From A Country Planet: Smart Ways to Rural Success and Survival by Tim Matson.
Lately Iâ€™ve become a connoisseur of mudrooms. Iâ€™ve been scanning the countryside for specimens of mudroom design, taking shots, and bringing them home to add to my mudroom bestiary, a collection of photographs I plan to consult as soon as I build a mudroom of my own.Â IÂ sayÂ bestiaryÂ becauseÂ theÂ mudroomÂ embodiesÂ aÂ unique architectural species. Rarely will you find two alike. Some are plain homemade,Â someÂ ornamental. OftenÂ theyÂ sayÂ somethingÂ aboutÂ the people behind the door.
AtÂ itsÂ simplest,Â theÂ mudroomÂ isÂ anÂ enclosed entryÂ way,Â usually annexed,Â where you canÂ stompÂ theÂ dirtÂ orÂ snow off your boots,Â or removeÂ them,Â andÂ hangÂ upÂ aÂ coatÂ andÂ hat,Â beforeÂ entering.Â More sophisticated mudrooms combine the advantages of the shakedown entryÂ wayÂ withÂ anÂ airlockÂ forÂ conservingÂ heat.Â OtherÂ facetsÂ of mudroomÂ designÂ canÂ produceÂ payoffsÂ inÂ refrigeration,Â storage space, shelter for critters, solar power, and so forth.
TheÂ Â mudroomÂ Â appearsÂ Â toÂ Â haveÂ Â humbleÂ Â farmhouseÂ Â origins, coinciding with the elimination of earthen floors. In Japan, where it isÂ customary toÂ slip off yourÂ shoes before entering a dwelling,Â the mudroomÂ isÂ knownÂ asÂ theÂ genken;Â itâ€™sÂ beenÂ aÂ cornerstoneÂ of JapaneseÂ architectureÂ sinceÂ theÂ twelfthÂ century.Â InÂ Vermont,Â the mudroomÂ has beenÂ aÂ popularÂ architecturalÂ traditionÂ sinceÂ theÂ first settlersÂ kickedÂ offÂ theirÂ boots.Â ItÂ hasÂ shelteredÂ theÂ thresholdsÂ of taverns,Â inns,Â schoolhouses,Â stores,Â farmhouses,Â andÂ homes.Â The newestÂ mudroomÂ inÂ my neighborhoodÂ isÂ aÂ portableÂ entryÂ toÂ the general store. Itâ€™s a three-piece modular unit–roof, walls, door–that is assembled in November and taken away in May.
â€œItâ€™sÂ great,â€Â theÂ storekeeperÂ toldÂ me.Â â€œKeepsÂ outÂ theÂ snowÂ and keeps in the heat. The girls at the cash register were freezing. They love it.â€
Apart from the rare roving mudroom, most domestic varieties set upÂ houseÂ forÂ keeps,Â andÂ oneÂ ofÂ theÂ bestÂ placesÂ toÂ learnÂ aboutÂ the standard breed mudroom is in a one-room schoolhouse. There canâ€™t have been many places more in need of it. Kids have the knack of tracking in more debris per square inch than the rest of humankind put together. Send a dozen or more through the same door five days aÂ week,Â nineÂ monthsÂ aÂ year,Â andÂ theÂ advantagesÂ ofÂ theÂ mudroom becomeÂ clear.Â InÂ oneÂ nearbyÂ village,Â IÂ cameÂ uponÂ aÂ century-old crimsonÂ schoolhouseÂ recentlyÂ convertedÂ intoÂ aÂ communityÂ center, complete with solar greenhouse on the south wall. Jutting out from theÂ same wallÂ standsÂ the mudroom,Â which the designer wiselyÂ left intact. The mudroom is roughly 10 feet by 10 feet and capped with a hip roof. The floor is a thick concrete slab, perhaps the best defense againstÂ theÂ marchÂ ofÂ VermontÂ seasons.Â ThereÂ areÂ benchesÂ for unlacedÂ boots,Â pegsÂ toÂ hangÂ wetÂ clothes,Â andÂ aÂ coupleÂ ofÂ large windows to provide natural light.
Another good lesson lies in the schoolhouse elevation, two steps about mudroom level. In winter, then the mudroom door is open to theÂ Â schoolroom,Â Â heatÂ Â resistsÂ Â spillingÂ Â out.Â Â ThisÂ Â isÂ Â anÂ Â airlock conservation measure pioneered by Neanderthal-era Eskimos. They built tunnelways into their igloos a foot of two below the dwelling level.
