December 1, 2023

Walk-in Pantries: Hidden Gems – Kitchen & Bath Design News

9 min read
Walk-in Pantries: Hidden Gems – Kitchen & Bath Design News

Reacting to the changes in consumer attitudes since the early lockdowns from COVID-19, think tanks and trade associations have been researching and forecasting how the post-pandemic homeowner wants to live. With people spending so much time at home, needs and desires have undergone a metamorphosis, and kitchen and bath designers are taking notice.

One of the trends that has emerged out of the pandemic is the increasing interest in large walk-in pantries. Home cooking and storage of extra food became all-important during the pandemic, and that trend remains.

But kitchen designers say that, while Instagram-worthy pantries with rows of cork-topped spice containers and apothecary jars of dog treats have gone mainstream, the pantry as accessory kitchen predates COVID. And that type of pantry promises to be the real trend ahead.

At a recent kitchen design summit, the National Kitchen & Bath Association defined the majority of luxury pantries as either a walk-in space for dry goods and kitchen items or an outsized, floor-to-ceiling space just for dry goods. But experienced kitchen designers like Sarah Robertson and Heather Hungeling say that prep or “mess” kitchens are on their way to replace the conventional pantry.

“Main Street is catching on to the convenience of the prep kitchen concept,” says Hungeling, an Atlanta, GA-based kitchen designer and influential blogger. “Savvy builders are already offering home designs with these supplemental workspaces.”

She finds it ironic how it has gotten to a point where there is a need for an ancillary kitchen. “We’ve been craving open floor plans for so long,” she explains. “Every home improvement show on television has had the designer knocking down the walls in the main living space to create those open floor plans. In addition, homeowners wanted to increase the number of windows in their kitchen, inevitably leading to a lack of storage and convenience.”

Hungeling continues, “We’ve gladly accepted these trade-offs as part of getting a kitchen that we can live in, until we realized that we had nowhere to put the toaster. Also, we’ve found ourselves feeling burdened by the need to have our kitchen be pristinely displayed at all times. The solution to this pickle is the prep kitchen. It allows us to have the openness and beauty in our main kitchen while giving us an extra work/storage area that’s a bit out of sight.”

Robertson, principal, Studio Dearborn, in Mamaroneck, NY agrees. She calls pantries that offer more than storage “hot.” 

“Be it a coffee bar, a home bar or a secondary prep/cooking area, people love it because it allows the main kitchen to be designed more as a luxury living space,” she observes.

Walk-in Pantries: Hidden Gems – Kitchen & Bath Design News
PB Kitchen Design and Haven Design Group fit a home bar into a narrow hallway behind the kitchen of a historic home. The door was mirrored to reflect the light back into the space and make the room feel wider. — Photo: Michael Kaskel


The design that Robertson created for one client is a good example of the way the pantry is evolving. The client wanted a storage space off the main kitchen for overflow of small appliances; a coffee bar that included a small refrigerator, sink and cold brew tap; a kids’ snack bar and room for kids’ art supplies, and, of course, food storage. The overriding goal was a pantry where a mess can live, but be open and accessible. 

The design accomplished all of this, but she had to get very creative. For example, 11′ ceilings required a ladder that could wrap around the room, and the coffee bar needed a cold brew tap because the client loves a special brand of cold brew and has it delivered to the house in a small keg. Robertson used insight from a New York City coffee bar on how to run a cold brew tap from the basement up into an unused corner of the pantry. The kids’ area was designed with shallow drawers for granola bars, nuts and other snack items. Open shelves and baskets are used to corral things like chips and popcorn. The “external” part of the pantry stores kids’ art supplies.

“This is what true luxury is all about,” comments Robertson. ”It’s not just anticipating a client’s needs, but tailoring a design to meet those needs and provide special spaces where everything is contained and organized when our lives are out of control.”


Two distinctively different pantries were Peter Deane’s concept for these homeowners, who love to entertain. Here, the butler’s pantry provides lots of storage for food staples, beverages and kitchen overflow. — Photo: Paul Johnson

Not all pantries have to be that complicated, however. Empty nesters who like to entertain asked PB Kitchen Design of Geneva, IL for a nice-looking home bar. PB and Haven Design Group of Geneva complied.

“It was a historic home, and finding room for such a bar was complicated,” tells Dan McFadden, president, PB Kitchen Design. “We did find room in the back hall between the kitchen and the back door. It was a tight squeeze, but we pushed a tall cabinet into a void in the wall and mirrored the door to help reflect light back and make the space feel wider. “

The bar is a source of pride for the homeowners. The black custom cabinetry features a sink and lots of storage, while open shelves on a background of gleaming subway tiles hold ample supplies of glassware and bottles.

A dining pantry designed by Peter Deane of Deane, Inc. is the elegant partner of the butler’s pantry next door, with custom cabinetry for fine china and accessories.
— Photos: Paul Johnson
Valerie Corsaro and Alyson O’Hanlon designed this self-service home bar area of a butler’s pantry for the Clive Christian Furniture New Jersey showroom to showcase utter glamour. The backsplash for open shelving is gold leaf-backed mirror and the high-gloss black cabinetry includes refrigerator/freezer drawers equipped with an ice maker. — Photo: Philip Innes Productions

Peter Deane, principal, Deane, Inc. in Stamford, CT designed two pantries for discerning homeowners. One, called the butler’s pantry, features wall-wide, floor-to-ceiling cabinets and stores food staples and overflowing kitchen items, while the other is a dining pantry, located right next to the dining room. It stores china, silver and other items for elegant hosting. The dining pantry is especially lavishly appointed, with light blue/gray cabinetry, decorative wallcovering and stunning accessories. 

