Growing up, I had a few very particular habits and hobbies, most of which entailed spending a lot of time by myself. While my siblings were out playing sports, or watching sports, or everyone was upstairs watching ESPN, or whatever else it was that my heterosexual family did, I could typically be found sitting in a room in our basement, watching hours and hours of HGTV and working on a collection of truly hideous but impressively elaborate scrapbooks. Sometimes I’d move on and build a scaled model of some house I’d dreamt up, or sketch the elevations of a renovation plan I had for one of the few remaining cute 50s ramblers that still dotted my mostly new-construction street (torn down now, sadly, because my plan was pretty slick). Every now and then, my idea of a good time was to make myself insane by organizing the garage or the basement or the laundry room or my mother’s office—really, I don’t think any space in our house escaped my clutches. Our label-maker was one of my closest confidants, and The Container Store was far and away my favorite retail conglomerate on earth. It was a sick, perverse kind of pleasure: the messier a space was, the more exciting the process of organizing it became. The act of impressing order onto the chaos made me feel so…alive. As you can tell, I’ve really made great strides toward personal change in the intervening years.
There was one space, though, that was consistently the biggest thorn in my side and light of my life, year after year. The pantry. The room was maybe somewhere around 5×8, lined with deep shelves and consistently—and, to me at least, alarmingly—unkempt. It wasn’t that it was dirty or even all that cluttered to the naked eye, but once you started really poking around, it didn’t take long to pick up on some major organizational issues. Expired boxes of cereal and cans of beans lurked behind fresh ones, and there were too few containers to wrangle the smaller or more irregular shaped items, which tended to get stuffed wherever they’d fit. Unopened boxes of last year’s Passover matzah, duplicate and triplicate jars of spices, some of them old enough that the labels had been redesigned, snacks that my siblings and I had courted for brief periods (Go-Gurt) before moving on for greener pastures (Danimals Drinkable Yogurt)—it was paradise. I’d typically spread the fun out over a few days, at which point I’d stage a big reveal and make all the members of my family admire it while explaining slowly and clearly where everything now belonged.
Like I said. Totally different person now.
I guess my point here is that I feel like my life experience has really prepared me to make a pantry of my own. I’ve seen time and again how pantries start out with the best intentions and descend into total chaos, and hopefully learned enough to avoid letting that happen to me.
Anyway, taking a little trip back in time…here’s about where we started. The pantry space takes up the footprint of an old stairwell (removed circa 1930), and prior to my work on it was divided into two closets. Busting out the wall that divided the closets and removing the (non-original) closet and doorway from the dining room was definitely the right choice, but also left behind a really strange space to work with. The pantry is 8 feet deep and only about 32″ wide, meaning that actual storage options are kind of limited since I’m basically building a pantry in a narrow hallway. It also needed mostly new walls, a refinished floor, electrical (lighting and outlets), paint, and of course shelving and stuff! Sometimes the smallest spaces are just as complicated as the big ones.
And here we go! It’s a pantry! Finally! YAY.
I know it’s really annoying when bloggers point this shit out, but some of the photos in this post were taken a few weeks ago and some were taken today (including the one above), and I’m way too lazy to style a pantry. Which is why I didn’t unwrap the plastic from my paper towel rolls. I promise Bounty isn’t paying me. They really are the quicker picker-upper, though, you know? My late-in-life discovery of washable microfiber cloths has drastically cut down on my paper towel usage, by the way, but I’m not ready to cut them out of my life entirely at this juncture.
Semi-related: since when/why is every roll individually wrapped inside the bulk-wrapped pack of 12 rolls or whatever? It’s like they’re determined to make up for being bad for the environment by being worse for the environment. Human beings are screwed.
The point is, due to what I’m now referring to as my “blogging hiatus” over the past couple of weeks (oooooops), I’ve now had a nice amount of time to actually use this space and can happily report that it WORKS. At least for me. I really don’t put any hard work or effort into keeping it clean and orderly because I think it’s pretty effectively designed to stay clean and orderly! I kind of dragged my feet about working on this space for a long time but it really has made an enormous difference to the kitchen and the way I cook and grocery shop and all of that. I’m all about my pantry.
