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Architecture + Branding: Assertive architectural design artfully alters the cringe-inducing drudgery of the laundromat

1-Cleaning ritual

For many that have migrated to the typified single-detached home suburbia, a trip to the laundromat is a long forgotten chore, replaced with the convenience of in-home washing appliances. However, the laundromat remains a fixture for large segments of the population that reside within the urban core, significant portions of the post-secondary level students, as well as those residing in large-scale housing blocks.

Referred colloquially under several aliases, coin laundry/wash, coin-operated/coin-op laundry, laundromats are self-serve laundry facilities where one washes and dries their clothes and assorted linens.

Laundromats - 24-7 US-LA-Kenner Laundry 3814 Williams Blvd

24-7 Coin Laundry, Williams Boulevard, Kenner, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

As the laundromat is not a place at which most customers want to spend an inordinate or excessive amount of their day, efficiency, availability and location convenience have long been important parts of the business.

2-Dictated design

Laundromats are typically located in commercial retail spaces that are conducive to the operation, slotting in amongst other retail enterprises with little more than a box-sign above the doors. Typical stores can range between 1,000sq ft to 5,000sq ft, with average store size settling in at around 2,260sq ft (source: coinlaundry.org). As always, the old real estate tenet of location, location, location rings true for the industry.

The best spaces are those that are located at street/sidewalk level or the first floor, thus limiting the distance customers have to lug their clothes hampers/baskets and cleaning supplies in and out. Furthermore, locations that provide ample parking within close proximity, or that provide relatively easy access to public transportation, are also quite common.

DSC102364 Laundromats - Buanderie CA-QC-Montreal Avenue des Pins and Rue Laval
Buanderie/Laundromat, Avenue des Pins and Rue Laval, Montreal, Québec, Canada

Striving to accommodate various customer schedules, many laundromats stress location and convenience, operating extended business hours, with some having operations 24hours a day. The major caveat to extended hours is the fact that most laundromats are unstaffed operations. Although many laundromats have security cameras, the lack of/limited staff oversight can result in some apprehension and personal safety/security concerns for numerous potential customers.

As such, visibility, from both inside and outside the establishment is primordial.

Thus, requisite large window storefronts, along with clear sightlines deep into the space, allow customers to quickly evaluate the situation at a glance, prior to proceeding with their task. In addition to affording customers the ability to rapidly spot open machines, high visibility and transparency equates to a greater sense of safety.

DSC12347 Laundromats - Spins Laundrymart CA-ON-Ottawa McArthur Road and Lafontaine

Spins Laundrymart, McArthur Road and Lafontaine, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Commonly exhibiting a racetrack-style interior design/layout, with single height top-load/front-load washing machines in the center of the space and higher double-stacked banks of dryers ringing the outer walls, the openness of the space is accentuated.

Equipment laid in rows, lined up back-to-back, results in main aisles and secondary aisles intersecting at right angles, thus reproducing a Cartesian grid system. Generous aisles that can accommodate the traffic flow of customers and carts easily can also augment the perception of openness.

Laundromats - Sea Coin Laundry US-WA-Kent  24437 Russell Rd

Sea Coin Laundry, Russell Road, Kent, Washington (source: maps.google.com)

Folding tables/counters located on the opposite side of washers/dryers moves customers away from the main aisles and frees up the equipment as well as the circulation spaces.

Formal seating areas, set up with tables, and magazine/newspaper racks, allow customers to retreat to a slightly less busy section of the laundromat, in order to wait on their wash/dry. Other amenities such as soda/snack/coffee vending machines, coin machine to change paper bills into quarters, dispensers for laundry soap/fabric softener, may also be located in such spaces. Somewhat more informal spaces, such as window ledges with chairs/stools may also be provided.

Many laundromats also provide cctv televisions, located at various spots within the space, to reduce the perceived wait-times and keep customers entertained and informed.

In sum, laundromat design is largely dictated by the need for an efficient workflow and unobstructed visibility.

3-Branding amongst independents

Lacking a dominant player, the self-serve coin-operated laundry industry is mostly composed of multiple small independent operators. Estimates suggest there are in excess of 35,000 laundries in the United States, with the business sector present and accounted for in numerous communities, large and small (source: coinlaundry.org). Fragmented, and without a singular rigid format, some regional operators, such as Central New York based Colonial Laundromats, have carved out a niche by branding their stores through a distinct and recognizable architectural identity.

