Kya deLongchamps says we need to roll up our sleeves and bring practicality to the most hard-working room of the house.
IN the past, if I were asked to name one space that really works in my house that did its job with style — it had to be the utility room. That honest little thread of corridor between the great room (no longer so great) and the exhausted family bathroom was a stoic, multi-purpose servant. I loved her.
She embraced piles of dishes when the kitchen would have otherwise showcased my dark domestic underbelly. Defended by a solid timber door, she offered a blessed hush from the throb of the washer and dryer.
Best of all, (and for this she will always hold my heart in her grip) — my mob of ungrateful Jack Russell terrorists, are securely imprisoned in the splash resistant environment of the utility room after rolling in the eye watering joys of fox muck.
All this said, I am about to rip out that thrumming heart of my house. The mysterious wave in the OSB beneath the linoleum, that fog of cream and blue on the walls and counters, and frankly the lack of space to stage baskets of barely worn pre-teen washing — the little room as it was, has been made redundant, but with a good reference.
Renovating a house, even one room of a house, we are gifted with insight. Insight about what worked before and what clearly let the space down.
The joy of the utility room. The whole business of washers and dryers takes up room in a kitchen. Even with a low decibel count and movie star good looks, white goods take up blocks of 60cm base counter space and deliver a maddening, hypnotic hum.
In cycle, the moist slap of the washing hitting the base of the drum, deals a hammer blow to any sense of atmosphere and harmony at meal times. Throw in the collapsing mechanics of ironing boards and airers — not pretty. Many people I know will happily tolerate a trek to the garage to hide erupting washing baskets from view.
The modern Irish kitchen really has the air of a reception room these days. Incompatible with this new role, the dirty little secrets of laundry has to at least assume a disguise.
If the kitchen leads to a back door, orientate your machines to this end of the room and introduce some sense of separation with a pocket door or change of flooring. The general rule for storage is to assess what you need to cull from the kitchen units and throw in about 25% more.
If space and budget allow, it really is worth dedicating one small room or a generous transition area at the rear of the house to the domestic drudgery.
Utility rooms that lead directly off to the garden are ideal for heaving out baskets of washing destined for the line by the shortest route and shaking out creases, dust and fluff directly from the back door step. Configure the room for practicality and decorate it with the intention of genuinely enjoying being there.
If you’re building from scratch, a laundry chute from upstairs, (a brilliant device of the hospitality industry) can skid trampled, dirty clothes to generous baskets to be pitched straight into the washer.
If the room does not have a door opening to the outdoors, pay special attention to ventilation as it may be closed up for long periods stewing up damp and smells in a relatively short time.
A high-powered ventilator will allow you to finish drying lighter textiles on overhead racks when the weather is inhospitable. When building ask your architect about MVHR (whole house ventilation with heat recovery).
Ten top tips
1. Tightly manage your utility room in any high traffic area. Pass through it, but ensure you’re not tripping in through the back door over chaos. Take baskets up off the floor in favour of wall-hung laundry bags, and climb the walls in slender shelving to ensure a safe, clear passage of at least 80cm.
2. Consider the placement of machines. Get too close to walls or leaning on counter, and resonating noise can be truly deafening. Can you see the machines in your eye line from other rooms? Then consider integrating with existing cupboards.
3. Stacks work well, requiring just 60cm for both machines. Where you pay for clever ergonomic is in a reach up to the top machine, no mean feat with four pairs of wet jeans. If placing side by side you can place machines off the floor on a generous purpose-built drawer. A few lines of washer offer this addition in the housing.
4. If you like to iron a lot of clothes, then the ironing board should be added to the assembly line of the task. Take a look at fold down varieties married to an outlet at least 60cm from any tap. The less reaching and bending to the bottom of cavernous cupboards and baskets the better. Good overhead lighting is vital for the task. Think about wet and dry zoning.
