When You Literally Put the Mud in Mudroom

The mudroom looks completely different in the summer.

Whenever I go onto Pinterest or Houzz, and type in “mudroom”, there’s all these beautiful white rooms with book bag hooks, and cute little cubbies and even the washer and dryer and I sort of ooh, and aah, and coo over these adorable little spaces, and wonder who in the hell comes up with this stuff?

The results from searching “farmhouse mudroom” are even worse. I get it. It’s Pinterest. It’s pretty much a fantasy world. But white ship-lap, a few Mason jars, and a picture of chicken does not a farm mudroom make.

What is universally lacking in all these examples, both literally and figuratively, is one critical thing – the mud.

I’ll preface this by saying that I’m talking real mudrooms here, not those weird mudroom-broom closet-laundry room combination entrances you see in homes with attached garages. These spaces struggle to be useful in a suburban setting, let alone on a farm. You may have such an entrance, foisted upon you by external circumstances, typically if you’ve moved into an existing home. But if you’re lucky, you may have some options to make even this space a bit more useful. without removing walls and disrupting your entire life.

On farms, we have to acknowledge the difference between traversing through the outdoors, versus working there. (I have a friend who used to tell me that “outside is the space between me and my car.”) In rural areas, we work outside on many different jobs, and in different conditions, and we seem to participate in more outdoor activities in general – high-school sports, horse races, and in our house, mud-running. That’s all in addition to trying to be semi-presentable when going into town.

Farm mudrooms need to do double duty, and can do that best with double the capacity. We have to deal with the same things that a family in town would have to deal with – it’s our family entrance after all – book bags, umbrellas, groceries, sports gear, batteries, flashlights, first-aid kits. It’s all in here. Add to that, our chore clothes.

Simply put, mud is a fact of life when you live in a rural area, a constant companion here in Virginia. Our mudrooms should be a reflection of how we’ve adapted to that reality. Ideally, there’s a place for decent stuff, and a separate place for chore clothes.

Our workloads, and our work-wear, are largely influenced by the weather. Throw in a few muddy dogs, a couple of trash bags, and literally whatever the cat dragged in, and one of the hardest working rooms of your house is probably not ready for its close-up.

Our boot-rack, in all its winter glory.

You’ll probably have a dozen people tell you how much they like having their washer and dryer in their mudroom. Don’t fall for it. Mud, wet dogs, and clean laundry are a horrible mix.

The Mudroom Vision

As with most things in Johnsonville, the reality lags the vision by several years. The basic idea was to have the rear portion of the house easily accessible while you’re in your chore clothes. Coming through the back door, into the mudroom, you could get to the office, the bathroom, and the kitchen without removing your boots. (No boots if you wanted to go into the living room or dining room or upstairs.)

The walls were to be covered floor to ceiling in cabinets, and we’d even designed the mudroom so that we could knock out a wall, and convert the half-bath to a full bath, in case we ever decided to go with single-floor living.

There was a boot sink, and a large kitchen sink, and lots of storage in the original design.

It was, and still is a good plan, especially if we’re willing to (temporarily) overlook the economic realities. We hit the first major obstacle when I got the first quote from the first cabinet maker – 40 K per wall for semi-custom cabinets. Second was the fact that the back porch was going to have to be a later add-on – we were running out of time on our building permit and our construction loan. So the vision is sort of what helps us keep our sanity while we endure the current reality that is our mudroom.

Yep. We really allow mud in our mudroom.

The Mudroom Reality

So instead of coming into the mudroom through the back door, family members come through the kitchen door, a fact that still absolutely galls me. I can get pretty damn territorial about my work triangle. But living in the space has given us some new ideas and reinforced the validity of some old ones, and in a way, it’s kept us from making some expensive mistakes. I’m convinced that we saved ourselves something on the order of 100k by waiting to see how we’d end up using this space. (Just the thought of floor to ceiling cabinets on both walls of our 8 x 20 mudroom makes me shutter,)

But what we ended up with works pretty well, the kitchen door not-withstanding, and the back porch is slowly working its way up the priority/reality list. I’m not sure how big other mudrooms are, but ours measures 8 x 20, with sufficient lighting that it doesn’t feel cooped in, or tunnel-like.

