For the love of pantries

A brimful pantry embodies the sense of plenty, and some gems from Sullivan + Associates Architects.

Keeping a fridge in a pantry frees up space in the main kitchen. – Bob Gothard for Sullivan + Associates Architects
Margaret Knight’s cozy pantry. – Lily K. Morris

A pantry is a room apart. You can stock it with whatever you want to protect or store away from the bustle of kitchen life. At its best, a pantry is not just a place to store things – it’s a place of abundance and order to showcase what’s precious to the kitchen. A brimful pantry embodies the sense of plenty.

A pantry should be big enough to step inside and close the door. That way you can experience the sense of being contained and surrounded by whatever you keep there that makes you happy. Being in your pantry can be like when you were a kid and put a blanket over a card table and crawled inside. It’s a place away, but still in the midst of the flow of life. You can step in there just for a moment to recharge, away from the busyness of the kitchen. You can keep there whatever gives you a sense of nourishment or contentment, whether it’s jars and cans of food or your favorite dishes and baskets or something else entirely — whatever is important to the life of the kitchen and deserving of a space of its own.

I didn’t know how much I needed a pantry until my husband and I shared a small vacation house with my sister and her husband. It was a challenge sharing the little kitchen, but I found that whenever I stepped inside the tiny pantry, a peacefulness came over me. I started remembering the pantries of my childhood, with their plates of pies and cookies, jars of preserves, and shelves of beautiful old dishes and family heirlooms.

It took several years before the dream of having my own pantry came to fruition. We finally turned an unused entry room into a 4- x 4-foot pantry with a door and shelves on three sides. Glass jars of dried teas and mushrooms, herbal tinctures and salves in the making, cans of beans and tomatoes and coconut milk, boxes of pasta and grains fill the shelves. This time of year there are baskets and bags of onions, garlic, and potatoes on the floor. When my day needs a boost, I step inside and open a jar of dried clover blossoms or rose petals and take a big whiff to smell the sweetness of summer and mowed hay fields. Having all that food, and even the collection of empty jars, speaks to me of abundance and well-being. I’m a squirrelish kind of person anyway, so the bounty of a full pantry, along with a full freezer and cold storage area, gives me a deep sense of security. I’m ready, come what may.

Here are some important things to keep in mind if you’re creating a pantry:

  • If possible, a pantry should be a separate room you can walk into, so you can stand inside and commune with the shelves full (hopefully) of plenty.
  • A well-fitting door keeps out mice and helps keep the space cooler. A door lets you stand contained inside. One that swings closed by itself is best, especially for forgetful types.
  • Good light is important for admiring and choosing from your bounty. Natural light from a window is nice, but dark pantries are better for longevity of stored food. Besides, a window takes up space where shelves could go.
  • Lots of shelves are the point of a pantry. There’s room to store things, but still have them on display. There shouldn’t be doors on pantry shelves, unless they’re needed to keep something especially in the dark. You want to be able to easily see what you have, with nothing hidden behind. Shelves of different heights accommodate different-size jars and bottles and take the most advantage of the space. An easy-to-clean finish that doesn’t scratch or ding, like a natural varnish, is good for the surfaces.
  • The pantry should be right off the kitchen, or as close as possible. You want it handy.
  • A pantry away from the south side or a heat source stays cooler, so it’s better for storage of grains, herbs, potatoes — and pie, if you’re lucky.
  • You should store things in your pantry that make you happy!

Design Q and A: William “Chuck” Sullivan, Sullivan + Associates Architects


Can you tell us who these projects were for?

The “hallway” pantry is for a family in Chilmark, who enjoy being in the kitchen but really wanted to keep all of the clutter out of the kitchen. The gray wood pantry is for a family in Harthaven. The goal was to minimize cabinets in order to maximize views and light. The large pantry was for a family in Chilmark in an antique house. The kitchen is very small, with limited storage; this pantry is the hardworking guts of the kitchen, but allows for maximim storage and a small, but open and spacious kitchen.

Another pantry in Chilmark, which I really like, is built into the back entry/hall space. It is interesting in that it houses the main refrigerator to free up the space in the main kitchen, and uses extra-depth walls for storage.


When someone tells you they want to add a pantry, do you say there’s a minimum square-footage requirement, or can you build some semblance of a pantry into almost any kitchen? What’s the smallest you’ve done?

The smallest was about 4 x 5 feet, but they can sometimes be difficult to work into a space because it requires adding walls and doors which don’t always fit, especially in the ever-popular open floor plan most families are looking for. It must be convenient (and close to the kitchen), otherwise it doesn’t get the use and becomes irrelevant.


Do you have a checklist or Q and A you give to clients so you can start to figure out their needs?

Not a standard checklist, and nothing formal, usually just a few conversations, which evolve in detail as the project progress.


Are there any rules of thumb with pantries?

Typically kitchen base cabinets are 24 inches deep, but pantry base cabinets can be shallower. And normally, doors would cover cabinets, which you don’t necessarily need in a pantry because it can be concealed by simply closing the main door. It makes the interior use much more efficient, not having to open each cabinet, and easier to find things.


How can a pantry impact the daily life of a family?

A pantry allows for more flexibility within the main kitchen itself, because of the added storage, making clients relax a bit more.


Are pantries themselves suddenly more in demand?

Maybe it’s due to our desire for light/air/views/etc., and the ease of closing a door to hide the mess and clutter, but they are practical. Pantries are making a comeback because they make sense.


What do you like about designing pantries? Do you have one in your house?

I wish, someday I will maybe, with a work sink and extra fridge/freezer. I love designing them, and hope when I can finally afford one, I will design the perfect pantry.


Sullivan + Associates architects, established in 1998, is an award-winning full-service architectural firm specializing in custom residential and commercial design projects.

The firm’s principal, William “Chuck” Sullivan, AIA, along with his team, combines expert design skills and knowledge of local construction methods with sophisticated 3D computer modeling capabilities to design homes and businesses that clients love living and working in.

Chuck received his B.Arch. from the Boston Architectural College. Early inspiration for his architectural career began in childhood, working for the family construction business through high school.

Chuck finds inspiration in cooking, and draws a comparison between composing food dishes and designing buildings with contrasting layers and textures. He enjoys traveling with his wife and twin boys, and experiencing different cultures (even those in the U.S.)! He has enormous appreciation for the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Antoni Gaudí, and Tadao Ando.


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