As our attention turns to the holidays—and making space for all those extra trappings and trimmings—Marshall Erb Design illustrates how a meticulously appointed mudroom can keep things haute-y and nice.
By Elise Hofer Shaw
Historically speaking, “mud areas” originated in rural settings where unpaved roads and manual labor left boots perennially, well, muddy. A smallish vestibule off the kitchen on the backside of a manor or farmhouse, these pragmatic porticos were an unglamorous spot to shake off the day’s dirt. In fact, the term “mudroom” didn’t enter our vernacular until the mid-1950s when a boom in tract housing ushered in less-formal entryways at the sides and backs of houses for efficiency. And sensible they remained—think Betty and Don Draper’s side door/laundry room combo in the early seasons of Mad Men—until the 1980s when excess began to seep into all areas of the house, causing mudrooms to grow in both size and formality.
Fast forward 40 years and mudrooms have morphed into a multipurpose space that plays a critical role in the overall layout and function of a home. “In today’s reality, the mudroom is the new foyer,” says Marshall Erb, lead interior designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago. “Everyone comes in through the garage or side door because it’s convenient. People rarely use the front door unless it’s for formal entertaining—or they live in the city and have no other option.” Ipso facto, industry-leading designers like Erb are moving mudrooms up on the list of specialty spaces—and making elevating the everyday de rigueur. “Mudrooms are high-traffic flux spaces and a catchall spot for everything that comes into your home. Ensuring that they are chic, functional and personalized from end to end is a fundamental part of a house’s master plan.”
For Erb, successful mudroom design starts with a candid conversation with the client. “Getting to know the family intimately is essential,” says Erb, who has a reputation for forming friendly bonds with his homeowners. “Things like, ‘How many total family members are there? Do you have a dog? Do you workout a lot or have kids with sports equipment? Is gardening a passion?’ The answers to these questions will dictate how I approach an organizational system that will work for their brood. Mudrooms aren’t a one-size-fits-all design.” And because Erb is a stickler for intentional appointments, every inch is optimized for sensorial bliss. “Organization and ease of use gives people peace of mind,” adds Erb. “With mudrooms, it’s never just about the physicality of the space, but also how one will react to and live within it—and the emotional tone it sets for the next stretch of their day.”
For example, some clients will request grab-and-go hooks [open storage] while others want everything tucked away and out of sight [closed storage]. “If it makes you happy and quiets your mind, we’ll take it into consideration and come up with a plan,” says Erb. And, depending on the project, sometimes only an addition will do. For a 6,000-square-foot craftsman in Kenwood for a family of five, for example, Marshall Erb Design is adding on an addition that will accommodate a series of mudroom-type spaces. “The house was originally built in 1905, back when everyone still used the front door,” shares Erb. “It quite literally didn’t have a single place to hang a coat. Thus, we’re building out an addition on the northeast side of the property and retrofitting it to the home’s original character and scale.” Set to include ample closet space, a cache for the dog’s food and cage, a large sink, and a bonus refrigerator/freezer for bulk food storage, the family was a part of the process every step of the way.
“Depending on the luxury of the square footage, our goal is for everything to have its place,” says Erb. “Open storage, closeted storage, storage for pet accessories and food, hidden recycling and composting bins, concealed charging stations for electronics… The organizational avenues are endless. And if everything has a designated home, then the area can appear tidy even when it’s at maximum capacity.” Speaking of stylish stations, Erb’s been fielding a lot of requests for sanitizing setups as of late. “Because of the pandemic, mudrooms are doubling at decontamination rooms—a place to let packages rest, keep our PPE organized and sanitize our hands,” says Erb. “But sanitizing stations don’t have to be basic. I keep my masks in a hand-painted malachite box and my sanitizer in a brushed-gold pump vessel, all atop an antique silver tray with a bud vase. Elevating the ordinary is a hallmark of good design.”
And mudrooms are no exception. “The detailing, materials and finishes in the mudroom should complement the aesthetic thread seen throughout the house, but in a more durable and informal way,” says Erb, noting that today’s luxury brands have more than evolved their offerings to meet the demand. “Let’s say you’re in love with the organic look of a grasscloth wall covering but realize that the real thing is far too fragile for a utility space. No problem. Phillip Jeffries has an amazing faux option in vinyl that you can wipe down with a wet rag.” According to Erb, other go-to sources for resilient products that present top drawer include Holly Hunt for endurance fabrics, Porcelanosa and Ann Sacks for non-slip porcelain tile, and Benjamin Moore for durable, high-end finish paint that comes in a range of trend-forward hues which, for 2021, informs Erb, include a smoky teal and a punchy apricot.
For now, however, keeping the holiday chaos at bay is top of mind for all. “With the holidays upon us, which inevitably means an influx of friends and neighbors popping by and kids home for extended visits—and oh so many extra trips to Costco—you’re likely to see just how well your mudroom or foyer actually functions,” says Erb. “Don’t be discouraged if you’re short on space. Try a few pivots and some polish on your own—a handsome leather tray to hold your keys, phone and glasses so you can always remember where they are, woven souk baskets for extra shoe storage, and wall hooks to get coats up and out of the way. ’Tis the season for some organizational creativity!”