Pantry designs are like most things – others have been there before you and made mistakes, and you can learn from them. Check out these do’s and don’t's before you go ahead with your pantry:
The best pantry designs in the world won’t help much if you don’t use the pantry in an organized way, or if you have more to store in there than can fit.
Pantry shelving doesn’t need to be as pretty as that in the main kitchen, but it does need to be strong, durable, easy to clean, and safe to use. It also needs to be reachable by everyone who will use it, even if that means access by ladder or step-stool.
There are a number of different options to consider for the shelves themselves and the support brackets. You can also use free-standing shelf units if your space lends itself to that, althouigh any kind of odd-shaped pantry will do better with built-in shelves to make the most of the space.
Solid wood or plywood, painted or varnished. Thickness requirement depends on how far apart your brackets will be: this information is readily available for bookshelves, which carry a lot of weight, so unless you are planning to store huge heavy cases or glass carboys on your shelves you can probably use those figures. Edge banding may be needed for plywood to cover voids and pretty it up: you may also choose to edge shelves with a strip which does double duty as extra support and an edge finish.
Here’s a tool for calculating the amount of sag in wood shelves given the type of wood, thickness, span, and load. You can use it to decide how thick your shelves need to be to carry the required load.
Melamine-coated MDF or particleboard. This is the white plastic coated shelving available at most home centres or lumberyards, and while it is crisp looking and easy to clean it’s neither strong nor hardwearing in the long term. The commonly-available kind is only 1/2″ thick: if you can find a thicker type, that would be a good thing. You’ll need closer bracket spacing than for solid wood of the same thickness.
Wire, chrome plated or plastic coated. These shelves are similar to (or even the same as) those used in closet systems, so you’ll have a variety of shapes and accessories to pick from. Chrome plated wire can come as restaurant-style shelves or racks, and be very stylish.
The plastic coated wire types are often not made to carry heavy loads – sweaters are a lot lighter than cans of food! – so increase the number of supports or plan to store light items only. Supports are made to fit a specific shelf system. There are pantry-specific wire shelf systems which have closer wire spacing than closet shelves, which reduces the problem of small items falling over (or even right through the gaps!). Spills can also pass through the gaps and a spill on the top shelf may extend itself all the way to the floor, making a mess on every shelf on the way down. This can be solved by using shelf liners or clear sheets of plexiglass, which has the advantage that you can still see through the shelf from underneath to find high items. Plexiglass liners are expensive, though.
Occasionally you will see people recommend glass shelves in the pantry. While the occasional decorative glass shelf may be OK, for regular food storage you would need very thick, well supported glass shelves which would be much more expensive than wood.
Supports and Brackets
All supports and brackets require very solid fixings into the wall structure – that means framing studs, posts or beans, never drywall or other weak paneling. Drywall anchors are not strong enough to do this job!
Some support systems come with a horizontal bar which is attached to multiple studs, then the vertical tracks which hold the brackets are hung from the horizontal bar. This makes it easy to screw into studs. Vertical support tracks alone, and individual brackets, need to land right on studs to take the weight of food-laden shelves.
Metal track and bracket systems are very good for creating adjustable shelf systems and are available everywhere in several different grades of strength and sizes. Realistically though, adjustable shelf systems seldom get adjusted after they are first set up! You can use these systems with wood or particleboard shelves.
Wood brackets are much larger than metal but this can be a plus point as they can also be decoratively shaped and look very charming. Once they are attached to the wall you aren’t going to want to move them, so they are not very adjustable.
Single metal brackets come as basic utility brackets (which blend with the wall if you paint over them) or decorative brackets in curly, swoopy or streamlined shapes. They all need to be attached direct to studs.
If you don’t want to or can’t attach things directly to the wall, or there’s no framing to screw into, what can you do? You can hang things from the ceiling or support them off the floor.
Ceiling support involves hanging ropes, chains, or metal rods from a very strong ceiling attachment point (preferably THROUGH a beam or joist, not just screwed into it), and then supporting the shelves from them using nuts and washers or crossbars. Rope and chain systems tend to be rather flexible, but rods can be quite rigid.
Floor support can involve rods or posts which extend from floor to ceiling. Better systems attach directly to the floor and ceiling using screws, but expansion rods which hold in place by spring pressure also exist. I would not want to rely on these for holding heavy food items.
If your room or pantry space is fairly straighforward and regular in shape, simple shelf units in wood, metal or plastic can work very well. There are many utility systems intended for basements and garages which can also do sterling service in the pantry.
Rolling carts in metal, wood or plastic can be used as storage in the pantry which can move out to the kitchen or dining room at a moment’s notice. These can even be used to entirely fill the floor space in a step-in or closet pantry if you are really short on space: you’ll have to move the cart every time you want to get at the other shelves, but this may be an acceptable trade-off to get the extra storage space.
Your options in pantry shelving are quite wide, and your decision depends on what you need from your pantry in the way of looks and function, and also on your budget.
If you’re thinking about including a pantry in your new or remodeled kitchen, you’re not alone. While pantries were out of fashion for many years, lately their usefulness has been rediscovered and pantry ideas are in all the shelter magazines.
If you don’t already have a pantry, and you want one, the first question is probably where to put it. First, let’s think about possible locations for a walk-in pantry:
“Walk-in” in pantry terms doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be able to walk in and walk around: it can mean that you step through the door and are surrounded by storage, all within arms reach: more of a “step-in” pantry.
If you absolutely have no room for a walk-in pantry, then a pantry cabinet is probably the solution for you. There are many designs or swing-out, fold-out or pull-out pantries made to fit in full-height cabinets, base cabinets or wall cabinets, from large to small.
Inside your pantry, once you’ve found the space, you have a long list of choices for the storage structures you choose to build. Many of them depend on the type of things you want to store in the pantry.
Shelves – narrow so you don’t lose things at the back, easily cleanable, labelable if you want to have specific areas of your pantry for specific types of goods. The vertical space between shelves can be customized to the height of your stored objects. Adjustable shelving is a great idea if you think you’ll change your mind about heights, but in reality most people find that they never change their adjustable shelves once they’ve initially been set up.
Baskets – these can be hung under shelves, stacked on shelves, placed or stacked on the floor, racked up in rolling carts, and made of natural materials like wicker or seagrass, or of wire (chrome or plastic coated). Plastic baskets are also available, and cheap, but they tend not to last very long unless they are seriously heavy duty.
Bins – made of metal, wood or plastic, with or without lids, stackable, with open, glass or solid fronts or lids, placed on shelves, the floor, or in drawers.
Drawers: can be solid or open (wire); wood, plastic, basketry or metal; compartmented or otherwise organized or subdivided inside; large and deep or small and shallow, with or without label holders, full extension, or removable to carry to a work area.
Hooks – to hold bags, aprons, clipboards, strings of onions or garlic, etc
Barrels, clean garbage bins, or sacks for holding seriously large quantities of bulk foods
Racks on walls or the inside of door(s) can hold smaller packages, pots and pans, kitchen utensils, etc. Pegboard racks are especially useful for walls or spaces where you can’t stick out into the room much and so don’t have space for shelves. A plate rail at the top of the wall can decorate your pantry while storing extra plates or platters.
You might also consider including these other items in your pantry:
If you live in an earthquake zone, your pantry ideas should take that into acount. Breakables need to be held in place, and heavy items like canned goods should be stored so that they can’t fall, break other things, block the door closed, or hurt people.
Your pantry contents would be part of your emergency food supply if an earthquake happened, so you want them to be in usable condition and accessible.