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How to make the most of your Boston mudroom

Even if you don’t even really have one—yet

A well-arranged mudroom with lots of shelving. Chris Oberholtz/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Mudrooms are the workhorses of homes. They shield from the weather’s detritus, house mucked-up outerwear and life essentials, and serve as nerve centers for lives on the go.

Less fussy than foyers, mudrooms have earned their place as floorplan must-haves. “It is a highly prized feature for many renovation projects that I work on,” says Karen Swanson of New England Design Works.

And good news for city dwellers in smaller residences: The mudroom doesn’t actually have to be a whole room. If space is skimpy, “a place to sit, a few hooks, and a shelf with a basket is all you really need,” Meredith Rodday, owner of Meredith Rodday Design, says.

No matter how much square footage you have in the Boston area, you can still create a workable zone to help keep the rest of your home clean and clutter-free. “The balance between aesthetics and ease of access is typically the design challenge,” says Swanson. Here are the essentials to keep in mind.

Flexible storage. Your practical possessions—umbrellas, hats, sports gear, leashes, mail—must be ready for everyday demands, but they’re not going to put themselves away. The key is considering what storage works best with your lifestyle.

“The best place to store sunglasses is in the mudroom, since it’s the last stop before you exit the house,” says Trevor Fulmer, principal of Trevor Fulmer Design. “How many times have you forgotten your shades on the kitchen counter?”

And, while small accessories are clutter culprits, footwear is the biggest offender. “Shoe storage is a must, especially if you live in a shoe-free home. Mudrooms are the perfect spot to create a show-stopping shoe closet,” says Fulmer.

Rodday advocates investing in pieces that are made just for your space. “If your budget allows for it, spring for custom cabinetry—you’ll get to use every last square inch and configure the layout exactly for your needs.”

Think about how you might use cabinets, bins, and baskets. “As much as the pretty Pinterest photos with open storage are attractive, I find that closed cabinets and drawers make much more sense,” Sarah Merrigan, founder of Sarah Merrigan Design, says.

Rodday seconded this opinion. “Open lockers/cubbies look great in theory but can quickly look messy if your family (like mine!) tosses their stuff instead of hanging things up. So consider a mix of open and closed storage.” Think of assigning drawers or cubbies for each member of the household, so they can keep track of mail or throw their shoes in on their own.

And make use of vertical surfaces with hooks. “I rarely get to the hangers to hang up our family’s coats when we are in and out of the house constantly,” Merrigan says. “Hooks are a must for keeping coats and bags off the floor.” Each family member can get their own hook—pets included.

Sensible flooring. Merrigan says every mudroom needs “finishes that are durable, clean easily, and are slip-proof.” When rain, snow, and sleet threaten to leave mud on our soles, we need our floors “to be an easy dumping ground for wet shoes, clothing, and paws!”

Fulmer says that “tiles are a great option, just make sure the tiles are durable—they will take a beating.”

Indeed. “Porcelain tiles are about as bulletproof as one can get and come in a large variety of sizes and tones depending on the project and homeowner’s aesthetic,” Swanson says. Consider brick as well to continue the sense of transition from the outdoor to the indoor world.

Rugs are also viable. Try to find “durable rugs that can be thrown in the wash that don’t show a lot of dirt,” Merrigan says. Indoor/outdoor rugs that can handle a lot of traffic can be great candidates for this job. Fulmer adds, “If you want some softness on your floor, add a natural fiber rug. Seagrass rugs are naturally stain-resistant and can withstand mud, water, snow, and whatever else you track home. They trap dirt and can be shaken out.”

Cleaning considerations. Mudrooms are often combined with laundry rooms in an effort to clean items quickly. Think of pull-out bins, broom and mop rails, and wall-mounted ironing boards. A large sink with a retractable spray tap is useful for hosing off dirty items, rinsing pet bowls, and soaking plants.

This transitional area is ideal for disinfecting items as well. Smaller areas could benefit from a ready supply of sanitizing liquid or wipes for immediate use before coming inside. Bigger spaces may require a second set of cleaning equipment. Swanson once installed a second stackable washer/dryer and slop sink in a mudroom.

The “laundry room upstairs accommodated the bulk of the laundry needs, while this smaller accessory laundry would keep messy clothing and outerwear at bay. Removing clothing and getting it into the wash is one strategy for keeping the contagion under control.”

Convenient seating. “A seating area is a must for your mudroom, since you’ll want to sit when you put your shoes on. If your space and budget allow, install a built-in bench with storage,” says Fulmer. Seating can take many forms, from a sturdy box to a nearby staircase. A large flat-top trunk can also serve as both seating and storage for heavy winter coats to free up your closet. Acknowledging whether the seating will be used for its true purpose is important. “In reality the bench can accumulate stuff,” says Swanson.

Sense of style. Mudrooms are functional checkpoints. If designed well, these high-traffic areas can keep the rest of the household clean and clutter-free. If designed really well, they can spark joy as the most reliable part of home.

Color sets the tone. “Don’t be afraid to step outside of white cabinetry—go for color to make it feel more personal. Blues, blacks, and greens all work well. Mix in other finishes, too, like stained wood,” Rodday says.

Color can also be brought in through artwork, photos, and treasures. “Give the walls a little bit of love,” says Fulmer. Just remember to establish continuity of style with the rest of your home.

To avoid running out of power on the go, installing a charging station is a good idea. And before you take a selfie, make sure you can check your reflection. “Add a mirror to your mudroom,” Fulmer says. “Everyone likes to take one last look before they leave the house.”

You may also appreciate the sight of leaves before you leave. “If you have natural light and some extra space, add some fresh greenery to your mudroom. Plants make a great first impression to anyone visiting your home,” Fulmer says.

If you’re new to the world of indoor gardening, here are a few easy-care varieties.