Pantry Perfect The Can't Go Wrong Pantry Design and Organization Rules Jon Lo, MFA, NKBA
Senior Resident Designer

Products mention in this article are for illustration purposes only. StarCraft does not endorse or recommand producta.

Don't Miss These Halpful Kitchen Planning Articles

For even more in-depth home remodeling articles visit our Index to Articles.

Some Pretty Good Pantry Tips

"On high shelves, store boxes on their sides so their labels can be more easily read through the shelf mesh from below."

Lillian Muller of Rogers, AR

What is a Butler's Pantry?

Since 1900 the meaning of the word "pan­try" has changed in America (but not in the UK).

Today it means a place where food is stored, and usually refers to one or more cabinets or a closet adjacent to the kitchen.

In the late Victorian age, the room where food was stored was the "larder" or "buttery".

The pan­try was a serving area located between the kitchen and dining room. Often it was not much more than a wide hallway equipped with ample countertop space and, commonly, a sink.

Typically the butler would fetch the cooked food from the kit­chen, divide it into serving portions, arrange it invitingly on dishware, then serve it in the dining room.

The pantry usually had swinging doors at both ends which helped keep kit­chen noise, heat, and odors away from the diners.

With the simplification of house design that occurred during the Arts & Crafts period of the early 20th century, the butler's Pan­try was largely eliminated and replaced with built-in cabinetry inside the dining room for storing dinnerware, glassware, linens, and silverware — all the things formerly stored in the pan­try.

Improvements in cooking technology, such as the natural gas or electric cookstove instead of coal and wood stoves made isolation of the kit­chen from the dining area much less important to dining comfort.

Today the tendency is to call any walk-through or walk-in pan­try a "butler's" pan­try, but this term is not strictly correct.

Some Pantry Terminology

Buttery: Has nothing whatsoever to do with butter. It is an old English term for a room (or more likely a shed) where food was stored in large barrels called "butts", hence "buttery".

Dish Pantry: Typically a cabinet or closet just off the kit­chen or in the dining room where dishes and serving ware are stored.

Larder: A Victorian term for a small, room, or tall cabinet for storing food. Used today primarily in Britain to mean what we call a pan­try on this side of the Big Blue Pond.

Before the invention of the refrigerator, there were still all sorts of foods that needed to be kept cool, including dairy products, meats, and fresh produce.

One solution for keeping things cool in the pre-electricity era was the cold pan­try. A cold pan­try uses creative ventilation and some skilled design to keep perishable foods cool.

A cold pan­try still has a place in a modern kit­chen. A great many foods store well in a cool, but not necessarily cold, environment and the cooling uses no electricity, does not leave a carbon footprint, and, best of all, is free.

Read more about cold pan­tries at Cold Pan­tries for Green kit­chens by Katie Marks.

Every kit­chen needs a pan­try — a notion that has not always been thought to be true. During the post-WWII building boom from 1945 to 1960, pan­tries fell out of favor. Architects believed that the new built-in cabinetry and the convenience of local supermarkets had made pan­tries unnecessary in the modern kit­chen.

They were wrong.

According to a recent Na­tion­al As­soc­ia­tion of Home Build­ers survey, a kit­chen pan­try is the kit­chen feature most wanted by buyers in the market for a new home.

Before the era of microwave meals, pre-processed cuisine, and Hello Fresh meal kits, a well-stocked pan­try was required for good domestic management.

If you own a home built before 1945, you are probably fortunate enough to have a pan­try of some sort. If your house was built after 1980, you might have a tall cabinet designated on the kit­chen plan as a pan­try.

Neither may offer convenient, flexible, or functional storage, but at least it's a start. Bad pan­tries can be fixed.

Pantries typically hold groceries that do not neet refrigeration, but you can squeeze in extra dishware, rarely used pots and pans, pet food, small appliances, paper goods, cook books, and cleaning supplies.

We firmly believe that no matter the age of your kit­chen or its size, it should include a pan­try, and this critical storage requires careful thought and planning.

The Iron Rules of Storage

Creating a great pan­try requires closely adhering to the three Iron Rules of Storage. If the rules are followed, any storage is almost always convenient and easy to use.

The Iron Rules apply to any storage, but particularly to kit­chen storage, and even more particularly to pan­try storage.

A pan­try should be close to where the items in the pan­try are first used – usually the food preparation center.

If the kit­chen has a baking area, then a separate baking pan­try should be considered. It should be located near the baking center unless the main pan­try can be placed between the two work centers, and do double duty.

While size does matter, simplicity, organization, and the right location are usually more important than size alone.

A well-designed small pan­try will usually provide better, more convenient, and more functional storage than a poorly designed large pan­try.

The Ideal Pantry

Convenience, accessibility, and viewability are the key attributes of a great pan­try.

