Storage is every homeowner’s challenge, and that is especially true when it comes to the dry goods, canned food, root vegetables, jars of sauce, baking supplies, spices and countless other things that the well-equipped kitchen needs. That’s the role pantries played in historic homes, where what we now call the pantry was named the larder, if it was for storage, or the scullery, if food was prepared there. If it was a butler’s pantry, it was located between the kitchen and the dining room, and was equipped with a sink and cupboards, a small stove and often with a supplementary refrigerator and appliances. In large, grand homes, there were often two pantries, divided by function and type of storage: one for dry goods, the other for wet, or one for cold functions like rolling out dough. These were usually equipped with a marble slab.
Modern houses often lack the generously-sized pantries of the past, and today’s homeowners squeeze pantry storage into corners of the kitchen, making for chaotic and jumbled cabinets and drawers. And, although many canned and bottled goods can be attractively stacked on shelves, there is a limit to the appeal of open storage. Most bottled, canned and packaged goods simply look messy unless they are hidden away behind doors.
An aesthetically-pleasing pantry appeals to almost everyone, but there is good reason for keeping this high traffic corner of your home in tip-top shape. Increased functionality of your pantry is crucial to creating more time in a busy day: the less time you spend looking for that can of beans, the better.
No matter the size of your pantry, space organization is key to making it work for home and your family. You may be surprised at the pantry possibilities in the average kitchen: the back of a door, for example, can hold a rack for generous storage. In a small spaces, use a lazy-susan in a corner to multiply the space. Use tiered spice racks to take advantage of any precious real estate.
Glass or acrylic containers are not only beautiful, but serve a greater purpose: to seal out unwanted guests (read pests!) and preserve your dry goods longer. See-through containers and clear labeling also prevent your kids from spending too much time rustling around and leaving a trail.
Other pantry suggestions include making use of one of the best, most attractive storage containers ever invented: the basket. Use a collection of baskets to hold fruits, vegetables, snacks and even bread. They can be hidden away or displayed on the countertop.
Sealed glass storage canisters can create a functional and beautiful display of grains, rice, pasta, nuts, and beans. Many food specialists prefer glass to plastics or acrylics, not all of which are food-grade.
Use labels. They will not only help you find what you are looking for, but can function as a graphic element that brings style and personality to your space.
If cabinet space is really tight, purchase racks that can be mounted inside cabinet doors for additional storage space for smaller items.
Baskets are not the only attractive storage containers. Bowls, bins or tureens can be used for containing items. The trick to organization is to group things together: a bowl or basket for chips, a container for baking supplies, a bin for paper goods. That way, you won’t be pawing through the canned vegetables while searching for the cookie cutters.
Another way to subdivide your foods for maximum efficiency is based on frequency of use. For instance, place the spices you use most in an easily accessible spot. Or, think about your routines and designate discrete storage areas for them. Some examples: a coffee station, a breakfast foods shelf, a school-lunch section, an exercise fuels bin stocked with energy bars and sports drinks.
The new It feature to have in a pantry? A counter for small appliances. It’s a great way to keep those items—rice cookers, blenders, mixers, etc.—off your countertops. It’s a good idea to equip your pantry with an electrical outlet so that you can even use your small appliances in there.
If you have small kids, be sure to store healthy snacks on a shelf that they can easily access. When they ask you for a snack, you can simply tell them to check the pantry themselves—a much better alternative than having to go to the pantry, report the contents, repeat it all, and retrieve a snack for them. Side note: keep the sweets and less nutritious snacks on a higher shelf.
Last of all, remember that you are never totally done. After you’ve organized your pantry, by all means, admire the results. You can bask in the after-glow for months, in fact. But know that it doesn’t last forever. The key to keeping an organized pantry is to check in a few times a year to assess its contents. Old ingredients need to be tossed. Dust and little spills need to be taken care of. Systems need to be tweaked. These quarterly checkups will mean you may never have to completely make over your pantry again.