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The Utility Room, Reborn

•Get tips on designing a functional utility room.
•Discover the many uses of a utility room.

Keeping the outdoors out-of-doors isn't easy. Mud travels stealthily when packed into the crevices of gardening boots and pets' paws. Clinging sand waits to dry-and-drop only after it gets into home territory. Snow turns invisible inside, and leaves a mess behind.

This is where the utility room can come to the rescue. It acts as the home's gatekeeper, helping relieve the kids, the dog, your freshly potted plants of their accompanying dirt.

It's an important role—and a major reason why this room is gaining prominence in home design.

"The utility room is one of the new emerging spaces in the American home," says Diana Schrage, an interior designer at Kohler Co. Schrage says that the cramped mud room of yesteryear, typically wedged between garage and kitchen, has blossomed into today's spacious, multi-functional home management center, complete with a water source and utility sink.

A home's "command central"

Interior designers across the country agree. They say that the utility room is evolving into the home's "command central" or organizational center where homeowners manage the many activities that make up daily living.

It can be a center for storing the kids' schoolwork and outdoor clothing in lockers or "cubbies," or running utilities like heating and lighting via a computer or key pad, says Judy Pickett, principal of Design Lines, Ltd., in Raleigh, NC. Or, it can serve as a mending room or the family's communication center with a message board or intercom system, says Faith Sheridan, principal of her self-named interior design firm in Seattle, WA.

More typically, it's a place for cleaning, laundry or gardening—and as such, it must be accessible to homeowners of all ages and inclinations. The utility room is often located adjacent to a first-floor entryway that leads directly outdoor to the yard, pool area, outside kitchen or entertainment center, or beach.

"People are thinking of this area in terms of family's age and lifestyle," says Sheridan. "If the homeowner is a gardener who really enjoys being outside, a place for preparing plants may be incorporated into a counter surface or sink. If your kids are coming in from playing outside and are muddy, you don't want them running through the house. You'll want a utility sink or an adjacent small bathroom right there."

For these households, the "gardening sink is a big idea," says Sheridan. The KOHLER cast-iron Harborview™ utility sink, for example, is shallow and wide enough for working with gardening pots and dirty shoes, and its optional wood grate extends the countertop to create a roomy workspace.

Sunken pleasure

For people working with heavy or bulky items, Kohler also offers its Oceanview™ in-floor sink. The sink's shallow-basin depth and removable wood grates are ideal for rinsing off sandy feet, mud- or snow-covered boots or a heavy bucket of garden vegetables.

With this sink, "you can water plants, wash the dog at the dog's level, fill cleaning buckets without lifting, and dry cleaning rags and mops," Schrage says. You also can hang clothes overhead to air dry.

In fact, air drying is a growing trend in laundry features, say Pickett and Nancy Hoff Barsotti, an interior designer with offices in New York City and Pittsburgh. Resembling side-by-side refrigerators, these units use natural or motor-generated air to dry clothes.

Air drying units provide "a 'green' energy alternative and are practical for drying woolens and sweaters," Barsotti says. "The units have hanging rods and adjustable wire shelves to facilitate clothes placement and wrinkle-free drying."

Beautiful, too

Today's utility room multitasks and gets more beautiful all the time. The use of natural lighting, tile, customized cabinetry and beautiful sink colors like the array offered for both the Harborview and Oceanview sinks can help homeowners almost forget that they're actually doing chores in this space.

"Despite technological advances, people still want rooms that are aesthetically pleasing and pleasant to look at," says Sheridan. "They don't want the laundry room to look like a science lab."

A beautiful, personalized décor also helps incorporate a utility room into the overall design of the house. That, along with its sheer convenience, is why designers are seeing mini utility rooms pop up throughout the home—even in private areas such as the master suite.

"Mini utility rooms with compact-sized or stacking washers and dryers are definitely popular," Barsotti says. "Many laundries are in the lowest level of the house so this feature [near the master bedroom] is a time-saver, not to mention a back-and-arm saver from having to carry laundry up and down steps."

Sheridan adds that in homes where the master suite may have an adjacent all-in-one gym or a spa, a nearby mini utility room makes cleaning or even warming up towels a snap.


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