A pantry is

If the Iron Rules are closely followed, it is nearly impossible to design a pan­try that does not include these key attributes.

For example, if storage is sized to the things being stored, it is easier to implement the Accessibility rule and little space is wasted.

Shelves should be far enough apart so that items stored on a shelf just fit (plus an inch or two to make things easier to remmove).

To avoid wasted space, shelves should be adjustable so as storage requirements change the shelf spacing can be updated.

At-a-glance viewability is also an important goal to strive for in pan­try design. Everything stored should be immediately visible.

Nor should it be necessary to move something out of the way to see what's behind or beneath it. There should never be anything behind or underneath anything else.

If your pantry never achieves all of these ideals, no worries. We have been designing pan­tries for nearly 50 years, and have never reached that level of pantry Nirvana either. But the closer the pan­try design is this ideal pantry, the more useful and convenient the pan­try will be.

The Basic Pantries

Pantries come in three basic configurations:

All have advantages and drawbacks.

The reach-in pan­try is usually the most convenient, the pullout pan­try the least convenient, but a boon to small kit­chens with no wall space to spare.

The walk-in pan­try holds the most, but since it is often removed from centers of kit­chen activity, it is best used as a remote second pan­try.

A kitchen can have two, even three pan­tries.

We commonly design kit­chens for large families or everything-from-scratch cooks to include a near pan­try that holds small quantities of supplies most often used and one or more remote pan­tries that hold bulk supplies in large quantities.

The near pan­try is re-supplied from the remote pan­try periodically as consumables are used.

It can be a multi-step process. A middle pan­try is restocked every month or so from the cold room or remote pan­try in the basement. The near pan­try is restocked weekly from the middle pan­try.

Reach-in Pantries

The ideal reach-in pan­try is shallow.

Deep pan­tries hold more, but all the stuff in the back is not immediately visible and not easy to reach.

As a practical maximum, the depth of a fixed pan­try shelf should be no more than 16" (14" is better).

We have read recommendations that suggest a maximum depth of 18" and even 20". We figure these folks don't build many pantries. Twenty inches is much too deep. Sixteen inches is the absolute maximum.

If you have more depth available, you may be tempted to build deeper shelves on the theory that while you may not use the back few inches for primary storage, it does not hurt to have it for stuff you don't use as often.

Don't give in to the temptation. Deep pan­tries do not work well!

Inevitably, things you use often get pushed to the back as you add other things, so you end up with stuff you cannot find or get to without moving the things in front of the items you need.

Anything deeper than 16" requires a roll-out tray or a pullout pan­try. For cans and bottles even 16" is too deep. Eight inches is the more useful maximum.

Bat-Wing Pantry

One way of using a deeper space effectively is to split the shelves so that no shelf is deeper than 16 (or better, 14) inches.

Let's say you are planning a 24" deep reach-in pan­try to align with your standard 24" deep kit­chen cabinets.

The available depth inside a 24" cabinet is about 22 3/4" (Subtract 3/4" for the thickness of the front and 1/2" for the back).

A 22 3/4" is much too deep, so we are going to install four­teen-inch shelves in the cabinet, which leaves 8 3/4" of inused space.

Let's fill that empty space by attaching 8" shelves to the pan­try door for smaller items like bottles and cans. Now we have 22" of shelving, leaving 3/4" for door clearance. Some clearance is required for the doors to close properly, and while as little as 1/4" works, we prefer 1/2" to 3/4" to hedge our bets a tad.

Splitting shelves between cabinet and door is exactly the configuration used in our favorite pan­try style, the classic bat-wing pan­try. With the doors fully open everything in the pan­try is arrayed in a panorama for maximum visibility and is easily reached.

Besides being the pinnacle of storage convenience, a bat-wing pan­try is relatively inexpensive to build using standard factory kit­chen cabinet components.

It does not require extensive pullout hardware, which, because it must be able to hold a lot of weight, needs to be heavy-duty and can be costly. But it does require heavy-duty hinges to hold the weight of the door plus all the stuff stored on the door without sagging.

On a full-height pan­try, we typically install four heavy hinges on each door. These will easily hold the weight of the door and 150 lbs. of cans and bottles stored in the door. (It will also hold the additional weight of a 5-year-old swinging on the door — something we found out quite by chance.)

Roll-Out Shelves

If the pan­try shelves are more than 16" deep, then it is better to convert them to trays mounted on glides so they can be pulled out. Roll-out trays have the advantage of making everything in the pan­try accessible, even the stuff at the very back of the tray.

One disadvantage is that above eye level it is difficult to see what's on the tray. For this reason, above eye-level, roll-out trays are usually replaced with lazy susan turntables mounted on fixed shelves.

