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Santa Rosa, California
Saturday May 31, 2008

Clothesline Chic

With trellis laundry lines and climbing plants, you can hang the wash out to dry, save energy, and do it with panache


Laura Shafer remembers it like dancing through tunnels of white sheets. When you're all of 5, and everything in the world is above your head, the simple act of hanging laundry takes on magical overtones.

"I remember hanging out at my mother's feet while she hung out the clothes," says Shafer, a Sebastopol artist. "The smell was almost otherworldly. It was like being in the clouds."

For folks like Shafer, hanging laundry is neither chore nor eyesore. It is a comforting ritual carrying fond memories. It is eco-chic and part of a growing green awareness.

And it is also Shafer's artistic oeuvre. After years of training her camera lens on laundry lines, creating a vast portfolio of photographs, she is applying her skills to making clotheslines themselves more artistic.

Or at least more aesthetic. She recently launched, dedicated, as she puts it, to the "art of drying laundry outdoors."

She and her husband design and build custom redwood trellis laundry lines.

You can pretty up the appearance of these most utilitarian of household objects with climbing roses or clematis, and they even come with removable lines so they can do double duty as a hammock stand.

She also sells an array of products devoted exclusively to line drying with panache, from hand-printed clothespins with creative sayings to whimsical clothespin bags recycled from kids' Hawaiian shirts. She also offers,standard umbrella-style clotheslines and handy pull-out lines that discreetly retract when not in use.

Shafer is hoping she is on the leading edge of a shift in the national zeitgeist as people start to understand how much energy they consume by using electric or gas-powered dryers.

Certainly, power companies like PG&E, the California Energy Commission and green living advocates have been vigorously pushing line drying to/ save energy and cut carbon emissions.

According to the California Energy Commission's Consmner Energy Center, you can shave up to 5 percent off your energy bill by letting the fresh air dry your clothes. That translates into $100 to $300 in savings every year, depending on what age and model of dryer you use and how often.

Clothelines are featured on the opening page of the spring Vermont Country Store Catalog, along with a vigorous editorial in support of line drying.

"We firmly believe that some of the old products work better than the new stuff," said Andrea Diehl, spokeswoman for the longtime national mail-order retailer that trades in nostalgic items. "One of the things we've brought back that had been retired is a canvas clothesline bag for pins that hangs right on the line, and wooden clothespins. They're so much better than the plastic ones. They grip and hold securely and won't break or stain."

The company is also all for low-tech stuff with high efficiency quotients, like the old-fashioned pulley style you can run between a window and a tree so you don't even have to step outside.

"The skinny is, 5.8 percent of residential energy goes toward your dryer," said Alex Lee, noting that with the refrigerator, the dryer is up there with the biggest energy hogs of all your household appliances.

Lee is the founder of Project Laundry List, a New England-based movement to promote line drying through public education like National Hanging Out Day (April 19) and by lobbying for state laws that ban restrictions municipal and within homeowners' associations on laundry lines.

"The snobbery objection is pretty huge," he said. "We're 'Working on The Right to Dry because millions and millions of Americans are not allowed to hang out their clothes. There are 60 million Americans living in roughly 300,000 community associations, and most ban or restrict clotheslines."

So far, he's helped pass legislation"in Colorado and Hawaii despite resistance from people who think of laundry lines as declasse.

Shafer recently came on as a consultant to advise Burbank Heights, a senior housing community in Sebastopol, where some residents were in marked disagreement over whether to allow clotheslines.

"There was a group that wanted to have clotheslines primarily because they wanted to have environmentally friendly drying, reduce the carbon footprint, sustainability all those issues," said Paul Schoch, a member of tbe Burbank Heights board of directors. "So they came before the board to ask permission to do a 9O-day trial, and we agreed."

A survey showed,residents split almost evenly on the issue. But the board gave the go-ahead to put up five test lines, which will remain up for a 9O-day trial.

Oakmont, Santa Rosa's massive senior retirement community, prohibits clotheslines in any location visible to neighbors, so even in a back yard, they must be concealed.

Mary C. Patricia, administrator of the Oakmont office on architecture, said no one has pressed the issue. But as a diehard line dryer, she stays within the law by using a foldable rack.

"I don't want my PG&E bills sky high just to dry a few socks and shorts and underwear," she said. "And Ilike it. I like the clean-air freshness you get from line drying."

Nicole Freeman receptly purchased one of Shafer's $300 trellis lines for her Agua Caliente home. She wasn't worried about objections in her working-class neighborhood; she just wanted a clothesline that gave her one more reason to go outside, while making an attractive statement.

After having it installed in February beside a shady tree, she laid flagstones beneath it and planted a little herb garden around it to enhance the fresh-laundered fragrance. She now has lawn chairs and a firepit out by the clothesline and has roses growing up the "arbor" sides.

"For years I lived in an apartment, and I never had any room. Now, this is my first house and I didn't want anything tacky," said Freeman, a clerk for the city of Petaluma. "My mom used to line-dry and it was my chore to go out and get it. It never seemed strange."

So now she happily carries on that childhood ritual. "Now, except for my towels, I put out pretty much everything. I do my laundry every Friday. It's very comforting."


The San Francisco Chronicle


By Laura Thomas

A new line for drying clothes

The clothesline revolt has begun. The harsh reality of global warming is setting in and motivating people to forsake their energy-consuming dryers.

Laura Shafer was an early convert. She lost her dryer in a divorce and started to use a clothesline and photographed laundry while still living in Santa Cruz. About 10 years ago, she was living in a trailer park in Encinitas with a new husband and was told she couldn't have a clothesline.

"It was illegal to hang out my clothes, so I built a guerrilla line," she said. "We told the management it was a hammock stand,"

She decided then that if clotheslines could be seen as attractive, they might become more acceptable.

She moved to Sebastopol with her family last year and started, a business devoted to promoting "slow laundry."

Shafer and her husband, Paul Schwebel, have designed an outdoor clothesline supported by redwood posts that can hold a trellis, Growing a vine up the trellis can make it more attractive, she said.

Currently, they will instaill the trellis line for $300 in their area, but hope to post simple plans on the Web site.

Meanwhile, Shafer has been busy promoting clotheslines at ecology fairs and is working with senior housing complexes in Sebastopol to install outdoor clotheslines.

The objections she hears include the look of the lines, viewing other people's underwear and the quality of clothes dried outdoors.

While many people have decided that laundry is drudgery, she believes that public consciousness is changing and that most people just need a little help.

Shafer offers three styles of retractable and two pole dryers. She sells clothespin bags she makes from recycled baby clothes - an idea she got from her mother, who never used a dryer - wooden clothespins and laundry art in the form of prints and note cards.

She also sells wooden clothespins carrying words like "breathe," "air" and "fresh," designed to remind one that laundry "is an important part of life."