85 percent of home buyers considered a kitchen pantry “essential” or “desirable,” the National Association of Home Builders reports. In existing homes, there’s a clear drive to add and improve pantries, ranging from walk-in pantries to improvised solutions like open pantry shelving along basement stairs.
Pantries typically hold groceries, but no one says you can’t squeeze in a few platters, small appliances, and baskets to hold linens, paper goods, and cleaning supplies. Go ahead: Add the dog bowl too.
Organize Your Space with Kitchen Pantry Shelving
What’s key is a pleasing sense of order—another way of saying that even the tallest pantries need a place for everything and everything in its place. Read on for the details, whether you are building from scratch or reworking what you have.
Take Stock of What You Store in Your Pantry
To start, figure out what you want to stash—or plug in—right there, whether it’s a lifetime supply of vanilla, a blender, cookbooks, your grandmother’s soup tureen, a folding ladder, or fondue forks you unearth once a year. Don’t wait until the shelves and niches are in—plan for your inventory and any outlets first.
Turn the top shelf into a colorful display of occasional-use pots and pans.
Pull forward the ones you forgot you had. (Like you, Mr. Pasta Machine.)
Got a step stool, an ice-cream maker, enough kibble to feed a kennel?
Select the Ideal Placement for Your Pantry Shelving
The ideal spot is cool, dry, and convenient. A gut reno offers the most options, but it’s not the only way to go.
Instead of taking down an interior wall to, say, open up the kitchen to the dining room, consider moving that wall to create space for a pantry on the kitchen side.
Tap a Recess
Pantry shelves can be added to a wall near prep space or can even fit between studs.
If you aren’t getting a lot of use out of a coat or broom closet, picture it as a pantry. There’s no law against setting aside a spot in it for the dustpan, too.
Colonial pantries were often unheated, shed-like lean-tos. Today’s equivalent is a one-story rear addition that could include a half bath or mudroom.
If you have a cool, dry basement, pop in a freestanding unit; sturdy, open wire shelves hold everything and are easy to access. Or hang boxed open shelves along the stairs—the steps will be a built-in ladder.
Consider Your Shelving Options
Size and Depth for a Walk-In Pantry and Adjustable Pantry Shelves
Typically about 5 by 5 feet, walk-ins can be lined with U-shaped open shelves or cabinets and finished with or without a countertop.
Adjustable shelves offer flexibility. Start with bottom shelves 16 to 18 inches deep and spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart, for bulky items; make shelves at eye level 12 to 14 inches deep and spaced 14 to 16 inches apart to fit cereal boxes and canisters. Shelves for spices and cans may need no more than 6 inches front to back. When planning for any item, add 2 inches of vertical space so you can tip or slide it in and out easily.
Tips for Selection or Building Your Pantry Shelves
- Plywood is the go-to material for shelves—edges can be finished with iron-on veneer banding or wood trim—but other materials can work, too (if you’re careful; see below).
- If you hate looking at stuff, install cabinets. If dust is the issue, not clutter, opt for uppers with traditional glass fronts.
- Avoid door jams by paying careful attention to where doors swing, whether it’s on a cupboard inside the pantry or leading to the pantry itself. Some pantries omit doors altogether.
- Light it up with a ceiling fixture—a pendant can be pretty—or rechargeable puck lights with motion sensors.
- Avoid hide-and-seek by storing smaller items on organizers like lazy Susans and tiered shelf inserts.
- Keep it cool and dry, ideally below 70°F and 45 percent humidity. No AC? Plug in a small dehumidifier. No outlet? Try a moisture-absorber like those made by Arm & Hammer.
TIP: Think about adding outlets behind shelved small appliances, including a microwave.
Make Sure There is Enough Space Between Shelves
Before choosing a material for the shelves (3⁄4-inch plywood, half-inch MDF…), search “Sagulator” online to figure out how far the shelf can span before bowing under the weight of books and canned goods.
Typically about 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep, reach-ins can also be as shallow as 16 inches, making them a natural fit along a wall with a recess or soffit. The reach-in at left was customized with paneled sliding doors and enough vertical space to stash a trash can during parties.
Decide How Big Your Pantry Should Be
- Maximize floor space by opting for pocket or sliding doors. Keep in mind that they can be heavy and require maneuvering to get full access. Doors that swing out ease access; just make sure they don’t block traffic if left open. Doors can be omitted, of course, but they do hide things.
