Functional Mudroom Part 1

When we were house hunting, one of the must have items we needed in our new home was a dedicated mudroom or drop zone space. In our previous homes, our front entryways would often get cluttered with shoes, backpacks and various “gifts” the kids would deposit on the floor as they came home for the day. It was always a disaster, and nothing spiked my anxiety quite like seeing that mess at the front door everyday. Talk about an eyesore. Our current home has a great little space off the double car garage, and the model home had it set up like a drop zone area with some wall hooks and a cute bench. When we walked the model, I knew exactly how I wanted to utilize the space, and I couldn’t wait to hire someone out to come build it. Then, as per usual, life happened, and nothing got done… and while the space was out of view of the front door, it was still a disaster.

Eventually I called someone in for a quote with a really simple design I found on Pinterest, but the $1800 price point wasn’t in my budget for the small project, so we passed on that. It was actually this quote that inspired me to consider attempting some builds on my own, and that lead to the pocket office first. I gained so much confidence with the pocket office, that I knew the mudroom would be a breeze. In fact, I took the fairly simple Pinterest design that I was quoted for, and I kicked up a few notches . . . ok, actually, a lot of notches. It went from a floating bench idea, with board and batten wall treatments and a simple ledge with hooks, to a built in bench with lots of cubbies and more functional storage. I wanted something beautiful but made for real life. Don’t mind my amateur sketching, it was just to give me an idea. I would determine specs and measurements as I got closer to actually getting the project done. Let me apologize in advance for the quality of some of these photos. This was another project I shared in my Instagram stories, so a lot of what I have to share are still shots from videos, as I did not think to document this with photos for a blog one day.

Rough Sketch of the Mudroom Unit

For this project I chose to work with the same material as I did in the office, which was a mix of red oak plywood, pine for the bench and some of the trim work as well as some 1×2 poplar, also for the trim. I basically mixed it up on the materials for the trim based on materials I had on hand before I went out to buy more. The amount you need will be based on your space and your design. Tools needed for this project included :

  • Table Saw (a circular saw would work just as well)
  • Mitre Saw
  • Brad Nailer
  • Pocket Hole Jig
  • Drill
  • Hammer Drill (there were no studs to work with, in Florida we have cinder block exteriors)
  • Orbital Sander (Or just sanding blocks)
  • Oscillating Multi Tool
  • 5 in 1 multi tool
  • Wood Glue
  • Wood Filler
  • Paintable Caulk (and a caulking gun preferably)
  • 1 1/4″ Pocket Hole Screws
  • 2 1/2″ Wood Screws (or Cabinet Screws)
  • 2″ Brad Nails
  • Level
  • Speed Squares
  • Tape Measure
  • Assorted Size Clamps

The first thing I did after drawing my sketch, measuring the space and then determining the measurements of all my lumber needs, was to sift through my on hand supplies and then head to Home Depot and purchase anything else that I needed. I took advantage of their free services and had them cut down my 4×8 red oak plywood to some of the sizes I needed, because that stuff is HEAVY . . . I’m 5’1″ and those boards are a beast for me to try and even lift, let alone lift AND cut. I had them cut the plywood to the depth and heights I would need for the sides of my cabinets and then I cut down the rest on my own. I highly recommend having your plywood cut down at your lumber store if they offer it, at Home Depot there is no charge . . not only does it help me to transport the lumber (lifting it AND fitting it in my truck) but it also saves me time on my build.

Back home, the first thing I wanted to to work on was the base, which would be the lower cubbies and the bench. I prepped my space by removing the baseboards, first by scoring the caulk, then using my oscillating multi tool to cut where the cubbies would stop, and then by pulling the baseboards and nails away from the drywall with my 5 in 1 multi tool (you can also use the backside of a hammer or a small crowbar . . whatever works for you).

baseboards removed

Time to build the bench! I knew I wanted the final height of my bench to be 18″ high, this seemed to be the standard, and I wanted a 21 1/2 depth . . . I determined the depth based on the space I had to work with, and I also wanted enough space for us to be able to sit comfortably as we wrestled to put shoes on the kids. I cut a piece of the 3/4 plywood to the depth (minus 3/4″ to account for the trim I would be adding later) and the overall width of the room. Then I cut the “legs” of the bench, which would also serve as the dividers, out of the 3/4 plywood. The depth of these would match the depth of the bench, but the height would be 16 1/2″ . . . I’ll explain why soon. I knew I wanted 4 lower cubbies, so I cut 5 “legs” total. I drilled pocket holes into the top of each of them, and then secured them to the bottom of the bench top I built with the 1 1/4 pocket hole screws and wood glue. Use a level and speed squares to ensure you are attaching these at perfect 90″ angles. They make specialized kreg clamps to help as well. (also side note, I determined the spacing based on the size of the cubbies. Knowing I wanted 4 cubbies, I took the width of the room, subtracted the total width of all the legs, which was 3/4″x5, and then I divided by 4). I then flipped the bench over and placed it into its space along the wall. Check to ensure your piece is level! If for some reason it isn’t, wether it is the construction of your unit or your floor, you can always add shims under the legs to solve that!

