In praise of the pantry
Kitchen cabinets, which can run anywhere from about $100 per linear foot (installed) for landlord specials to well over $1,000 for custom hardwood units, are ruinously expensive, and for what? Without stilettos, no one under five foot ten can easily reach anything above the bottom shelf of a wall cabinet, which means you’re paying top dollar for storage you cannot access without a stepstool, and frankly, if I have to haul out a stool, I’m not going to bother with whatever is on that top shelf, unless of course it’s really “top shelf” and I’ve already got the swizzle stick in my hand.
So what’s the answer? Simple, save wall cabinets for glass and dishware storage around the dishwasher and sink and have your contractor build a pantry closet for food. All that formerly wasted space between counter top and cabinet gets used, and a built-in closet is much cheaper than comparable cabinet space. And don’t be taken in by arguments for those weird pull-out pantries. You can’t find anything without running U-shaped wind sprints around them, they cost the earth and are vexing to arrange.
I like a simple, shallow space like this. It lets me see everything without having to rummage through lots of individual cabinets. If you follow the rule of grouping like with like (pasta and rice on one shelf, canned goods on another and so on), your pantry will be far more visually comprehensible and user-friendly.
Walk-in pantry closets are a little intense for me – like 3-D movies – and I get overwhelmed by the experience of being surrounded by food rather than having it laid out in front of me, but if you prefer a walk-in or need to provision for teenage boys, by all means go for it. A word of warning: in my experience, walk-in pantries offer all too convenient, private, rendezvous space during parties (people are always barging into bathrooms), so there’s the real possibility of illicit activities taking place among your stores of Cap’n Crunch, bread flour and dried fruit, but whether that appeals or revolts is a matter of personal choice. I don’t judge.
- Depth: Flat pantries should be no more than 12 to 20 inches deep otherwise your pantry becomes a black hole. You should be able to find everything without rummaging.
- Shelving: To save money, have your contractor build wooden shelves. There are hundreds of clever storage accessories you can buy to customize the shelves: lazy susans, step risers, adjustable shelves and such. You could also just take the dough you save on cabinets straight to a California Closets store or the like and let them figure it out.
- Vary shelf height: Family size boxes of breakfast cereal need at least 14 inches of clearance. If you store spaghetti in those vertical glass jars, measure them to be sure you have at least one shelf tall enough to accommodate them. Anything less than eight inches will be inaccessible, unless you have a specific use in mind or are installing fabulous roll-out bins.