With a twist of the wrist, a turntable brings anything at the back of the pan­try to the front where it can be seen. The tradeoff, however, is that a round turntable stores only about 2/3rds the content of a rectangular shelf.

Pullout trays require full-extension soft-close glides.

In the past, the trays are not height-ad­just­a­ble which was a serious drawback. However, hardware companies are coming out with systems that allow height adjustment. One that is available now is from Hafele, but it is quite expensive and requires special shelves. See Lavido Adjustable Shelf Pullout Pantry, above.

Another disadvantage of roll-out shelves is that you always need to fully open the pan­try door(s) to extend the trays and close the door after the trays are returned to their parked position – a small but continuing inconvenience.

Pullout Pantry Units

A pullout pan­try is a reach-in pan­try turned on end and inserted into a cabinet. A door panel is attached to the front. Closed it look like just another cabinet door but it operates like a very large drawer.

If it is viewable and accessible from both sides, it can be as much as 27" or even 30" wide. But if accessible from just one side, the 16" depth limit applies.

Dual Pantries Solve Complex Storage Issues

This kitchen was once much larger, but a previous owner had taken the original pan­try space to create a first-floor powder room under the stairs. The new owner wanted to keep the powder room, but she also wanted her pan­try back.

To get enough pan­try, a too-small breakfast nook was converted to pan­try storage and coffee bar. A second walk-past pan­try was created by building a tall cabinet alongside the stairs leading to the basement. Space for this pan­try was gotten by sealing 10" from the back of the powder room and relocating the toilet.

This design violates one of the cardinal rules of pan­try perfection: The pan­try and refrigerator should be near each other.

We wanted to put the refrigerator in the new pan­try, but this would have required removing one of the windows. The owner preferred to keep the existing large windows. The husband's instructions were gently but firmly put as something like: "Leave the damn windows alone!" So, that was that.

But the solution works; did not require major, and expensive, structural surgery; and gives the homeowners enough convenient food storage for several weeks.

Not every pan­try design solution can be absolutely perfect, but even an imperfect solution can still be made to work well with a little creativity.

A pullout pan­try is not as convenient to use as a bat-wing-style pan­try. To get to the items stored, you must first extend the pan­try, then push it back into place when you are done.

It is generally more expensive to build per square foot of storage because it requires elaborate, heavy-duty hardware.

But in small kit­chens where space is at a premium, it may be the only pan­try solution that provides anything like enough storage.

Like roll-out trays, a pullout unit is not practical for anything above eye level.

The individual shelves inside the pullout can be made adjustable, which greatly increases the flexibility of the pan­try. It is important to use soft-close gliding hardware that prevents the pan­try from being slammed which may dislodge items in the pan­try that can jam the mechanism.

Walk-In/Walk-Through Pantries

A walk-in pan­try is usually a small room, essentially a closet for storing food, separate from but adjacent to the kit­chen.

For many homeowners, a walk-in is the dream pan­try that calls up visions of canning garden vegetables and making preserves.

But it is not as useful as you might think.

A walk-in is great for storing large quantities of foodstuffs, particularly bulk items, but because it is usually remotely located, a walk-in can be inconvenient to use for the storage of frequently used items.

For that reason, many kit­chens with walk-in pan­tries also include a smaller, more convenient pan­try inside the kit­chen that is restocked periodically from the larger pan­try.

The walk-through pan­try may be even more restrictive.

Where the main purpose of a walk-in pan­try is storage, the primary purpose of a walk-through pan­try is to get from one place to another. It is first a hallway or passage and only secondarily a storage place.

In designing a walk-through pan­try, its primary purpose of providing a convenient and safe passage cannot be compromised.

This usually means an extra-wide walk aisle. We usually recommend a minimum of 44". Wider is better and 60" is the minimum for wheelchair access.

If the pan­try has storage on just one side of the aisle, the minimum width of the pan­try is 60" (76" for wheelchair access). If there is to be storage on both sides of the aisle, then the minimum width is 76" (92" for wheelchair access).

For much more on kit­chen passageway widths, see The 31 Kit­chen Des­ign Rules.

A pan­try/mudroom that you pass through on your way from the kit­chen to the garage or back door is a typical example. In old houses, it is often a converted porch. Groceries can be unloaded just as soon as you wipe your feet, which is very handy.

Corner Turtables

Expand storage options and improve visibility by using lazy susan turntables on shelves above eye level and in the corners of walk-in pantries.

But the main function of a mudroom must be preserved.

Its walkway must be kept clear, and it needs space for stowing coats, boots, and other outerwear, including a bench for putting on and taking off shoes and boots.

Walk Aisles

A lot of valuable real estate in a walk-in or walk-through pan­try is used for walking rather than storage. The temptation is great to minimize aisle space to maximize storage space.