For their showroom at the Clive Christian Furniture New Jersey showroom in Tenafly, NJ, Valerie Corsaro and Alyson O’Hanlon decided to showcase just how glamorous a butler’s pantry can be. They chose high-gloss black cabinetry, a wall of deco-inspired glass mosaic tile by Artistic Tile, and a light marble countertop and floor. A generous home bar is included. It’s designed as a self-service bar, with exposed shelves displaying glasses and bottles. The backsplash is goldleaf-backed mirror by Antique Glass and elaborate wallpaper by Pierre Frey. The butler’s pantry includes a concealed refrigerator, freezer drawers equipped with an ice maker, and, of course, plenty of space for ice buckets, serving pieces and bottles.


As Hungeling reports in her blog, historically, a butler’s pantry was a downstairs room in a large estate home, where the china and silver was stored. Since it contained valuable items, it was a locked room to which the butler had the key. Hence, the name. 

Eventually, the butler’s pantry evolved into a walk-through area between the kitchen and dining room, usually with glass display cabinets and a bar sink. In today’s homes, it often features a coffee station or bar area.

In the hands of Jere Bowden, an Auburn, AL designer long serving an international clientele, a butler’s pantry becomes a gem of efficiency and classic elegance, As beautiful as any main kitchen, it features all types of specialty storage:
extra-deep bases for large appliances and trays; raised areas to accommodate endless flatware, complete with locks, and lots of carefully calculated room to hide small appliances, a pair of dishwasher drawers, a large ice machine and cooking and serving equipment. The extra-deep countertop is essential when serving large casserole dishes and arranging silver trays. Classic, timeless cabinetry and old reclaimed pine flooring creates the impression that the space has always been there. 

Bowden has designed numerous auxiliary kitchens, considered musts in the fine old mansions and modern estates that have been her venue throughout her career. “In most homes there was always a clean and a dirty kitchen,” she tells. ”The clean kitchen was for guests and the new way of cooking with ease, with better equipment and luxurious, detailed interiors. The dirty kitchen was the service kitchen/chef’s pantry, often with commercial appliances. For a few years now, this formal service/caterer’s kitchen has given way to the chef’s prep kitchen. It has some real dirty work going on. Close to the primary kitchen, it has a lot of mechanicals, such as many outlets for specialty small appliances. These prep rooms are where the food is prepared and readied for plating. It’s also where the chef’s bar cart, the most important component, comes in. Featuring heavy-duty, handsome casters, it rolls back and forth to the kitchen.”

One of Bowden’s favorite projects is a kitchen for world-traveling homeowners, with amazing treasures from exotic places. Those treasures – sculptures, paintings, rugs and fabrics – are even displayed throughout the kitchen and bar/chef’s prep areas. 

There are several parts to this kitchen, which was designed with an abundance of mixed cabinet colors, glass doors and open shelving. There is a bar area, with cabinetry, beaded backsplash, marble countertops, filtered water dispenser, sink, a crystal collection displayed behind glass doors, microwave, ice machine and wine cooler; the kitchen, with both banquette seating for family dining and conversation and counter-height seating; and a chef’s prep area with all the prerequisite components. 

“Only a very large space could accommodate all these elements,” comments Bowden. “The homeowner loves it because there’s room for two or more cooks and guests to work and enjoy meal preparation together and still be in conversation.”


This main kitchen, designed by Sarah Barnard, is adjacent to the pantry area and showcases a light blue reminiscent of nature. — Photo: Chas Metivier
The homeowners wanted the refrigerator and most food storage isolated from the kitchen to offer ample food prep and socializing In the main kitchen. Sarah Barnard designed the storage with dedicated space for dried goods, spices and coffee and included large drawers for crafts supplies.
— Photo: Chas Metivier

Sarah Barnard, principal, Sarah Barnard Design, in Santa Monica, CA says she is especially interested in the infinite ways that design can enhance life, and she thinks pantries and auxiliary kitchens can do just that.

“A well-designed pantry for dry goods, supplemental refrigeration and appliances instills a sense of order, organization and abundance,” she says. “Being able to enter a pantry space, quickly find the items you need, and bring them into a prep space will improve the efficiency and pleasure of cooking. And a closed-off pantry can help with sound reduction, muffling the whir of the coffee grinder or blender in the early morning.”

A kitchen designed for Pacific Palisades homeowners also shows her fondness for connecting design with nature. The cabinetry color is the light blue of sunny seas and skies, and artwork by Christopher Medak, Kalsang Dawa and Louise LeBourgeois also displays nature’s best blues. The adjacent pantry area is designed to store food and small appliances, and  also includes the refrigerator.

Designing a great luxury pantry or prep kitchen takes a lot of technical know-how, of course, but Bowden encourages designers to get to know all the new bells and whistles coming down the pike. Of the presently available innovations, she particular enjoys the new concealed LED lighting, the array of accessories, the engineered hinges for concealed storage, and superior air-tight containers for dry goods and condiments. 

“There are so many ways to make the home fun again,” she says. With all these new ways to prepare food and beverages, there is a need to find extra space to store ingredients and small appliances. Walk-in pantries fit the bill and are enjoying their resurgence in popularity. ▪

Walk-in Pantries: Hidden Gems