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Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space

During a redesign, your appliances, cabinetry and counter space work together to create a balance between function and style. Choices like the size of your range and other appliances can directly affect cabinet space, and choosing more storage or counter space could mean you’ll have to make concessions elsewhere.

Kitchen design is a personal process, and while there are plenty of trends to go around, each design and redesign is unique and shaped by homeowners’ preferences, personality and desires. We spoke with two designers who have a combined 50 years of kitchen design experience between them. Both agreed that kitchens are built around the appliances, where any design project should start.

Paula Kennedy, Timeless Kitchen Design, Seattle

For designer Paula Kennedy, the kitchen redesign process starts with a discussion on appliances. Many of her clients are one step ahead and have already begun researching their options, but she encourages them to take their time. “I tell them to go to an appliance dealer I trust and respect, and I make sure they don’t just walk in on a Sunday when everyone else is in there,” Kennedy says. “Take some time off from work and do it right.” She’ll sometimes join her clients on a visit to the retailer or give the dealer a heads up that they’ll be coming in. “I’ll specify some things to help them avoid mistakes,” she says. If they want a built-in refrigerator, for example, she’ll make sure they’re looking at the right models. “Saying ‘built-in’ to one manufacturer is different than to another,” she says. “There’s built-in, there’s flush-door, there’s framed-door, there’s fully integrated. They don’t all use the same language.”

Your choice of appliance, particularly the size, directly impacts the cabinet design. “It’s one of the most critical points,” Kennedy says. Cabinets take time to build, and they need to be ordered early in the process. A late change can affect how the cabinets and appliances fit. Be comfortable with your decisions, because even a quarter-inch difference in the size of an appliance can have major implications on the cabinetry. Does your dream kitchen design include appliances enclosed in custom cabinets? You’ll need to decide in advance, as panels must be an exact fit.

“We often start with the cooking range,” Kennedy says. “Do you want a range vs. a cooktop? How many ovens do you want? More cooking means less storage, and everyone is just screaming for more storage. It’s a tradeoff. Clients come to me with a list of appliances. We have to prioritize their needs. You aim for function plus storage.”

For portable kitchen appliances, it’s a matter of balancing countertop space for their use and kitchen storage. “People love their small kitchen appliances, but storage for those is a nightmare. When I walk into a house and see them all on the countertop, I have the challenge to properly design space for those countertop appliances so it’s not an eyesore, it’s not cluttered, it’s functional and not taking up counter space.” Talk to your designer about storage options that make it easy to access the appliances you use regularly and store those you use less often in a way that makes sense.

Your choice of appliance finishes should fit within your overall color scheme. Stainless steel is popular, but it may not be a good match for you. “Finish is a huge factor,” Kennedy says. “It drives what color we’re choosing for the cabinets. It has to be a color you love.”

Toni Sabatino, Toni Sabatino Style, New York

Toni Sabatino of Toni Sabatino Style calls her approach to kitchen design “appliance-driven.”

“The style of the appliance, along with the architecture of the home and ventilation are really important.” Your lifestyle should determine what you need, Sabatino says. Some factors to consider are cooking habits, diet and family size.

“A family that goes to Costco and Price Club and buys 130 boxes of pasta will need more pantry space than somebody who buys fresh food,” Sabatino said. “Somebody who keeps a kosher kitchen may have two sets of dishes.” Do you do enough entertaining to warrant including a second dishwasher? Put your priorities in order and allow them to guide your decisions.

When choosing cabinetry, Sabatino encourages clients to take style cues from their home’s architecture. “If you want an old house, classic look, inset white shaker cabinets are popular,” she says. “That will pair with just about any interior because it’s simple and has a built-in furniture look. It will pair with just about any appliance style—stainless or wooden ventilation covers. That’s a timeless look.”

Even though they aren’t built-in, you’ll have to think about your portable appliances during your design as well, both those you use frequently and those you don’t. If you use many small appliances on a regular basis, think about whether an appliance pantry might make it easier to store and get to what you need. Sabatino asks clients about their portable appliances during the planning process. “Do they have a yogurt maker that’s in the basement because they don’t have space for it?”