5. Install a table or countertop on which to fold clothes. A short drop down length of counter made from an off-cut of your main countertop might work. An overhead airing rack is also a cheap addition with many uses from drying children’s artwork to finishing clothes.
6. Include plenty of shelving for detergents, fabric softener and the rest. If you can see your utility room from the leisure areas, make those blind doors not open shelves. Iron board caddies, stacking cube systems and side of machine shelving units can make use of every centimetre of vertical and horizontal dead space.
7. Laundry tabs look enticingly like sweeties to toddlers. Include a safe cupboard if you have young children.
8. When doing double duty as a hall and utility — direct that traffic. Incorporate hooks, shelves and bag cubbies set at an appropriate height for each member of the family on the cloakroom side. Add a shallow seat for perching to remove dirty shoes. If the dog is not of elephant proportions his basket will slip neatly under one end of the bench.
9. What kills the flow of doing laundry is sorting. If you have older family members, let them help you by making baskets for darks and lights easily to hand. Use laundry sorting bins to organise your laundry by color and cycle. You might throw in a smaller one for delicates too.
10. Install a utility sink if space allows. A second sink can be used for everything from rinsing a child’s filthy shoes (and toxic DIY hands), to doing dishes, washing delicates and so much more. Watch the sizing as that half sink you love in the kitchen can gobble up 30-40cm of counter.
Lining up best drying options
* Energy ratings for dryers are lower than those for washing machines as they ‘eat’ kilowatts. ‘A+++’ to ‘G’ ratings are on offer.
* The latests and greatest include heat pump technology (as in a condenser dryer) improving standard energy performance by as much as 50%. Try for a ‘C’ rating at least.
* Ensure the dryer capacity you choose corresponds with your washing machine capacity (80% fully loaded). Splitting loads is a nuisance.
* Where you have no means of venting a dryer through a hose, use a condenser model. Ensure you have somewhere to dump the water.
* Condensers are generally more energy efficient than vented machines, and you can release the heat produced back to the room.
* Gas tumbler dryers are highly efficient to run, but still require the same vigilance for performance.
* Look for three basic programs matched to sensor technology: cotton, synthetic and delicates. Fuzzy logic allows the machine to detect the degree of damp in the clothes as it runs, shutting it off when they are as dry as you like them (cupboard dry to wear, or iron dry — just a little damp).
* The wash capacity of a washer/dryer is generally greater than the drying capacity — the drying capacity is just about half. This machine will save room but keep in mind that you will be handling two loads of drying to cycle the full wash.
* Every time you can, dry outdoors. Even using the line every third wash through the summer will cut down on the carbon footprint of that greedy dryer.
Tips for choosing a washer
* Energy labels. A+ ratings are now an industry requirement, with the more exalted A++ and stunners of A+++ available at a price. These ratings are awarded for the wash and spin, giving an overall performance rating. The machine’s sticker will show the real cost in electricity of running the machine for a year based on 220 washes.
* Top loaders might seem a maverick choice, but for tight spots where you can’t open a door across a space with ease, they are worth consideration.
* Time delay allows you to use off-peak (night-saver) electricity more easily for washing between 11pm-8am. Remember there is an extra charge for these meters of €50 to €60, so ensure the figures add up. Electricireland.ie.
* Quick-wash cycles can generally handle only 1.5kg of wash depending on the machine, but it’s a useful addition for the dramas of a standard family.
* Sports programs. Not all features are truly useful, but for lashing the sweat and muck out of synthetic skins and strips, keep this one in mind.
* Choose a machine sized to your needs. A 9kg machine used regularly for half loads is washing money down the drain. Only ever fill your wash to 80% of the machine’s capacity.
* 7.5L of water in a standard load is considered efficient in a washing machine.
* Try the door. Look for a full 180° opening and a door that holds position rather than swinging in on you. Is the operation comfortable on the hand? Open the detergent drawers and examine their ease of operation.
* Look out for smart technology within the machine that will alert you if the machine needs servicing by text message, for example Samsung Smart Check.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved