Confessions of an Ironing Man

Designer William Caligari reveals the secret pleasures of ironing.

Do you iron?

These days, busy people often avoid buying anything requiring an iron—such items get a trip to the dry cleaner, or they end up in a basket for eternity, waiting for an ironing hand. Back in the day, however, nearly everything got ironed: sheets, underwear, even socks.

At my house, ironing is a soothing, stress-relieving task. Table linens and some bed linens, handkerchiefs, dining napkins — I iron them myself. I like the grounding, meditative task of ironing and the tactile, aromatic experience of fibers: cotton, linen and blends. I like the sense of completion: when I press the hem of a pillowcase, I can finish the task in two minutes and it’s done! Done! Complete! Success! How often does a two-minute endeavor bring such reward?

To indulge this domestic therapy at home, I built a  stationary 4’ x 8’ laundry and ironing table from framing lumber and plywood. I covered the plywood with carpet padding and then wrapped that with canvas,which I stretched and stapled around the perimeter. It was a $200 project. I centered a really big fluorescent light over the table and it could not be better lit. Above the laundry table, there’s an outlet in the ceiling. This keeps the ironing cord out of the way. Ironing happens here, at this dedicated spot.

Laundry table in the basement.

In my design studio, where we often work with fabric, we have a serious ironing setup with a state-of-the-art German iron, made by Dofix, which operates on a trapeze-style system. This setup may not be possible at home–at the studio, it works.

Here’s a video of the Dofix ironing setup we have at the studio for big jobs.

I follow a few simple guidelines for ironing.

  • Make sure the heat setting is appropriate for your fabric.
  • Iron tablecloths and bed linens when slightly damp. Place an old clean sheet on the floor under your ironing board to prevent the dangling ends of the linens from picking up dust or dirt.
  • Don’t you hate it when you unfold your nicely-ironed tablecloth and it’s perfect–except for those fold marks? After pressing, don’t fold–roll them on a cardboard tube, wrap in plastic, then unroll them on the table. They will be perfect.
  • If you accidentally dried your linens bone dry in the dryer, mist them with distilled water and let them sit for a few minutes. Or, wet a cotton towel under the faucet, wring it out, and place it over your ironing item. Leave the steam setting on.
  • Starch? For sure! Did you know that starch helps with stain prevention?  If you use starch, iron in sections.
  • How do I store my linens? Some are hung and some are stored in a well-ventilated shelving unit.
  • Hanging large items to dry? Hang a clothesline that is covered with a round PVC tub, to avoid that sharp hanging wrinkle.
Linens hang to dry on a line covered with a fat PVC pipe to prevent wrinkling.

We can certainly be thankful for the general laundry amenities we have in our lives; much of the world has nothing like the laundry features we have. Here’s a brief history, peppered with my own recollections.

Once upon a time, the washing was done by hand, in cold water. Irons were used not just to press clothing but to disinfect as well.

Drying laundry the old fashioned way. Photo by Marco Bianchetti

I remember my grandmother’s house in Housatonic on High Street: no central heat, only a coal stove in the kitchen and a kerosene heater in the living room; buckets of coal were hauled up from the basement to fuel the stove. There was no heat on the second floor, only what warmth floated up through the floor grates. What was always heating up on the coal stove? An iron. An iron iron.

Nana’s washing machine, with its wringer attachment, was in the kitchen. The “dryer” was a clothesline in the backyard, just as it still is in most parts of the world. Even in parts of Europe, conditions for laundering are still quite rustic, with limited electric power and outdated plumbing.

This was 1975 — not so long ago.

Why ironing is so satisfying. We start with wrinkled fabric…


And enjoy the pleasant scent of freshly laundered warm cloth…


Then, moments later, we have a smooth fabric which we fold neatly…


And store on a well ventilated shelf, ready to use when we want it.

Today’s modern home designs have entire rooms dedicated to laundry and its related activities — but even an older home can have a laundry upgrade. In re-thinking your laundry room design or re-do, consider how it can function to make the work less onerous. Organize your space and install good lighting. Try to avoid letting this workspace become a place for clutter or storage. If you give some time to your laundry situation, ergonomics and aesthetics, you won’t regret it — you might even come to enjoy it.

Happy ironing!

The joys of well-ironed linen!


William Caligari is the owner of William Caligari Interior Design in Great Barrington.

7 thoughts on “Confessions of an Ironing Man

  • Thank you for this informative and inspiring article. I happen to be facing a pile of my grandmother’s linens which haven’t been laundered or ironed in decades.
    One question: when you speak of well ventilated shelves, do you mean many shelves just a few inches one above the other, so that one cannot create heavy piles of linens? Are there other tricks to ventilating shelves? (I haven’t learned to like wire shelves yet.)
    Thanks again. Your articles and photos are always layered and interesting.

    • Lydia, Thank you, you are too kind. I like solid wooden shelves the best about 12″ apart and then we stack our linens mostly by set. My current shelves are melamine but wood is better because it’s not impervious. Chip away at the linens a couple of pieces at a time. It’s much less daunting then facing the whole lot. Best; Bill

  • Bill,
    Very nice article. Perhaps your next improvement should be sheetrock on the ceiling to keep the fiberglass fibers from falling onto the hanging linens. 🙂
    I know a guy who does that kind of work…

  • Oh Bill!!
    You are my hero! I love that you iron, and love how you elevate it to a meditative, sensory pleasure. All chores that we so often think of as tedious can be pleasurable – if we learn to relish the sense of accomplishment. I share your joy in this! How great a pleasure to see a stack of clean, crisply folded linen napkins? And sheets! Thank you for reminding us to enjoy the quotidian pleasures.

    ps: don’t you also have a mangle?

  • I am often kidded by friends and family about my ironing habit . My mother had me at the ironing board at a young age as she hated the task. My father’s shirts were daunting for a little kid but do I know how to systematically get around any shirt!!!
    Glad their are others who iron and appreciate it!

  • Bill, your secret’s out now. Aired and pressed – in the press no less – and I love this article. Still not a fan of ironing but realize now: I don’t have the right table!

  • Thank you! I too love ironing and folding! A tip passed down from my grandmother: once linens are dry, sprinkle lightly with water and refrigerate in baggies. My mom prepped our button down shirts this way. They were much easier to press, and yes we did our own ironing. I wish I had room for your ironing table!

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