Nearly two years a go we moved into a condo which lacked space for a darkroom. I used the garage for the darkroom by setting everything up on my workbench along one wall. The challenge there is light leakage through the cracks in the garage door and the total lack of temperature stability. With winter arriving, this is a serious concern. My plan has been to build a dual-purpose darkroom and tornado shelter in a corner of the garage, but that has yet to materialize.
My battle is not atypical of most photographers wanting to print and process their own B&W prints. Fortunately, in my case I was able to finally figure out a solution...
The cold weather and inability to maintain an acceptable temperature finally forced me inside the house. Fortunately, I did have an option. For two years now we've lived in a two-story townhouse style condo which has plenty of living space and large bedrooms, but no location to place a permanent darkroom. I got to thinking about people who use a bathroom for a darkroom, and then realized I had one space even better--the laundry room and utility closet.
The problem with the laundry room is that it is actually just a windowless hallway between the garage and the kitchen. As the condo is built on a concrete slab there is no basement--if there was I would have built a darkroom down there. The hallway is just wide enough for walking through and using the washer and dryer. The washer and dryer, being front-loaders, have large sorting and folding spaces on top. I discovered that two large trays which I use for 11x14 prints can fit comfortably side-by-side on top of each unit. The fact the washer and dryer are both front-loaders is actually quite critical to the equation as it allows for them to be used simultaneously with darkroom functionality. In the spirit of domestic tranquility this is no minor feature. In the above pictures, you can see that the units are multitasking rather nicely.
Between the washer and dryer I placed another tray on a keyboard stand for hanging a towel as well as a drip tray. Moving prints from the stopbath to the fixer would drip all over the floor, but the tray catches them gracefully. Also, the drip tray functions as a nice place to toss test strips and dud prints until I can put them in the trash later. I'm discovering just how handy it is to have a dud-tray placed between the stopbath and fixer and may utilize this in future darkrooms if space allows.
Additional water wash trays are on the kitchen counter and my toning trays stay in the garage where getting a dose of fresh air is as easy as pressing the button to the garage door opener. I use a water stopbath and PH neutral archival fixer, so I do dump the tray and get new stopbath water between every two or three prints.
This takes care of the wet side of the darkroom and the water and sink are several paces away, though a door, in the kitchen. The dry side of the darkroom is another problem. Where to fit an enlarger. On the opposite side of the hallway from the washer and dryer is a door leading into a small utility closet containing the furnace and hot water heater. Normally stuffed with jackets, shoes and boots, I moved a few to make space for the enlarger.
The enlarger is sitting on a two-tier folding stage piano stand. By folding the stand a little more narrower and taller than normal, the baseboard of the enlarger fits solidly on the stand. The brackets for the upper keyboard are folded in close enough I can place items above, which is a good thing because I have no other place in the room to set things. The room is tight and when standing at the enlarger the hot water heater is right next to my body. Not ideal, but it works.
Without a tabletop, finding places to put timers and analyzers is a challenge. There are coat hooks in the closet, so I used a utility clamp to hang the ZoneMaster II on the wall next to the enlarger. What I discovered is placing the analyzer with probe on the wall next to the enlarger is actually easier to use than when they are on the tabletop getting in the way of easel.
Would I ever design a darkroom like this? Of course not. But the setup actually works and I'm able to get the rooms dark enough for daytime use. I do have to use a rug to seal the gap at the bottom of the door to keep the light under control.
A cautionary note: There were two sources of troublesome light contamination which needed addressing. In the utility closet is a smoke detector with a blinking green LED and the other source were the lightbulbs. We've converted the house over to compact florescent lightbulbs and they have an afterglow which may not be visible to the human eye, but will fog the paper. By temporarily covering up the LED and changing the closet lightbulb, I was able to get things back under control.
The laundry room and utility closet is a compromise solution, but when no other option is available it is a solution which not only works, but is remarkably comfortable to use.
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