- Accommodate oversize items by letting them sit on the floor, no bottom shelf needed.
- Measure and allocate space to meet your needs—extra head space for tall canisters, for example. Create cubbies, maybe one for trays and platters, another for a baking or coffee station. (You remembered the outlets, right?)
- Unify the pantry and adjacent space with coordinated finishes, especially when omitting doors.
TIP: Doors that slide or fold are prone to wobbling and sticking, so don’t skimp on the track hardware.
Wall-To-Wall Pantry with Sliding Barn Doors
If you have a windowless wall in the kitchen or a nearby hall or mudroom, consider building in shelves with or without doors. Open shelves offer the convenience of being able to quickly grab what you need, but they can also be a magnet for clutter and dust.
Wall-To-Wall Pantry with Open Shelves
Open shelves are typically a uniform depth. Pro organizers favor shelves no deeper than 14 inches to keep everything front and center.
Group like items so you don’t have to scan the entire wall or move doors looking for the pretzels.
Use baskets and ceramics (shown) to create a nice shelfscape.
Pantry Cabinet Options: “Batwing”
To answer the call for pantry-style storage, cabinetmakers now offer options that blend in with the rest of the kitchen storage, from simple upgrades like a tall pullout to full-blown built-ins with hutch-like appeal.
TIP: Before lining cabinet doors with extra shelves, make sure there’s room inside for the doors to close.
“Batwing” pantry cabinets mirror French-door refrigerators, with restricted door swings and bottom-mount drawers. Custom models, like the one shown above, allow quick access to essentials, while drawers hide other stuff.
Pantry Cabinet Options: Narrow Slide-Outs
Narrow slide-outs, (pictured), are open on both sides and make use of awkward space; Rev-A-Shelf makes a retrofit just 3 inches wide. Try before buying: Heavy-duty hardware is a must.
Cabinet upgrades include wooden rollout trays that come in different widths and depths and can be installed at varying heights, depending on what you want to store. Again,it’s worth paying extra for heavy-duty glides. They should operate smoothly under a weighty load.
Found Spaces: Tucked Under Stairs
Older houses aren’t famous for their surplus closets and rooms, but they do have nooks and crannies that can be converted into pantries or colonized by freestanding furniture.
Tucked under the stairs, this hideaway makes creative use of former dead space, complete with push-latch doors that blend with the paneled wall, shallow built-in shelves, lighting, and a baking cart that rolls right into the kitchen.
Found Spaces: Freestanding Kitchen Pantry Cabinet
Freestanding storage like this unpainted vintage hutch can add warmth as well as function. Look for strong shelves that keep everyday items easy to see and reach.
Safe Pantry Storage
Store your goods in containers suited to their contents. From left: Woven baskets with handles, like these Sedona totes, are ideal for linens and come lidded or not; from $25, Crate & Barrel.
BPA-free, dishwasher-safe Brilliance containers make rapid-turnover items like cereal and pasta easy to see; from $4.99, Rubbermaid.
Stoneware canisters with tight-fitting, gasket-equipped lids protect whole spices like cinnamon sticks and bay leaves from light and premature aging; from $25, Le Creuset.
Erasable food labels (not shown) can post purchase dates; $6.50, Jokari.
It’s Not a Morgue
Always a good idea to check an item’s shelf life, available online, or you may risk SES (sudden expiration syndrome).
- Olive oil is vulnerable to heat, light, oxygen—and time. Open it within six months, then store it in the fridge.
- Whole grains-—brown rice, popcorn-, oatmeal—and flours can get stale in months. Think about refrigerating or vacuum-packing them (Foodsaver) once open.
- Nuts can also turn rancid—pine nuts after only a month, pecans after four. Hoarders should stash them in the freezer.
- Ground spices fade fast. Freezing can cause condensation; keep them in the pantry, but replace them once or twice a year.
Make It Special: Throw a Curve
Yes, it’s a hardworking space where function trumps frills. But that doesn’t mean your pantry shouldn’t strut some style. Here, three colorful upgrades to consider.
THROW A CURVE. Rounded shelves eliminate sharp corners; shallow ones for spices and condiments can be made with perforated aluminum (McNichols).
Make It Special: Hang a Decorative Door
Help define the space while offering glimpses inside with a salvaged screen door or a reproduction like this (Vintage Doors).
Make It Special: Trim It Out
Design: Martha O’Hara Interiors