I secured the unit to the walls in 2 different ways. The first thing I did was to secure the two side legs to the side walls with 2 1/2″ wood screws. These side walls did actually have studs, so that worked in my favor. However, the back wall is actually an exterior wall (our front porch is on the other side of this), and in Florida, that means this wall is made of cinder blocks. So I had to secure it with concrete screws using a hammer drill. I added some 1×4 support beams at the back of each of these cubbies, attaching them to the side of each leg with pocket holes, and then drilling it into the wall behind it. The photo below is a still shot from a video, but it was the best one I could find to share to give you an idea. There is also one across the top of each cubbies, not just along the bottom, it gives it more support, I just didn’t get a photo of this.

support beam attached to the legs of the cubby, before I secured sit to the wall

I had the kids help me test how strong this was before I moved on to the next step (as you can see in some of the photos above). Now to add the bench top. This is the reason the legs were cut to 16 1/2″ vs the total height of 18″. The plywood top is 3/4″ attached to the top of the legs, and I would be adding an additional 3/4″ layer to the top of that, which would give me a final height of 18″. This final layer would be my actual bench top, and it would be made out of a few different pieces of 3/4″ select pine. This is the same method I used to make the desktop in the pocket office, and because I knew it would work, I didn’t want to venture and try anything new, plus I had scraps so I wouldn’t need to buy anything else for it. For my 21 1/2″ depth, I had a few 1×8 pieces of select pine, I cut 2 of them down to the width of the room using my sliding mitre, and then I ripped the third piece down to 6.25″ in width on my table saw, and then I cut it to the width of the room. I needed these pieces to add up to 20 3/4″ because once I add the 3/4″ trim to the front, that would give me my total desired depth of 21 1/2″ . . . I hope this is making sense, I am so used to making videos that translating it on a blog is complicated for me! Once I had these pieces cut down, I used wood glue on the bottom of them an laid them over the plywood that was currently serving as the top of the frame of the bench. I checked to ensure everything was still level, then I clamped them on the front and used miscellaneous weighted objects to hold them in place overnight.

Once I felt like the wood glue was dry, I went ahead and used wood filler between the pine boards. Once that dried, I would sand it down with a 120 grit sanding block, or you can use an electric sander. Remember your safety gear, and tarp your room off because that stuff is MESSY! But while I waited for the wood filler to dry, I decided to add the trim to the front of the bench. I had 1×2 select pine on hand, so I cut 5 pieces down to the height of the legs (these would be placed vertically), and 1 piece down to the width of the bench (this would be placed horizontally). You can also use 1×2 poplar, the choice is yours. These are simple to attach. I centered them to each leg, and then I used wood glue and then nailed them in place with 2″ brad nails using my brad nailer. I always use a level to ensure these are straight. The horizontal piece that goes across the entire width of the bench will fit perfectly along the plywood and pine, as they are both 1 1/2″ thick (see the 1st image below to understand how I placed the horizontal bench trim). Adding the trim to the front of the raw plywood really gives your project a crisp, clean, professional finish. Then use wood filler to cover the holes where you attached with your brad nails, and also at the seams where wood meets wood. When that dries, sand it down with a 120 grit sanding block and the holes disappear! I also caulked along the edges where the wood met the wall. This is really what gives it that built in finish. For me, I did this along the sides in the front and the sides on the top. I didn’t bother going along the back wall, as this would soon be covered by my upper unit.

I feel like this is a ton of info, so I am going to break up this project blog into 2 parts. I will say, the total build took me about a week to complete from start to finish. I worked on the bench and lower cubbies one evening after work, tackled the upper part during the weekend, taking a full Saturday and half of Sunday, and then another few days to prime and paint (based on my work hours and ability to focus on the project in the evenings after work while also playing mom to 3 needy daughters) . . . so I hope you stayed tune for part 2 where I share the completion of this build. The image below is of the built bench and lower cubbies, pre sanding. Let me know what you think so far! Or if you have any questions!

Bench and Lower Cubbies with trim , pre sanding

Remember you’ve got this, so just go for it!


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