Why are we hidebound by the convention of a laundry room downstairs? Kitchen designer Toby Griffin suggests a radical new approach
Like most of you, I guess, I generally change my clothes in either the bathroom or the bedroom. Like most of you, I guess, the bed linen and towels get changed regularly, too. Like most of you, I guess, the clothes, linen and towels are then placed in a laundry basket on the first floor, unless you live in a bungalow or flat.
Likewise, my clean clothes are kept in wardrobes and drawers in my bedroom. By and large bathrooms and bedrooms are on the first floor. And like you, I dare say the washing machine, dryer and ironing board are on the ground floor.
Doesn’t that seem a bit strange? Think about it for a minute. All of the taking off, putting on, and storage happens on one floor, while all of the washing, drying and ironing happens on another. Therefore, the traipsing up and down the stairs carrying washing baskets, looking for lost socks, bringing up the cleaned and ironed clothes and sheets and such like, is a waste of time.
So why do we do this? Historically, I can only assume that the presence of a downstairs washing machine would have been linked to the use of the washing line in the garden. But, like the tiresome assumption that all clients must have their kitchen sink in front of the window, presumably to look out into the garden while washing up, despite most new kitchens now having a dishwasher, perhaps the downstairs laundry is also an anachronism that we should shake off.
Having a laundry area upstairs is going to take up some space, though. For those with large enough bathrooms, this would not be a problem. The bathroom basin can easily double up as a sink for hand-washing clothes (rare these days due to advancements in appliance technology), so we’re only talking of 8sq ft of appliance space (washing machine and tumble-dryer). In the case of a washer-dryer, it’d be just be 4sq ft. For those bathrooms that run into eaves, these appliances will fit snuggly into them, with no effect on the overall usable area of the room. But with most people now wanting a separate shower and bath in their bathrooms, these spaces are getting very crowded already, so perhaps another room could be considered for repurposing.
Please tell me that I’m not the only one who thinks that the recent affectation of having an en-suite off every bedroom plus a family bathroom, in a big family home is overkill. If you agree, then one of the underutilised en suites could be used as the laundry instead – with a bit of blocking-off and opening-up of doorways.
The ‘box room’ is the next obvious alternative. Being pretty much the size of a normal downstairs utility room, it is perfect for a laundry room, particularly if it is near or adjacent to a bathroom, as it can share the water pipes and wastes.
Obviously, the former functions of this room – as maybe an overflow bedroom, games room, home office, or storage space – could move to the former utility room downstairs. A simple swap.
In truth, this might not suit some existing houses, as architects have always designed homes with downstairs utilities coming off the kitchen, whereas a bedroom/games room/office could really do with being somewhat away from the action, but I’ll leave that to them to get their thinking caps on.
From a more practical perspective, it must be said that getting washing machines up the stairs isn’t easy. As some of us may have experienced first-hand, a washing machine can weigh a ton – well around the same weight as an average man, at least. So getting them upstairs is no mean feat. The thing is that a washing machine isn’t particularly heavy in itself, it’s just that the concrete blocks inside used to stop it bouncing around the room are around one third of that weight.
There are two solutions to this issue I can think of, which require a small amount of product redesign, but can’t be too hard to solve, and could even be used in combination. One, have the washing machine come with some sort of rubberised wall/floor-fixing, doing away with the need for the blocks; or two, make the weights removable, meaning that they can be brought up separately. That could be a solution to the problem, and I’ll leave that to the product designers to get their thinking caps on.
So, in conclusion, maybe it’s time for us all – kitchen, bathroom and bedroom designers, retailers, architects, product designers, and even the general public – to start to consider an upstairs laundry room as a plausible and preferable option, which may just help make our busy lives just that little bit easier.