That is always a mistake.

The minimum walkway or aisle width in a walk-in pan­try is 36". You'll see why the first time you truck in a bunch of groceries to unload. Narrow aisles make it a knee- and el­bow-knock­ing affair.

A 60" aisle is the minimum for wheelchair access. It permits a wheelchair to turn around — otherwise, the user has to back out of the space — inconvenient at best and potentially dangerous. A 64" or 66" width is better.

Walk-In Shelving

Deep shelves in a walk-in or walk-through pan­try are no more useful than deep shelves in a reach-in pan­try.

The maximum depth of stationary (non-pullout) storage shelves is 16" no matter where they are located, and 14" is better. Depths as narrow as 10" will work for general storage and as little as 6" for cans and bottles.

If one wall of a walk-in pan­try could be used for deeper shelves, resist the temptation or install roll-out baskets or bins. Or, better yet, widen the aisle.

Corners are often wasted space. We try to maximize the storage capacity of cabinet corners by installing lazy susan turntables.

Shelving above eye level should be stepped back 2 or 3 inches. The shelf just above eye level should be no deeper than 14" and the one above that just 12", and so on. Actually, 13" and 10" is better. This step back allows you to better see what's on these upper shelves.

Shelving can be solid or an open wire grid.

Solid shelving eliminates the risk of small items falling between the grids but reduces visibility.

It also tends to accumulate dust and debris and needs to be cleaned more often. Accordingly, the surface should be Melamine™ or some other very cleanable material.

Coated or stainless wire shelving does not collect dust and debris, which simply falls through to the floor.

It may not work, however, for small items that can fall through the grid.

It's easy to clean. A little Windex® and a paper towel are all it takes.

We especially like open-wire shelving for high shelves because you can see through the wire to get a better view of what's stored on the shelves.

Vintage Woven Wire Shelving

One drawback, however, is that modern coated wire shelving often looks out of place in a period kit­chen. And we remmodel a lot of period kitchens.

To get the look we want in Crafts­man and Vic­tor­ian kit­chens, we often build our own shelves out of a woven wire that fits the period stretched on a wood frame.

Woven wire cloth, for example, such as the venerable hardware cloth or chicken wire, has been around for well over a century and a half and works for almost any historic period.

Where we need to minimize the risk of things falling through the wire grid, we merely overlay a sheet of window screening to eliminate the problem without reducing visibility to any large degee.

Chicken Wire Shelf

Chicken wire shelving designed for farm or industrial use can sometimes be found at farm supply stores and some home centers.
It is ideal for vintage kitchens where modern vinyl-coated wire shelving would be inappropriate. It's strong, easy to clean, and the contents are very visible.

Location, Location, Location

Careful design is important to the convenience, functionality, and efficiency of a pan­try. But its location in relation to the other elements in the kit­chen is even more important. A well-designed pan­try put in the wrong place is less useful than a poorly designed pan­try in the right place and impairs the efficiency of the cook. We know of no cook who prefers impaired efficiency.

The very best-designed and organized pan­try is of only marginal use if it is not conveniently located. This means, according to the first Iron Rule, near where the provisions in the pan­try are going to be used. This is usually the food preparation center.

Multiple Pantries for a Large Kitchen

Ideally, a pan­try should be placed within a few steps of the area where food is prepared. The general rule is not more than 48", although this dimension is somewhat flexible.

This is a large, gourmet kit­chen for an everything-from-scratch cook.

Food storage is located along one wall adjacent to the main walkway from the house to the family room, patio, and pool. This location allows beverage and snack seekers to fetch items from the refrigerator or pan­tries without crossing into the work areas of the kit­chen, which already has enough unavoidable traffic to an from the back door.

To allow easy passage through the kit­chen without interfering with meal preparation, we enlarged the distance between facing cabinets to 62" to allow a clear walk path. Normally we recommend not more than 52".

The refrigerator is flanked by two base cabinets that form the "landing zones" for both pan­tries and the refrigerator. Landing zones provide a convenient place to set bags of groceries while they are unloaded. Each landing zone has its own light, and overhead recessed lighting illuminates the entire area.

Locating it reasonably close to the prep area is usually enough, and being flexible about location can also make it easier to take into account some important factors affecting the placement of other cabinets and appliances.

Refrigerator Placement

From a purely aesthetic point of view, locating a tall pan­try and refrigerator at opposite ends of the room is good design because the height and bulk of these two large features balance each other.

But for ease of use, it is usually better to place cold storage (refrigerator) fairly close to dry storage (pan­try) so that multiple trips are not required to gather the ingredients for a meal.

Snack and Beverage Centers

In addition to being storage places, both the refrigerator and pan­try are snack and beverage centers, especially in households with children.

