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Before & After: From Drab Dungeon to Luxury Laundry Room

Can you really call it a “room makeover” if the original space was never really a room? Interior designer and blogger Sarah Walker's subterranean laundry cave had one windowed wall and a few bare studs—precisely the kind of environment that makes fluffing and folding feel like domestic punishment.

Sarah and her husband, Graham, bought their Oakville, Ontario, home—a 1969 “ugly duckling,” as she calls it—seven years ago and immediately began renovating, gutting the kitchen first, then updating the floors. Later, they tackled the master suite and, later still, the bathrooms. Eventually, the place became the kind of home most people only dream of. Decked in grayscale and wallpapered, tiled and trimmed with exquisite care, the house is the product of Sarah’s proprietary algorithm that sums austerity and modernity, multiplies by fancy-traditional, and divides by family functional.

And then there was the basement.

The basement—the only space left unfinished—housed the washer, dryer, furnace and water heater, as well as bonus space for storage. The only thing the dreary dungeon had going for it: a window.

Eventually, a fellow blogger’s challenge to completely revamp a single room in six weeks motivated Sarah to beautify the space in her signature style. “We use the space a ton, and I just didn’t want to hate going down there anymore,” Sarah says. So she and Graham set about walling in their would-be laundry room, all by themselves.
“For any designer, a blank canvas is an invitation,” Sarah says. “But there were plenty of challenges.”

The Hurdles

The water heater and furnace opposite the washer and dryer couldn’t be moved, so they’d have to be hidden; same for the existing wiring and ductwork. And it just made sense to move the sink next to the washer. (Graham—a software executive by day—pulled plumbing duty at night.) That meant the storage, sink and laundry machines would run along the same wall.

“That wall is 128 inches long, and with just over 10 feet of cabinetry, it can feel like there’s no dimension,” Sarah says. The fix? She kept the cabinetry and the sink at standard height and raised the counter above the washer and dryer. “The more ergonomic height is practical for folding, and it creates more design interest in the space.”

The ductwork and other bulkheads intersecting the room meant that upper cabinetry would have been nightmarish to install, so up went one long, sleek raw-oak floating shelf. “I prefer not to draw attention to the problem but to make it disappear,” Sarah says. “By keeping the storage open, it’s all sort of light and bright, and you don’t notice the bulkheads.” On the opposite wall, kindred raw-oak slab sliding doors cover up the furnace and water-heater eyesores.

The Details

Design problems solved, Sarah moved on to the fun stuff. “I like to choose where the statement is going to be made in a room, and here I wanted it to be the floor,” she says. She browsed tile options all over North America, even shopping virtually in Cuba, before finding the fetching black-and-white, classic-meets-modern hand-painted cement tile she fell in love with. Turned out a local tile store was able to import it for her.

“That high contrast could feel a little too harsh, so I used black base cabinets to really ground it, and actually, I think that contributes to the lightness and airiness in the end,” Sarah says. The dark cabinetry anchors the room and gives all that white a place to take root. Milky countertops meet subway tile that crawls all the way up to the ceiling; alabaster storage baskets—perfect for corralling Sarah’s gift wrap, calligraphy and craft supplies—contribute to the clean, ethereal look.  

Oh, and those countertops? Sarah didn’t pick them; her followers did. Natural stone was out—Sarah deemed it too porous for a surface she’d use to scrub out stains—in favor of engineered quartz. But she just couldn’t choose between a uniform, subtle finish and a gray-veined version, so she put the decision up to a vote in the comments section of her blog. Her fans chose the non-veined variety, and in it went.

Immediately, she used the same crowdsourcing method to choose her faucet. After posting two options on her blog and her Instagram account, Sarah’s followers chose the Trinsic Single-Handle faucet with Touch2O Technology in Champagne Bronze—a nearly dead-on match for the satin brass drawer handles she’d already purchased. After installing the faucet and sprinkling the space with decorative objects, like crystal-shaped soap and a geometric terrarium (yes, in a laundry room!), she finished just in time to meet the challenge’s six-week deadline.

“We did this room quickly, but I love that I took the time to settle on the finish decisions,” Sarah says. “I really took time to sit with it to make sure I was content with where it was going. I wanted sophistication, elegance, femininity and functionality, and as I kept putting it back through those filters, it refined my decisions. I’m happy I never tried to skip the process.”

Keep up with Sarah’s blog, The Curated House, for more peeks at her onetime “ugly duckling.”