I look forward to the mud room. That name means something to Emma, a term she grew up with, but she brought the idea into my world not so long ago. In the simplest of explanations, it’s a room—a four-wall affair—before entering the house in which one can take off muddy shoes, hang rain-sodden coats, and ready themselves for the indoors. Or, vice versa: Putting on shoes, slipping into a parka, and pulling up a collar before facing winter gusts.
Emma and I have spent the last year building our cabin. We spent the previous year taking down old cabins to repurpose the wood, and we’ve spent this year reassembling it all into something that can work for us as an energy-efficient home today. We’ve upgraded to meet the millennium: We’ll have plumbing, top-notch insulation, and renewable energy. We’ll have passive solar heating, double-glazed windows, and a fuel-efficient cookstove.
And, we’ll have a mudroom.
The first way I identified with the mudroom is that it functions to provide a double-entry doorway. I never knew what that was called until studying permaculture, but I remember vividly walking into my grandparents’ home, passing through the laundry room in order to get to air conditioning, something I couldn’t have imagined life without growing up in Louisiana. The laundry room, for them, functioned as a mediator between what conditions were outside—100% humidity, 100 degrees Fahrenheit—and what they were inside.
When designing a home, particularly in the cold temperate climate, where Emma and I are, double-entry doorways are a simple antidote to protecting the internal temperature from being belted by the bitter cold of December and possibly tempering summer’s simmering into less of a boil. It’s a door that opens to the outside, closes, and leads to a separate door allowing one into the house. This keeps cold drafts from blowing into the living space, and it thwarts the heat from permeating everything. Like my grandparents’ laundry room, it is a buffer between outside and inside.
When Emma and I set about designing our home, we included a “mud room” to perform this task. This room isn’t heated as our house will be. It does, however, work as our passive heating/cooling system does, with sun-facing windows that don’t get summer sun due to roof overhang but get loads of sun in the winter due to the tilt of the earth. For me, that was how the mud room first felt illuminated: it was the laundry room at my grandparents’ house. Only, this time, I saw it more as a bumper between freezing winter temperatures and the wood-fired heat of our cookstove.
That said, the mud room has morphed into dreams much grander. In true permaculture fashion, Emma and I wondered what more we might get from such a room. We envisioned benefits beyond the double-entry doorway. We dreamed of what might be found lingering in such a space, and that’s where our mud room came to life.
- It’s going to be a heated greenhouse. As the temperatures begin to soften, moving from brutal cold to cool and crisp, the mudroom and its myriad of sun-kissed spring windows will be able to create a comfortable place for germinating seeds. The daytime will heat the room passively, and in the night, now fresh rather than frosty, we can leave the interior door open to help with keeping the mudroom warmer via our wood fire.
- It’s going to be a food dehydrator. Summertime smolders here in North Carolina, the glare of the sun spiking temperatures into the 90s (mid-30s in Celcius) with the overstory of a temperate rainforest trapping the moist heat for days. The mudroom will be sealed off from the rain, and we will include a simple ventilation system to carry hot incoming breezes through a solar dehydrator to help with processing herbs, spices, and fruits for storage.
- It’s going to be a storage room. Because our house will have limited space, nothing more than a large room with half-wall dividers and an affixed bathroom, the mudroom will serve us both as a place to hang jackets, stow away boots, and keep canning jars currently out of use. Here, these things can be out of the weather, yes, but also out of our immediate presence until we need them again.
- It’s going to be added security. Though Emma and I aren’t jumpy types, we will be living somewhat remotely, so the mudroom creates not just a barrier for temperature and weather but also for potential intruders. While this could certainly account for unsavory people, it could also help with keeping wildlife—bears, snakes, insects, and so on—out of the house. Or, at the very least, it can provide a warning before they are in.
- It’s going to house our solar components. An off-grid solar power system requires batteries, an inverter, a charge controller, a series of breakers, and lots of wiring. Within our mud room, we have built a small closet for all of these things to live in. That way, it will be safe from stormy weather, blocked from weather extremes, and conveniently access under roof but not in the house. While renewable energy is wonderful, it isn’t always the most attractive thing to look at while eating dinner.
- It’s going to be a work space. The mud room will be somewhere—cramped and imperfect, but fully functional—that Emma can teach (online) in privacy if we have guests. It will be somewhere we can dry, sort, and package seeds. It will be a place to pamper potted plants if need be. It will be somewhere, out of the house, where errant and unfinished projects can wait for completion.
The Revelation of the Mud Room
In truth, I’ve been looking forward to the mud room for a while now, possibly as much as I am the actual cabin to which it is attached. Every time our current kitchen table has been littered with baskets of seed pods waiting to be dealt with or tomatoes waiting to ripen…every time our current porch has been dusted in drying herbs…every time I’ve moved a tray of early seedlings from outside to inside for the night…every time Emma has woken me to the sound of English vocabulary lessons… Every time, I have thought, when we have the mud room, finally, there will be a place for such things, a place where they are supposed to be.
That is the glory of designing with intention. The mudroom won’t feel like a mess. It won’t be unreasonably hot or cold. It won’t have this annoying such and such in it. The floor will be dirty, and that’ll be okay. It’s a room we’ve designed to fit our lifestyle, a room the likes of which we’ve never had. I look forward to the mud room. It will mean something to me.