TOKYO -- Washing clothes is not something that sets most people's hearts racing. But that may change, at least in Tokyo, where an upscale laundromat is putting a bit of fun into a tedious household chore.
This summer, Freddy Leck sein Waschsalon Tokyo, opened in the city's Meguro district. The Japanese cousin of the Berlin-born laundromat is introducing residents to a new design philosophy that is evident in everything from the shop's interior to the products it sells.
Located on a busy thoroughfare, the laundromat looks more like a restaurant from the outside. Inside, a big wooden table sits in the middle of a cafe-like space lit by a chandelier. Drinks and snacks are available from a service counter. In one corner stand 17 large washing machines and dryers.
The design concept was imported to Japan by Tomoki Matsunobu of Fujiei, a home furnishings trader based in Nagoya, in central Japan. While working on a project, Matsunobu came across a magazine story about a unique laundromat in Germany.
He hopped on a flight to visit Freddy Leck sein Waschsalon in Berlin, the main Freddy Leck shop. Although he dropped in without so much as an appointment, Matsunobu boldly asked for permission to use the company's logo and to develop products based on its designs.
The products were launched in Japan in 2010 and sales grew steadily, thanks largely to social media. The lineup has expanded from 10 at the start to 42 today. To spread the message that doing laundry can be enjoyable, Matsunobu decided to open a branch in Tokyo.
Founder Freddy Leck, a German actor, came to Japan for the opening of the Tokyo store. He explained to his hosts that he started the laundromat chain as side business in 2008 because he loves washing machines.
He calls washers magical machines that can clean clothes, make them smell good and leave them feeling soft in just 45 minutes. He is eager to make doing laundry a happier experience for everyone.
The store charges 400 yen ($3.5) for a 39-minute wash and 100 yen for a 10-minute gas dry.
Berlin, Leck says, is a city with many travelers, and laundromats are a place that brings them together. The interior of the Berlin shop aims for a living room-like feel that was inspired by the home of Leck's grandmother.
The laundromat has become something of an international salon, drawing everyone from travelers to elderly people seeking companionship and the chance to hear a bit of classical music. The shop, which draws around 150 customers a day, is a place for people to connect.
The Tokyo outlet offers six services: a self-service laundry -- the large machines can even handle futon mattresses -- a laundering service, dry-cleaning, retail sales of laundry goods, laundry workshops and a cafe.
The high-performance Japanese machines have specially designed control panels and uniquely designed faces. Customers can relax at the cafe while they wash and dry their clothes.
The laundering service is performed by people with experience in the apparel industry. They know not only how to handle different fabrics but also the special care needed for certain brands, for instance.
The hangers and plastic bags from the dry-cleaner are emblazoned with the Freddy Leck logo for extra cachet. Customers using the laundering service bring their dirty clothes in a special bag, which is meant to make the slightly embarrassing task of asking a stranger to wash one's garments more fun.
The laundry goods sold at the shop are designed by a specialist art director. Detergent, ironing boards, hangers and laundry baskets are done in simple white and blue to avoid visually cluttering a room.
Customers can also attend workshops to learn how to care for their clothes, and tips for washing at home.
Fujiei's Matsunobu, who manages the Freddy Leck brand in Japan, has big plans for the future. Fujiei worked with Tokyo remodeling company Renoveru to design the interior of the Meguro outlet.
"Imagine an entire condominium building is renovated and its first floor occupied by a Freddy Leck outlet. The shop will create communication between residents. Residents will be able to make better use of the limited space in their own units because they no longer need to own washing machines or hang their clothes to dry," Matsunobu says. He is considering partnering with real estate agencies, with an eye toward shop design.
"If a laundromat that is open and has a good design can provide a bridge between people and society, household chores, which working couples often see as a hassle, could become a fun event," Matsunobu says. As the son of a working mother himself, Matsunobu hopes his ideas can change and improve life for families in Japan.