Often times beautiful design goes wrong when people forget about function.

The functional use of spaces is the bottom line.  No matter how beautiful a space is, if people can’t use it functionally, it is useless. I learned about this first hand when I moved into a beautifully remodeled house that had never been lived in. I found many problems with functional use that were over-looked. For example, in the newly renovated bathroom there was no toilet paper holder installed; linen closets with no handles or knobs; and a shower without a door or curtain rod.  While these things were easy to fix, they showed how the building professionals had forgotten to think about the functional use of the spaces they were creating.

This concept becomes even more important when considering people with health concerns or disabilities who might have functional limitations. A skilled building professional will not only consider the use of the space by an average person, but also by people with a variety of functional impairments. It is not enough that the design problems could be worked around, but that in good design no one should have to work around it. This is the motivation behind movements such as universal design, barrier-free homes, visitable homes, and life-time homes, but also a fundamental principle in creating custom home modifications for people with disabilities. This series simply asks the question of “what could be improved?”  It is not meant to criticize, but to encourage people to think about the functional use of the spaces by real people living in a home.

When I was visiting model homes recently, I was impressed with the space being given to laundry rooms.  It seems that putting the washer and drying into the dark basement corner is a thing of the past.  Almost every new home had made room for a washer and dryer either near the bedrooms or in the mudroom space.  What a great improvement!

This photo is a typical example of a “laundry room” found in a newer home.  It was thoughtfully placed on the upper floors between the main bedrooms for ease of use. It has a front-loading washer and dryer for easy access, and even has a sink, counter top work space, and cabinet storage for added convenience.  The surfaces used are durable, and the the lighting is sufficient.

So, what could be improved?

My main concern with this laundry room is the shape of the room.  The long, narrow space seems to give enough space for laundry, until you open the doors to the washer and dryer.  With the doors open, there is very little space to move around, much less space for laundry baskets.  While this may just be an inconvenience for most people, it may make it impossible for many people to safely and easily use the space. Ideally there would be enough room to place a chair to sit in while loading and unloading from the machines, as well as a place to sit on a stool while folding or ironing clothing.

Example of a laundry room with ample space to move around and sit if needed.

The second concern I would have about this set-up is the location of the sink.  While it is aesthetically pleasing to center the sink in the counter-top, it limits the usable of the counter space.  The most common activity a person would use this counter for is to fold laundry, which would be easier on a longer continuous space.

Lastly, I would recommend using faucet knobs that are easier to use.  The small knobs can be difficult for anyone with limited function of their hands, but also anyone with dirty hands (as one might have using the laundry room sink).  A faucet that could be operated more easily, such as a faucet with wrist blades, would make this space easier to use. See this post for more ideas on making faucets easier to use.

Example of a sink with wrist-blade handles.

Other improvement ideas:

  • Front loading washer and drying are almost always easier to use for people of all abilities.  Traditional top loading washers are difficult for people who are short, people with limited mobility, people with arm or hand limitations, and people with visual impairments.  Whenever possible, plan for a front-loading machine.
  • Many people also would benefit from placing a front loading washer and dryer onto pedestals to make reaching into and out of the machines easier. Pedestals can be bought or can be built into the room.
  • Laundry rooms often are poorly lit.  Make sure there is overhead lighting, but also task lighting where someone might be work on tasks such as removing a stain, sorting laundry, or folding clothing.

So what have I missed?  What other ideas or suggestions do you have?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Traditional top loading machines are difficult to use.

Front loading machines and pedestals can make laundry tasks easier.