controls easy to see, hear, understand and manipulate?
- How accessible are the controls? Do they require a lot of reach, grip or pinch for access and use?
- Is a folding space in the laundry area needed or helpful?
- Does the client need a space in the laundry area for hanging items to dry?
- Is a space needed for ironing or hanging items?
- If yes to folding, hanging and/or ironing areas, are these areas easily accessible from both a standing and/or seated position?
- Is the design flexible for use by persons of different heights, ages, abilities and have potential for future changes?
Author’s Note: Green, Schaeffer and Young will be participating in a Clubhouse conversation Wednesday, September 15 at 4 pm Eastern (1 PM Pacific) to share more advice and trends, and answer participant questions. This session is open to design industry professionals and consumers alike.