The Mudroom and the Foyer: Those Important ‘In-Between’ Spaces

Home GuruBy Bill Primavera

What the decompression chamber is to astronauts and what the hyperbaric chamber is to deep sea divers, so the foyer, traditionally at the front of a house, and the mudroom, typically around back, are to homeowners.

It’s those in-between areas that allow one to transition with impunity from one environment that may be dusty, dirty, muddy or wet into a cleaner space.

Just by their names, one may assume that the mudroom is a dirtier, more utilitarian kind of space, while the foyer may be grand in appearance, putting a home’s best foot forward, so to speak, to the visitor.

The mudroom, mostly as a lean-to shed or an enclosed porch attached to the back of the house, was popular from the 18th century to the 1920s. But as our society shifted from farming to less physical endeavors, mudrooms were banished to the 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. 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. 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. Most times it’s now incorporated into the footprint of the house, taking space from the kitchen and most often situated as an entry from an attached garage.

As a realtor, 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 was the case with my mudroom when I owned an 18th century farmhouse.

When I found that 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. My work in that house from long ago gave me a great sense of satisfaction every time I entered or left 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. They might be a solid vinyl covering, which can be scrubbed without damage, or paneling that will be more forgiving when visitors lean against the wall to remove their soiled shoes or boots.

One design trick is to use the same cabinetry in the mudroom that’s 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.

Now that I live in a spanking new condo, my mudroom has been replaced with an entrance foyer which is far less utilitarian. It features only a thigh-high decorative column that serves as a catch-all for newspapers and mail, and a large mirror with which to check our personal appearance on the way out. And, of course, that’s important too!

Bill Primavera, while a writer and public relations practitioner, is also a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate. To engage the talents and services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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