When visitors come to Alvin and Sharon "Sam" Hall's million-dollar-plus house in McLean, the first place they want to see is the laundry room.

"It's so funny," laughs Sam Hall. "We have lots of rooms that are nice, but this is everybody's favorite. Because we do a lot of entertaining, a lot of people have seen it or heard about it."

That's because "it" is a huge, 20-by-25-foot laundry/crafts/storage/catering room with washer/dryer, closets, cabinets and a wide bar-height table. And don't forget the full-size tiled bathtub for drip-drying clothes and washing the dog.

Call it the power laundry room, the trendy equivalent of the gourmet kitchen and the spa-size bathroom. Alvin Hall, president of Miller & Smith Inc., a production home builder in McLean, specified the oversize dimensions when his family moved from Middleburg to their new 9,500-square-foot house 16 months ago.

Although builders and architect say the king-size laundry hasn't filtered into many homes here, it's coming, according to Debbie Rosenstein of Rosenstein Baker Associates, a McLean marketing firm that advises home builders.

"It's going to be another room where you can differentiate the interior of a house" to help in marketing, Rosenstein said. "There will be a lot of built-in things," such as a pull-down ironing board, a TV nook, more elaborate cabinets and a spot for drip-drying clothes.

Bigger, customized laundry rooms were part of the message from builders and appliance manufacturers at this month's International Builders Show in Dallas. "Having a laundry room," rather than just a space for a washer/dryer, "is definitely on the must list for homeowners," said Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research for the National Association of Home Builders. "And there will be a lot more changes coming in the next five years as the whole technology revolution" in "smart" appliances unfolds.

"We see laundry rooms as the next big area that people are going to want to expand," said Kevin Madden, fabric care brand manager for the Whirlpool Corp.'s Institute of Fabric Science. "Ninety percent of the people we've talked to say they want a separate laundry room, and the National Association of Home Builders' numbers show that three out of four new single-family homes have separate rooms."

With American families washing an average of seven loads of laundry a week, Madden said it is no wonder that people want more space and more convenience.

The big question is where to put the pile.

Everybody has a different idea where the room should go, said Alan Shapiro, vice president of Winchester Homes Inc. in Greenbelt. "No matter where we start with it, people are looking to shift it around," he said.

Winchester upsized laundry rooms in 1994, well ahead of the "mini-mansion" syndrome. But home buyers still have their own ideas about stealing a bit more space here or there and finding the perfect spot.

"Everybody has their own personal reasons for where they want it," Shapiro said. "People put it in the basement because they want more room to spread out. It's on the second floor in some homes for convenience--less hauling from the bedrooms. Others want it on the first floor . . . next to the kitchen or family room or the master suite."

Ahluwalia said the "No. 1 preference is behind the kitchen or the garage," but for families with young children, the second floor is the parking place for grimy laundry.

"There are a lot of different things happening" to the laundry, depending on homeowners' lifestyles, said Mark Richardson, president of Case Design/Remodeling Inc., the biggest remodeling company in the area, with offices in Falls Church and Bethesda.

For families who believe the sudsing action belongs where the clothes are kept, the washing machine is moving to the second floor, Richardson said. For those "who think the appliances need to be where the people are," the prime location is next to the living area on the first floor.

"Laundry rooms are being treated much more seriously than they were 30 years ago," said Richardson. Often the first-floor laundry gets packaged with space set aside for recreational activities. It becomes "the message drop-off center for the house" and includes a second refrigerator, he said.

Another factor is who does the laundry.

"In this day and age there are often other people cleaning the house and doing the laundry," Richardson said. "Homeowners might keep the laundry room in the basement because they don't mind if Mary the housekeeper has to schlep up and down the stairs."

"It's pretty rare" that people remodel their house to upgrade the laundry room, he said. But it often figures into the package when people redo kitchens or family rooms.

Lawrence and Margot Young of McLean threw in a laundry room upgrade last year when Case redesigned the kitchen in their 25-year-old five-bedroom house. The washer and dryer had been squeezed into a pantry off the kitchen, but in the $40,000 renovation the laundry became an extension of the kitchen.

Case designer Kristen Milne hid a smaller European-style front-loading washer and dryer under a Corian countertop. New decorator cabinets, matching the rest of the kitchen cupboards, were added above the counter for laundry supplies, dishes and bar equipment. One cabinet masks a drip-dry clothes rod. "It works well as a laundry and when it's dress-up time, it's a nice bar setup," Larry Young said.

