Tips and tricks for building a better mudroom
Last year, my husband and I finally embarked on our long-awaited kitchen renovation. Our contractor exuded efficiency and good cheer, the counters and cabinets arrived intact and on time, and the finished kitchen looks lovely and works hard. But surprisingly, the most adored feature of the new space isn’t the powerful range or the sleek maple cabinets. No, the reno’s real prize is the mudroom we tacked on to the project almost at the last minute. By opening up our unlovely laundry room, shifting our back door a few feet to the left, and stealing square footage from an outdoor storage closet that formerly held rusty camping gear and moldy baseball mitts, we were able to create just enough space to hang our coats and kick off our boots. Our friends, well-seasoned New England residents all, murmur appreciatively when they see the super-tough Marmoleum floors, the sturdy coat hooks, and the plentiful shelving.
A year later, as winter approaches again, I can freely confess: I certainly enjoy our new kitchen, but I’m madly in love with our mudroom.
“The mudroom is the new foyer,” said Barney Maier, senior architect at Lexington firm Feinmann Inc. While the McMansions that sprouted up in the early 2000s often centered on a grand front hall, home builders and owners have gradually embraced the reality that secondary entries are where most departures and arrivals happen. “As we’ve become more casual in the way we live, side and rear entrances, often adjacent to the garage, have become de facto main entryways into the home,” Maier observed.
Across the United States, demand for well-equipped mudrooms is on the rise, according to a 2016 survey of American Institute of Architects members that tracks client requests for “special function” areas in new homes. In the early 2000s, “a lot of builders would put a coat closet in the entrance, and that was it,” recalled Mariette Barsoum, owner of Wellesley’s Divine Design + Build. “In new builds, there is definitely a larger space devoted to a mudroom, and in older-home renovations, people want to include them.” She attributes the national mudroom boom to “a change in lifestyle and the need to keep a more organized home. Everyone wants more organization — a space that can house your coats, your sports activities, your pet things, your keys and purse, so when you walk into the kitchen and house, you don’t have all that stuff.”
In New England, of course, the mudroom has a long and (literally) sullied history, and has been considered an essential for surviving the messy winters — and subsequent mud seasons. With the region’s dirt roads, unpaved driveways, and frigid gusts that sweep in with every opening of the door, “mudrooms are how we manage our climate,” said Pi Smith, a principal of Smith & Vansant Architects in Norwich, Vt. “You’re coming in with snow and mud on your feet, but also we have so much more gear than previous eras for all the conditions we deal with and activities — different kinds of outerwear, the snow boots, hiking boots, sneakers, rain boots. There’s just way too much stuff for an entryway closet, and you can never find anything once you jam all your stuff in there.”
And mudrooms aren’t just for winter anymore, noted Maier, who says they’ve gained importance as “many people have embraced the habit of changing footwear or not wearing shoes at all in the home — probably an Asian influence.” Along with plentiful spots to stow gear, the modern mudroom is often tricked out with added functionality, such as stations devoted to pet care or device charging. And aesthetic standards have been upped as well. “The mudroom serves as a transition from being outside to being inside of the home,” Maier said, and so “clients want it to feel welcoming, beautiful — and functional.”
It’s a lot to accomplish for what is generally one of the smallest spaces in the home, and it calls for painstaking planning. If you’re ready to reboot your entry space, or build a new one, here are some best practices from New England architects and designers who’ve done more than a little mudroom wrestling in their careers.
Go practical underfoot Floor choices that work wonderfully in other parts of a home can be regrettable in a mudroom. “Wood flooring gets destroyed very quickly, and marble has the same problem . . . especially here in New England with all the snow and salt,” Barsoum said. She advises going with outsized “through-body” porcelain tiles (fired so the color extends through the tile’s entire thickness) and opting for larger sizes, such as 18-inch squares, to cut down on grout lines. “Always use dark grout; it’s less likely to show wear patterns and won’t look grubby over time,” said Smith, who usually suggests a medium gray. She infuses her Vermont projects with “character, warmth, and color” by using multicolored slate or brick “in medium tones that don’t show footprints.” Several Smith & Vansant-designed mudrooms are paved with brick sliced to a quarter-inch thickness. “It gives you all those earth tones, and it’s so forgiving in terms of water and mud — and it’s not slippery.”
Match your home’s other finishes For design elements such as hardware, wood built-ins, and paint color, take inspiration from the adjoining rooms, Maier said.
Plan for function and flexibility While coat hooks and shoe cubbies remain a popular option, Barsoum notes that “now people want more closed storage because they don’t want to see the mess.” She favors a mix of storage — low and high, open and closed — to accommodate different habits and seasonal needs. Maier stresses flexibility as well. In a Newton mudroom shared by three generations, his firm installed benches, shoe cubbies, and “plenty of storage at varying heights to be used by the children, parents, and grandmother.”
Consider it a command center “It’s kind of a workhorse room,” said Smith, whose clients request designated spots for sports gear and tools as well as an officelike nook for calendars, bulletin boards, phone charging, and mail sorting. “Sometimes this command center is in the kitchen, but as kitchens get more open, that can work really well in the mudroom, where it’s more out of sight,” she noted.
Don’t forget your pet One Smith & Vansant project that gets plenty of love on Houzz is a Norwich mudroom with a pet-bathing station finished in 19th-century English transferware tiles. “It’s not the first pet bath we’ve ever done, but it’s by far the nicest one,” said the architect, who specified a pot-filler faucet and a hand-spray, and built the basin with a high curb “so you can get the dogs pretty wet without getting the water all over the floor.” The client uses the spot to lather up her two Labradors, but also for watering plants and arranging flowers, and when she’s finished, she can slide a mahogany countertop in place to create a surface for folding laundry fresh from the nearby clothes dryer.
Be realistic In setting up a mudroom, it’s key to know your family’s tidyness quotient. You may pin photos of sparkling spaces without a stray stinky sneaker in sight, “but I say be true to your lifestyle,” Barsoum said. If your kids (or you) are drop-it-and-run types, it might be better to opt for lazy folks’ bins over neatniks’ closed compartments. “Even in my own house,” the Boston-area remodeling pro admitted, “my kids don’t open those shoe drawers anymore, so I wish I had more open storage.”