“Stuff has become the enemy. There always seems to be more of it than I have storage in my house.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the kitchen. Our cabinets are crammed with pastas, grains, boxed broth, canned staples, sauces, and a jumble of spices (most likely duplicates).
On our countertops, the instant pot, air fryer and Vitamix are jockeying for position with the toaster, food processor, and stand mixer.
The modern pantry can trace its origin to the larder of Medieval times, so named from the process of larding meat (storing it in fat) for preservation. Building these rooms into the ground with thick stone walls and shelves insured ideal cool temps. The descendant of the larder is the root cellar, which many of our grandparents had for storing potatoes, onions, and mason jars of home-canned or pickled fruits and vegetables. (In my own grandparents’ case, that included their legendary tomato sauce and homemade wine.) With the universality of household refrigeration, pantries became relegated to the storage of dry and canned goods, bulk supplies and excess cooking and serving items.
No doubt, one of the most requested items on customers’ wish lists is pantry storage. This month, some of our talented designers share their favorite solutions for this must-have kitchen amenity.
When the conversation with a new client rolls around to the topic of pantries, the first thing we’re asked is, “What’s new?” Technological advances in hardware engineering has made possible a whole host of nifty innovations. Yes, you have pullout pantries where the entire contents of the cabinet can be accessed at once. But now you can merely give a gentle push on the door and pneumatic glides will automatically bring the pantry toward you, lighting up the interior as well!
There are also mechanisms that incorporate racks on the door, then slide adjustable baskets forward as the door is opened.
Despite the undeniably cool factor of these gadgets, sometimes the most practical options are the tried and true. Not surprisingly, many people still dream of that old standby, the walk-in pantry. Senior designer Paula Greer believes the most efficient configuration consists of open shelving in varying depths: 12” – 15” deep for food staples (you don’t want items to get lost and forgotten in the back!) and deeper shelves at the bottom for bulk household products like paper towels.
Personally, I like the shelves to be adjustable and placed close together to avoid tall stacks of more than two or three items. Using additional shelves in this manner maximizes your storage capacity. And don’t forget that part of your walk-in pantry can also serve as a broom closet: if you install an outlet, your dust buster and cordless vac will always be at the ready.
If space allows, Paula likes to add a countertop surface at kitchen height (with outlets!) for smaller appliances that you can use right in the pantry. That slow cooker can be doing its job all day without taking up valuable kitchen real estate. And there are still customers who don’t often use a microwave, so that may be another item that could easily make its home in the pantry. The countertop also comes in handy when unloading groceries: you can set your bags down and put everything away, all within arms’ reach. A few drawers below the counter are perfect for smaller miscellaneous items.
A good example of these ideas put into practice can be found in a pantry that Paula Greer designed for our Mount Kisco showroom. The swinging clear glass door sports a simple etched border and an etched label that proudly announces the purpose of the room. When a pantry looks this beautiful, why wouldn’t you want to show it off? There are drawers, deep shelves, and open stainless-steel pullouts for a variety of storage options below the countertop. Upper storage is all adjustable shelving, with spacing set according to the height of the items.
Senior designer Rita Garcés designed a showstopping visible walk-in pantry for a customer who cans, pickles, and ferments her own fruits and vegetables.
An opening between tall cabinetry in the kitchen beckons you toward a glowing space just beyond a geometric etched glass pocket door. Once inside, you’ll find a combination of countertop space, drawers, pullouts behind doors, closed upper cabinets, and glass cabinets to display all those gorgeous colorful jars of preserved produce!
Would you prefer that your walk-in pantry be indistinguishable from the rest of your kitchen? Senior designer Paula Greer has a plan for that! For a recent waterfront condo development in Westchester (Watermark Pointe), Paula created hidden pantries with matching cabinetry. You’d never know that such spacious storage was concealed behind those inconspicuous doors!
