Smart Design With Suzette: Designing Perfect Pantries

Walk-in pantry. Courtesy photo


Los Alamos

Ask your friends what they dislike about their pantry and you’ll likely get “it’s too small” or “I can’t find anything!”  I hear these complaints often. Clearly, a pantry takes careful planning.

Whether you’re building a new kitchen or remodeling, you need to consider what makes a pantry work and which kind is best for your situation. There are three main types of pantries: cabinets, reach-ins and walk-ins. There is also a hybrid pantry/mudroom/laundry room that the homeowner walks through as they enter the house.

Keep a few things in mind as you read through this and plan your pantry. Good design means that you need to keep things simple, and the right location often trumps size. Sometimes a hardworking cabinet is all you need for simple, convenient access to your pantry items.


Cabinet pantry. Courtesy photo

Just like real estate – location, location, location. Good planning is essential. In a small kitchen, the pantry should be near the stove on one side and the refrigerator on the other side of the stove – each separated with a good length of countertop. In a large kitchen, the pantry should also be near a working counter or an island – preferably near the doorway where groceries enter the house.

Convenience and visibility are the essential attributes of a great panty. Regardless of size, the pantry should be in a handy location, positioned in the kitchen or immediately next to it. A modest pantry cabinet placed within the kitchen footprint will be more convenient for regular use than an oversize walk in down the hall.

Very often overlooked, but extremely important, is pantry lighting. Especially for reach-in pantries, which tend to be dark holes in the wall, the ability to see what’s in the pantry depends to a great extent on how well it is lit.

Adequately lighting a pantry can be a problem. The usual solution is the install a recessed light in the ceiling in front of the pantry. The usual solution doesn’t work. The top few shelves are well lit, but the illumination decreases toward the floor until the bottom shelves require a flashlight to find anything.

Good lighting illuminates the contents of every shelf evenly. This is hard to do effectively. What has been suggested to me is to install an LED light strip down the two front corners of the pantry cabinet. In this location they are out of sight, and, at 2.9 lumens per linear foot, the strips illuminate each shelf quite well.

Cabinet pantries are space efficient, typically occupying just 4 sf of floor area. For big families and others who by in bulk, I supplement the in-kitchen pantry cabinet with a larger pantry elsewhere.

Reach-in closet pantries range in size from 6 sf to 12 sf assuming a 24 inch depth and a width from 3 ft to 6 ft. There are occasions where a 24 inch depth is not possible. In these cases, a 12 inch depth cabinet is the minimum, but 16 inch or more allows some storage flexibility. I use pairs of doors so maximum amount of viewing items is available.

Walk-in pantries are the biggest of all with three or four walls being used for storing items such as dry goods, paper towels, pet food, appliances and brooms. A walk-in pantry just outside the kitchen can be a solution that doesn’t compromise the kitchen aesthetic for a minimalistic look.

A typical walk-in pantry might take up 30 sf at 6ft x 5ft deep. A large walk-in could easily double that area, especially if a client wants room for a counter, a step stool and a spare refrigerator.


Walk-in pantry. Courtesy photo


Walk-through pantries are part of a mudroom or utility room next to the kitchen. It’s often a walk-through room instead of a walk-in. A good example is a pantry you pass through from the garage or back porch to the kitchen. This arrangement provides a handy place to wipe your feet and put away items. Storage can be out of view behind doors or it can be open shelving and bins lining the walls. As a mudroom, it needs space for stowing backpacks, feeding the dog, charging a smart phone or washing dirty hands.


Reach-in pantry. Courtesy photo


While deep shelves can hold more stuff, it’s a frustrated cook who can’t find the rice hidden behind a train wreck of juice boxes and pasta. For better visibility, stagger the depth of shelves.

A simple pantry with fixed wood shelving is quick and easy to build. If your budget dictates this approach, consider mounting 16 inch deep to 18 inch deep shelves starting about 24 inches above the floor so that you can keep taller items on the floor below. At eye level, switch to 12 inch deep shelves. Bulkier items on the lower shelves may be taller than 12 inches a common vertical shelf spacing, so allow extra height there. However, adjustable shelving rates high on the convenience meter.

For full-height pantries, position two big full extension drawers nearest the floor, enabling items stored in the back to be found easily. Above the drawers, spec a pair of tall doors concealing a combination of pullouts and fixed shelves. This way, users can see the entire pantry at once. I sometimes add a second pair of shorter doors at the top of the cabinet. This space is good for over size items that are used infrequently. It also can be outfitted with vertical dividers for cookie sheets and the like.

Wall space inside a walk-in pantry is useful for hanging a mop and broom, so don’t put shelves everywhere. Give some thought to keeping small appliances in the pantry, plugged in and ready to use. A deep pantry shelf or counter is a possible location for a seldom used microwave oven. Some folks keep a toaster and coffeemaker in a walk in pantry to reduce the clutter on counters. Built-in beverage centers take up valuable kitchen real estate.

Hardworking kitchen storage takes less space than you think. If you design your pantry according to these guidelines, it will work well for you.

For help with your home, contact Suzette through her website and on Facebook at