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When I was a kid, I don't remember anyone having a mudroom in my neighbourhood. Our house had a tiny vestibule, which, I seem to recall, was usually filled with an assortment of skateboards, tennis racquets, balls, bats, inline skates, and, of course, shoes and knapsacks.

The main-floor family room has always been a high priority for house hunters, but now a good mudroom is joining the ranks of must-have rooms on wish lists. Simply put, the mudroom is the space designated to catch all your family's hobby and sports trappings and prevent them from seeping into the other, prettier rooms in your house.

If you're not careful, your mission to organize can become a costly undertaking. The challenge with tackling this all-important room at the end of a renovation is that the well of funds will likely have run out, yet your need for post-reno clutter control will still be strong. Have no fear - I found some ways to outfit a mudroom on a budget without making it look like I was counting my pennies.

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Creative over custom

There was no way I had the money left to order custom-made cabinets, so I decided to customize some storage solutions. I bought two big armoires that were outfitted with a hanging rod and shelves (less than $1,000 for two), then I added crown moulding to the top and baseboard around the bottom legs to make the piece look built in. In order to satisfy all my storage needs, I also bought ready-to-assemble items that were sold in three different finishes. Since dark walnut, antique paint and light Douglas fir aren't exactly my idea of a cohesive design vision, I decided to have them all sprayed the same colour, and now they make a unified statement.

Choose the right colours

Instead of opting for a palette rich in shades of white, cream and off-white, I decided to colour code my room for the purpose it serves and selected an array of tones all inspired by … you guessed it - mud and dirt! With a sandy olive palette, my mudroom will always look stylish and fresh, not dusty and grimy. Toasty walls will hide finger prints, a honed "Lagos gold" stone floor will be slip-proof and hide anything that gets tracked in, and light-olive-painted cabinetry will wipe clean.

Things that do double duty

Kids need a place to sit down and tie their shoes, and you need as much storage as possible for baseball gloves, tennis balls, hats, mittens, scarves, baseball caps and the like. Why not choose a bench that does it all? For under $350, I found a solid wood bench that combines a flip-up seat for storage with a sturdy seat and back, and has a smart-looking X-back. My design sidekick, Tommy Smythe, was entirely opposed to buying this bench when we saw it in the store, but once it was repainted and placed in the room, he was eating his words and showering my wonder bench with praise!

Keep it open

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If you want your kids (or other messy family members) to do their part in putting junk away, I think you have to make it blatantly obvious where it all goes. I believe in "out of sight, out of mind," and think it's easier to keep stuff that way by tossing it in the nearest open storage bin as opposed to figuring out where it goes in a closed cupboard. A few open shelves with big deep baskets and bins makes it easier to toss everything that's lying on the floor into it's proper place, and have the room neat and tidy in mere minutes.

DIY delight

Shelves don't have to be costly. If you have a carpenter (or handy man) on site, you can use "cabinet grade" plywood from the building supply store that is smooth on both sides and ready to be painted or stained. A four- by eight-foot sheet runs about $60 and is more lumber than you need for a set of shelves. Tip: if you know the size of the shelves you need, the lumber store will cut the wood to size for you at a cost of about a dollar a cut. (This also makes it far easier to get the wood home in your car.) I use one by two-inch pine or poplar as shelf supports and trim the front face of the shelves in a chair rail or other decorative trim. (Using a trim profile will prevent the shelves from sagging, hide the supports beneath, and make them look great, too).

Catch the clutter

I'm a believer that not everything belongs on hangers. Being able to toss your most-used items - such as a bag, knapsack or coat - on a hook means it's always within easy reach, and not creating a trip hazard on the floor. In order to encourage the little ones to do their part in the combat against clutter, I suggest using the space below a mirror for a low hook rack in easy reach of the pint-sized members of your family.

Always hang hooks on a wood backboard and put trim on the top and bottom so it looks great. (And the hooks won't pull out of the wall when loaded with heavy winter coats and book bags.)

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Where to buy things

Armoires, mirror, bench and open tower - IKEA,

Lagos gold stone floor tile - Saltillo Tile, 416-441-2224 or

Wall sconces - Sescolite, 416-651-6570 or

Sconces, hooks, numbers - Home Depot,

Linen baskets and metal buckets - Pottery Barn Kids,

Baskets - Plaiter Place, 384 Spadina Ave., 416 593 9734

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