Access to between-meal snacks without tra­vers­ing the main part of the kit­chen reduces kit­chen traffic and possible interference with meal preparation and clean-up.

If at all possible, the pan­try and refrigerator should be located on the perimeter of the kit­chen.

Loading Areas

Every pan­try should include or be adjacent to a landing zone at countertop height.

The landing zone is a place to set bags of groceries while they are being loaded into the pan­try or a place to temporarily stash items being retrieved from the pantry.

The Na­tion­al Kit­chen and Bath As­so­ci­a­tion has developed guidelines for just about everything in a kit­chen but does not have a rule for the size of a pan­try landing zone.

For refrigerators, it recommends a landing zone 15" wide on the handle side of the refrigerator or across from the refrigerator, but not more than 48" away.

These are also good rules for pan­try landing zones.

For more information on landing zones and the other 30 rules for kit­chen design, see The Thirty-One Kitchen Design Rules, Illustrated.

Lighting, Appliances, and a Charging Station

Very often overlooked, but extremely important is pan­try lighting. The ability to see what's in the pan­try depends to a great extent on how well it is lit. This is especially true for reach-in pan­tries, which tend to be black holes without good lighting.

Lighting a pan­try can be a problem. The usual solution is to install a recessed light in the ceiling in front of the pan­try and call it good. Unfortunately, the usual solution doesn't work. The top few shelves are well-lit, but the illumination decreases toward the floor until the bottom shelves require a spelunking helmet (or flashlight) to find anything.

The ideal lighting illuminates the contents of every shelf evenly – hard to do effectively.

What we do is install an LED light strip down the two front corners of the pan­try cabinet. In this location they are out of sight, and, at 400 to 1,000 lumens per linear foot, the strips illuminate each shelf quite well.

So the shelves don't pinch the light wiring, the front corners of the shelves are clipped.

If more light is wanted, install the strips in the back corners as well — we have rarely found this to be necessary, however.

If appliances are to be used (as opposed to merely stored) in the pan­try, their placement should be decided early on in the planning process. The electrician needs to know where to install outlets.

Coffee bars are becoming increasingly common in walk-in and walk-through pan­tries. A coffee bar needs not only electricity but a source of water, which usually means a small sink with a faucet.

You might also explore the possibility of a charging station for those modern essentials: cell phone, tablet, and laptop computer. Where a walk-through pan­try is also the mudroom, it provides a convenient location for a charging area.

The "Can't Go Wrong" Rules for the Perfect Pantry

So, after considerable discussion, we arrive at some specific rules for pan­try design and organization to supplement the "Iron Rules of Storage", that, if followed, will almost certainly result in the perfect pan­try.

If it's unavoidable, any of these rules can be bent or broken, but the further you stray from the rules, the less serviceable your pan­try is likely to be.

Design Rules

The Design Rules are guidelines for designing and building a pan­try that permit the efficient organization of provisions in ways that make them easy to find and retrieve. While it is possible to organize a poorly designed pan­try, it is much, much easier if the pan­try is built for efficiency in the first instance.

Recommended: A pan­try should be large enough, at a minimum, to hold a week's worth of provisions.

Recommended: Locate the pan­try within 48" of the food preparation areas of the kit­chen.

Recommended: Locate the refrigerator (cold storage) and pan­tries (dry storage) together.

Comment: Designers are often tempted to place large pan­tries and refrigerators at opposite ends of a kit­chen for aesthetic balance. This sort of placement requires the cook to walk to opposite ends of the kit­chen to gather supplies for a meal and should be avoided.

Recommended: Locate the refrigerator and pan­tries at the edge of the kit­chen so that snack and beverage seekers can get what they need without crossing into the working parts of the kit­chen.


Recommended: The maximum depth of a stationary storage shelf is 16" (14" is better).

