Home Touch by Mary G. Pepitone

The Non-Paltry Pantry

When it comes to cooking at home, the kitchen's larder is large and in charge. Today's kitchen pantry not only stores food, it has also evolved into a work area that houses everything from large pots to small appliances. Now more than ever, people are relying on a well-appointed and stocked pantry to survive home isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, says Rebecca West, Seriously Happy Homes founder and CEO, based in Seattle. West is also one of the nearly 13,000 certified members of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

"Right now, people are hyper-aware of their own kitchen pantry and what's in it," she said. "These times of uncertainty see people going back to basics, and cooking is a way to connect and sustain those nearest to us."

A well-stocked pantry should be both appetizing and visually appealing by storing like items together, making foodstuffs easy to find. Modular storage racks make walk-in pantries customizable, allowing shelves to house everything from dried goods to wine.

In February, California Closets launched The Everyday System, a line of customizable organizational shelving units, in an exclusive license with Martha Stewart, lifestyle expert, teacher and founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. With a modern metal and wood design, this organizational system features minimal installation and seamless adjustability to fit most pantry spaces.

"It is vital to have an organized pantry in your kitchen, otherwise cooking and baking really are not all that fun," Stewart said. "We created The Everyday System to make organizing your pantry a breeze, with multiple different storage solutions such as shelves and wire baskets that have been fully incorporated within the unit."

Today's walk-in pantry can really get cooking by housing nearly everything, including a kitchen sink. Modular organizational units allow homeowners to take stock and spruce up a new or existing pantry. As more kitchen real estate is dedicated to the pantry, this space has evolved into a multifunctional storage place in the home.

The first step to organizing a pantry is prioritizing the needs of the space, says Erin Hardy, California Closets' national manager of design, based in Boston. "What you can store in a pantry is vast -- ranging from basic overflow kitchen items to food and wine, pet food, cleaning supplies and even extra countertop prep areas to extend a kitchen," she said. "Understanding the priorities will set the tone for the final design and organization."

Whether your space is as large as a butler's pantry or as small as a bookcase, the area in which you store your extra food items should have good ventilation and air circulation. Ideal pantry conditions include low humidity and a relatively cool temperature, not unlike other storage areas in the home.

"Today's pantry is to the kitchen what the master closet is to the bedroom," West said. "Organizing these storage spaces helps keep the mess out of the living areas and makes you more efficient."

While the walk-in variety may be the most mouth-watering of all pantry options, the space needs to be organized. Before catering to the impulse to build a large pantry that incorporates the mudroom and laundry room spaces, you must first have a plan; otherwise, there is the potential for the space to become a catchall.

"The pantry should be one of the most purposefully designed spaces. There needs to be a place for everything, so everything is put back in its place," West said. "Purge anything in your pantry that is an obstacle to you cooking or living your best life, which includes expired foodstuffs or small appliances you don't use."

Rollouts are especially good to use in cabinets, while trays and containers can organize items on shelves. When replenishing the pantry, place newly purchased food behind similar items to rotate the stock, so nothing will be used past its prime. Common sense dictates putting items used most frequently in easily accessible places at eye level. Also, make your pantry kid-friendly, so little hands can grab snacks for themselves.

Flours, sugars and other dried goods, such as beans and rice, are easier to use when contents are poured into clear, airtight containers, says West. This will not only help items stay fresh longer, but will also keep your pantry from becoming infested with pests. Keep potential drips off shelves by placing nonrefrigerated liquids -- such as vinegars and oils -- on trays in your pantry.

You don't need to be a world-class chef to enjoy a top-drawer pantry with a sink, countertops, small appliances, refrigerator drawer(s) and plenty of storage space. "As the kitchen becomes more of a social area, you want to keep countertops clear of clutter," West said. "The pantry is the utilitarian space that is going to help get the cooking done, but it's also a sacred space that houses the ingredients you use to feed your family."

Pantry Picks

To find a certified kitchen professional, go to the National Kitchen and Bath Association's website: www.nkba.org and click the "Find a Professional" box at the bottom of the page.

Martha Stewart's The Everyday System: CaliforniaClosets.com/martha-stewart/ and through California Closets design consultants. Pricing begins at $999.

Seattle Designer Rebecca West: HappyStartsAtHome.com