My favorite room is really not a traditional room at all. It’s a space that measures only 8 ft. x 9 ft., but inch for inch, it’s the most practical multi-use location in my house. It’s my mudroom.
What the decompression chamber is to astronauts and what the hyperbaric chamber is to deep sea divers, so the mudroom is to homeowners. It’s that in-between area that allows one to transition with impunity from one environment that may be dusty, dirty, muddy, or wet, into a cleaner space.
At least that is the purpose it served when we were an agrarian society and kicked off boots muddied from a day in the fields before entering the main house.
Mostly as a lean-to shed or an enclosed porch attached to the back of the house, mudrooms were popular from the 18th century to the 1920s. But as our society shifted from farming to other less physical endeavors, mudrooms were banished in back to give way to the foyer in front.
But in the 1950s, perhaps because Americans started to collect more “stuff” in a more prosperous time following World War II, the mudroom regained popularity, adding storage space to the function of housing coats and shoes. And in the 1970s, it morphed into a combo storage/laundry room when homeowners demanded that washers and dryers make their way up from the basement. But eventually designers questioned the wisdom of combining a place for shedding dirt with laundering, and washers and dryers made their way up to the more convenient second story bedroom level.
Today the mudroom serves many individualized needs of the homeowner and most times is now incorporated into the footprint of the house, taking space from the kitchen and most often situated as an entry from an attached garage. I’ve listed homes where the mudroom has featured a pantry as an extension to the kitchen, an office, a hobby center, a sports equipment storage facility, a potting room for the garden and a changing room for the pool, the latter of which is the case with my mudroom.
When I found my home, it featured a motley mudroom that had been tacked on to the back of the house sometime after 1860. All but abandoned in terms of maintenance, it was just a loosely framed lean-to with a cracked cement floor, and the ceiling was just the raw rafters of the roof, overlaid with wood shingles. There was no insulation and only wood shelves on one wall suggesting that the structure may have doubled as a potting shed.
Because it was the direct access from our driveway to the kitchen, it was hardly an attractive entrance to the house.
In my boldest construction project before or since, I chipped away the broken cement and hand-poured a new concrete foundation from a number of mixings in my wheelbarrow. I insulated the walls and created a nice closet and space for a half-bath. Other than the installation of the bathroom fixtures and a new windowed door that replaced one with decaying solid wood, I did all the work myself. And, now, as a semi-retired fixer-upper, my work from long ago gives me a great sense of satisfaction every time I enter or leave the house.
When designing a mudroom and selecting its finishes, it’s well to remember that there’s a reason that the word “mud” lingers in its name. Materials for flooring should therefore be durable, easy to clean and water resistant. This is not the space for wall to wall carpeting, but tile, vinyl, natural slate or porcelain tile are excellent flooring choices.
Wall treatments also should not be delicate, but might be a solid vinyl which can be scrubbed without damage, or paneling that will be more forgiving when visitor lean against the wall to remove their soiled shoes or boots.
One design trick is to use the same cabinetry in the mudroom as used in the kitchen which gives the impression that both rooms are bigger than they actually are.
Many times mudrooms don’t have windows, although it’s ideal if they do. If not, overhead lighting is preferred, rather than wall fixtures that protrude into cramped space or standing lamps that could interfere with cleaning the floor.
A modern mudroom might best include closed storage areas and a large closet organized in a way to separate clothing and equipment for the outside. Lacking a closet, the mudroom can accommodate an armoire for storage purposes.
Considering how many uses the mudroom has today, perhaps it deserves an upgrade in title to the “all-purpose” room.
Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a lifestyles columnist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, write him at bill@PrimaveraRealEstate.com or he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.