The Dirt on Mudrooms

The shift of entry into a home has made way for a defining space

Merriam-Webster defines Mudroom as:
mud·room: noun \md-rüm, -rum\
a room in a house designed especially for the shedding of dirty or wet footwear and clothing and located typically off the kitchen or in the basement

By Jennifer Shapira


Mudroom Lockers
Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn

That definition makes the mudroom sound like a practical place, one without much fanfare. But in this area? Not so, say many local designers and builders. In most new home constructions—and especially in custom home construction—experts say the inclusion of a mudroom is practically a requirement.

Because the mudroom is often small, and not the most public of zones in the home, it provides a blank canvas for bold paint strokes. Generally inexpensive to outfit because of its size, the mudroom “is one of those areas that should be invested into as far as design,” says Sallie Kjos, an interior designer based in South Riding. “If it’s a really tight space and you don’t want to paint the walls, paint stripes on the ceiling, just to give it a little bit of extra oomph,” she says.

Noel Sweeny Mudroom
Photo courtesy of Econize

The trick is often twofold: a mudroom should meet your family’s needs, and look good while doing it. Best case scenario? It’s the home’s hub of order. More likely: Everyone in the household gets schooled in the basics of getting organized.

“Mudrooms most likely evolved as the main door of entry to the home became the door between the enclosed garage and the kitchen,” says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C.

That change meant the home’s front door was no longer the family’s main entry point.

“Kids were driven to and from school and activities, and they strode into the kitchen with shoes full of mud, and dumped all of their stuff at the door,” says Melman.

A mudroom “is a way to organize and hide clutter and to make the household run more efficiently. Once there is an organized plan for where each child’s mittens and coats hang as well as other daily paraphernalia, chaos recedes,” says Melman. “The mudroom floor is made for wet boots and other grimy stuff.

Noel Sweeny
Photo courtesy of Econize

During the boom years in the early 2000s, the mudroom and laundry merged to form the perfect conveyor belt to convert messy input into clean, folded output. Quality design has made the mudroom a brighter place, sometimes with a small office nook or family planning board.”

Melman says NAHB’s 2012 homebuyer preference survey, “What Home Buyers Really Want,” ranked the mudroom No. 8 among rooms rated “essential” or “desirable.” The laundry room, living room, dining room, home office, great room, den/library and sun room were higher. Some 8 percent of the potential homebuyer respondents rated the mudroom as “essential,” and another 40 percent rated it as “desirable.”

Sounds like a pretty important spot. After all, it is the household’s depository for stuff: coats, shoes, book bags. Not to mention laptops, tablets and smart phones that have necessitated a dedicated “drop zone,” often a small countertop or shelf, where everything can get charged up.


The drop zone provides an efficient way of dealing with clutter coming into the home, says McLean-based interior designer Kathy Alexander, and in many cases, goes hand-in-hand with the mudroom.

“There may also be small cubby holes for handling mail for the family, including a recycling bin for unwanted paper. Cubbies are customized for each child to have his or her own space for their sporting equipment, backpacks, for school caps, hats and gloves,” Alexander says.

“Whether you have hooks or actual lockers, drawers or cubbies, it’s a great place to have what you need the next morning waiting for you as you go out the door.”

A Lifestyle Thing
Experts agree that only a handful of items are required to outfit any mudroom space. Those essentials include: a respectable amount of storage, ample seating, good lighting and some easy-to-reach coat hooks.

Photo courtesy of Ballard Design

But like any room in the house, the materials matter. If the budget is limitless, go luxe with custom millwork or hire a closet company to take stock of your family’s exact measurements. A closet company can translate your household’s daily tasks into an organized system that allows your family to operate as efficiently as possible.

For those with uber-sophisticated schedules, the mudroom could encompass a sort of planning center and hub of information: behind a cabinet door might reveal a daily calendar that charts the details of everyone’s activities.

On-the-go families tote kids to and from school, sports and dance carting piles of gear, loads of shoes and coats. But the mudroom is seen as an opportunity to create order out of chaos: wet, muddy boots get shrugged off into boot trays (to be rinsed off sooner rather than later); coats get hung haphazardly on each family member’s designated hook; hats and gloves belong in individually assigned and labeled bins and baskets; open-ended cubbies provide a catch-all for all other belongings.

