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Laundry rooms clean up nicely

With marble floors, custom counters and indoor air-drying units, the room that drudgery built has new status.

June 28, 2007|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

DEBBIE SCHWARTZ has given her upstairs laundry room the star treatment. Her super-capacity washer and dryer sit on marble floors and bask in the light of twin bronze chandeliers. A Romanesque sculpture stands on one of the wide polished marble counters designed for folding laundry. The large room has the same cabinets as her gourmet kitchen and a tile stall to dry delicates. There's even a garden view.

It's a workroom, yes, but by making it elegant, the chore feels less like drudgery. "I never shut the door to this room," she says, standing next to a built-in TV. "I want every room to be pretty."

Now that kitchens are equipped to impress a chef, bathrooms look like spas and closets can hold a diva's wardrobe, the laundry area is ready for its close-up. It's moving out of the garage and into a larger space often near bedrooms -- the starting and stopping points for most laundry. The room is being outfitted with warming drawers for clothes too dainty for dryers, rotary presses to iron sheets and laundry sinks with whirlpool jets to clean bulky comforters.

And for those who miss the simplicity of a clothesline? A $3,750 indoor air-drying unit promises to deliver something close to a fresh-breeze scent.

The enhanced environment helps to take the dreariness out of an unending chore -- American families wash an average of seven loads of laundry a week, according to research conducted for GE. In 1992, only 17% of American homes had a separate laundry room. Today, 56.7% of households do.

The average space devoted to laundry work is now 47 square feet, enough to hold a full-size washer, dryer, sink and hampers. For those with household incomes more than $100,000, it's almost double, according to the research. In some estates in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, the laundry rooms are 400 square feet or larger, allowing a maid and professional ironer to work together -- not a concern for most homeowners.

New status for the once lowly laundry room reflects both an appreciation of the task and the emergence of the space as sort of an organizational center for an increasingly complicated household.

For some women, doing the laundry is relaxing. Home historian Winifred Gallagher refers to Carl Jung's and others' research that found that women have a desire to nest, fold and sort. "I get up from my work when I'm dealing with something difficult and I fold clothes, changing a tangled mess into neat ordered piles," says the author of "House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live." "It's a symbol of how you can restore order."

Bel-Air Crest homeowner Lynn S. Neuberg says a large laundry room helps to manage a household. When she's having an outdoor party, caterers prepare trays in this room and use its door to the backyard, sidestepping the kitchen. It's also an art room and flower arranging spot, and the drip-dry stall can be used to bathe a dog.

Neuberg wanted the laundry room downstairs because that's where she is most of the day. Nearby is her home office, where she keeps track of the family calendar and runs the edible gold division of her husband Larry's Easy Leaf Products company.

"I'm close enough to hear the beep when the machine's done," she says.

The 125-square-foot room, which she planned with interior designer Malgosia Migdal, has a limestone floor and counters and a Bendheim glass window to see into it from the hallway.

Santa Monica home builder Gordon Gibson, who built the Neuberg home, says women are really particular about laundry rooms. His female clients will turn over the design of their kitchen to specialists, but they usually take a strong hands-on approach to laying out and equipping the laundry room. Some, he says, want multiple washing machines, dryers and sinks, a separate air conditioning system and what he calls "Costco" storage -- room to stash a year's worth of household stuff. "Detergent and sponges and everything is now bought in case loads," he says.

Schwartz, for example, knew that she wanted her Maytag washing machine and dryer on one side of the room, a farm sink on the other and a long marble counter in between for folding.

During the planning stage, she asked architect Richard Landry for 3 extra feet on the width of the room. That allowed for built-in sorting bins to hold white, light and dark laundry.

"I didn't want piles on the floor," says Schwartz, who also has a laundry station downstairs. "I have an organizational mind and I want the room to always look nice. Everything can stay hidden and be accessible."



High tech and high style

There are plenty of tricked-out products for the laundry room -- some washers have as many as 20 settings for laundry zealots. Here's a sampling:

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