Also think about what you’re giving up when planning how to incorporate portable appliances. If you drink a lot of coffee, you might want to reserve some space on the countertop for your coffee maker. But that also means you’ll have less counter space. Designing cabinet space especially for portables means you’re limiting what can be put in that space, Sabatino says.

Do your homework, understand your options and apply them to your lifestyle. Plan carefully and know what you want before you begin, Sabatino says. “Changing your mind can throw off everything.”

Rise of the Robots: Robotic Vacuums Now a Floor Care Fixture

Traditional vacuum cleaner with a hose, nozzle and brush versus a modern circular automated low profile unit, high angle view on a shaggy white carpet
Do robots live among your appliances? There’s a growing chance at least one type does. Sales of robotic vacuums and cleaning robots are expected to grow from $981 million in 2013 to $2.6 billion by 2020. And the innovations keep coming. New features like cameras, voice controls and improved navigation have taken robotic vacuums from a novelty to a fixture in floor care.

So what does one need to know before turning over vacuuming duties to a robotic partner? Robots have come a long way in floor care, but they’re still widely considered a supplement to, not a replacement for traditional vacuums. They can’t yet climb stairs, but they can sometimes reach areas that are hard to get to with traditional vacuums, like deep beneath furniture. They’ll take longer to clean a room—about 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the robot and the size of the room—but they can also do it on their own, whether or not you’re there to supervise.

Red robotic vacuum cleaner and smartphone. Smart appliances concept. 3D rendering image.
The hundreds of robotic vacuum models on the market offer different features. They use different methods to find their way around a room, using laser, cameras or infrared sensors. They may have different work capacities or perform better on certain surfaces. Some models use lithium ion batteries, others use nickel metal batteries.

Are you ready to welcome a robot into your home? Follow these tips to create a more hospitable habitat for your new cleaning companion:

Break down barriers: Take a look around the area you’re going to vacuum, and remove any potential obstacles. Even a sock or something smaller on the ground can interrupt cleaning, particularly if the robot tries to vacuum it. Remove any items that could get stuck in your robot’s rollers and cause an error.

Remove the cords: Just as you would with traditional vacuums, make sure the area being cleaned is free of plugs and power cords that the robot may try to vacuum.

Keep it confined: A robotic vacuum goes where you allow it to go. Close doors that might lead it to another area that does not need to be vacuumed, or use the technology features to keep it within a certain range.

Welcome it home: Many robotic vacuums will automatically make their way back to their charging station when their power starts to drop. Put the charging station in an area that’s easy for the robot to access.

Keep the robot clean: Keep your robot’s sensors and other navigation tools free of debris, as it can interfere with navigation. Empty the robot’s dustbin after every use. Make sure filters are clean and replace as necessary.

The next robotic revolution

Robots are slowly making their way beyond vacuuming into areas like mopping and air purification. Automation is becoming part of appliances, with many new models incorporating voice controls and the ability to adapt to our habits. Are there any tasks you would be happy to hand off to a robot? Let us know in the comments!

CES 2017: Speak up!

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Most people are accustomed to interacting with their appliances through the push of a button, turn of a dial of flip of a switch. Soon, that’s likely to change to you simply telling the appliance what you need. You might talk directly to the appliance, but a number of systems at CES 2017 channeled the interaction through robots or an existing tool like Amazon Alexa.

A conversation with an appliance won’t always be one-sided. A robotic vacuum cleaner could politely ask you to move your leg if you’re standing it its way (It can tell that you’re a human.) And the system might remind you when it’s time to re-order groceries or perform another task.

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Some appliances will also have the ability to adapt to your habits. An air conditioner could learn when more cooling power is needed based on how many people tend to gather in a room at a particular time. Your clothes washer might have the capability to add new wash cycles if none of those initially included with the machine no longer fit your lifestyle.

CES 2017 also showed that some refrigerators are becoming serious multi-taskers. Some of the models on display included touch screens to allow you to label food, track expiration dates and order new food when you need it. They’ll also provide entertainment, like music, since families tend to gather in the kitchen. Don’t worry—they’ll still keep your food fresh!

CES 2017: It’s all about lifestyle!

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Day 1 of CES 2017 left the clear impression that connected features are changing appliances at all levels, from the largest major appliances, like refrigerators, down to the smallest personal care appliances, like your electric toothbrush.