Mudroom Musts

John Wollwerth/

A home doesn’t have to have a proper mudroom in order for a designated space to function like one.

For the intrepid DIY-er, measure a hallway space, find a little bench, paint it, or reupholster it. Then add your choice and style of baskets or bins below the seat for instant storage. Drill a couple of decorative and/or antique hooks or doorknobs above, and voila—a finished mini mudroom.

If it’s a do-it-yourself project, let the mudroom reflect your personality—swipe on a bright paint color and add wall hooks that fit your style.

In new construction and home remodels of mudrooms, says Steve Porter, owner of Dominion Associates, Inc., “the flooring tends to be pretty important. Mainly you see tile, easy maintenance, easy to clean up types of material, either a ceramic or a natural stone, slate, something along those lines, depending on the quality of the finishes.”

It may seem obvious, but a non-skid tile is often the way to go. Porter suggests using something “you don’t have to worry about if you are coming in from the elements and your feet are muddy. That you do have this kind of station to shed your dirty clothes or shoes and then keep the rest of the house clean—that seems to be the mindset of people.”

To make the space feel even more welcoming, throw down a stylish little rug than can take some wear and tear, says Kjos. Just keep in mind that it’s got to be able to handle some abuse from wet, dirty shoes, then get vacuumed or tossed in the wash.


Personal, Purposeful Mudrooms
“We have had families dictate the exact design of certain mudrooms,” says Robert McCormick, managing director and president of Architectural Construction. “Other times, it’s the architect. For large families, obviously, we’ve had to put in a bunch of different spaces. And there have been places where we’ve had to put in separate adult and child areas,” he says of Mom and Dad’s commuter center (or drop zones) for smartphones and the like, and the kid-friendly areas like custom-built benches and cubbies.


“If we’re doing any type of remodeling or redesign of existing space, I’d say 95 percent of the time [the homeowner] wants to incorporate a mudroom into that type of design,” says Porter.
Porter recalls one such project for an outdoorsy family. The garage was on the basement level so that entry point was the home’s main entrance, he says.

“It was a finished basement project, but they wanted to take a significant portion of the basement and make it a mudroom, so you were entering from the garage, like you typically would most mudrooms,” he says. “They wanted a bike rack storage system incorporated within the mudroom design.” So Porter put down a natural slate floor so that everyone in the family could ride their bikes right into the garage, jump off their bikes, and roll them right up into their appropriate racks.

Both Porter and Susan Wells, kitchen and bath designer for NVS Kitchen & Bath, have had requests for dog shower areas in mudrooms. Wells says the space comprises a dog-size tiled area about three feet high, “where you can literally put your dog in there and wash it. That’s an unusual addition that we’ve done in some mudrooms that seems to be gaining a little bit of interest,” she says.

“A lot of mudrooms that we remodel used to be laundry rooms,” she says. But as laundry rooms migrate upstairs, a lot of times, the plumbing is already in the new mudroom spot, making it even more convenient to add a powder room there, or in some cases, the dog wash zone.

Make It Feel Like Home
The most important thing is to make the space feel welcoming. The mudroom is an extension of your home, and very often the first point of entry. It is one of the most trafficked areas within the home, but rarely one of the roomiest. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful, as well as functional, says Kjos.

It can be such a forgotten room, she says, and it very often “ends up being a crappy catch-all.” But it’s often such a small space, a few design tweaks can really jazz it up, without breaking the bank. If a home lacks an obvious mudroom, carve out an area of its own.

“A bench is nice because you can sit down and put your shoes on, or take them off,” she says. “Or moms can help kids put their shoes on without them holding onto your head. It’s convenient.”

Score a bench at an antique shop, paint it and reupholster it with a soft cushion in a lively fabric. Shop for bins or baskets that you can shove underneath for added storage. One of Kjos’ favorite tips is to hang one-of-a-kind, vintage-y hooks or doorknobs above for a shabby chic take on a coat rack. Add a rug in a daring print that’s luxurious beneath stocking feet—make it a departure from the rest of the home’s décor. Just have fun with the space, says Kjos.

