Organizing the Chaos, Indoors & Out
photography: Chris Gardner
Somewhere between the puddles and trails of the outdoors and the immaculate interior of your home is a room filled with stacks of mail, piles of mittens, mountains of footwear, and an accumulation of coats, jackets, and all-weather gear in various shapes and sizes. Welcome to the modern mudroom.
Once used by farmers as a place to deposit their soiled clothes and boots and wash up at the pump before entering the main house, today’s mudrooms serve multiple functions. As the family’s entrance of choice, they are often the first stop for kicking off muddy shoes and removing wet clothing. They can also serve as the spot to stash gym bags, backpacks and schoolbooks, feed the dog, do the laundry, and store ski boots and other sports equipment. In some homes, they may function as a dog kennel when the family is away.
As these rooms become more specialized to serve individual household needs, homeowners are looking for ways to keep their particular clutter under control while keeping dirt out of the main living areas. We asked several local professional designers and homeowners to share their essentials for a well-designed and orderly mudroom. Choose the ideas that appeal to you-and send those that don’t appeal right out the door.
Known to professional organizers as “containerizing,” the designation of specific places for jackets, raingear, boots, keys, and other miscellaneous items is the first secret to a well-organized mudroom. In a space devoted to comings and goings, furniture with no storage options can do more harm than good. Instead, designers suggest choosing pieces that can hold a variety of items.
Working with interior designer Bruce Martin, Ketchum residents Barbara and Jim Figge designed a mudroom for their Ketchum home that met their needs. To keep it tidy and give each of their kids a “catchall place” to store their belongings upon entering the house, they installed three tall storage cabinets and cubbies.
“With three children, we needed enough space to hold all of their jackets, shoes, gloves, ski goggles, and ski passes,” says Barbara. “Since you can see the room from the kitchen, we wanted to make the space nice and keep things organized.”
Other storage alternatives include vertical closets, cabinets, and lockers that can accommodate long, slender items such as brooms, mops, and even hockey sticks. An armoire is another option that can look attractive while offering versatility: it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should have lots of shelves inside. If space and cost are an issue, designers recommend a wall-mounted shelf with cubbies and hooks, which can be used to stash purses, jackets, hats, and keys.
The designers’ votes are unanimous: The mudroom should contain lots and lots of hooks. “Hooks should be placed everywhere,” says Center Q Interior Design owner Susan Witman, ASID. “They can be placed inside a closet or cabinet door, on the side of a cabinet, or directly on the wall.”
“We have plenty of hooks around our mudroom,” notes Barbara Figge. “They are wonderful for quickly hanging backpacks, jackets, dog leashes, and ski passes.”
For families with small children, designers suggest putting up two rows of hooks–one at a comfortable level for children and one at adult level. Remember, though, that hooks protrude into the room, so for safety’s sake, don’t place them too close to a high-traffic area where they might catch on packages or snag a coat as someone passes by.
A storage bench is an excellent addition that is not only functional but can add a spark of color, says Anneta Glavin, a designer at Topnotch Furniture and Interior Design in Ketchum. “For relatively little money, homeowners can choose from a variety of shapes, sizes, and hues.”
In the mudroom, a bench encourages family members to sit down and remove their shoes rather than flinging them off. Baskets or drawers placed under the bench or in a nearby console can offer storage for loose footwear and other items such as gloves and hats. If you choose to include drawers, designer Susan Witman recommends using some form of ventilation–such as metal grids on the face of the drawers–to allow any damp articles to dry.
According to Anneta Galvin, one of the most important design elements of a mudroom is “the right type of flooring.” The floor should repel stains and splashes, while withstanding water and grime. Galvin prefers using natural materials such as slate or porcelain tiles. “These materials help conceal mud and water stains, and hide the dirt that gets tracked in.”
Another option is scored, stained, or plain concrete, which can be wet-mopped or hosed down (provided you have a heavy-duty drain in the center of your floor). Ceramic tile, vinyl, and laminate will stand up to heavy abuse, while radiant heat can offer a warm touch on cold days. If the flooring material doesn’t have a non-slip surface, add a non-skid floor mat or rug-which will also help cut down on paw prints throughout the house.
Budget-conscious do-it-yourselfers also may want to consider a product like Flor, a modular carpet flooring system. Made with stain-resistant fibers, the industrial carpet tiles are economical, washable, replaceable, and easy to install.
In addition to making their mudrooms more organized, homeowners are installing a range of amenities and conveniences. A selection of utility and storage ideas can be included in the design of a mudroom: a utility sink, a stackable washer/dryer, even an extra refrigerator or freezer. An additional storage area or closet with shelves can be used to hold canned or packaged foods, cleaning supplies, or paper goods. For comfort, install heating vents or include boot warmers/dryers for the cold winter months. Cork, chalk, or wipe boards can provide a place to leave schedules or messages for family members. A special “nitch” where families can display each child’s artwork, writing, or other creative endeavors adds a warm, personal touch.
If you have a four-legged family member, you may want to reserve a spot in the mudroom for dog or cat food, leashes, toys, a bed, or a water bowl. In her mudroom,, East Fork resident Espi Grundy even installed a small doggy shower with a hand-held spray nozzle to clean her pups’ muddy paws.
Although it represents additional cost, many families choose to place a bathroom next to or in the mudroom. Barbara Figge, for instance, uses the mudroom bathroom as her children’s clean-up spot before school and after sports events. She keeps an extra set of toothbrushes and hairbrushes in the bathroom so that her kids don’t have to run back upstairs to brush after breakfast and possibly be late for school. If a bathroom isn’t in your budget, place a mirror with a small shelf near the entry door. This handy addition can hold brushes, keys, and other small items that might be needed before heading out the door.
Sizing it All Up
How your mudroom actually functions and what it contains will depend in part on the amount of space you can allocate to it. From hooks to lockers to built-in benches to walk-in closets, your best options may be dictated by available square footage. Larger mudrooms will, of course, allow for more storage and serve more purposes; but smaller rooms can still be useful and contain elements that will help control the clutter.
Regardless of the dimensions of your space, says Susan Witman, “The most important thing about designing and organizing your mudroom is to use every available inch.” Many times, people fill up the floor but leave the walls bare. Witman suggests claiming that unused area: “I often go as high as the ceiling.”
By addressing the specific needs of your household and being creative, you can make the retrieval and storage of life’s necessities easy and inviting. You may even turn your family’s favorite dumping ground into a model of graceful efficiency.
Living in a constant remodel, health educator and freelance writer Kerry George, Ed.D., knows how important and necessary organization can be. When she isn’t putting pen to paper, George spends her time training teachers and teaching girls in various areas of health education.