From the biggest refrigerator down to the smallest personal care item, connected features in home appliances are allowing the product to take on a greater amount of work associated with their core tasks. Rather than just serving as a tool to help you accomplish a task, they’ll give you the information and guidance you need to increase the quality and accuracy of whatever you’re trying to do, whether you’re preparing a meal or cleaning your teeth.

That means less work for you, but it could also mean a better result. For example, your oven and refrigerator could work together to suggest meals to prepare based on what you already have in the house. But it could also go a step further, like an oven automatically adjusting to the cooking time and temperature necessary for the recipe, becoming a welcome assistant for busy home cooks.

It could mean more accurate microwave cooking, as scanning the packaging of a prepared meal will give your microwave the information it needs to heat up the meal, without any input from you.

It could also mean more effective and accurate oral care through an electric toothbrush that, in addition to brushing, maps your mouth, monitors your brushing pressure and shows you via your smartphone if you’re cleaning the right places.

Manufacturers are stressing the impact of connected appliances on consumers’ overall lifestyle, including their potential to save significant amounts of time and remove some of the guesswork from tasks like cooking. Many of the appliances at CES 2017 are being shown as part of larger “smart home” suites to show how they work together and can be incorporated into everyday life.

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Keep following for more updates on the appliance innovations at CES 2017. And follow AHAM on Twitter @AHAM_voice for news straight from the show floor.

Buying a portable electric heater? Here’s how to make the best choice

black electric heater on laminate floor in the room

They warm up your chilly office and keep your house guests comfortable all night long. Portable electric heaters give you more control over your own comfort and let you bring heat to where you need it during the cold winter months.

Like any appliance, portable electric heaters come in a variety of models and sizes, with different features. We’ve put together a guide to make it easy for you to buy your next portable heater so you can stay warm while you wait for the snow and frost to give way to spring flowers.

Heaters are classified based on how they generate heat. Your choice will depend on your heating needs:

  • Panel heaters could be wall-mounted or freestanding, and may include fans.
  • Radiant heaters generate warmth by heating oil within the unit, though the oil doesn’t need to be refilled.
  • Fan heaters distribute heat from an element using a fan.
  • Ceramic heaters use a ceramic heating element and may also use a fan to spread heat.
  • Infrared heaters generate heat from a surface within the heater. The heat is emitted in the form of infrared energy.

What you need to consider

There are a vast number of portable electric heaters on the market. Sorting through them all could take until summer. By then, you won’t need a heater anymore. Knowing how you’ll use the heater will help you narrow your choices. Here are three questions to consider:

Will you be using the heater for temporary personal heat or to keep a room steadily warm? The size and type of heater, and the size of the space you’re trying to heat, will be factors.

Do you need instant heat, or can the heat be generated gradually? Keeping your feet warm under your desk at work for a few hours will call for a different solution than making sure guests stay warm overnight in a chilly bedroom.

What’s your noise tolerance? Any heater with a fan will generate some level of sound. An in-store demonstration will help you decide what’s appropriate.

Heater features
Personal electric heaters offer a number of features for operation, safety and heat distribution. They might include:

  • A thermostat to keep the heat at a steady temperature. Some models offer a digital setting.
  • Oscillation to distribute heat
  • Adjustable fan speeds
  • Some types of heaters may employ additional safety features, including automatic shutoff if the heater tips over, cool-touch housing, child locks, or motion sensors that automatically turn the heater off if anything gets too close.

More on portable heater safety

There are a number of steps you should take to heat your home safely, regardless of the style of heater you choose:

  • Purchase a heater that is safety certified. This means it has been tested by a recognized safety-certification organization. Look for a safety certification mark on the packaging or the heater.
  • Don’t leave your heater unattended and always unplug it when it isn’t being used.
  • Don’t use your heater with a power strip or extension cord. Fire can result if either overheats or if the wiring in the extension cord cannot handle the wattage of the heater.
  • Placing anything on top of the cord, including furniture, could damage the cord. String cords out on top of area rugs and carpeting. Never use a heater with a damaged cord.
  • Combustible materials, including furniture, pillows, bedding, papers clothes and curtains, should be kept at least three feet away from the front of the heater and away from the sides and rear of the heater. Don’t block the heater’s air intake or outlet.
  • Keep flammable materials, such as gas and paint, away from the heater.
  • Don’t use heaters in wet or damp areas unless they’re designed for bathrooms or outdoor use. Heaters not designed for this may be damaged by moisture.
  • Periodically check the plug and outlet for a secure fit. The outlet may need to be replaced if the plug does not fit snugly or if the plug becomes very hot. Consult with a qualified electrician to replace the outlet.
  • Don’t plug any other electrical device into the same outlet or the circuit as the heater. It could result in overheating.
  • Keep children away from heaters and do not place one in a child’s room without supervision.
  • Heaters should be put on a flat, level surface. Only use a heater on table tops when specified by the manufacturer. Do not place the heater on furniture. It could fall, resulting in damaged or dislodged parts.

Have a warm, cozy winter. You’ll be looking for air conditioners before you know it. (And if you want to get an early start on AC shopping, we have you covered.)

Is your water filter counterfeit?

Is it time to change your refrigerator’s water filter? Be careful about where you buy the replacement. Many consumers, perhaps attracted by lower prices, are being duped into purchasing counterfeit water filters. These convincing but fake filters, which can be nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing, may put consumers’ health and property at risk.

Only one of these filters is genuine. Can you tell the difference?

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AHAM and its refrigerator members Amana, Beko, Blomberg, Bosch, Electrolux, Frigidaire, Gaggenau, GE, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Miele, Samsung, Sub-Zero Wolf, Thermador and Whirlpool, along with testing and certification organization NSF International and the Water Quality Association, in the Filter It Out campaign to call awareness to the significant problem of counterfeit and deceptively labeled refrigerator water filters.

The problem

Counterfeit water filters are being sold online every day. But even though these products may appear identical to those sold by legitimate manufacturers, their performance is anything but. Counterfeit filters are illegal, and often don’t deliver on their promises or function near the level of authentic filters. Impurities found in some parts of the US water supply, such as lead, asbestos, pesticides and insecticides may not be filtered out by counterfeit or deceptively labeled filters.  Even scarier is the fact that the consumer may not have any indication that these and other contaminants are not being removed from the water they drink. The water doesn’t look any different, so consumers assume it is being filtered.

The blue water means that contaminants are present, even after the water was run through a non-genuine filter.

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This video from Filter It Out shows how easily contaminants can make their way through counterfeit filters.

And unlike the water filters made by legitimate brands, counterfeit water filters are not designed, tested and certified to fit your refrigerator. A poor fit could damage the refrigerator and cause leaks that could lead to costly property damage.

How to avoid buying a counterfeit water filter

It’s often difficult even for experts to tell the difference between a legitimate model and a counterfeit. Sometimes, they’re only distinguishable by differences in weight. Consumers can avoid purchasing counterfeit water filters by buying replacements only from trusted manufacturers. Filter it Out has tips on how to avoid purchasing counterfeit and deceptively labeled filters.

How Filter It Out is fighting the problem

Filter It Out is pushing back against counterfeit and deceptively labeled water filters through the combination of a public awareness campaign, testing that shows the ineffectiveness of the counterfeits and educating regulators and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, who often are the first to come into contact with counterfeit products, to flag suspect shipments before they have the opportunity to reach consumers.

Get more from Filter It Out on how to avoid counterfeit buying water filters.

Looking for fall allergy relief? Your humidifier or dehumidifier could help!

Late October usually brings beautiful autumn colors and more comfortable autumn temperatures. Unfortunately, sniffles, sneezes and colds are often close behind.

“It’s a trifecta this time of year,” said David Stukus, M.D., a pediatric allergy and asthma specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and associate professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State

University College of Medicine. “The most common cause is circulating viral infections as kids go back to school,” Stukus says. “The other would be changes in the weather pattern, which can cause worsening symptoms that are often preexisting. We have ragweed and mold spores, especially on rainy days and when the leaves collect in the fall.”

Things might not be much better indoors for those with dust mite or other environmental allergies. As temperatures drop and the windows are closed, those allergy symptoms can get worse.

