Kim Berndtson | August 5, 2021
As kitchen design evolves and changes, so does its accompanying storage capabilities. While the availability of modern cabinet accessories and hardware provides greater organization and access to contents, those gains can be offset by homeowners’ wishes for a cleaner, less-cluttered aesthetic combined with purchasing habits that often mean buying in bulk. In the end, storage capacity within the kitchen sometimes just can’t keep up with demand.
To accommodate, many designers turn to efficient – and sometimes elaborate – walk-in pantries and even time-honored, yet updated, butler’s pantries.
As Alessia Zanchi Loffredo points out, the pantry’s role has changed because the kitchen’s function has changed.
“People want their kitchens to be functional, but they also want them to be places where they can show some personality and highlight architectural features that set the tone for the rest of their home,” says the designer/principal of reDesign Home, who, with her business partner Sarah Coscarelli, transforms clients’ homes in the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas. “They don’t want clutter or small appliances sitting on the counter, and they don’t want a lot of upper cabinets.
“They are still in the kitchen prepping and cooking food for family and guests,” she continues, “but they also want to entertain. The kitchen has become a different space to live in, so the pantry is now getting a lot more attention because you still need a place to put all of your things.”
Claire Teunissen, designer, Studio M Kitchen & Bath, in Plymouth, MN, agrees. “Clients are desiring more storage and prep areas off the main kitchen,” she states. “Sometimes those decisions are based on space and sometimes they are made to conceal the preparation and mess that come with cooking and entertaining. Pantries can also relieve congestion in a busy kitchen with large families or gatherings.”
Jason Rolstone, designer, Thomas and Birch Kitchen and Bath Boutique, in Victoria, BC, typically designs modern and contemporary kitchens with a clean, sparse aesthetic, which often means removing small appliances and other items from the countertop…and into some type of storage.
“We definitely see more pantries and hidden storage,” he emphasizes. “In general, people have more stuff…more specialty items, appliances, etc. We have better ways to hide them with cabinet gadgets like lazy Susans, which have become much more sophisticated, and appliance garages that definitely look a lot better than they used to, but they all take up room. That’s when the pantry becomes handy.”
Ryan La Haie, principal, 42° Architecture + Design, in Grand Rapids, MI, finds that pantries are becoming the real workhorses of the kitchen. “I think a lot of their popularity stems from people who like having guests and visitors, but don’t like the mess,” he explains. “With a pantry, they can shut the door and address the mess later. And, people are buying larger quantities of things – in part to get better deals, but also because of events like the pandemic and a wavering economy – so they need more storage so it can all be organized. What do you do with seven bottles of ketchup?!”
“Storage is huge today,” adds Nancy Henry, interior designer, DDK Kitchen Design Group, in Glenview and Wilmette, IL. “People no longer want to keep things in their basements. I hear from so many who tell me their wedding presents are still down there, and they haven’t looked at them in years. I tell them it’s time to move them upstairs!”
It starts with open shelves
Nearly every pantry design starts with open shelves, in large part because of their ability to provide easy visual and physical access to items. They are one of Teunissen’s favorite elements in a walk-in pantry she designed as part of a recent transformation that was made to a 100-year-old home in collaboration with Black Dog Homes.
“We remodeled the farmhouse to give it a fresh new look while keeping some of the original history,” she explains. “The pantry, which includes open shelves that display the family’s white dishes, baking essentials and fixings for spur-of-the-moment entertaining, acts as a prep area and place to keep dishes – and messes – when guests are over. I’m also partial to all of the drawers, especially the deep ones, because they offer the ideal space to keep items organized. Since they can be pulled out all the way, you can see everything inside so nothing gets lost in the back of a dark shelf or corner.”
La Haie often combines shelves with cabinetry as well, creating a kitchen-esque visual.
“More shallow shelves will be on the top, and deeper shelves and cabinetry will be on the bottom,” he explains.
