Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Looking ahead, part 4: The laundry

According to the 1920 census, the Huntsman household at 920 Cedar Brook Road included two full time housemaids. Among their many responsibilities would have been the laundry - which of course was done downstairs, in the basement. The laundry room was just below the kitchen, and as you can see from the blueprint below, had ample room for washing as well as air drying and ironing.

Original blueprint detail of the basement laundry.
Image reprinted courtesy of the Local History
Collection of the Plainfield Public Library, NJ.

This was probably a very nice laundry room for its day. It's  bright and well ventilated, and there was even a dedicated water heater, according to the blueprint. But washing machines were still only semi-automated in 1914, requiring a separate hand-cranked wringing process. And everything had to be hung to dry; the earliest electric and gas-fired dryers wouldn't be available for another 25 years. Easy care fabrics were also decades away, which meant hours and hours of ironing. The Huntsman family's clothes and linens would then be carried two flights up the back stairs and put away in the second-floor bedrooms and linen closet. 

When my parents bought the house in 1968, laundry had become astonishingly easy in comparison. It was made even easier by moving the entire operation upstairs. Our washer and dryer were as much fixtures in the kitchen as the refrigerator and stove.

Keeping the laundry in the kitchen might still be just as convenient today. The kitchen is definitely big enough, and if laundry, cooking, and other family activities work best centered in one room, it's a very practical idea.

Moving up. However, I think there's another solution. Bring the laundry up to the second floor, and create a luxurious modern laundry room in the back wing, in what was originally the Sewing Room. It's a great functional space that served a variety of purposes when we lived in the house - from gift wrap central to general storage. More importantly, sometime in the late 1970s, my mother actually transformed it into a half bath so my grandparents would have a shorter trip to a bathroom when they came to stay with us. (They always slept in the lovely guest room at the end of the back wing.)

Original blueprint of the second floor. Image
reprinted courtesy of the Local History Collection of
the Plainfield Public Library, NJ.

Logistics. I'm not sure if the fixtures my mother installed are still in place, but I do know there must still be plumbing access. The room is also nearly directly above where the washer and gas dryer were in the kitchen. So bearing in mind that I am definitely NOT an architect, contractor, or plumber, it seems like building a laundry room here is clearly possible.

Location. Location-wise, this room is perfect.  It's just up the stairs from the kitchen. It's separated from the main second-floor bedrooms by a hallway door - so even late-night wash loads wouldn't disturb anyone. And putting away clean clothes would be incredibly convenient, especially compared to the two-story hike the maids used to make from the basement. It's bright, with two big windows overlooking the driveway, and it has tons of storage. (Note: I recall the radiator being on the left side of the windows, even though this version of the blueprints shows it moved to the right.)

Original blueprint detail of  second floor back hallway. Image
reprinted courtesy of the Local History Collection of the Plainfield Public
Library, NJ.

Planning. Looking at the room layout above, I'm guessing a standard-size washer and dryer would fit nicely side by side in the alcove on the right as you enter the room, maybe with room for a small utility sink. Or perhaps you could stack the washer and dryer; even build them into a cabinet with doors. The point here is that with a bit of thoughtful design, the room could be customized to create a wonderful laundry area for your 21st century family.

Inspiration. Here are some fun ideas from Houzz.com to help paint a clearer picture of what I'm trying to describe. (I think the maids would have liked them all.)

What a fun place to do the laundry! I love the cabinetry and great use of wall space. 

This is simple but very functional. This is what I was envisioning with 
side-by-side appliances and utility sink.

This would work nicely if you shifted the appliances and sink over to
the far right wall. You'd also have more open floor space in case you want
to use the room for other activities or storage. 

This is amazingly close to the way the old Sewing Room feels, in terms of
window placement and light. The room itself is much wider than this space.

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