Indeed,Â thereâ€™sÂ aÂ lotÂ toÂ beÂ learnedÂ inÂ aÂ schoolhouseÂ mudroom, pitfallsÂ included.Â InÂ thisÂ instance,Â theÂ hipÂ roof.Â ApartÂ fromÂ the aestheticÂ prejudiceÂ IÂ haveÂ againstÂ thisÂ umbrellaÂ design,Â asÂ a mudroomÂ entryÂ roof,Â itÂ flunks.Â TheÂ watershedÂ patternÂ drenchesÂ all eaves.Â GuttersÂ areÂ oneÂ solution,Â IÂ suppose,Â butÂ Iâ€™m accustomedÂ to seeingÂ roofÂ iceÂ twistÂ themÂ aroundÂ likeÂ BudweiserÂ popÂ tops.Â Iâ€™d chose instead a peaked roof with the gable over the mudroom door.
AtÂ theÂ oppositeÂ endÂ ofÂ theÂ spectrumÂ youâ€™llÂ findÂ theÂ micro mudroom. It tends to be a homemade add-on, often not much bigger than a telephone booth. (Any day now Iâ€™m expecting to find an old phoneÂ boothÂ plantedÂ atÂ theÂ frontÂ ofÂ aÂ glassyÂ solarÂ dwelling;Â what betterÂ wayÂ toÂ recycleÂ allÂ thoseÂ phoneÂ boothsÂ displacedÂ byÂ plastic hoods?) Built on a foundation of posts, stone, or concrete piers, the micro mudroom may not be as durable or spacious as the one sitting onÂ aÂ concreteÂ slab,Â butÂ thenÂ itâ€™sÂ moreÂ manageableÂ toÂ financeÂ and construct.Â AfterÂ all,Â itÂ isÂ justÂ aÂ mudroom.Â Stud-wallÂ wood-frame constructionÂ isÂ theÂ norm,Â asÂ isÂ theÂ lackÂ ofÂ insulation,Â unlessÂ the mudroomÂ isÂ toÂ beÂ heated,Â orÂ treatedÂ likeÂ aÂ hermeticallyÂ sealed airlock. And Iâ€™d look for at least one window in the door or the wall.
NobodyÂ needsÂ aÂ gloomyÂ mudroomâ€”mudÂ seasonâ€™sÂ drearyÂ enough already. One architect I know likes to station a mudroom on each of his buildings. It adds a beguiling touch to the structure and a personal stamp to his work. You canâ€™t mistake his hometown; its main street isÂ flankedÂ withÂ variousÂ three-dimensional thresholds:Â tallÂ and narrow, some with arched doors, some with curved roofs, some with steepÂ gables.Â MostÂ standÂ atÂ homefronts,Â butÂ oneÂ doublesÂ asÂ an airlockÂ andÂ clodbusterÂ forÂ aÂ localÂ tavern.Â SteppingÂ throughÂ itÂ Iâ€™m remindedÂ ofÂ theÂ ticketÂ boothÂ atÂ theÂ TumbridgeÂ Worldâ€™sÂ Fair. Another of his mudrooms features a domed door with a tiny leaded windowÂ andÂ aÂ steepÂ pitchedÂ roof.Â ItÂ looksÂ likeÂ aÂ sentinelÂ hutÂ at Buckingham Palace.
Since a mudroom may tend to look like an outhouse, I will resist the temptation to carve a quarter moon in the window shutters. One embellishmentÂ IÂ willÂ addÂ isÂ theÂ grateÂ dirtÂ remover.Â ThisÂ isÂ a salvagedÂ heatÂ registerÂ setÂ intoÂ theÂ floorÂ inÂ placeÂ ofÂ aÂ doorÂ mat, preferablyÂ vintageÂ castÂ ironÂ toÂ rebuffÂ kicking,Â mudcakedÂ feet.Â The registerÂ collectsÂ dirtÂ andÂ snowÂ whichÂ dropsÂ intoÂ anÂ insetÂ cleanout box, or clear through the floor if you donâ€™t mind the draft.
The bigger the mudroom, the better the storage. Itâ€™s a good place toÂ keepÂ aÂ catÂ orÂ hangÂ aÂ sideÂ ofÂ beefÂ (notÂ simultaneously).Â Some people install an unplugged refrigerator or an insulated storage box to preserve food, fuel free, in winter. Thereâ€™s only one thing crazier thanÂ aÂ hipÂ roof,Â andÂ thatâ€™sÂ runningÂ theÂ fridgeÂ duringÂ aÂ Vermont winter.Â MudroomsÂ intendedÂ forÂ coldÂ storageÂ workÂ bestÂ onÂ the shadowyÂ northÂ sideÂ ofÂ theÂ house.Â OverÂ onÂ theÂ sunnyÂ side,Â a mudroom equipped with coldframe glazing can grow vegetables and flowers. Now thereâ€™sÂ aÂ designerâ€™s dilemmaÂ with just one solution: the two-mudroom house.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the book A Country Planet: Smart Ways to Rural Success and Survival by Tim Matson. The book is now out of print. However, watch our blog for several more reprints of Tim’s great articles from this book!