Function and Beauty: Making the Most of your Utility Room

Neutral wooden utility room
New Africa /

Americans visiting the UK are often amused when they see our kitchens doubling as laundry rooms. The idea of having a washing machine under a kitchen counter just seems… weird. Brits were, we have to admit, a little slow on the uptake when it came to utility rooms. It’s probably mostly down to the fact that we have quite an old housing stock.

About 15 million of the UK’s 28 million homes were built before 1965, when utility rooms weren’t even a consideration. And more than 5 million of today’s homes were built between 1965 and 1980, a time when the concept of the utility room was just beginning to emerge. Even modern flats don’t always have separate rooms for washing and storage, although that’s usually down to space.

In larger suburban homes in the USA, they tend to have a separate room for the washing machine and tumble dryer. In city apartment blocks, they usually take their washing to a public laundromat or a shared private laundry room in the basement (you’ll know what this looks like if you’ve ever seen The Big Bang Theory). One upshot of British utility room scarcity is that when we finally do get a utility area, we’re not quite sure what to do with it. All too often, it remains an undecorated afterthought, with appliances, laundry baskets and general household clutter taking up the floor space.

So why not make the utility room a place you love to be? Have a look at these utility room ideas to create a functional space that’s as stylish as the rest of your home.

Wooden shelf

The Small Utility Room

When you’ve got a small or narrow utility room, you have to start thinking vertically. Your washer and dryer have fixed depths, and you’ll always need room behind them for plumbing and in front for the doors to open, so layout can be very limited. It’s not unusual to have the washer and the dryer stacked, and they’re designed to allow that, so if you can find a handy place for them that’s close to the drainage pipe, you can start building around them.

For shelving, utility chic comes in the form of open shelving. It’s a concept you’ll be familiar with if you’ve stepped into a garage or workshop, but they’re the ultimate in flexibility – you can have as many shelves as you want, and easily change your mind later. Also, they’re strong – they’ll easily cope with full boxes of washing powder and softener, plus any other cleaning products you need. Against white, yellow or duck egg blue walls, you’ll feel functional and raring to wash.

If you’re on the small side, a step ladder might be required. And of course, it’s there when you need it all around the home. That’s probably all you’ve got room for, but you’ve made great leaps into saving space.

The Kitchen Extension

For plumbing reasons, the utility room often abuts the kitchen, so laundry room ideas tend to follow the kitchen decor. That’s often a great idea, and saves a lot of the brainwork. Take the theme of the kitchen - be it modern, rustic or Art Deco - and simply continue it into the utility room. A handy trick is to pick out highlights, say contrasting handles, switches or sockets, and copy and paste in the utility space. It keeps continuity even though the utility room will be more appliance focused – it’s the white goods where you have the least design influence.

Modern gray utility room with washing machine and tumble dryer
denisismagilov /

The Full Shebang

To go 100% all-in with your utility room, you really need it to have a sink as well as extra storage, washing machine and clothes dryer. After all, hand washing is part of your laundry routine for those woolens and delicates. You might even find yourself cleaning your boots in there too, especially if you’re the outdoor type and the utility room doubles as a boot room, as they often do. And if you own a dog, a sink in the utility room is a must-have for keeping muddy paws away from the rest of the house.

The classic look comes with a Belfast or butler sink, ideally in pure white porcelain. You’ll need wooden draining boards if you’re going for the complete retro washroom look, but they can be high maintenance, so go for a robust marble or granite worktop instead. However, it’s often perfectly fine (or necessary) to have the sink free standing without a worktop. A simple drainer inside or next to the sink will be perfect for drip-drying things you’ve just washed, although it’s best to air-dry jumpers horizontally over the bath.

If you’re committed to utility perfection, this will also be where your ironing board and somewhere to dry clothes are located. A wall-mounted ironing board tucks neatly out of the way when not in use, so it’s always an option. If you like a bit more flexibility (and by that we mean ironing in front of the television), any regular portable ironing board does the trick.

A selection of potted plants against a black backdrop

Those Finishing Touches

Now you’re all utilitied up, it’s time to start working on the added extras of room design, so it’s a place you’ll actually enjoy being in. And if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to bring joy to any room, including the utility, it’s plants. Plants and their soil can also help keep damp at bay, which can be a problem in some utility rooms.

Copious potted indoor plants can give an otherwise uninviting wash room into something resembling an orangery or a conservatory. Choose leafy plants that will be happy in low light, such as Japanese sago palm, dragon trees, snake plants and spathiphyllum (peace lily). With complementary pots and planters to set off the look, you’re introducing life and character into the space. If you love freshly cut flowers, and don’t mind keeping them all to yourself, get yourself a vase or two to display them on window ledges and shelves, for luscious splashes of color.

Small utility room with white exposed brick wall, rattan baskets and plants
UnitedPhotoStudio /

Talking of character, the number one error in utility room design is taking its name far too literally, and turning it into a dull, overly functional space. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Introduce pictures and prints, ornaments and quirky storage ideas. It all contributes to breaking down the functional undertones and might just make you smile as you tackle that pile of ironing.

The important thing to remember is that utility should always come first with this little room that’s hidden away from prying eyes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put some personal touches in there. Like the potting shed of popular cliche, it’s a space that’s often just yours, so you can impose your own tastes, humorous touches and handy conveniences to your heart’s content. It’s probably at the bottom of the list for rooms you need to decorate, but believe us, if you do it justice, it’s more than worth the trouble.