Recommended: The vertical space between shelves should be

Cans are typically less than 6 inches tall. Even bulk sizes and large juice cans are under 8 inches. Five to six inches between shelves is ample for most cans, and 8" for juice cans.
U.S. can sizes are identified by name and number. Here are the typical sizes:
Can Number/NameDiameter x Height (Inches)Approx. Capacity
#6Z 2-2/16 3-1/2 6.08 oz. (2/3 cup)
#8Z Short 2-11/16 3 7.93 oz. (1 cup)
#8Z Tall 2-11/16 3-1/4 8.68 oz. (1 cup)
#1 Picnic 2-11/16 4 11 oz. (1-1/3 cups)
#211 6-3/16 7 12 oz. (1-1/2 cups)
#211 Cylinder2-11/164-7/8 13.56 oz. (1-3/4 cups)
#1.25 4-1/16 2-3/8 13.81 oz. (1-3/4 cups)
#2 Vacuum 3-7/16 3-3/8 14.71 oz. (1-7/8 cups)
#300 3 4-7/16 15 oz. (1-3/4 cups )
#1 Tall 3-1/16 4-11/16 16 oz. (2 cups)
#303 3-3/16 4-3/8 16.88 oz. (2-1/8 cups)
#300 Cylinder3 5-9/16 19.4 oz. (2 3/8 cups )
#2 3-7/16 4-9/16 20.55 oz. (2-1/2 cups)
#303 Cylinder3-3/16 5-9/16 22 oz. (2-3/4 cups)
Jumbo 3-7/16 5-5/8 25.8 oz. (3-1/4 cups)
#3 Vacuum 4-1/4 3-7/16 23.9 oz. (3 cups)
#2 Cylinder4-1/16 4-11/16 26.4 oz. (3-1/3 cups)
#2.5 4-1/16 4-11/16 29.8 oz. (3-3/4 cups)
Bulk Sizes
#3 Cylinder4-1/4 7 51.70 oz. (6-1/2 cups)
#5 5-1/8 5-5/8 56 oz. (7-1/3 cups)
#10 6-3/16 7 110 oz. (13 3/4 cups)
Jars & Bottles
Unfortunately, we cannot classify bottles and jars with the same precision as cans. Jars and bottles come in too many sizes and shapes. All we can do is generalize.
Canning Jars are a neat way to store all kinds of dry provisions. The most common Mason jars are the half-pint or cup (2.8" x 3.8"), pint (3.2" x 5.3"), quart (4" x 6.9"), and half-gallon (4.4" x 9.4"). Jelly jars are (3" x 3.4").
A neatly aligned row of quart jars requires a shelf height of not more than 7.5 to 8". For pints, 6.5" is plenty and some jelly jars need just 4.5 inches.
Grocery Jars come in a great many sizes and shapes. We suggest that you set all of the jars and bottles you normally use in your kit­chen on a countertop and start measuring.
However, most jars are under 10" tall. Some of those fancy olive oil jars are taller – some even over 12" – but these are the exception. Large juice bottles may also approach 12". Generally, however, 9" to 12" between shelves for commercial jars and bottles is safe.
Wine Bottles should be stored on their sides in special racsk that tilt the bottle slightly so the corks do not dry out. Storing wine bottles standing up risks air infiltration and eventual spoilage. Of course, if you are a connoisseur of wine in the gallon jug with a screw cap, then never mind. Store them any way you like.
The largest boxes you are likely to have in your pan­try are those jumbo cereal boxes that can be as tall as 14".
Most boxes, however, are under 12" which is a good starting point for spacing between shelves for boxes.
Leave one taller shelf, if you need to, for the jumbo boxes, or store large boxes on their sides. Most have labels on the top of the box, so even on its side, its contents can be identified.
Bulk Items
If you buy items in bulk like bags of potatoes and cartons of juices and sparkling water, you will need a large space to store them.
The temptation is to make the top shelf the "catch all" shelf, but we recommend using the bottom shelf. Lifting bulky and often heavy items over your head is not a good idea.
Don't, however, give into the temptation to store them on the floor. That's where the creepy-crawlies hang out, and you don't want them in your food. And they get in the way.

Recommended: Shelving should be adjustable in maximum increments of of 2 inches. Smaller is better.

Comment: Most commercially available drilling guides space shelves 32mm or 1.25" apart. This spacing meets this guideline.

Recommended: Shelves above eye level should be stepped back in increments of 2-3" so contents can be viewed easily without a step stool or ladder.

Comment: If possible, shelves above eye level should be coated wire or open grid wood to make it easier to view items on the shelf from below.


A. Walk-In Pantry: The minimum walk aisle width in a walk-in pan­try is 36", 44" is better.

B. Walk-Through Pantry: The minimum walk aisle width in a walk-through pan­try is 44", 48" is better.

C. Universal Design: The minimum walk aisle width for wheelchair access is 60", 64" is better.

For more in-depth information on walkways and work-aisles, please see The Thirty-One Kitchen Design Rules.

Recommended: A pan­try should include or be adjacent to a countertop-height landing area at least 15" wide to facilitate unloading groceries.

Recommended: Install adequate lighting so every shelf of a pan­try is clearly illuminated with glare-free shadowless light.
Recommended: Install outlets for electronic equipment and appliances.


With the proliferation of small appliances in modern kitchens, it has become increasingly necessary to find convenient places to store little-used appliances to minimize countertop clutter.

