It can handle the smelly shoes, the disorganized sports equipment, the overstuffed book bags and even the dripping-wet dog. After all, that's what mudrooms are designed for.
Increasingly, homeowners are turning to these utilitarian rooms as a buffer between their hectic lives and the sanctuary of their home. A well-planned mudroom offers organized storage for all the items that would otherwise be piled on chairs, couches and tables.
Typical features found in a mudroom are cabinets, lockers, benches, baskets and hooks. As the space has evolved into a valuable resource for keeping busy families organized, new twists and additions to the room include home recycling centers, floor sinks and pantry space.
"We're seeing it a lot more," said Scott Chilton, president of Chesapeake Bay Homes. "These days, everybody is more organized. Mudrooms have basically become organizational tools."
When it came time for Rich and Karen Gale to build their new waterfront home in Bowleys Quarters, they knew a mudroom would be a vital feature. With two kids, a dog, a cat and a husband who loves to garden, the room will serve as a way to keep the mess of outside where it belongs, says Karen Gale.
"When we went to the architect who designed the house, it was one of the specific things I wanted," she said. "It was very important to me."
The 16-by-20-foot mudroom design includes lockers for the Gales' 14- and 10-year-old girls, a bathroom including a shower to wash off dirty feet or the dirty dog, and a bench that lifts up to reveal ample storage. Chilton, who is building the house for the Gales, said the added room cost about $25,000.
"The houses we build have formal living rooms and formal dining rooms, so people don't want to come through the front door. They come through a side door or garage to a mudroom with an organization area," said Chilton.
Mudrooms are part of a trend identified in a 2005 survey that found homeowners want to enlarge their living space by adding rooms with specific functions. Mudrooms came in third, with only home offices and game rooms ranking higher in importance, according to the American Institute of Architects survey.
Kermit Baker, chief economist with the AIA, said the trend started years ago with homeowners originally just looking for more closet space. When mudrooms first became popular, they served as a catch-all; they have since graduated to a more standard feature in many new homes with a very specific job of acting as transitional room.
"It's a function that continues to be important," said Baker. "A way to order and organize your life is a real high priority for today's busy family."
Kathy Werner, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and the owner-broker of Re/Max American Dream, says mudrooms can make a difference in a sale. "Mudrooms are an absolute bonus in the lower price range. It becomes more of an issue in the upper price range," said Werner. "In higher-priced houses, absolutely they want a mudroom."
When it comes to must-have items in the mudroom, experts suggest storage space, in the form of either lockers or cubbies, for each member of the family.
Color-coding the lockers offers a way to identify space, especially for young children. Other items of importance include a durable floor such as tile or vinyl and hooks or pegs for hanging everyday items. Bins, shelves and cabinets offer space for seasonal items. A mirror offers a bit of functionality, as the mudroom is often the spot of the last-minute check before leaving.
Tim and Amy Askew's Roland Park home had enough room for them and their three children, but there was no dedicated space for throwing coats, shoes and sports equipment. As their kids grew, so did the mess.
"It's a pretty large house, but it had no storage," said Amy Askew. "We didn't need space; we needed more efficient space."
So they turned a small outside deck into an enclosed 19-by 11-foot mudroom with ceramic tile, vaulted ceiling, skylights and laundry area. A sink for gardening was added, as were a pantry and traditional coat closet. Plenty of drawers and cabinets allow for storage of everyday items. Oversized cubbies for each child and one extra marked "guest" are also part of the room.
The mudroom, which they estimate cost about $50,000 to design and build, also has space to clean off the family's 125-pound Bernese Mountain dog. The room has worked out so well that at least two of their friends have made similar additions to their own houses, said Askew.
"It's been great," she says. "It's made it much more of a user-friendly, family-friendly house."
Michael Owings, president of Owings Brothers Contracting, said mudrooms such as the one he constructed for the Askews are almost a given in today's housing.
"It's like a mandatory requirement that everybody has a mudroom. It's a basic transition spot for entering a house," he said.