Depending on the symptoms and cause, the course of treatment might include use of a humidifier or dehumidifier. Here’s how each could help:

Humidifier: “For people with chronic nasal congestion or postnasal drip, we’ll often recommend running a humidifier in the bedroom at night,” Stukus says. Only use water in the dehumidifier, he says. “We never recommend putting any kind of medicine, herbal treatment or essential oils inside a humidifier,” Stukus says. “Diffusing medicine through these products can cause irritation of the skin, nose and lungs.” The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends only using distilled or demineralized water in humidifiers, as the minerals in tap water can increase bacteria growth and produce a dust that makes symptoms worse. Use the humidifier in the room in which you spend the most time. Typically, that means the bedroom. Clean the humidifier regularly to avoid mold and mildew development, which can make symptoms worse.

Dehumidifier: Those who have allergies to dust mites will want to aim for a less humidity, as the microscopic mites tend to thrive in a humid environment. A dehumidifier can help. “If they have high humidity levels in their home or obvious mold growth, that would be a good indication to get a dehumidifier,” Stukus says. AAAAI suggests keeping the humidity level in your home between 30 and 45 percent.

There’s no single course of treatment for allergies, so it’s essential to see a physician who can conduct the proper examination and testing to find out what’s causing the symptoms. Don’t try to self-diagnose. “[Diagnosis is] complicated and highly individualized,” Stukus says. “You really need to know what’s going on with that person to provide the best course of treatment.”

Looking for a way to remove some of the pollen and allergens from the indoor air? Room air cleaners certified through AHAM’s certification program have been certified and verified by an independent laboratory, assuring consumers that the product will perform according to the manufacturer’s product claims for suggested room size and the reduction of three common household particulates: tobacco smoke, dust and pollen, commonly referred to as the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR).

Happy National Coffee Day! Here’s what’s brewing in home coffeemakers

AHAM is celebrating National Coffee Day with a look at how people are preparing their beloved morning cup. Even with the nearly ubiquitous sight of early-AM lines stretching out the doors of the one (or more) coffee shops that seem to dot nearly every city block, plenty of consumers are still opting for the more cost-effective option of preparing their coffee at home. An AHAM survey of US households showed a high percentage of them own coffeemakers, with 60% opting for automatic drip and 35% owning single-serve, or pod coffeemakers.

So who’s buying what? Drip coffeemakers are most common among those who live in rural areas, with 74% of respondents reporting owning one. That compares to 61% in suburban areas and 52% in urban areas. Automatic drip models are most popular among consumers 55 and older, with 74% reporting owning one compared to 62% of 35-54 year-olds and 43% of those between 18 and 34. The 35-54-year-old consumers reported the highest rate of ownership of single-serve coffee makers with 40%, compared to 37% for those 18 to 34 and 29% of consumers 55 and older.

But “coffee” is not just coffee, and there are plenty of specialized options if you’re looking to caffeinate. The National Coffee Association, in its 2016 National Coffee Drinking Trends, reports a decline in consumption of traditional coffee (not brewed from premium whole bean or ground varieties) and a slight increase from 2015 to this year in consumption of espresso-based drinks. The NCA also reports that consumers are trying newer varieties of coffee like cold brew and flat white.

Looking to move your home coffee brewing beyond the traditional cups? Take a look at Whole Latte Love’s video on how to make a flat white.

Or, try these tips on making cold-brew coffee from Jamie Oliver coffee expert Mike Cooper.

What’s your favorite way to prepare your coffee at home?

It’s the little things: Small appliances add big convenience to tiny houses


Across the country, many people are looking to simplify their lives and lower their housing costs by downsizing their living spaces. Their choice of accommodations ranges from permanent or semi-permanent “tiny houses” or “micro-apartments,” extra-small apartment units in densely populated areas.

But downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on the appliance conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to.

“A lot of people are concerned about how the house will function,” says Jeremy Weaver, a tiny house dweller and co-owner of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Wind River Tiny Homes. “Appliances are an integral part of how people interact with their houses, arguably the most intense way. I tell them we can get the same functionality, though it will be a lot smaller.”

