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Store Wars: Make It Easy with a Mudroom

What once was the most utilitarian room in any house has become the new darling of design.




photos by Renee Rosensteel

 

Forget cool kitchens and elaborate master baths: In this season of snowy boots, it’s all about the mudroom. 

Here in western Pennsylvania, mudrooms always have been a welcome feature. It was a treat if your new home included one and a popular addition if it didn’t. Whether you’re a city or suburb dweller, muddy shoes, rain-soaked umbrellas and fallen leaves are part of life here, whether you’re a city or suburb dweller. 

We’re also a community of busy people, and most of us need a central spot to drop bags and backpacks, or hang up coats and keys. Rather than hunt for our phones or the missing shoes our kids can’t find as the school bus approaches, it’s nice to know everything is within arm’s reach in a room that’s still stylish.

Of course, every mudroom isn’t for every household. When Sewickley-based interior designer Suzanne Friday begins one, she works closely with the client to figure out how the client’s family will use the space,
 


 

If they’re envisioning something sleek and highly organized, is it realistic to expect they can keep it that way? Open cubbies and lockers, trendy as they are, won’t look presentable for long if you tend to be messy and hurried. Closed options, such as cabinets with doors and deep drawers that slide out of sight, are a better choice for messier folks. Will the space be filled with bulky sports equipment, or dog crates and pet supplies? If so, include large, deep bins for everything from baseball bats to hockey sticks and be sure to locate countertops at the right height to slide dog crates underneath. And if the mudroom will serve as a drop zone for school books, permission slips and mail, hang a bulletin board with plenty of pushpins above a desk or countertop workspace that includes bins with hanging file folders. Add a large paper calendar on the wall next to the bulletin board, and perhaps an additional whiteboard if you’ve got room. 

“There’s an advantage if you’re designing new. You can have the mudroom of your dreams,” says Friday. 

But even when working with limited existing space, a careful analysis of what you really want and need can yield a beautiful space that makes your life less messy and more organized. Where to begin? 

“My clients get very involved in the design of the mudroom,” Friday says. Some request a space in which they can sort incoming mail and store pending papers, and many want an electronic charging station that can handle a range of digital devices. 

South Side-based interior designer Nancy Barsotti points out that you can take inspiration from traditional home organization as you assess your needs.  

“If you think about it, the old antique hall trees were great,” she says. “Storage was often in a space under the bench, which lifted up. They even had a place for umbrellas with little pans underneath to catch the dripping water.”  
 



 

Specialized Storage
The experts say every family member needs a dedicated storage space, and it’s often easiest to use an open locker or large cubby. At the center, you’ll want space to hang (potentially wet) coats and jackets. Barsotti says using hangers is best, so consider adding a bar that will hold several. Hooks also work for coats as well as hats, bags and scarves. 

Down below, Barsotti says, you’ll want a place to put boots and shoes with a tray underneath to catch rainwater or melting snow. Up above, you should include shelving or closed cabinets for things you don’t need every day: Off-season items, beach or pool gear, and spare hats. 
 


 

Seasonal items such as gloves and mittens or summer sports equipment, can be kept in a basket in this upper-level storage. The basket can be moved down when the items are in season.  

If you have young children, consider: Can they reach the hooks for their bags and jackets? And can they open bins and doors easily? Barsotti says putting children’s names on storage bins is a great way to organize.  
 


 

Include at least one bench for changing in and out of shoes. Even if your space is limited, Friday suggests adding a table or countertop for organizing anything from school lunch bags to clothes bound for the dry cleaner. A corkboard and/or whiteboard is great for making notes, exchanging messages and tacking up permission slips or tickets for upcoming events. 
 


 

Sturdy, Gorgeous Floors
“You’re coming in from the garage or the out of doors,” Friday says, so you need “a floor that’s pretty bulletproof.” She recommends durable porcelain tiles or brick, perhaps arranged in a herringbone pattern. These materials can handle bad weather and don’t show dirt. 

​Barsotti agrees: She recommends ceramic tile or high-quality, durable vinyl tile. Tile that mimics wood can be found in both porcelain and vinyl lines.

Cynthia McCulley and Jeff Hornung chose porcelain tile in a mix of brown and blue shades for the mudroom in their home in Hampton Township. “Most of the house has natural stone,” says McCulley. “But in there, we didn’t want natural stone because we didn’t want to worry about water on it.” 

They used the same tile for a countertop, bringing cohesive style to the room and ensuring the countertop was durable enough to handle hockey gear and anything else family members might drop there.
 


 

Lovely Lighting
Here’s where you can get creative and still serve practical needs. HGTV host Vern Yip points out that lighting mounted high up on walls or on the ceiling can be gorgeous, and even quite fragile, but still survive your mudroom because it’s hung out of harm’s way. 

Friday encourages Pittsburghers to embrace that approach. You can use “architectural lighting that’s mounted up high that can be directed on arms,” she says. “Fun sconces and interesting pendant lights can give the utility that’s needed, but also kind of make a statement.”
 

Splurges
If you have enough space and higher budget, add items that make your life even easier. Friday helped one Pittsburgh family to design a dog-washing station for their mudroom. The McCulley-Hornungs considered adding one of those but opted instead to design a nearby bathroom for easy dog bathing. 

They built large, custom wooden cubbyholes for each family member and a spare for visitors. And as they mapped out an extensive renovation of their house, they made their mudroom a true traffic hub for their family. It has five doors: One leading to the driveway, one to the garage, one to the kitchen, one to the family room and another to the backyard. Having so many doors makes it easier to usher their three dogs in when it’s time to put them in their crates, and having three entrances to outdoor spaces (driveway, backyard and garage) means anyone coming in from outside can use the mudroom and not track in dirt or rainwater through the house’s front door.  

Melissa Rayworth is a freelance writer and longtime contributor to Pittsburgh Magazine. She is the former managing editor of Military Spouse, a national magazine based in Pittsburgh that serves America’s 1.1 million military spouses. Her current freelance work includes a monthly home-design column for The Associated Press and frequent contributions to the international lifestyle magazine Wanderlust, based in Bangkok. 
 

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