The facilities "wouldn't do for a family with five children," said Young, but his three children are in college. And, for the occasional heavy-duty load, the family still has the old appliances, now in the basement.

"The idea behind the renovation was that instead of always going to the bowels of the house to do that chore, they could be in a more cheerful location," Milne said.

Children often determine the location, said Paul Lobien of Mitchell, Best & Visnic Inc., custom home builders in Rockville. "If the kids aren't home or there aren't any kids, the laundry room's often upstairs. But if there are kids, people want it on the first floor because that's where they're spending their time."

Some families are even putting in two laundry rooms, Lobien said. The main appliances go on the first floor or in the basement, with a laundry chute from the childrens' bedrooms, and a small stacked set goes upstairs for Mom and Dad.

Having two dryers and one washer is also hot for custom builders, said Bill Sutton of Sutton Yantis Associates Architects of Vienna, because people doing multiple loads can't stand waiting for the dryer to finish. Conventional dryers take 50 minutes while washer cycles run 30 minutes.

Whirlpool hopes to attract those who might buy two dryers with a new dryer line coming out in May. Whirlpool's Senseon Drying System, which uses moisture sensors to tell the dryer when to stop, can shave 20 minutes off the dry cycle, according to the company. Suggested retail prices for dryers with Senseon are to range from $500 to $600.

Whirlpool also hopes to capitalize on the time-saving draw of a new line of washers using a Catalyst Cleaning Action that Whirlpool says eliminates the need to pre-treat clothes. Catalyst is being billed as "Whirlpool's greatest breakthrough in laundry technology since inventing the permanent press cycle more than 30 years ago" and "as a premium upgrade in the construction of new homes." The new washers' suggested price this spring is expected to be $599.

For those whose concern is not efficiency but privacy, the laundry is going into its own room, separate from the mud room or the kitchen, said Chris Lessard, president of the Lessard Architectural Group Inc. and the designer of the Halls' super-laundry.

"The laundry room is really being used as a giant hamper, so the setting is not conducive to people walking through," Lessard said. The key to happiness in these homes is a door you can close on all those clothes.

NVR Inc., the area's largest home builder, offers an "extended laundry room option" in many of its models. The regular 7-by-10-foot space increases to 7-by-20-feet, making room for an ironing board to be left set up, or for a sewing machine or freezer, said Larry Bassett, NVR's director of architectural services.

Bigger is also better in the condo market, Lessard said. But since condo floor space is particularly tight, it's the appliances that are getting larger. He said more condo owners are choosing full-size stacked appliances rather than mini-stacks or side-by-side units.

The Halls' laundry room definitely qualifies as jumbo. Besides a large-capacity GE washer and dryer, it has an array of closets and cabinets designated for gift wrap, crafts or cleaning supplies. The stuff in the closets is stored on rolling racks that can slide across the floor to the 4-by-8-foot work table.

The space also serves as a grooming area for Andy, the Halls' 105-pound golden retriever. The raised tub, which doubles as a drip-dry area for clothes, has steps so Andy can climb in on his own.

An unexpected plus was that "caterers love the room," Alvin Hall said.

If he were building the house today, Hall said, he'd have added even more extras. To make a catered dinner more perfect, he'd include another oven, dishwasher and refrigerator.

His wife agrees: "That way they wouldn't mess up the kitchen at all."

WASHERS' HIGH-WATER MARK

So if the laundry room moves upstairs, isn't there an increased risk of flooding?

Yes, said Mark Richardson of Case Design/Remodeling Inc., the area's biggest remodeler. But there are two qualifiers to add to the equation. First, today's washing machines operate so well that the risk is "fairly low" either upstairs or downstairs, Richardson said.

And second, said H.L. Harris Plumbing and Heating Co., building codes in the District and Virginia require that any washer installed above the basement must have a safety pan, similar to a shower pan, with a drain to the nearest laundry tray or open drain. Maryland does not have such a requirement, but Richardson said his company as a rule installs pans with drains in every instance.

CAPTION: Sharon "Sam" Hall gives Andy a bath in the 20-by-25-foot laundry/crafts/storage/catering room of her McLean home.