With Wind River’s models usually topping out around 350 square feet (though they have built larger homes in the 400-800 square foot range), space, as you might imagine, is precious. Appliances that won’t get a lot of use are usually left out. But tiny spaces have many of the same conveniences as their full-sized counterparts, just on a smaller scale. How much use an appliance will get is the major factor in whether it will be included.

“In a tiny house, if someone doesn’t use an oven, they probably won’t have an oven,” Weaver said. “If you want a full-sized fridge, it means you won’t have a pantry or you’ll have hardly any counter space. There really isn’t space for something you don’t use. People who don’t cook a lot typically don’t use ovens—they’ll use a cooktop or a microwave.” Many of the Wind River homes have been fitted with four-burner, 20-inch ranges, Weaver said. In his tiny house, which includes four burners and an oven, he’s able to fit four full-sized pots and pans on top and 2-3 cookie sheets in the oven.

Every inch matters in a tiny house, and some may opt for a two-burner portable induction cooktop that can hang on the wall when it isn’t being used, Weaver said. Appliances in tiny homes often are powered by propane. Mobile tiny homes can also be set up to plug in like RVs.

For laundry, combination washer-dryers are the way to go in a small space. They’re common in Europe and Asia, where small-space living is more widespread, Weaver said. “About 60 to 70 percent of the houses we’ve done have them.” More options from manufacturers have become available over the past few years, he said.

Small appliances were already being manufactured for boats and RVs. Wind River recently installed a dishwasher for the first time in a tiny home and used a model made for an RV, a drawer-style under-counter model.

Designing your laundry room? Here’s how to choose your appliances

simple laundry room with tile floor and appliances.
Laundry rooms are often multipurpose rooms that are used for storage and pet care in addition to washing and drying. But they’re typically designed around appliances, and appliances are what you should consider first during a laundry room design or remodel.

“Appliances are always the starting point, whether you’re designing the laundry room, a kitchen or outdoor cooking area,” says Charleston, S.C.-based designer Margaret Donaldson of Margaret Donaldson Interiors. “I always ask clients to determine which appliances they want first, because the cabinetry has to be built around that.”

Obviously, the most important appliances in a laundry area are the washer and dryer, but some thought should also be given to other laundry-care appliances, like garment steamers and iron. The design might include a fold-down ironing board or cabinet for a steamer. Here’s what else you should think about during the design phase:

  • Top-load or front-load? Both front- and top-load washers have their merits, though Donaldson says many of her clients are choosing top-load appliances. That fits with AHAM’s factory shipment data, which shows that top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015 and have been growing as a percentage of shipments since 2009. “The reason the front-loader came out was you could have a continuous counter going across,” Donaldson said. Sometimes, the choice comes down to the ease of loading and unloading. “Some people say they don’t want to bend down. The age of the person matters. Where are you in your lives? Designing for ease of access is a consideration for many who choose to pursue a universal design concept during a remodel. If extra counter space is important and you don’t mind bending over to load and unload your laundry, consider front-load models.
  • Agitator or not? You’ll also need to think about whether you want an agitator with your new washer. More of Donaldson’s clients are choosing to go without. Washers without agitators are also growing as a percentage of units shipped. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.
  • Colors: “What’s really hot right now is a platinum color,” Donaldson says. “I’m seeing it as a go-to color, either platinum or white.” Looking for something a little flashier? Some are going for red, though choosing a more exotic color could limit your options, Donaldson says. “Only certain brands offer fun colors like that.”
  • After washing and drying: Think about where you’ll store your other laundry-care appliances. Will you need to work in a cabinet for your steamer? Should you build the ironing board into the design? “A lot of people steam their clothing instead of ironing,” Donaldson says. “If they’re steaming, the steamers are usually on wheels. It doesn’t usually go into a cabinet, because you’re lifting up and down. You need to have a space in your laundry room that it rolls into, or a closet you can roll it in and out of. Typically, it’s a tall cabinet in the laundry room, not a closet. A closet is more expensive.” Other cleaning supplies, like vacuums, are often stored in a laundry room cabinet, Donaldson says.
  • Soaked: If your design didn’t include a laundry sink, you may want to consider a model with a sink already built in.

Designers: What trends are you seeing in laundry room spaces?  How has this space changed over the past 10 years? Tell us about your laundry redesign experiences!