DSC09552 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Clay Oswego Road near Route 31

Colonial Laundromat, Oswego Road near Route 31, Clay, New York

Applying in large part the ideal operational design layout consisting of a rectangular building footprint, long and narrow, with rows of dryers/washers laid out in a racetrack design, the exterior trade dress extends beyond simply blending into the landscape with the adjacent retail stores. In fact, in some cases, adjacent retail stores adopt the Colonial Laundromat building form factors.

DSC07120 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Syracuse Wolf Street

Colonial Laundromat, Wolf Street, Syracuse, New York

Many Colonial Laundromats locations are stand-alone, purpose-built locations, suited particularly to the business needs. Featuring large parking areas with limited travel distance, the façade offers expansive glass areas.

DSC09374 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Mattydale Route 11 near Matty Avenue

Colonial Laundromat, Route 11 near Matty Avenue, Mattydale, New York

The brick cladding adds a sense of mass to the small-scale one-storey building, helping to anchor the ends to the ground plane.

The overall design direction is skewed heavily towards Colonial Revival, which is itself an amalgam of Georgian, Federal and Dutch Colonial styles.

The simple geometric building forms, clad in brick, with white-painted wood trim and columns echo principles of both Georgian and Federal Colonial styles. White trimmed windows and casements add a sense of heritage charm. Punctual bay window projections echo a residential character. The steeply raked roof, pronounced gables, front-facing gable and the roof-mounted cupola, serve to further accentuate the residential perception.

DSC09467 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Syracuse Route 11 near Watson Road

Colonial Laundromat, Route 11 near Watson Road, Syracuse, New York

Implicit overtones of simplicity and wholesomeness are evident in the overall presentation that evokes several classical colonial design traits, injecting a feel-good blend of farm-house/country charm.

4-Emerging trends

However, other more daring operators are challenging the norms and recasting the mundane chore of domesticity with new design and innovations, rather than offering a serving of old-world charms.

Laundromats - BrainWash US-CA-San Francisco 1122 Folsom Street 2

BrainWash, Folsom Street, San Francisco, California (source: maps.google.com)


Laundromats - Laundromat Cafe Copenhagen-Denmark-15 Elmegade

Laundromat Café, 15 Elmegade, Copenhagen, Denmark (source: maps.google.com)

Focusing on delivering more than the regular or anticipated experience through unexpected services and/or design, “boutique laundromats” have emerged as a developing trend (source: complex.com). One area of particular interest is combining laundry with other non-traditional complementary services, such as a café with baristas or full-service bars/night clubs/lounges.

Laundromats - Wash and Coffee Munich Germany

Wash & Coffee, Munich, Germany (source: complexmag.ca)

Another route has been to add extra features such as kids play areas, video games, lounge areas, skylights, extra convenience such dry cleaning, drop-off/pick-up, wash-and-fold, or technology such as free wi-fi or reloadable swipe cards.

Laundromats - Suds Laundrette Melbourne Australia

Suds Laundrette, Melbourne, Australia (source: complexmag.ca)

Moreover, unexpected designs, ranging from colourful and cozy to sleek and modern, are also challenging the very notion of coin-op laundries.

Laundromats - Splash Spain-Barcalona 199 Carrer de la Diputació

Splash Laundry, 199 Carrer de la Diputació, Barcelona, Spain (source: maps.google.com)

An industry not recognized as being at the forefront of retail design innovation, technological advances and customer expectations will continue to drive operators to seek ways in which to meet new market demands.

5-Mature market

Although new designs and services are explored, the marketplace remains one of limited opportunities for growth, combined with significant up-front capital investments. Additionally, workflow patterns, circulation, and utilities (electrical, water, ventilation) requirements will continue to resist and provide push-back to many innovative design options that challenge the traditional yet efficient racetrack design.

As such, branding can become an essential differentiating factor between a thriving enterprise, and one that continues to struggle within a mature market.

As the industry changes, there are greater opportunities to transform the laundromat from some place dingy and drab that customers must endure into some place bright and attractive that they can enjoy, perhaps a little more.


Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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