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.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Looking ahead, part 3: Rooms reimagined

If I miraculously won the lottery and could buy back my beautiful old house, I'd have a hard time deciding which rooms to update first. But the main living areas downstairs would be at the top of my list (after the kitchen, of course).

A fresh look at the first floor. Right now, the dark wall colors and border treatments in the library, living room, foyer, and dining room are really at odds with the home's classic Colonial Revival architectural details. But with some fresh, bright color schemes and design treatments, these rooms will absolutely sparkle again.

The library now. This room looks a bit shabby here, but it has great potential. It has three windows, custom-built bookshelves,  and plenty of room for two big chairs, a long couch and a TV.  This was my mother's favorite room...she spent many contented hours here, surrounded by her beloved books and an army of Toby jugs.

The library reimagined. I found this library photo on Houzz...and fell in love with it. It's so easy to imagine the library at 920 Cedar Brook updated and brightened to feel just like this.  There's definitely space to combine a desk similar to this one, as well as a nice-sized couch and several comfy chairs.
The living room now. This black floral wallpaper was added recently, and makes the living room feel dark and closed in, despite four big windows and French doors on either side of the fireplace, and spacious room size (25' x 16'). The pattern and color also feel out of place against the clean, classical lines of the white woodwork.

The living room reimagined.  Although pale blues, grays, greens or even a delicate, light-colored wallpaper would also work beautifully in this room, there's something about the brightness of a creamy ivory/beige scheme that feels very inviting and versatile - especially since the living room is so open to the foyer.
The foyer and dining room now. The walls are a deep burgundy in both rooms, creating a similar somber effect as the living room, while also making the beautiful fluted and carved woodwork appear stark and oddly unrelated to the walls. The overall effect is a pretty depressing mash up of Victorian and Colonial.

The foyer and dining room reimagined. What a difference light makes! Although this concept is on the formal side, the pale blue is still so simple and refreshing against the white trim. And the woodwork is remarkably similar to 920 Cedar Brook. The fireplace is not in the same place as in this image; it's on the left as you enter the room.

Up the stairs
The staircase now (front view).

The staircase now (side view).
Stairs and foyer reimagined. Obviously a very different room layout than the foyer at 920, but the staircase and surrounding woodwork share enough similarities that this image was irresistible. What I think is interesting to consider is the effect of a delicate traditional wallpaper, which really complements the proportions of the space and adds character without being overwhelming.

I hope these ideas make it easier to envision just how beautiful 920 Cedar Brook Road can be...again.

A few additional notes...
- I recently rediscovered this link from the Plainfield Historic Preservation Society, which describes the architectural importance of Cedar Brook Road.

- And here's one of many good overviews available online about the history and architectural features of Colonial Revival homes: