The Language of Home

Getting the Boot

The dirty origins of “boot room/mudroom”

By Noah Salt     Illustration by Romey Petite


Not long ago, recalling a rainy but delightful winter fortnight in the Surrey countryside of southeast England, we went in search of the meaning of “boot room” and came up appallingly empty-handed.  Merriam-Webster flat-out insisted that no such word or compound phrase existed, while the venerable Oxford English Dictionary could only suggest a diversionary “bootleg” or a sadly Dickensian “bootboy” as a possible alternative.

Yet anyone who’s set foot in an English or Scottish country house of any antiquity knows exactly what a “Boot room” is meant to be, including the dedicated purpose it serves — i.e., a place where one’s boots, shoes, walking sticks, winter attire and other outdoor paraphernalia are conveniently kept.

On a lark, we tried the word “mudroom” and struck, as it were, pay dirt.

A noun, North American: A small room or entryway where footwear and outer clothes can be removed before entering a house. Typical usage: “Shoes don’t come into the house — they are removed and stashed away in the mudroom”

It’s certainly true that just about every sensible house in New England sports a “mudroom” of one kind or another, a highly practical anteroom where one is obliged to shake off snow, scrape mud from shoes and boots, or simply remove them to avoid tracking the outdoor elements inside. As a rule, winter coats and foul-weather gear are stored in such spaces.

In our gentler Piedmont climes, not many suburban houses come equipped with boot rooms or even mudrooms, per se, yet more and more, architects seem to be incorporating these practical little rooms into their traditional entryways — creating practical spaces with added function and style.

This past summer, we called on friends in wilds of Davidson County who had transformed a repurposed 100-year-old cattle barn into a rustic showplace that included a wide entry space where family members and visitors were provided with their very own cubicle spaces complete with hooks and cubbyholes for stowing footwear. The floor was made of roughly polished bluestone that was designed to stand up to an army of muddy feet. Cushioned wooden benches and a bistro-like chalkboard for writing messages gave the room an added warmth and welcoming air.

Some of the more inventive and ambitious mudrooms we’ve seen lately even incorporate washing machines and dryers into their designs. A few offer sinks, storage and cathedral ceilings. Type “mudroom” in the subject line of Pinterest and be prepared for a veritable explosion of New Age old-fashioned mudrooms.

Napoleon may have quipped that he made all his generals out of mud, but there’s no reason for anyone to track muddy boots into his house — a lesson we learned the hard way early in life involving our muddy sneakers and Mama’s clean kitchen floor.

That’s why, even if the phrase “boot room”exists largely in the fertile minds of those who own one (or simply crave one, with or without the romantic Surrey backdrop), we would like to aver that a room dedicated expressly to the purpose of keeping a house orderly and clean, regardless of the weather outside, is anything but a bootless enterprise.   h

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