What happens if your house has the familiar pantry closet instead of the walk-in variety? You know what I’m talking about: no bigger than a hallway coat closet, outfitted with a few fixed shelves that becomes the black hole of grocery items. Don’t despair! Paula Greer has some tips for making even this most inefficient space more functional. The simplest solution is to add some store-bought door-mounted racks from your local hardware or home improvement store, then adding more shelves that are shallower and adjustable. Pinterest is filled with clever ideas for storing your staples in attractive labeled jars, canisters, and baskets for easy identification. Even wall-hung pouches intended for hosiery and lingerie can get a new lease on life for small tubes or bottles that normally get buried in a standard pantry closet.
If your budget allows, you can transform that humble closet into a jewel box pantry or dry bar like the one Paula designed for her customer. A niche adjacent to a new kitchen addition was fitted with walnut cabinetry: storage drawers below the serving counter; handsome open shelving with decorative brackets; and custom door-mounted wood racks for bottles and cans. Once the doors are closed, this versatile hardworking gem is completely disguised.
Senior designer Randy O’Kane is a big fan of incorporating pantry storage into tall cabinetry that matches the kitchen. Her go-to interior accessory is individual full-extension rollouts, which is my favorite solution as well. Usually these rollouts can be positioned anywhere within the cabinet, so you can precisely accommodate the size of your items and maximize capacity. Another advantage of this approach is that the rollouts operate separately and therefore aren’t as heavy as pulling out the full contents of a loaded cabinet all at once.
For a recent renovation, Randy had the luxury of being able to devote an entire wall to pantries with rollouts. Since these cabinets face a family room, Randy wanted to create a clean look for this contemporary space; she brought the doors all the way down to the floor for an unbroken vertical line.
While Paula Greer also loves rollouts in a pantry, she tries to diversify the storage within the cabinet. Sometimes she’ll suggest a cabinet with drawers at the bottom so kids can grab snacks without having to open the entire pantry.
The top of the cabinet might hold vertical dividers for trays. And perhaps she’ll incorporate a pullout wire bin or basket for fresh root vegetables.
Randy O’Kane wants to remind us that, when you’re blessed with tall ceilings, put that space to use and go vertical! In New York city especially, where the kitchen footprints can be small but ceilings are often 10’ or more in height, this can be a crucial strategy for expanding storage.
Even in larger kitchens, why not utilize every inch of space you’ve got? Those tip-top cabinets may not be ideal for everyday cooking staples, but rolling library ladders put seldom used items that might otherwise be hijacking standard pantry space (lobster pot and bread maker anyone?) within easy reach.
But what recourse do you have if your kitchen can’t fit a pantry closet or tall pantry cabinet? Senior designer Danielle Florie faced just that dilemma when she recently downsized to a smaller house. Although wall space was at a premium after she opened the kitchen up to the adjoining living and dining areas, it allowed for a large center island. Danielle allocated space for three standard-depth full-height base cabinets, each equipped with three rollouts behind the doors. This provides her with plenty of food storage, all of which is completely accessible and conveniently placed in the middle of her prep area. Another part of Danielle’s whole-house renovation was the mud room. A tall cabinet here gives her a place for bulk items and small appliances, all just a few steps from the kitchen.
Randy O’Kane has also employed the center island as a cache for food storage. Take a look at the spectacular piece of Chinoiserie that she designed for a designer showhouse. Surprise! That’s not the pantry; it’s a refrigerator and freezer disguised behind a custom cinnabar high gloss lacquer enclosure and panels with gold leaf decals and Asian-inspired handles.
Although the home boasts a butler’s pantry for bar and dining room pieces, as well as a walk-in pantry near the garage for bulky articles, food storage is located in island base cabinets with rollouts for easy-to-grab use.
Whether you’re simply trying to re-organize your existing pantry area or planning an entire kitchen renovation with hopes of eking out additional pantry storage capacity, we hope we’ve given you some new ideas for making the most of your available space. Once our global crisis has ended (and it will!), panic hoarding at your supermarket and warehouse club shall cease. So go ahead and stock up!
This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 25 years. In a recent review of a project she completed her client said: “[Paulette] has many years of experience and her knowledge, taste, suggestions, and planning were outstanding. Her designs…were always on target and on time. Her attention to detail was impressive. Her flexibility and patience were outstanding. She was always available and treated us warmly and professionally. She never missed a step. We can unequivocally recommend her.”