A Laundry Room So Tidy It Fits in the Kitchen

April 13, 2016

Urban dwellers have gotten used to on-demand convenience for seemingly every aspect of home life, and yet standard laundry appliances are still maddeningly out of reach (often even down the block) for most New Yorkers. It’s not usually the cost that keeps this modern staple out of so many city apartments—it’s the strict building rules, old plumbing infrastructure, and general lack of space that prevents renters and owners from putting washers and dryers in their homes. Finding an apartment in a bustling market is challenging enough! All the more impressive when someone works a washer or dryer into the mix.

Sweet little city kitchen. Photo by Sweeten

The Manhattan family whose home is pictured here pulled it off and learned a few things along the way. They managed to scoop up an apartment in a neighborhood they love because the unit needed more work than other buyers could manage (a huge win even if they hadn't found a spot for the washer and dryer). To help with the renovation, the family found a design/build team on Sweeten, a start-up that matches homeowners with local general contractors.

If you're considering a city renovation—or even if you're just curious how they managed to do it—here are this family's four tips for finding a home for a washer and dryer in an urban space.

1. Link up with existing plumbing lines.

Your best shot at bringing laundry into a city apartment is to put the appliances in spaces that already hook up to the building’s plumbing stack. (Most urban buildings won't let you extend plumbing in new areas or put a water line above a “dry” space in someone else’s unit.) And one look at the square footage of most N.Y.C. bathrooms will tell you that the kitchen is not just going to be the best, but also likely the sole option.

An unassuming stack of kitchen cabinets—right? Photo by Sweeten

2. Go with custom cabinetry.

Splurging on custom-built natural oak cabinetry is what allowed this family to pack in specialized storage and a concealed, stackable washer/dryer, all within a slim space. Just as you might conceal other appliances like a fridge or dishwasher with custom door panels, you can design an enclosure specifically for a laundry unit.

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Custom cabinets are, by their nature, designed and constructed by hand based on your individual needs. You define the sizes, materials, finishes, and features—and your order will be made to fit and delivered for installation. Because the choices are endless, the cost of custom cabinets can range widely: It's generally distributed between material selection, labor, and a more personalized design and customer service approach. This family's particular need for a washer/dryer cabinet added about 15% to the overall cost of cabinets, comparable to the cost of an added fridge panel.

Abracadabra. Photo by Sweeten

3. Think vertically.

The keys to fitting it all in? Four words: stackable and front loading! The search for compact machines led this family to look at European brands, because efficient laundry appliances in small spaces are more common there. Stateside, compact washers and dryers range (separately or combined) from about $500 to $1,500 and vary by finishes, energy grades, and features.

Details from the rest of the kitchen. Photo by Sweeten

4. Build in a buffer.

Like a stove and other appliances, a washer/dryer combo will inevitably generate some heat. Be careful about flanking the location with food storage and spice drawers, because you might melt foods or throw off the freshness of herbs and produce. Your contractor may also have suggestions for beefing up the enclosure to minimize heat transfer, so look at your design plans and identify any spots where extra heat might be an issue.

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Top Comment:
“I have a combo washer/dryer that is ventless and it just VERY slowly warms the clothes to 'dry' them, as Alix stated. I line dry my clothes, and run half loads of towels & sheets to dry. It's not perfect, but it's better than mounds of quarters & inconvenient laundry times.”
— Amanda S.

So where then, do homeowners fold their laundry once the dryer has buzzed? That all depends on the habits and preferences of the owner. Kitchen tables, bedroom folding, mindless T.V. folding at the coffee table—all fair game. Any of these sound more appealing than fighting over a used table at a laundromat!

Considering a renovation? Learn more about this project on Sweeten's blog.

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Mrs B. April 14, 2016
Nothing here about venting, which can be a huge challenge for any remodel or upgrade . . . . hmmmm. Your thoughts? Is venting no longer necessary?
Alix April 16, 2016
Most of the European dryers (we have the Bosch Axxis line) are condensing dryers, so they're ventless. Instead of drying clothes by blasting them with hot air, this type of dryer basically acts like a dehumidifier and removes moisture from the clothes (which is condensed into water and into the waste water line that serves the washer). Clothes tend to feel slightly warm and damp rather than hot and dry, but it does the trick and no exterior vents needed, which means you can locate the laundry in an interior closet or bathroom.
Amanda S. April 19, 2016
I have a combo washer/dryer that is ventless and it just VERY slowly warms the clothes to 'dry' them, as Alix stated. I line dry my clothes, and run half loads of towels & sheets to dry. It's not perfect, but it's better than mounds of quarters & inconvenient laundry times.