“The mudroom is to the equipment of daily life what the pantry is to kitchen operations,” says Melman. “A way to organize, hide clutter and prepare for the next adventure.”



Mudroom Project Timeline

Many home and design professionals approach the construction of a home’s new mudroom exactly as they would any other custom or remodel project. As with any remodel or renovation, there are always a number of factors—scheduling conflicts, ordering of materials, installation—any of which can sometimes take weeks. Here is a step-by-step take on how such a job progresses from start to finish.

1. Meet with the client to discuss what the needs are.

2. Designate the intended space.

3. Measure the space.

4. Have the client collect and/or email examples of looks they like, of items that could serve their needs.

5. Ask a number of questions, such as: What does the client intend to store? What types of products are they interested in, such as custom cabinetry or cubbies? What is the look they want?

6. Present the client with scaled renderings.

7. Show the client the materials to choose from.

8. Once the materials are selected, order them, or have them custom-built. (This is often the part of the process that takes the longest, sometimes up to several weeks.)

9. If a contractor builds cubbies, shelving and a bench onsite, the project could take a few days.

10. When it’s time to add the decorative finished touches—utilitarian coat hooks, a non-slip rug, a bench cushion.


Mudroom Tips from Sallie Kjos

Despite their messy connotations as a place to shed muddy clothes and boots, mudrooms can certainly have personality, says interior designer Sallie Kjos. In fact, she says, if you’ve been risk-averse to trying color in your home, the mudroom is the perfect place to start. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she says. “You can be brave in there. Step out of your comfort zone and do something different. Just have fun.” Here, she suggests tips on creating an inventive entryway that takes the focus off dirt and puts it squarely on aesthetics.

◗ Use beadboard or wainscoting painted with a quality semi-gloss paint to protect your walls from dents, scratches and marks. It also cleans great. Consider having it shoulder-height for interest and a design flair.

◗ Accent one wall with a rich paint color. But don’t lose sight of the room’s purpose. Don’t go so dark that the room’s function is compromised, or too light that it looks weak.

◗ Add some pop with a really great light, like a modern chandelier or semi-flush mounted light that provides some architectural interest.

◗ Have a seating area such as a bench with a decorative cushion. I recommend using indoor/outdoor fabric to withstand daily wear and tear.

◗ Employ bins or baskets that are labeled for each family member. But be sure not to overfill: Keep seasonal items together; store off-season items elsewhere and rotate as needed.

◗ Hang decorative hooks to match each person’s personality. Or use matching ones and add a family photo above each person’s hook. It’s a great way to display framed photos of loved ones.

◗ Get a great rug. Spend $40 instead of $20 to get something that feels a little softer on your feet. Try a chevron pattern or a large damask, something that doesn’t look dated. To add some oomph and elegance doesn’t mean it necessarily costs more—just that you put a little more thought into it.


Q&A with Susan Wells 
Designer NVS Kitchen and Bath

Are mudrooms becoming more popular?
They’re definitely much more popular than they used to be. We’re seeing that people are removing washers and dryers out of (downstairs) laundry rooms, making them mudrooms, so that homeowners have a place to put things down they come in from the garage.

What are those things that get toted in to mudroom spaces, and where do they get put?
Shoes, coats, backpacks, all kinds of things. We do different locker storage units where they’re literally locker-like cabinets that you can keep book bags, coats, for each individual person in the family. We do drawers for shoe storage, for gloves and hats. We also do open cubbies underneath of a bench where you can put shoes and things like that.

How do homeowners handle this organization? Are they able to manage it?
We find that (the mudroom) really offers a lot of possibility for people for additional storage and
keeping that everyday home/life stuff away from the kitchen or the living room or the family room, or someplace like that. It’s typically the first spot when you come in from the garage. As long as you provide a place to drop something, it tends to stay functional.

What are the essentials to any mudroom?
You definitely want convenient ease of storage, hooks, a place to sit. Even though we do sell locker storage, that’s mostly for people who don’t want to see all the stuff. But in my experience, if you make it more difficult, kids are not going to want to use it. If they have to open a door, hang a backpack, hang a coat, close the door, chances are they’ll just set their stuff on the bench. We find if we make it convenient to use, then everybody seems happy.