Send me a FREE trial issue Plus a FREE gift
Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Interiors & Decor » Laundry Rooms for Old Houses

Laundry Rooms for Old Houses

Practicality with a whiff of nostalgia—a good approach to take when designing this utilitarian space. By Catherine S. Pond

    This laundry room flanks the kitchen of a restored 1865 Missouri farmhouse. Plumbing is cleverly hidden behind a curtain of cotton cording and old grain sacks. (Photo: Carol Spinski/raisedincotton.com)

    My childhood memories of the laundry room recall the dank basement of our postwar suburban Foursquare in Ohio, and also the creepy stone foundation in the cellar of my grandparents’ New England farm. It seemed to me my mother was brave to venture into the catacombs, unafraid of those dark, cobwebbed corners. She would emerge victorious, with fresh, folded laundry heaped into a rattan basket. The contradiction—clean clothes from a dim cellar—was not lost on me. Neither have I taken for granted the multi-tasking allowed by modern laundry practices. (I have a load in the wash right now as I write.)

    Before my mother’s day, laundry had been an all-encompassing task. But “electric appliances put more pressure on women who had relied on domestic help or services to accomplish these tasks themselves,” writes Jane Brox in Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). “And although the labor of wash ing had disappeared, so had the community of it. Women who’d previously washed and hung their clothes in the back yard could gossip with hired help or neighbors . . . Electric washers and dryers confined them, often alone, to the house.”

    Today laundry remains a solitary affair, but, just like the kitchen, the laundry room has been brought into the light of day. Ideally, it is easily accessible, a room of its own or tucked into a larger mudroom near the kitchen. It is highly functional, and may be part of the family space. Second-floor laundries, so popular during the McMansion era, sometimes may be practical, but in my opinion they are remote and lonely places.

    Victorian households of means put their laundry rooms on the first floor, or in the cellar if a row house, but always the room was part of the service labyrinth of the home. In here would be a boiler to heat water, tubs and a large sink, an iron (made of iron), and indoor drying racks in heat-fed closets. Laundresses usually came to the household—Monday was traditionally wash day—and rarely lived in. In house museums (and the occasional old house), we can find preserved elements of this domestic past.

    Whites soaking up the sun. Photo: Catherine S. Pond

    Whites soaking up the sun. (Photo: Catherine S. Pond)

    How does the 21st-century owner reconcile a historic house with modern laundry appliances and assumptions? The laundry room might remain in the basement, or be installed in a former pantry or utility room, or in an enclosed service porch. Often the laundry room is included, along with kitchen and bathroom, in a compatible addition. The essentials are the same as they were a hundred years ago: hot and cold water supply, a sink, a washing machine, and a way to dry clothes mechanically or in the air. Good lighting, hampers or bins, accessible shelves, and a cupboard or two complete the room. Space for ironing right out of the dryer is a bonus.

    One end of this mudroom has a convenient laundry with an old sink built into the ivory-painted cabinets. Photo: Eric Roth

    One end of a Vermont mudroom has a convenient laundry with an old sink built into the ivory-painted cabinets. (Photo: Eric Roth)

    When the laundry area is part of the kitchen (or otherwise obvious), appliances maybe concealed in cabinets or behind a folding or sliding door, or hidden behind a curtain. In designing a space devoted to the task, owners of old houses often incorporate nostalgic (and practical) elements such as a soapstone utility sink and drying racks, with detergent stored in vintage tins or bottles. In any case, the laundry room is necessarily a practical blend of old and new, and—since it is unlikely a laundress will be coming in to help—a space that helps you enjoy the task.

    Published in: Old-House Interiors March/April 2011

    { 3 comments }

    Sophia Butterbottom January 31, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Great article, lovely photographs.

    Crystal Mudgett-Epley February 2, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Nostalgic!

    Carol Spinski February 12, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Thank You Catherine for featuring my laundry room!

    Blessings, Carol



    Get your FREE Trial Issue of Old House Journal and 2 FREE gifts.
    Yes! Please send me a FREE trial issue of Old House Journal and 2 FREE gifts.
    If I like it and decide to continue, I'll get 7 more issues (8 in all) for just $24.95, a savings of 48%. If for any reason I decide not to continue,
    I'll write cancel on the invoice and owe nothing. The Free Trial Issue is mine to keep, no matter what.
     
     Full Name:
     Address 1:
     Address 2:
     City:
     State:
     Zip Code:
     Email (req):
     
    Offer valid in US only.
    Click here for Canada or here for international subscriptions

    Products & ServicesHouse ToursHistoric PlacesHouse StylesOldHouseOnline.comMagazine
    Architectual ElementsKitchen & BathsHistoric HotelsArchitectural TermsRepairs & How ToSubscribe to Old-House Journal
    BathsInterior & DécorHistoric NeighborhoodsAmerican FoursquareFree NewslettersBack Issues
    Ceilings & WallsGardens & ExteriorsHouse MuseumsBungalowSubscribe to Arts & Crafts HomesDigital Editions
    Doors & WindowsColonial RevivalOld House CommunityAdvertise
    Exterior Products & LandscapeGothicAbout Us 
    FlooringQueen AnneContact Us 
    FurnitureVictorianPrivacy Policy
    HardwareLand for Sale
    Heating & CoolingSite Map
    Home Décor
    Kitchens
    Period Lighting
    Real Estate
    Repair & Restoration
    Roofing & Siding
    Tools & Equipment

    EXPLORE OUR HOME GROUP BRANDS:
     
    Designer Sourcw e bookHistoric Home Show Logo

    Copyright © 2011-2016 Old House Online