Henry and Loffredo both mention the importance of shallow shelves…“no deeper than 15″, and more like a standard 12″, so items don’t get lost,” says Henry. “Shallow shelves also make it easier to see everything and grab what you need. It’s important to be able to view everything, so that means no boxes or cases either.”
Loffredo usually stacks shallow shelves from floor to ceiling for maximum capacity. Typically, they are no more than 12″ deep and are ideal to store shelf-stable food items and small appliances.
“That’s deep enough to allow for two rows of canned goods,” she says. “Shallow shelves provide a visual that allows you to walk into a space and know exactly what you have so items don’t get lost or forgotten. By knowing what you have, you can also be more efficient when grocery shopping. You can walk into the pantry, glance at the shelves and write down anything that is missing. That can help tremendously for someone who works all day. They can have everything on hand and easily put together a meal at night, rather than having to look for everything.”
If her clients want to store larger items, such as pots/pans or large bowls, she’ll divide the pantry to accommodate deeper shelves or maybe add an armoire to conceal ‘messy’ items. “Pantry items aren’t always pretty,” she adds.
A divided layout is how she designed her own kitchen’s pantry, which was inspired by her grandmother’s pantry in Rome.
“She had the tiniest pantry and kitchen I had ever seen,” she says. “Within it she had a table that was used as a countertop for prepping food, as well as for us to have a meal. There was also a door that led to a tiny, tiny pantry space. But, in that pantry you could find anything. It was so helpful for her because she could store so much.”
Loffredo’s pantry includes one wall of 12″-deep shelves that run floor to ceiling. Pantry staples are stored in glass jars or open baskets for quick visual identification and small appliances are located on the lower shelves. On the opposite wall, she deepened the shelves to 20″ for larger items. Painting the shelves a deep green hue, which is the designer’s favorite color, contrasts and complements the black cabinetry in her kitchen. Tiling the walls, including those behind the shelves, eases cleanup from spills and sticky children’s handprints.
One of her favorite pantry design elements is the glass entry doors, which she admits may be counterintuitive for some people.
“I love the visual of the shelves,” she says. “To me, it’s very calming and soothing when everything is lined up.”
Open shelves are also a must-have for many of Rolstone’s clients. If possible, he’ll tuck them into an area of the pantry that isn’t visible from the entry door to maintain a sleek design vibe.
“Open shelving is definitely a must,” he says. “But generally, I don’t like those shelves to be seen.”
Such was the case for one recent kitchen pantry where a few open shelves are set atop banks of drawers, with the bulk of the open shelves tucked around the corner so they are hidden from the entry door.
He also included a countertop, another ‘must-have’ for many of his clients. For this homeowner, it provides a perfect place to mix tea from leaves stored in glass jars on the open shelves above. Others use their pantry countertops for mixing up a batch of cookies or for staging food-filled platters and desserts while entertaining. Another popular countertop use is for storing the microwave.
“A pantry is the number one location for the microwave,” Rolstone indicates. “No one wants to see it in the kitchen. It’s the same for toaster ovens. From a design perspective, if these small appliances can be located in a room other than the kitchen, that’s fantastic.”
Rolstone also finds that pantries are a great place for locating recycling bins.
“Garbage and compost bins typically go under the sink in the kitchen,” he says. “But here we need three boxes for recycling paper, glass and plastics. Oftentimes these bins end up in a pantry.”
Upping the ante
While pantries can be relatively straightforward with a focus on maximizing storage via open shelves, countertops and cabinetry, in some cases they essentially become secondary kitchens, complete with full-size sinks (with garbage disposals), dishwashers, refrigerators (both full-size and undercounter units), ovens and even warming drawers. Lighting, both natural and task, and electrical outlets for powering the appliances are often included as well.
“When a kitchen is small, the pantry is a great place to locate a set of double ovens or even a microwave,” says Teunissen, adding that her clients also use their pantries to store infrequently used items such as sous-vide machines, instant pots, fine china and large platters. “The pantry is also a great place for a built-in coffee station or even a wet bar.”