When it comes to chore-worthy attire, our boots seem to be the most noticeable. We have different boots for different jobs, in different weather conditions. Add to that the different outdoor social and business activities, we just end up with a lot of footwear.

Until we get the back porch on the house, and the back entrance functioning, most of the boots come off at the side door, the kitchen door, the one that nobody is supposed to use. We have hiking boots, rain boots, snow boots, deep mud boots, riding boots, paddock boots, gum boots, logging boots and steel-toes boots. For every person in the house, we have our tall Muck boots. A couple of us have mid-height Mucks, and we even have a few pair of short muck boots, and some of us have a dress Mucks.

We have Ropers if we’re wanting to rock the extension agent look. If I’m not about looking like an extension agent, I can go for the hiker-girl look, and choose between several pairs of hiking and trail-running shoes, in varying stages of decay. Same for my regular running shoes, including those relegated to paint shoes – except for the rest of them that are in a closet in the basement.

And we used to have a whole lot more boots when the girls were riding, so all the tall boots are in the basement.

And our regular shoes aren’t parked there – just anything that would likely get muddy.

 

And coats!

Beware – Anything Hanging on this rack is Probably Covered in Cow Crap

Underneath all the coats is a beautiful brass coat hanger, but you’d never know it, because it’s chronically struggling to hold all our barn coats and chore coats. We’d never hang any of our decent coats here – they go in another closet, but with the kids working at the dairy, this is usually covered with UdderTechs, the water-proof bibs dairy-workers wear. Lots of hooded sweatshirts that I wash once a week, but that’s not nearly enough. It’s closer to the kitchen than we’d like, and if we ever get the back porch on the house, this won’t be quite so bad.

Gloves – every member of the household probably has half a dozen pairs of gloves, at least, and that’s not counting the assemblage of singles, waiting for any left-handed friends who need them.  Fence clearing gloves, cow milking gloves, going to town gloves, gardening gloves, wet weather gloves, cold weather gloves, riding gloves. This doesn’t include any sports gloves.

Did I mention the hats?

No self-respecting rural male would ever step out of the house without a ball cap. You need a place for them. I have visions of an attractive, serviceable hat holder of some sort, but in the meantime, they go on the same weary coat-rack that the rest of our barn stuff goes on.

Our kids have finally reached the point where they can get their book-bags up to their rooms, but this hasn’t always been the case. We used to devote quite a bit of wall-space to book-bags, but that wall space now hosts this bench that I keep my shipping supplies in –

With its focus on dirt, and its proximity to the kitchen, most of the cleaning supplies get stored here, including the attachments for the soon-to-be-connected central vac.

The interior wall is supposed to have two sinks, but as yet has none. One is supposed to be a boot sink, but we decided that we’d rather have the boot sink outside, so we’ve moved this item permanently from our list. (It’s literally the only change we made in our entire house design.)

The other sink is supposed to be a big ass sink for when you’re bringing in something like, a 5-gallon bucket of tomatoes, and it’s supposed to serve as an additional sink for the kitchen and those really big kitchen jobs, like washing pots and pans on Thanksgiving Day. I spent months looking on Ebay for never could find one of those really monstrous farmhouse sinks. At some point I decided to go check out one of the junk piles in the woods and found one that wasn’t 100% what I was looking for, but it was free, and pretty damn close, and so that’s what that is all about.

I found these cabinets in one of my mom’s sheds. They’ll work until I get the 40K needed to put in the cabinets I really want. I’m guessing they’ll be there for a while. The hook-up for the big sink is barely visible on the far left.

After searching on Craig’s List for month, trying to find a real farmhouse sink, I found this one in the woods,behind one of our sheds.

​Paint – this room was originally painted to match the dirt – seriously. I went into the paint store with a bag of dirt, and they matched my paint colour to that. But I got tired of it, and at the suggestion of a friend who is a professional designer, I opted for the current bluish-grey.

