Nowadays, homeowners don’t have to choose between pretty and practical when it comes to their pantries.
Fun fact: when pantries were first used, hundreds of years ago, they were for storing bread or pain, in French; hence, pantry. They have evolved to hold a wider variety of food items, dishes, and utensils with today’s pantries sometimes used for food or drink preparation.
And that leads to the first consideration. If you are building or remodeling a home, or simply carving out space for a pantry in your existing residence, the first order of business is deciding on function, as that will be a deciding factor when determining location, size, and design. And when I say “function,” I urge you to be quite specific as to the type, size, and even weight of items that you plan to store, as well as how frequently you will need to access them. If you are retrofitting a coat closet or void under the stairs to serve as a pantry, then, of course, the location is decided for you, and you will need to make decisions about function and design based on available space.
Once you know the what and where regarding this most essential of spaces, the next big consideration is how. The options for pantry storage abound and much of your decision may depend on how visible your pantry will be from adjacent rooms. If it is tucked away, perhaps the arrangement doesn’t matter as much, but why have a merely utilitarian space when it can also be handsome and inviting even if you are the only one who uses it?
Another fundamental question to ask yourself is whether you want all open shelving, all closed cabinets, or a combination of both. Regardless, avoid going too deep unless you are going to install pull-out drawers/baskets or Lazy Susans, as whatever gets pushed to the back is liable to be forgotten. In cases where deep shelves are needed or wanted, you might opt for more vertical space between them for greater visibility in the rear.
If you have perused pantry design online, you have likely found yourself seduced by all the neatly decanted and labeled products in pretty glass—or even clear plastic—lidded containers. Before you go that route, be sure you are the type of person who wants to go to the trouble to transfer all your beans, pasta, cereals, nuts, spices, and more into identical containers, rather than simply unloading your groceries, still in their original packages, into baskets or bins for a best-of-both-worlds approach. The latter lends a tidy, corralled, and controlled look, but without as much effort. But if you opt for it and will be sliding those bins and baskets in and out by hand, I recommend taking the time to line the shelves with protectors, as stained or painted wood will scratch sooner rather than later.
Also related to durability over time is building materials. Be sure your contractor uses ones that will not bow over time. If you know you will be storing especially heavy items, say cases of pet food, you might want to leave open space at the bottom of your pantry for these items to sit directly on the floor. Similarly, be sure that lighter weight infrequently used items are stored up top. Floor space under the bottom shelf is an ideal location for stashing a step stool. But if you have the space and budget, library ladders are handsome and hardworking.
If you want to use your pantry, at least in part, for display of, say, stylish serving pieces, consider glass entry doors or pocket or barn-style doors that can be left open. But think carefully about how to integrate display shelves or cubbies, as prime viewing spots at eye-level may also be the most easily accessible and, hence, the most desirable for frequently used consumables.
At least one countertop for food prep—even something as simple as making toast or smoothies—can be a welcome addition to a pantry if you have the space. Be sure to have outlets installed and enough storage for other related breakfast or beverage prep because, if you are having to move back-and-forth between areas retrieving what you need, you have not streamlined the process. A coffeemaker may seem like the perfect accompaniment to that toaster, but if your water access is in the kitchen, then maybe not. Ditto beverage coolers. If wine glasses are stored in kitchen cabinets, then it may make more sense for the wine cooler to be located in the kitchen too.
A butcher block surface is a practical and handsome countertop, but pantries—like today’s laundry and mudrooms—can be any style from farmhouse to contemporary and rustic to elegant. So, that countertop could be stainless steel or Carrera marble. To infuse your space with a style that is compatible with the rest of your home consider every material and appointment. Overhead, would a cage-style fixture with exposed Edison bulbs or a fancy chandelier be exactly right? On the floor, do you need a patterned textile rug or a woven sisal mat? While common wisdom might suggest that adjacent flooring should flow into the pantry, I would suggest that, in 2022, pantries can be their own “thing,”—not unlike a little jewel box of a powder room—with a stone, brick, or patterned tile floor and a contrasting color or wallpaper on the walls behind the shelves.
Whatever your style, your space, and your needs, an experienced and creative contractor can help ensure that your pantry is both functional and fabulous.
Virginia Beach native and JMU graduate, Chris Ettel, is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Coastal Virginia Building Industry Association board of directors and is past chairman of the CVBIA Remodeler’s Council.