In addition to appliances such as coffeemakers, dishwashers and microwaves, La Haie often expands on the pantry concept to include home management and bar/liquor functions.
“It’s expensive to build so we try to make spaces flexible and adaptable,” he says. “That’s the nice thing about a pantry…you can utilize two or three functions, without taking two to three times the space to do that.”
For example, he’ll often include a pantry behind a range/ventilation hood, with openings on each side so the homeowner can easily circulate throughout the space. If possible, he’ll also locate it within close proximity to a garage to save steps when unloading groceries from a vehicle. Within the pantry, he’ll create a c-shaped layout with pantry functions located in the middle. To the left and right, he’ll include a home management area with a desk and chair on one end of the ‘c’ and a liquor/wet bar with beverage refrigerator, ice maker, etc. on the other.
Another version of a hybrid pantry/multi-functional space was created for a client who wanted a pantry combined with her mud room and laundry room. It includes a second refrigerator and tall pantry cabinets on one side and mud room functions on the opposite side. An island for crafting is centrally located while a washer, dryer and sink round out the room.
Save or splurge
To maintain continuity, designers oftentimes use the same materials in a pantry that are used in the kitchen. However, depending on a client’s budget, the pantry can be a great place to either save funds or showcase a bit of extravagance.
“Generally, I try to use the same materials as in the kitchen so there is some consistency,” says Rolstone. “However, they don’t always have to be the same, especially if there is a door between the rooms, or if they aren’t next to each other. For example, if we use marble or granite as a countertop in the kitchen, we could use quartz, or even laminate, in the pantry. Or, if the kitchen is all walnut, we can do simpler, less expensive cabinetry in the pantry, but add an element of walnut to tie everything together.”
La Haie agrees, adding, “Pantries are becoming prettier than they used to be…more like a kitchen rather than a closet. However, a lot of times, in pantries we’ll step down a level in cabinetry.”
A pantry can also be a great place to experiment with color, he continues.
“I find that people tend to be very creative with these spaces,” he says. “While they may not be so daring to include orange or red in their kitchen, they may be willing to have a red microwave or mixer in their pantry. I do tend to see more pops of color in a pantry.”
Pantries can also be a place to splurge.
“I like to be consistent with the design,” says Loffredo. “However, I also like to incorporate a few elements that maybe we can’t use in the kitchen because of their price point. In some cases, it’s possible to splurge in a pantry because it’s a small space. It’s similar to a powder room where a homeowner will splurge on a wall covering, tile, countertop or custom cabinet. It’s fun to designate a ‘wow’ factor in a pantry as a way to bring in some new and fresh style into a space. Pantries don’t have to be boring!”
Henry also sees pantries as a place where design elements and materials can take center stage. Such was the case for a recent butler’s pantry renovation that went from humdrum to highly stylized. Completely open and sited traditionally between the kitchen and dining room, she incorporated several elements from the kitchen such as the custom gray cabinetry that includes a custom toe kick and paneled beverage refrigerator as well as a framed unit that allows visual access to its contents. A stunning quartzite countertop – accented with an undermount hammered stainless steel sink that is a reclaimed relic from the original design – features a 6 cm mitered edge to mimic the kitchen island and give it greater prominence.
To further enhance the pantry’s focal-point status, Henry included a highly reflective, mirrored backsplash. Framing the section between the upper and lower cabinets gives it a finished look. Extending it as the backing for the upper cabinets intensifies the ‘bling’ since the mirror is visible through the mullion glass doors. In-cabinet lighting enhances the shine.
“We included the mirror because it reflects the beautiful backyard,” she says. “It’s really quite lovely.”
Henry also included a mirrored backsplash in another recent butler’s pantry renovation where the client wanted to make the space feel larger and highlight it as a showstopper.
“She does a lot of entertaining and she wanted to encourage people to come in and get a drink,” she concludes. ▪