It's time to come clean

Sick and tired of your laundered clothes smelling of food? The solution is to build an extension to wash them in - but it'll cost you. Raul Peschiera casts his eyes over a new breed of über-utility rooms
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The Independent Online

Being elbow-deep in dirty laundry isn't pretty. Neither is it chic nor glamorous. So while the kitchen has evolved into a sophisticated conversational piece, the laundry room remains tucked into a corner crammed with clumsy white goods and flanked by an embarrassing ironing board. Until now. In a move to free up more interior space, people are digging deep into their pockets - and sometimes into the ground - to create new and more attractive rooms to do the washing.

Being elbow-deep in dirty laundry isn't pretty. Neither is it chic nor glamorous. So while the kitchen has evolved into a sophisticated conversational piece, the laundry room remains tucked into a corner crammed with clumsy white goods and flanked by an embarrassing ironing board. Until now. In a move to free up more interior space, people are digging deep into their pockets - and sometimes into the ground - to create new and more attractive rooms to do the washing.

The problem with laundry rooms is that if you don't already have a separate room with all the necessary plumbing, creating an extra room can be enormously expensive. The owners of an Oxfordshire property splashed out £70,000 on a laundry extension. Designed by Featherstone Associates, the room is enclosed in glass and includes back-lit resin shelves, a custom-made concrete counter and sink, and hidden appliances and storage behind cedar shingles, which are also an effective means of keeping moths at bay. Architect Sarah Featherstone says the inspiration for the extension came from trying to make the space within the home more efficient. "The previous laundry area was blocking the entrance area and stealing valuable view and light from the garden," she says. "The new extension relocated the room to the side of the house where there is a very nice long view of the garden."

At night, the lit resin shelves and opaque glass give the room an other-worldly glow, and from the outside, the dark shapes of detergent bottles and soap are remarkably mysterious. "Washing isn't a mundane activity necessarily," says Featherstone. "Although the extension looks quite beautiful and pristine, it needs the paraphernalia of laundry, such as piled-up clothes and bottles to bring it to life."

While an extravagant extension is often beyond the ordinary budget, Richard Found of architects Found Associates says that when redecorating a house, most people are enticed to spend extra for a room that moves clumsy white goods out of sight and earshot. They'll even spend around £50,000 to excavate a room beneath the front of the house to fit all of the goods in. "It seems like an excessive expense, in order to store your boiler and your laundry room," says Found. "But what it means is that you have a really clean and quiet kitchen. The last thing you want is guests around and have the tumble dryer running."

With all this effort and expense going into creating a laundry room, most of Found's clients want the room to carry on the sleek, minimal lines of the rest of the house. The effect makes the space look like an ancillary kitchen. "There's one house in Chelsea where we've recently carried over the slate work surface from the actual kitchen into the utility room and hidden all the appliances behind doors. It's good to have something that's functional as well as aesthetically pleasing, like a Belfast sink for instance," says Found.

Alex Michaelis, the co-founder of the architects Michaelis Boyd Associates (who were the design brains behind the chic Babington House hotel in Bath) has seen the same trend towards favouring bespoke utility rooms. He adds that the benefit to creating another room by extending the house or excavating into the basement is two-fold. "It is really expensive but if the property price justifies it, you can do it. You really can get everything that would otherwise clutter up the house into that area," says Michaelis. "It just frees up space - a house that had a lot of little rooms in the lower ground floor, suddenly has a great big space with lots of light in it. Combine that with a really nice entrance area and it becomes a nice way for the family and children to go in."

He estimates that 30 per cent of his clients who are undergoing major refurbishments choose to invest in a new laundry room. "I think that when you end up spending a lot of money on those spaces you generally are going to put quite good equipment in there and also include stone, wood or stainless-steel that are sometimes linked to the kitchen design." But is all this luxury in the laundry room simply designers gone out of control? Rita Konig, author of Domestic Bliss, is all for creating laundry rooms - but she's a little doubtful about the emphasis on the room's look and design. "Doing your laundry in your kitchen isn't ideal - who wants to have to talk over a washing machine going through its cycles? So having all your appliances and boiler in one room is a great idea," says Konig, "but I don't see the point of concealed appliances in a laundry room. Unless you're doing the wash, no one is likely to see them."

Michaelis admits that many clients often stop short of concealing their appliance behind cupboards, but according to Richard Found, it all depends on whether people will even catch a glimpse of the laundry room and its bulky machines. "Most of the appliances aren't that attractive," he says, adding that for a laundry room, just as a stock room in retail, the design has to look sharp even if it's going to be visible momentarily. "But a lot of people, especially if they've just had a house designed, also like to take guests round to every room, even the laundry room - it's a space that everyone has become kind of proud of in a way."

Michaelis Boyd and Featherstone Associates will both be showcasing their concept bathrooms at the House & Garden Fair, 24-27 June, at Olympia ( www.houseandgardenfair.co.uk)

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