The dimensions of the space were a major challenge, but turned out to be a great opportunity. I think probably the most common issue with pantries is that the shelves are just too deep, so things get lost and you can’t see what you actually have. Then you end up re-buying things you already have, or letting things expire, or you’re always digging for stuff…I’m totally convinced that shallow shelves are vastly superior, and luckily that’s about all this room can accommodate anyway.
Having said that, some deeper storage is definitely important as well! Most pantry items (at least the ones that I buy?) seem to be 6″ in depth or smaller, but sometimes you need a few boxes of cereal or crackers or bags of chips or whatever and so having some good deep shelves is important, too. In this space, the deeper shelving could really only go at the back…so I guess we’ll start there?
Part of the fun of this space was trying to spend as little money as possible while still making it cute and functional, which involved a lot of raiding of my scrap wood piles! I made all of the shelving out of the fir 2 x 12 framing lumber that I used for the old kitchen countertops (stained and poly’d this time around), and lots of scraps of 1-by lumber for the cleats that the deeper shelves are supported by. I decided to use wood cleats instead of large brackets just to save some money (brackets add up, even when they’re cheap!), but I’m really happy with how they turned out!
Hanging cleats for shelving is one of those things that seems sort of complicated but really isn’t. I always just figure out my shelf spacing and mark where the TOP of the cleat should sit (1 x 2 lumber works great). Then I use my mark and a level to draw pencil lines around where the cleat will go. After cutting my 1 x 2 pieces to size, I line them up with my markings and face-nail them into place with 2″ finishing nails, and then I go back in and drive some longer screws (2.5 or 3″ drywalls screws work nicely) into studs. Easy!
If I’m doing multiple shelves, I like to pre-mark all the cleat locations and then pre-cut all my pieces of wood so I can put it all up faster. Getting all these little pieces up took maybe an hour or so from start to finish.
The longest part of the process is the patching/caulking/painting, which I think just makes everything feel more finished and is worthwhile, even though it’s no fun and can feel a little overly-anal while you’re doing it. I’m used to that feeling, though. I like to just paint the cleats with whatever wall paint I’m using so they blend in. Exciting stuff.
This room is super wonky so you’re just going to have to trust me that this is all level, even though it looks nuts.
Lest you think I’m better at all of this than I am, this is my kitchen during the process! As much as I don’t love everything about this kitchen, I love that I can use and abuse it a little and it bounces back just fine. Eventually I’d like to set up a nice little shop space in the basement or garage, but for now I tend to just destroy whatever space is closest to where I’m working and deal with it later.
The deeper shelving is really comprised of two pieces of 2-by lumber, which saved me from making any complicated cuts around that plumbing chase in the corner. One piece comes out to the depth of the front of the chase (about 5.5″) and the next piece extends out 10.5″ for an overall depth of 16″. The only real thought that went into the spacing and depth was that I wanted to be able to fit the microwave back there. I don’t like having that thing taking up counter space in the kitchen, but I don’t know what I’d do without a microwave! I’m always impressed by/fearful of people who don’t have them. This one was generously donated by my pal, Anna, who consequently doesn’t have one anymore so I assume she’s starving to death whenever I’m nuking leftover Chinese food.
Before I installed the front piece of those shelves in the back, I marked and installed my shallow shelving brackets using the level of the cleats as my guide. I wanted the shelves to appear kind of continuous to cut down on any visual/physical clutter. These brackets came from Lowe’s for about $5 a pop. Using 2-by lumber meant that I could space them wider than I typically would (therefore using fewer of them), so I only needed 10 to get the job done. These brackets are nice because they can be hung two ways, so you have the option of a 6.5″-ish deep shelf or 12″-ish deep shelf depending on how you hang them.
By the way, I saved staining/poly-ing the fronts and tops of the shelving until after everything was installed, which was just easier than trying to get the stain to look good while everything was laying on sawhorses in the basement. That’s why the front of the shelves look all crappy in these pictures. I just ran my mouse sander over the fronts, did a quick staining job, and three coats of water-based poly on everything. Now the shelves look uniform and are super clean-able when they eventually start to gather dust, which happens quickly around these parts because I live in a construction zone. Not sure if you heard.
It’s hard to tell from the picture, but I installed some mending strips I had lying around on the underside where the deep shelves transition to the shallow ones. This just helped bring everything to the same level. I hit the strips with a couple coats of black spray paint before putting them up just to keep them inconspicuous and matching the black brackets.
