Bigger, Better Kitchen Pantries Are A COVID-Inspired Wellness Design Trend

One of the trends that emerged at the start of the pandemic was people doing more bulk shopping to reduce trips to the store. That led to a rush on chest freezers to store frozen food and to a desire for larger, more functional pantries in the frenzy of remodels that followed lockdowns. The latest trends study from the National Kitchen & Bath Association bears this out.

In its top five list of emerging kitchen ideas for the next three years is a “working pantry,” cited by 60% of the designers and industry professionals who responded to the survey. The pantry’s features should prioritize food storage and working areas for small appliances, including coffee centers, they said. These pantries should also include storage space for serving dishes, pots and pans. And they should have countertops for food preparation, including baking centers.  

Pantry Enhancements

This doesn’t surprise senior editor Mitchell Parker, who watches what designers post and consumers save on the massive home improvement site “For those who have the space, pantries are a great solution for people looking to organize.” Pantries help facilitate organization, creating storage and working space out of the kitchen’s sight lines and work aisles, he adds. These are still walk-in spaces or cabinetry-based configurations, but homeowners are equipping them with more sophisticated solutions like roll-outs, specialty organizers and deep drawers.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in photos on Houzz that showcase themed storage, like baking, coffee prep or snack stations for the kids, which allows family members to come into the kitchen for specific reasons without interrupting the cook’s flow.

Beverage refrigerators are another example of this,” Parker adds. “They can give family members and guests access to cold drinks away from the main refrigerator and the chef who’s preparing a meal in the kitchen. Nearly one in five renovating homeowners incorporates a beverage refrigerator, up by 5% from last year.”

Portland, Oregon-based certified master kitchen and bath designer Robin Fisher is seeing her clients also use their pantries for wine storage and keeping food they’ve canned at home, she comments. When meeting with new clients, she asks how they shop and plan their meals, how they entertain, how far they live from their grocery store and what their sustainability priorities include. “I have a client conversation about food waste and sizes of pantries. I try very hard to make the pantry the correct size for the client and fully accessible so that they see everything, and everything is used before its expiration date,” she shares. All of their responses, along with her professional observations about their home’s available space, contribute to how and where she’ll design their pantry spaces.

Chef’s Pantry Tips

Health-focused private chef James Barry, CEO of seasonings brand Pluck, also prioritizes quick, easy access in his pantry space.  “I want everything to be visible. So pantry door shelves are a plus. The deeper the shelf, the harder it is to see everything,” he observes. “If the shelf is wide and deep, a rack that elevates or tiers the pantry items is great.”

The chef keeps his spices and cooking tools close to the work zones where he’s using them, he says, and has his pantry hold gear he uses less. “Small appliance storage is ideal, even larger appliances that are infrequently used. I’m on the fence about built-in appliances in the pantry.” He notes that they’re harder to clean in tighter quarters. “When I look at a kitchen space, I don’t just look at aesthetics, but practicalities.”  

Pantry Locations

Fisher likes these storage zones to be sited for peak convenience. “I believe that the pantry should be located in the perimeter of the kitchen. You get what you need, then bring it to the cooking center to cook.” 

Parker agrees: “When drawing up plans for a new or renovated kitchen, most designers on Houzz try to place a pantry in the handiest location for the homeowner, within steps of the primary kitchen work zones,” the editor notes. “For that reason, some of the best cabinet pantries are located next to the fridge, sink or range.” Homes with large kitchens might even have multiple pantries. “If that’s the case,” Parker suggests, “it’s important to develop a well-thought out plan for food organization so that related items are grouped together.”

He notes that “Some homeowners opt to include a butler’s pass to their walk-in pantry, which include microwaves and prep sinks in order to be used as a serving station. In those instances, the pantry should be accessible to the dining room, but out of the way of the kitchen’s primary cooking functions.”

When a pantry is to include working appliances, like the freezers and wine fridges Fisher includes, and the coffee makers cited by NKBA and Houzz designers, they also need power sources. Microwaves, which have recently started trending away from kitchen to pantry placement, also require power. When pantries have sinks, as Parker mentions, the designer also needs to factor in a water source and drainage. These all add cost to the remodel, but functionality and value to the kitchen and home too.

Pantry Organization

If he had his druthers, Barry’s home would have a walk-in pantry, he says, and he would convert a kitchen utility closet to a supplemental food pantry. Bigger isn’t necessarily better though, the chef cautions. “We tend to treat our pantries like they’re storage units. A small, well-organized pantry will make cooking simpler and less stressful. Even though that bulk buy of tomato paste may be five cents less, do you really need 12 cans of it in your pantry? Stick to smaller quantities with a higher turnover. You’ll not only be more efficient with what you buy, but your food items will be fresher.”

He organizes his own pantry according to need. “Items rarely used are on the top shelf. Items frequently used on the bottom shelf. I have dried pastas in the middle on one side. Cans organized by type on the other. I keep baking items together on the same shelf and oils and vinegars together on an easily accessible lower sheIf.”

Because Barry can easily see what’s in his pantry with shallow shelves and an organizing plan, he can keep his food fresher, he notes. “I’m someone that will build a meal based on what I have in the cabinet just to get rid of it. Lentils from six months ago? No problem, tonight we’re having lentil soup for dinner.”

Whatever you’re making for dinner, having a pantry optimized for efficient meal prep, whether large or small, can get food to your table faster and with less stress.


Author’s Note: Barry, Fisher and Parker will be participating in a Clubhouse conversation on Wednesday, January 19 at 4 pm Eastern (1 PM Pacific) to discuss pantry tips and trends, and answer participant questions. This session is open to everyone. Those who miss the live event can find a recording the following Wednesday on the Gold Notes blog.

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