In just the last thirty years the list of kit­chen small appliances has quadrupled to include:

Air Fryer
Bread Machine
Can Opener
Coffee Maker
Convection Oven
Crock Pot
Deep Fryer
Electric Kettle
Espresso Machine
Food Processor
Hand Mixer
Ice Cream Maker
Immersion Blender
Knife Sharpener
Pressure Cooker
Rice Cooker
Stand Mixer
Toaster Oven
Sous Vide Cooker
Vacuum Sealer
Waffle Maker

Almost certainly there are others. This list does not include, for example, specialty appliances required for ethnic cuisine like panini grills, tortilla makers, and wok ranges or the many variations of the George Foreman grill.

Increasingly, homeowners are choosing to not only store appliances in the pan­try but also use them in place without moving them to a countertop.

Coffee bars and microwaves have long been a feature of walk-in and walk-through pantries. What's different today is that many reach-in pantries also include appliance stations. And not just traditional appliances – computers have become a must-have kit­chen "appliance."

In addition to food pantries, some of the kitchens we have designed in recent years include a dedicated appliance pan­try.

Using appliances where they are stored makes sense. It increases kit­chen efficiency and saves the lower back. Many appliances are bulky and difficult to carry. Some are heavy. The KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer, for example, weighs in at a whopping 26 pounds. Using it should count toward your weight training at the gym.

Organizing Rules

Organizing rules are intended to help you store items in your pan­try so that all of the pan­try space is used effectively, yet individual items can be found and retrieved easily and quickly.

The critical concepts are Bundling, Stacking, and Stringing.

• Bunding simply means grouping like items on a shelf so that similar items are always stored together.
• Stacking is the process of arranging like items of different sizes in a column that may span several shelves or even the full height of the pan­try.
• Stringing is a technique for placing one item behind another while still ensuring that the items at the back of a string can be easily identified and located.

Together, they make up the core concepts for organizing a pan­try so that the full height, width, and depth of the pan­try are effectively used.

Group like items on a Shelf together.
Arrange like items of different sizes in a vertical stack across as many shelves as are needed.
If it is necessary to store some items behind other items, ensure they are like items.
Keep the pan­try floor free of clutter.
Keep the most frequently used items at eye level.
Keep provisions in their original containers.


You may have heard the term "decanting" used for wines and spirits. It means taking the contents out of its original packaging and storing it in a different container.

For foodstuffs, we don't recommend the practice. Containers are expensive, decanting is time-consuming, tedious, and serves no useful purpose. The store packaging, in most instances, is just fine.

Food packaging is a science, and food producers spend a lot of money perfecting their packages.

Most foodstuffs are already packaged in containers specifically designed to protect their contents from the hazards of the environment and keep the food fresh for months if not years.

Prettier and Space Saving

Yet we constantly encounter recommendations from sources that ought to know better to decant. The two reasons most often given are

1.  The pantry is prettier and looks more organized if all of the containers match and

2.  It reduces wasted space.

Sell-By, Best-By, and Use-By Dates

Most products these days have sell by, best by, or use by dates printed somewhere on thd container. Exactly what these mean is often not well understood.

Product dating is not required by law. But, if applied to a food product, it must, by law, be "be truthful and not misleading."

The U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture emphasises that product dates are not an indication of food safety.

Sell By

A Sell-By date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Its purpose is inventory management.

Best By

A Best By or Best if Used By/Before date is the producer's estimate of how long a product will be its best flavor or quality. It may safely be consumed after that date.

Use By

A Use-By date is the last date recommended by the food's producer for consumption of the product while at peak quality. It may be consumed after the "Use By" date, but it probably should be consumed fairly quickly.

Pretty is not a goal of pan­try organization. Orderly, sure but pretty, no. No pantry should ever be organized, as one home beauty magazine suggested recently, by color.

A pantry is not supposed to be pretty. It is a utility space. It needs to be functional, convenient, practical, and store provisions safely. Being pretty is far, far down the list as is looking organized without actually being organized.

Decanting does not reduce wasted space. It merely moves wasted space from outside the containers to inside the containers.

Factory containers are normally just big enough to hold their contents. Decanters are often much too big for their contents, thus wasting lots and lots of space inside the containers.

If the product is already in a can, a plastic-lined box, or a glass bottle, leave well-enough alone.

Pantry Weevils

One reason to repackage grains in aie-tight containers is to control the spread of Wevils.

Weevils are insects that feed on dried grains including rye, barley, rice, corn, and unprocessed (raw) wheat and oats.

They are very small, usually appearing as dark spots in the grain.

Once in your pan­try, they may migrate into whole-grain breakfast cereals, nuts, dry beans, cookies, dry dog and cat food, and birdseed.

The weevils probably got into your pan­try piggy-backing on grain as eggs or larvae.

Weevils lay eggs in holes bored in the grain kernels. The larvae develop inside the kernel before emerging as fully formed adults in about four weeks, making a potential infestation almost impossible to detect until adults start to appear.

The best way to combat weevils is to kill the eggs and larvae.