Flooring – I have a lot of grandiose visions for our mudroom flooring – slate, tile, and real linoleum – not mere sheet vinyl, but real made with linseed oil linoleum. In the meantime, we’re living with this bottom-of-the-line cheap stuff we got at Lowe’s. The biggest “problem” is that this flooring has been abused for the last ten years, and it still really looks great, or at least as good as it did when we installed it. A pretty big gap has developed in the seam closest to the refrigerator, from the rare occasions I pull out the refrigerator to clean behind it. The whole floor is sliding, but it hasn’t torn, and it’s not showing much in the way of wear. So as much as it doesn’t enthuse me, I’m having a hard time convincing myself to replace it with anything different. It’ll very likely get replaced when we get the new kitchen cabinets installed, which will hopefully be by the end of the year. (Custom cabinets are not for those in a hurry.)

Decent coats go on a second coat rack – it’s really supposed to be a closet – somewhat removed from the harder-working attire.

So we have the barn coat rack, the decent coat rack, the glove rack, and the boot rack. Most of our regular shoes go up to our rooms. We have a few sporting items – but they usually go up to the rooms as well, though we’re pretty much ready for a game of baseball at any time.

In addition to all our outdoor wear, we keep a the items that we’re likely to need ready access to when doing chores – batteries, a few hand-tools, first aid kit, flashlights, binoculars – that sort of thing. We were originally going to have custom cabinets covering both walls, but not only did they prove to be prohibitively expensive – 10s of thousands of dollars for what I wanted – I found a really cool cabinet at a local architectural salvage store, and now I’m searching for at least one more.

Mudrooms often become recover rooms for sick or injured animals, like this chicken, that I wrestled away from a hawk. (She was fine.)

Thawing frozen buckets are just one of the many things you can look forward to when power goes out in the winter.

What we’re supposed to have function-wise

We designed the house so that you could come in and go to the bathroom, go to the office, or get something to eat without ever taking off your boots. We run our business out of our house, so we end up with workers and customers coming in, so, for instance the vet can come in, get washed up, and get a glass of tea before heading out to the next call.

(If you’re truly disgusting, you come in through the basement door, and drop your clothes outside.)

We were supposed to have cabinets in here, but when the quote I got for cabinets was literally more than I had paid for houses, I moved the cabinets to the Oh Hell No category, and we just went with a few scavenged cabinets.

For our purposes, Lowe’s doesn’t carry anything that’s useful for mudroom cabinets, and custom cabinets are prohibitively expensive, which is why the cubby look is so popular. But I still needed something for storage – I had a hideous wire shelf in here for years, and then found a cabinet at Salvagewrights.com, and it’s really cool since it came for an old house in town, and now I have Mrs. May’s cabinet in my mudroom, and it’s a thousand times cooler than anything I could get from Lowe’s or even anything that anyone could have made. And it goes along with my doors, which also came from Mrs. May’s house. (Check out this post about our salvaged doors.) A cupboard or cabinet from an architectural salvage company may be a better fit for your farm mudroom, and the price may be lower than the cost of an Ikea wardrobe, for instance.

What a homeowner can do

Your mudroom serves as a transition area between outdoors, and the kitchen, and you may have stuff from the garden, eggs, whatever, in your hand, and having a way to deal with the stuff is what you’re looking for.

What types of activities do you participate in? How many people are in your household? What about your pets? Where do they come in and out? Are you a gardener?

If you’re building a new home, you can take a lot of this into consideration

If you’re moving into an existing home, there may be a few things you can adapt to your existing space to suit your needs.

Probably the critical point is to design around your habits, rather than expect everyone in the household to adapt to the design.

And even if your mudroom doesn’t end up as the most lovely thing on Pinterest, with a bit of planning, and a dose of reality, you may be able to bring a bit of beauty and sanity to your life.

I call this a cabinet, but I think that it’s technically a cupboard, since it has shelves. It came out of Mrs. May’s house, the same house where our doors came from. Way cooler than anything we could have gotten at Lowe’s.

If you’re interested in more of the antics and fiascos we create and endure, check out our social feeds.

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