How to Plan the Perfect Utility Room
Whether it’s used for drying laundry, stashing your cleaning kit or storing food, a utility room will help keep your kitchen clutter-free
It can be somewhere to house a washing machine, tumble dryer and cupboard for ironing and cleaning essentials. If linked to an exterior door, it can also double up as a boot room, with storage for shoes, bags and coats. Locate it close to the kitchen and there’s no reason not to install additional food storage, together with space for a secondary fridge-freezer and sink.
To help you get started, six experts share their pearls of wisdom on the topic.
Professional advice from: Alex Findlater of Alex Findlater Ltd; Charlie Turner of Broad & Turner; Darryl Pitt of Ballara; Federica Vasetti of DHV Architects; Kate Mooney of Houseology; Tom Edmonds of Lewis Alderson & Co
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These days, having an amazing kitchen is often not enough, says Tom Edmonds of Lewis Alderson & Co. ‘Potential buyers also want a utility area as standard.’
Certainly, as homes become increasingly open plan, it makes sense to have a dedicated space where the washing machine and dryer can run without disturbing dinnertime chat or movie nights. But that’s not all.
‘Having a utility room gets the washing out of open-plan living spaces and is a good place to do the ironing, away from the smells of cooking,’ says Alex Findlater of Alex Findlater Ltd. ‘It can also be a useful extension to the kitchen area for storing larger serving dishes, saucepans, juicers and so on.’
The ideal amount of space required for your utility room depends on the expert you speak to. ‘The smallest size you can make a utility room with a sink is around 1900mm long by 1600mm wide,’ advises Findlater.
‘An ideal space is 3000mm by 3000mm, which will allow for tall storage cupboards and appliances, but it is possible to fit one into a much smaller space,’ says Edmonds.
A general rule of thumb is to take the size of your family and its needs into consideration. Also, think carefully about how you wish to use the space.
A utility room must withstand everyday wear and tear, so good-quality products are essential. If you have to stick to a strict budget, however, there are ways to cut costs without compromising.
As the utility area won’t be on show, choose less expensive freestanding appliances and save pricier built-in models for the kitchen. Install cheaper, vinyl-wrapped cabinet doors and splash out on painted, lacquered or solid-wood doors for cupboards in the kitchen. Team your utility units with a laminate worktop, which also won’t break the bank.
‘We would normally recommend using simple white Ikea or Howdens units with a laminate worktop,’ advises Federica Vasetti of DHV Architects. ‘And sheet flooring is best: Marmoleum if the budget allows it, otherwise Nora rubber or Forbo vinyl flooring. Avoid cheaper vinyl from DIY outlets as it may wear out quickly.’
As the cost for services is a major part of the project, it’s vital you consult a qualified Gas Safe-registered plumber or heating engineer along with a qualified NICEIC electrician. ‘With their level of experience, they will be able to best determine the degree of difficulty of this initial planning stage,’ says Darryl Pitt of Ballara.
‘You may also consider taking advice from a Gas Safe-registered heating engineer for moving an existing boiler or placing a new, energy-efficient boiler in the utility room, should your budget permit. Each appliance has its own requirements, and needs to be planned for accordingly.’
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‘The best place to position a utility room is off the kitchen with a door leading to the outside, although this should not be the only access to the kitchen,’ says Charlie Turner of Broad & Turner. A basement is also an excellent place to create a utility room, as this room requires no window.
In terraced houses where frontage is limited, Vasetti recommends locating the utility area in the middle of the floor plan, rather than on an external wall, in order to maximise daylight and views for the habitable rooms.
‘Semi and detached properties have more frontage, so it’s possible to locate the utility room on an external wall. It can then double up as a garden entrance and boot room,’ she adds.
There are also various ways in which to create a utility room where there isn’t one: convert a basement or garage; reduce the size of your kitchen; add an extension; or use an existing space that has no other purpose, such as an upstairs boxroom.
‘A utility room is a good idea when an extension’s footprint is too small to be a habitable room. For example, the side extension of a small semi-detached house that is typically around 2m wide,’ explains Vasetti. ‘In one of our projects, the original rear reception, which had become an inner room due to a long rear extension, was transformed into a utility area, providing much-needed storage in a narrow terraced house.’
Whether you go for a cupboard or are arranging your appliances in a compact room, do consider positioning them vertically, rather than side by side. ‘Stack your washer and dryer on top of each other in a ventilated cupboard,’ suggests Edmonds.
Air circulation is very important in a utility room, as heat and moisture will need to be dealt with. ‘Moist air will cling to the internal walls and dampness will form mould and stain paintwork,’ explains Pitt.
‘We use acrylic eggshell on walls and ceilings, which can be wiped clean. Also, if you are not planning on a tumble dryer and will be hanging wet clothes to dry on a frame, then consider a humidity controlled extractor fan, which can be set to come on when humidity reaches a certain percentage, then turn off when the humidity drops.’
Good planning is essential when creating your new utility room. ‘Invest the time to make sure your ideas will really work to save you money and time, as well as giving you a great look and functionality,’ says Findlater.
‘It is useful to have space either side of the sink on the worktop so baskets of laundry can be kept out of the way while other washing is in progress. Create extra storage by wall-hanging cupboards around 550mm above the worktops. Work out what it is you want stored in the cupboards and design them to suit. ‘A towel rail with plenty of bars is also very useful for drying smaller items, or hanging shirts on.’
Edmonds’ top storage tip is to go for full-height cupboards for coat storage and your vacuum cleaner and ironing board, where possible. ‘Think about what you want to store in the space and plan your cupboards accordingly,’ he says. ‘It might be that you would prefer open shelving, so things are easily to hand, or lots of cupboards so everything is out of sight.’ He continues, ‘Don’t forget coat hooks and shoe storage if you plan to double the space as a boot room.’
When considering a utility room, either as an extension or by converting an existing room, the position of waste-water outlets, water supply, heating, ventilation and access to electrical supplies are the first areas to address.
‘With an extension, these can be planned for in the initial stages with the architect or design consultant,’ advises Pitt. ‘For conversions, ask your designer: can these existing services be extended to meet the new requirements of your utility room? Have I enough capacity in the existing fuse box? Is the incoming mains pressure able to cope with the additional appliances and water usage? Have I an external wall for an externally vented tumble dryer?’
When planning your utility room, another important consideration is water resistance. ‘There will be wet shoes and clothes dumped on the floor; washing machines will leak; perhaps there’ll be wet dogs, wet children, dripping raincoats,’ says Turner.
‘Install a simple rubber floor, which is easy to clean, underfloor heating if possible, and water-resistant worktops.’
As well as storage for bigger items, consider some stylish storage solutions for small utility items, such as pegs and cleaning products. ‘Tins, jars and vintage-style bottles add a chic edge to your utility space when displayed on open shelves and work surfaces, and keep clutter at bay,’ advises Kate Mooney of Houseology.
‘Baskets and hampers are perfect for stowing away all manner of bits and bobs, from Wellington boots to winter coats. Large baskets create a chic, laid-back look and make tidying up a breeze!
‘When ensuring you have enough storage in your utility room, remember to consider upward space, too,’ continues Mooney. ‘Floor-to-ceiling shelving is a wonderful way to create extra room and keep cleaning products out of reach – consider adding a rolling library ladder to make accessing the top shelves as easy as possible.’
How have you made your utility room work for you? Share your tips and photos in the Comments section.