Consider the humble mudroom, the informal entry that serves as a conduit between the grit, grime and inclement weather of the outdoors and the comfort of the home’s primary living spaces. For one Chester County couple, the mudroom was a purely utilitarian space between the garage and the kitchen, a dreary place to shed boots, dry the dogs’ muddy paws and quickly move on.
They’d lived in their 4,000-square-foot, circa-1940 house for 30 years, updating and refreshing all the other rooms. When they decided to make over the mudroom, they turned to Lucy O’Brien, founder of Tartan & Toile, a boutique design firm in Swarthmore. “Our goal was to make it whimsical, with a French-English vibe,” the designer says. “We wanted an Old World feel to it.”
The starting point was a small, nondescript room, roughly 10 feet by six feet, with a washer, dryer, laundry chute and rough-ins for HVAC. The bulky appliances claimed a lot of floor space, so O’Brien freed up square footage by stacking the units. “Washers and dryers are incredibly heavy visually,” she says. “They don’t look as massive when you stack them, and it lightens the look of the mudroom.”
The lady of the house is a keen gardener, so O’Brien designated a place for boots and storage for vases she fills with cut flowers. A storage cupboard’s countertop is custom-made from porcelain that’s grained like marble but doesn’t require sealing. A pet shower accommodates the couple’s two dogs, who can readily be hosed off after a romp in the yard. “From the outside, it’s straight into the mudroom. There isn’t anywhere else the dogs can run to,” O’Brien notes.
Rustic gray subway tiles cover the shower walls, and penny-round tiles on the floor are grouted in deep gray. “I like to use the smaller penny rounds in the shower because they offer a better grip underfoot,” O’Brien says.
The shower isn’t just for four-footed friends. It’s a convenient spot to spray away mulch and mud from wellies or rinse out large tubs and buckets. “If there are little kids who are messy, they can get hosed off,” says O’Brien.
As an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, O’Brien was in the pre-medicine and pre-architecture programs. She worked as a nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia before shifting to design, starting with her own 1909 stone shingle-style house. “I really enjoyed ripping apart my house and putting it back together,” she says. “I loved history growing up, and I love these beautiful old Pennsylvania homes.”
In resuscitating the mudroom, O’Brien brought in lively Pierre Frey wallpaper, a mélange of zebras, flamingos, butterflies, foxes and dinosaurs inspired by the gardens of Paris. Gallery railings on open shelves above the dog shower are reminiscent of a Parisian shop. The geometric marble mosaic floors “will get a nice patina over time.”
Dark-green cabinetry and a pale-green ceiling enhance the mudroom’s connection to gardening. The sink faucet and hand spray in the shower are antique brass, in keeping with the vintage vibe. Cabinet drawers and doors are outfitted with plain round antique brass pulls. “There’s a lot going on with the wallpaper, the veining and the floor, so the knobs needed to be simple,” O’Brien says. “Simple is just as beautiful as complicated.”
Despite the small dimensions of the space, details are abundant. An antique brass rod above the counter is designated for hanging laundry. The door on the cupboard where cleaning products are stored is fabricated from mesh to ensure proper air circulation. A small door camouflages a cinderblock wall, opening to reveal a drop-down ironing board. A tall cabinet houses a mop, broom and vacuum cleaner. “We used every nook and cranny we could to maximize the mudroom,” says O’Brien. “We were very focused on storage so everything has a place.”
Under the counter, a large wicker laundry bin keeps dirty clothes out of sight. It’s lightweight and slides out easily, so it can be positioned under the laundry chute. The owners like pieces with some age to them. So O’Brien found a wicker flower-petal chandelier from a vintage store in Paris to add a subtle touch of glamour in the mudroom.
Tartan & Toile stylist Kate Turk discovered a gilt-framed dog portrait at the Velvet Shoestring consignment store in Wayne. A statue of a greyhound is another nod to the couple’s love of dogs. “Now that the mudroom is more organized, more fine-tuned, the homeowners say they enjoy spending time there,” O’Brien says. “They actually like doing laundry.”
Designer: Tartan & Toile, 228 Garrett Ave, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, tartantoile.com.
Builder: GenCarp Construction, 700 Ashland Ave, Folcroft, Pennsylvania, (484) 571-9404.