That was really about it! Once the shelves were dry, it was time to install the outlets, touch up whatever paint on the walls I’d screwed up, and start loading in food!
Yes, by the way, I hate myself for the extreme decanting situation up in here, but I also LOVE IT. I love decanting things. I have no idea why. I think it’s a fetish. In any case, it makes me feel like I’m doing something important and worthwhile even though all I’m doing is moving things from one container into a different container. These jars are the KORKEN jars from IKEA, which are great! I like the classic shape and the rubber seal makes them effectively airtight. I’ve basically been buying a few of them every time I’ve been to IKEA in the past two years in preparation for this moment, so they never felt like a big expense even though I guess I’ve probably sunk a lot of money into having so many stupid glass jars at this point. Sometimes you just need to trick yourself that way.
There was some pretty extreme disagreement between Max and I on how the jars should be labeled. I figured a regular waterproof label would suffice, but he thought it was likely that the jars wouldn’t always be holding the same thing and wanted something more easily removable. Hence, these weird white chalk markers that go on sort of wet, become sort of dry, and look so super twee when combined with cute handwriting! I feel like such a Pinterest garbage blogger person. I’m totally incapable of writing with the pens on these jars in a way that looks at all nice or legible (I think it’s the curved surface combined with being a lefty?), so I’ll forever be reliant on Max for labeling the dry goods.
It’s so dumb and I love it so much. SUE ME.
The shallow shelves are great, though, because I can really see everything when I go to make a shopping list or, more commonly, wait until I’m starving to death and crawl into the pantry in search of some semblance of ingredients that could be potentially combined to create a meal. Back when I had all of this stuff in the deeper kitchen cabinets, this tended to involve, like, a can of anchovies, a jar of salsa, and mayonnaise, but now I can easily locate and cook some lentils to add to my desperation-recipes! So my life and nutrition has really improved by leaps and bounds.
So far, the deeper shelves at the back are possibly being under-utilized. If I go on some kind of cereal diet (I hear it’s going to be the new juice cleanse in 2016), I can always relocate the cookbooks and gain a couple more shelves? I don’t know. As long as the microwave fits. Eyes on the prize. The vintage bowls hold onions and garlic and potatoes and stuff.
One of my very favorite things in the pantry is the inside of the door! I’m obsessed with these things. I got them at The Container Store. It’s all Elfa brand (which is on sale right now!) and the baskets hang off of one central track, which is screwed into the door (you can also hang it from the top of the door with an additional piece of hardware, but I don’t know why you’d do that, really…this looks much cleaner to me). They come in a few difference widths and depths, so I put the deeper ones on the bottom for a couple frequently-used cleaning supplies, various cooking oils and stuff, and then the top ones are all for spices! For some reason it’s REALLY hard to find a decent wall-mounted spice solution and this has been working out super well. I hate having spices in a cabinet because I always end up with like 3 bottles of thyme and no crushed red pepper. Crushed red pepper comprises like 40% of my diet, so you understand the issue.
Obviously my plan is to start buying all the same brand of spices (the ones from our local grocery store chain, Adams, seem to fit particularly well) to achieve maximum consistency and creepiness. I want people to fear me when they walk into my pantry, and this just isn’t cutting it…yet. Give me a year or two and it’ll look about as approachable as a museum.
My other favorite thing? THAT DRAWER. After painting it, I just added a cheap brass sash lift to the front that I had for some reason. I feel like it’s pretty classic looking and doesn’t draw a ton of attention. It turned out a lot better and less bizarre-looking than I was expecting. Success!
The impetus for building this thing was mostly to hide the awkward plumbing chase by building out a falsely-wide front, but the drawer itself has turned out to be SUPER handy and functional. It’s really large and fits the tallest spray bottles I have and various other cleaning supplies that I don’t really want to look at but use frequently. It’s nice to have some enclosed storage in here! I ended up painting the interior of the cabinet, too, to protect the wood from spills and moisture and keep it easily cleanable.
I think that’s about it! Especially considering where this space came from, I’m really really pleased with how this turned out and how it functions. It’s made me more inclined to cook (and more efficient at it, too), not to mention freeing up some space in the kitchen and allowing me to go on a huge reorganization binge in there, too. I just can’t help myself.
Want to look back on the seemingly never-ending pantry project? I don’t because PTSD, but here’s a handy round-up for your procrastination pleasure if you’re so inclined…