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Meet the All-Purpose Modern Pantry

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For many, the pantry is a bit nostalgic, conjuring up simpler times. It’s a closet or walk-in space in the kitchen, or nearby, with shelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling. From canned to boxed goods, paper towels and other non-perishables, everything seems to be stored in there.

If people don’t have a pantry, they look to find space to create one — whether outfitting an old closet with shelving or designing a multi-purpose room, combining a pantry with a mudroom and laundry area. Others look to built-in storage — cabinets within the kitchen cabinetry — to solve their pantry needs, if they can’t borrow space from another room.

Another option is the butler’s pantry, reminiscent of head butler Carson’s room in the hit PBS television drama Downton Abbey, where he was often seen polishing the silver or decanting wine. Today, butler’s pantries often take on the role of a second kitchen. Whether a butler’s pantry, walk-in closet, combination room, or standalone cabinet, there are a lot of options, depending on your pantry needs, space and budget.

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Borrowing space

“If someone is renovating a kitchen, we have ways of creating pantry space when it is desired,” says Rick Gedney, owner of Kitchens by Gedney, based in Madison. “One recent project we did looked like a standard pantry cabinet from the front, but once the doors opened, it’s a step-in pantry. We borrowed 18 inches of depth from an adjacent space behind it and built wrap-around shelving inside.”

“People want a kitchen where everyone congregates and where a lot of the main prep happens to be a much more open, naturally lit environment,” Gedney says. “They’re knocking down the wall between the dining room and kitchen, but it’s often too big of a space. So, we’ll create a walk-in pantry and bring the scale of the room back down to a nice size.

“If there are space restraints, we’ll combine areas. People sometimes want other functions such as a coffee or wine station or charging station. Within six feet of wall, we’re able to do a storage cabinet that acts as a pantry with an adjacent counter with a stack that has a coffee machine or a wine cooler built-in. Thanks to built-in appliances and roll out shelving, we’re able to make this happen.”

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Multi-function room

With many people buying in bulk for efficiency, oftentimes there’s no room in the kitchen for all of these items. And, even if there was room, these bulk items don’t lend themselves to kitchen cabinets. With today’s kitchens leaning more contemporary with open shelving or glass cabinetry, many people are feeling the absence of upper cabinets where they would normally store most items behind closed doors.

“Nowadays, the pantry is paramount,” says Sabrina Foulke, an architect with Old Lyme-based Point One Architects. “Open shelving is popular, but people still need a place to store all of the things that were once behind the closed doors. We’re finding that we’re taking the cabinets out of the kitchen and putting them in the pantry or along a passageway on the way to a mudroom.”

“We’re also seeing a trend of placing a second refrigerator for food storage in the pantry,” Gedney says. “Today’s refrigeration is getting shallower in depth, so there’s less room unless you buy a wider style. But, then you’re taking up precious real estate in the kitchen.

“Pet food, big pots, bulky-type items don’t lend themselves to clean, modern kitchens. Whether it’s a roll of paper towels or dog food, it’s three steps away, but out of sight. The pantry not only makes a perfect place to store these items, but a place where the dog can eat too. It can serve a lot of different functions. Imagine stepping into a room between your garage and kitchen, where there’s a place for your coat and shoes, a sink, washer and dryer, and cabinets for storage. This is how people want to live today.”

Butler’s pantry

It would also be nice to live like the Vanderbilts. The Breakers, the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial pre-eminence in turn-of-the-century America, is home to a two-story butler’s pantry.

Traditionally, butler’s pantries were located between the kitchen and formal dining area. While people aren’t living quite so lavishly these days, this old-fashioned idea is appealing to modern homeowners, who want a dedicated, stylish and well-organized butler’s pantry that puts entertaining front and center, albeit without the tuxedo-clad help.

“For larger homes, we’re designing beautiful, decorative butler’s pantries located just off the kitchen or dining room,” says Foulke. “Some are basically second kitchens and used as a place to prep, serve and warm up food, as well as clean up. We’ve equipped them with refrigerators, sinks, wall ovens, wine chillers and dishwashers. Clients are interested in this type of space not only for entertaining, but for storage too.”

Along with beautiful countertops, lighting and flooring, cabinets with glass-front doors display serving pieces, tableware, glassware and collectibles. Other cabinets and drawers offer storage organization for large trays, serving platters, utensils, table linens, candles and other items. The butler’s pantry also helps keep the main kitchen clutter-free by keeping small appliances behind closed doors.

From a closet with shelving to a high-end butler’s pantry, we want a place for everything. If that place is pretty and functional, all the better.

Jennifer Carmichael is a freelance writer for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.