The Perfect Pantry

To a child, a pantry can be a magical place. It's where all the goodies are found, after all.

When I was a kid growing up, my grandmother's kitchen was the hub of the house, an often-frenzied space, with family members coming and going and holiday meals made by as many hands-on-deck as our matriarch could enlist to help. While her kitchen always seemed in perpetual motion, the little walk-in pantry just off it was a quiet little sanctuary of sorts. Though she was always trying to run us out of the pantry, it was like a magnet to the kids in the family. An undetected entry into the space, with a closed door behind you, meant unsupervised access to the shelves upon shelves of things we weren't supposed to nibble on before supper time.

It was a well-organized space, too — a place for everything and everything in its place, which is likely why our grandmother preferred we not play there. But play we did. Games of hide-and-seek inevitably called for at least one hider to take cover in the pantry. We'd play customer and shopkeeper, learning at a young age how to market, sell, budget, bargain and barter.

With the louvered door closed and the lights out, our grandmother's pantry was the darkest room in the house, we discovered, which proved perfect for star gazing, courtesy of a cousin's plug-in planetarium. We spent endless hours in the pantry, projecting the stars across the ceiling and boxes of cereal and bags of flour, learning the names of constellations we'd try to find in the real night sky after nightfall. For us, the pantry was pure fun.

But, of course, a pantry is intended to be a practical space.

The well-planned pantry

Pantries come in two basic styles: food pantries and butler's pantries (a stodgy and somewhat antiquated term that, nonetheless, hasn't yet been canceled). Food pantries are handy little spaces, often tucked away, just off the kitchen, where a homeowner and family can consolidate and store food, servingware, plastic and paper goods, cartons of beverages, pet supplies, and the like. The pantry, in effect, takes the heavy lifting off a kitchen's primary cabinets, which can then be reserved for dishes, glassware, cooking vessels and that one kitchen drawer where miscellaneous items seem to collect.

There are different schools of thought about how best to categorize food pantry items. You might prefer letting the container dictate placement, with all canned, boxed, loose- or fresh-foods grouped together. Or, with speedy meal-prep in mind, items might be categorized according to meal — breakfast, lunch, dinner items and snacks, for example. It's probably smart to carve out space away from the food — and out of the reach of children — for things like grilling tools and cleaning supplies.

If you live close to the coast or near any of the region's many bodies of water, when certain seasons bring a damper climate, you may find that air-tight containers — either see-thru or labeled — can be helpful in keeping grains, breads and other perishables fresher, longer.

Organization expert Marie Kondo applies her "KonMari Method" to pantries. She publishes "5 Tips for a Tidy Pantry" on her website, konmari.com. Kondo suggests starting with a clean pantry, which means going through it, item by item, and determining whether it's something to keep, to donate or to dispose.

When you're ready to restock the shelves, Kondo's blog recommends, "Store things in an upright position if the packaging allows and group them by subcategory. Basic pantry subcategories include seasonings, dried foods, dry carbohydrates (pasta, rice, couscous and so on), canned goods, sweets, bread and supplements."

Butler's pantries are well-organized by design, often providing custom-crafted storage for special dishes, china and crystal heirlooms, wine and cocktail glassware, special-occasion servingware and table linens. Typically, butler's pantries are positioned with formal entertaining in mind — in between a kitchen and formal dining room, for example, equally accessible to both rooms. Butler's pantries in luxury homes can be as sophisticated as scaled-down kitchens, with redundant appliances, such as a secondary microwave, a cooktop, dishwasher, beverage chillers, refrigerator drawers, coffee stations, and room for both small appliances and prep space.

A butler's pantry can be particularly useful when entertaining, because it allows home cooks or caterers to leverage the additional task space for culinary or beverage preparation, and keep it all out of the guests' view.

Another "pro tip" for any pantry — no matter how big, small or degree of organization — is to incorporate under-cabinet lighting. LED lighting is relatively inexpensive, easy to install under cabinets, and energy efficient, and it will make your counter space much more useful and inviting. Some solutions allow the homeowner to adjust the brightness, warmth and even color of the lighting — adjusting for utility light when the pantry is in use and ambient lighting when it's not.

Photos & Captions

Please use the three Realtor-supplied photos, but you may need to append them with some Adobe stock images. Here are some suggestions:

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Photo: 114 River Road Butler's Pantry

Caption

: Realtor Tammy Tinnerello with William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in Old Lyme is the listing agent for 114 River Road in Deep River — a magnificent home for family or formal entertaining. The eat-in kitchen is complemented by this wet bar, designed with butler's pantry-like storage, stained glass details on the cabinets, under-cabinet lighting, a secondary sink, built-in beverage refrigerator and plenty of extra outlets for small appliances. Photo courtesy of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty.

Photo: 114 River Road Exterior

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: The beautifully appointed luxury home at 114 River Road in Deep River is currently on the market, with an asking price of $1.95 million. The five-bedroom 6,146-square-foot home enjoys spectacular views of the Connecticut River. Remarking on the home's butler's pantry, listing agent Tammy Tinnerello said it "works well for functionality, convenience and style." Photo courtesy of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty.

Photo: 525 N. Stonington Road Pantry

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: 525 N. Stonington Road in Stonington is for sale. This custom-built contemporary home, with six bedrooms, is situated on 10.37 acres. Its center-island kitchen is complemented by an adjacent walk-in pantry. The seller is asking $900,000 for the property. Melinda Carlisle, a Realtor with Randall Realtors-Compass in Mystic is the listing agent. Photo courtesy of Randall Realtors-Compass.

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