Freezing the grain for at least three days right from the store usually takes care of the poblem, as does microwaving the grain in small batches for 2-3 minutes on high. As a bonus, any Pantry moth (Indian-meal moth) eggs will also be killed.

Repackage the treated grain in air-tight containers. If the treatment fails, the resulting infestation will be limited to the one container and cannot spread to other pproducts in the pan­try.

Discard the infested grain and run the container (and its lid) through the dishwasher to kill any remaing insects.

Unless the container says differently, these foods can be safely stored for months and even years. (Anyone who served in the Marines or Army before 1980 has less than fond memories of C-Rations, often packed in cans and foil bags 20-25 years before they were consumed. Yet, they were still safe to eat and tasty – or as tasty as military rations get.)

Avoid Plastic Containers

If you are going to decant, however, avoid plastic containers.

Most plastic containers should never be in contact with food. They are very likely to contain bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, both known to migrate into foodstuffs, and both well-known to be harmful to health, especially the health of children.

BPA and phthalates have been banned by the FDA in food packaging. However, these chemicals are still not banned in after-market plastic containers intended for food storage.

At the very least use plastic containers that are listed as "food safe", "food grade" or "BPA- and phthalate-free."

By "listed" we don't mean merely advertised as free of BPA and phthalate, but actually tested by an independent laboratory such as the Con­su­mer Pro­duct Test­ing Com­pa­ny or In­ter­tek and certified by the laboratory as free of harmful chemicals.

Safe Containers

Glass containers are the better choice.

Glass is chemically inert and poses no health hazards. (How­ev­er, run new glass containers through the dishwasher at least once, twice is better, to remove any chemical residue left over from manufacturing.)

Also safe are stainless steel, porcelain, and ceramic containers. These materials, however, are not see-through and must be labeled to identify their contents.

Food that Should be Decanted

There are exceptions to the no-decanting rule. Some foods should be decanted.

  • Anything packaged in a paper or cloth bag.
  • Sugar, flour, rice, and dried beans come to mind immediately. Paper and cloth provide no protection from the environment or from roaming rodents. These products need to be repackaged in air-tight (and mouse-proof) containers.
  • Pasta priducts
  • If left in the flimsy boxes in which it is usually packaged, pasta will absorb water over time and become stale. And, again, the cardboard boxes are not rodent-proof or safe from some pan­try moth larvae that can chew through paper and cardboard go get at the goodies inside.
  • If you are not going to decant pasta into individual storage containers, at least pack the boxes themselves in an air-tight, mouse- and larvae-resistant bin. Since the bin does actually not touch the pasta, it can be plastic.
  • Dry cereal
  • Most of the time dry cereal is consumed fairly quickly but, if you are a once- or twice-a-month cereal-eater, it should be decanted into an air-tight container to keeps it fresh.
  • Cookies, Crackers, Chips, Pre-popped Popcorn
  • Most of these snack products are fine in their original wrapper. But once opened, any survivers should be moved to an air-tight container to preserve freshness.
Record items removed from the pan­try.

Amy, Christy, and Terry at Eleven Magnolia Lane suggest installing a blackboard in or near the pan­try to jot down the provisions you remove as you remove them so you won't forget.

Before you leave for the market, snap a photo with your cell phone. Instant, super easy, grocery list.

Or, more simply, Install a clipboard or one of Samantha Hartman's hand-crafted rustic memo boards in the pan­try to list the items removed.

On market day, take the list with you.

Reorganize a Pantry Every 30-60 Days

And that about wraps it up. If you design and organize your pan­try according to these guidelines, it will work well for you.

The next step is integrating your pan­try into the rest of your new kit­chen, and that's a whole other issue. But if we can help, contact us to see what can be done. Even if your are not fortunate enough to live in Nebraska, we can help with the design of the pan­try or even the whole kit­chen.

Getting More Kitchen Space

Now, for a new issue.

Many existing kit­chens are just too small for everything you want to have in the kit­chen: including a decent-sized pan­try. Of course, you can add space by building an addition. Although appropriate in some cases, additions can be costly and not always feasible.

For that reason, it pays to consider the less expensive alternatives. What you don't spend on structure, you can invest in better cabinets, lights, counters, fixtures, flooring, and appliances… (Continues)

Marks, Katie. Cold Pantries for Green kit­chens. Homeworx. 23 Dec 2013. Networx Systems, LLC.

Provey, Joseph R., 1001 Ideas for Kitchen Organization, Second Edition, Amazon Books.

Donaldson, Mary, Containing Food Safely With the Right Containers (3 parts), November 18, 2022.

Kitchen design guidelines: The Thirty-One Kitchen Design Rules.

Kitchen lighting guidelines: Effective and Efficient Kitchen Lighting.

Rev. 10/16/23