How We Organized Our Small Kitchen Pantry
There’s no getting around it: Our pantry is small. Small small. In fact, our house’s previous owners worked to solve this problem by moving the pantry out of the originally intended pantry space entirely. They installed floor-to-ceiling cabinets – outfitted with what should be totally awesome custom pantry storage units – where a counter top and upper cabinets used to be.
This picture shows the new pantry (which is really the old/original pantry) and the current pantry area.
In theory, the custom cabinetry pantry solution would be a dream – and maybe it is for those who are more meticulous than we are. But at 24″ deep, for us, the unit just became a cavern full of half-eaten crackers and lost-in-time boxes of cereal.
Witness my secret shame.
Ugh, so embarrassing.
Meanwhile, the closet/original pantry was outfitted with weirdly shaped shelves that we’d ended up stuffing randomly with small appliances, shopping bags, pantry overflow, and who knows what else. I don’t even have a photo of it, because when I decided to empty it, I hadn’t realized that we were going to be revamping our pantry situation right then and there. But after I pulled everything out, I told my guy there was no way in h-e-double-hockeysticks that I was just stuffing everything back in there. Something had to be done, now.
So we removed all of the old shelves.
And we removed all of the wooden brackets. Then we patched the walls and painted over the marked-up funky old beige with a fresh white.
Kids! So handy to have around.
To decide on the shelf configuration, I first measured the entire space – about 33 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and 7 feet tall. Then I made a list of everything we needed to store in the pantry. Baking items, chips, canned goods, bunny mac … you get the gist. Then measured can heights, mason jar heights, cereal box heights … for real.
And then I got out a piece of paper and started sketching it out, leaving a couple of inches of grabbing room at the top of each shelf’s tallest resident. I also wanted to have baskets for looser items like snacks, chips, and pasta, and I planned for that. We also need to store extra baking pans, grocery bags, and garbage bags/freezer bags in there, too, so I sketched in some roomy baskets on the floor.
After many iterations, the configuration ended up like this:
Top shelf: Lesser-used items and extras like baking sprinkles, cookie cutters, etc.
Canned goods shelf: Canned goods and boxes of convenience food like bunny mac, bread mixes, etc.
Dry goods shelf: Loads of quart-sized mason jars filled with lentils, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruits … you name it. Because we have so many, this shelf is three jars deep and that’s really too much. Ultimately I plan to thin them out a bit (two deep should be perfect) and also stretch the dry goods storage to elsewhere in the kitchen, perhaps a shelf mounted under one of the kitchen cabinets.
Baking shelf: Flours, sugars, oats, cereals.
Basket shelves: Two shelves with three baskets each! With three roomy baskets side-by-side on each shelf, these perform really well. Two (yes two!) of these baskets are filled with pasta from our old pantry – our goal is to get down to one. Then we have a chip basket, crackers basket, snack basket with parent-approved snack options that our daughter can help herself to, and a basket for coffee and tea. I really wanted to get cute wire baskets but ultimately decided on these gray plastic baskets from Storables. They were way less expensive, don’t scratch the shelves, and fit perfectly.
Floor: Baking pans, wire racks, and bread boards in one basket; then a plastic bin for grocery bags; and finally another basket with garbage bags, freezer bags, etc.
A quick note about the labels: I used almost exclusively chalkboard tags and stickers along with chalk pen. I know it’s a little overly trendy but I still love the look AND the practicality – and mostly, I love that I can erase and relabel whenever needed!
Back to the shelves! The top shelves are a little more shallow than the bottom. My plan was 10-inch shelves on the top – enough for three cans deep or two mason jars deep. And then 16-inch on the bottom. As it turned out, we accidentally ended up with 14-inch on the bottom, but that’s fine – it still works perfectly.
My guy painted and then installed 1-inch by 2-inch strips of wood along the back and sides of the pantry walls to hold each shelf, attaching to studs for the most solid support. We then bought melamine boards and had them cut to the correct length (33″ for our pantry) at the lumber store. We were going to buy wood and paint it white, but the guy at the store talked us into the melamine instead. Bonus: no extra painting – the shelving was already white!
Then, we started moving in, and we got our kitchen counter space back. Halllllelujah!
For spices, oils, vinegars, etc., I wanted my guy to build a custom door rack. But when a trip to Storables revealed this wire door rack, my guy was sold (and perhaps a bit relieved). (I’m still gunning for a wooden door rack someday, honey, but this works for now!).
Oh, and I would be remiss to mention the actual pantry door makeover!
After we revamped the inside, we got to work on the door and the trim. Our interior doors are flat-panel oak doors with (mostly) brass knobs. So 20 years ago. And definitely not my fave. We decided to paint all of our interior doors white, add a couple of rectangles of 1/2-inch trim to fancy them up, and replace the knobs with simple aged-bronze sets, and this was one of the first. Even though each door takes some time, we love how much the new doors are classing up the joint for relatively little cost.
Don’t mind the bracelet around the doorknob in the “before” photo. Our kiddo likes to “decorate” around the house and we find random things like this all over the place!
Oh, and the chalkboard! About a year ago, I decided to post a chalkboard to list important appointments and the dinners I’ve planned for the week ahead. Initially, I never got any farther than a length of vinyl chalkboard wall decal. Function-wise, it was glorious! Looks-wise, meh. But yeah, I use that thing every week and I feel lost without it. So I was pretty stoked when I found this farmhouse chalkboard at World Market for the prettied-up pantry door. Perfect!
Ahhh. I love, love, love our new pantry set-up. Yes, it’s small, but it still holds everything we need and then some – and I can actually find it! No more lost groceries. Sure, there’s not much room for extras – no going crazy at Costco. But that’s really not a terrible thing, now is it?!
Products used in our pantry organization project:
White paint: Benjamin Moore Dove White / Large Gray Style Crate (similar) / Large Cascade Gray Cube Case Bin / Small Rectangular Montlake Basket / Chalkboard labels and white chalk marker / Black chalkboard tags / Over-door pantry rack