The well-appointed pantry

 The kitchen’s larder is living large.

Today’s kitchen pantry not only stores food but has evolved into a work area that also holds lesser-used dishes, cookbooks and small appliances, says Stephen Melman, spokesperson for the National Association of Home Builders.According to the NAHB’s  “Home of the Future Study,” 94 percent of industry experts surveyed said the pantry is a critical part of a kitchen’s design.

“It’s ironic, but in some ways, today’s pantry is a throwback to the butler’s pantry found in well-appointed homes 100 years ago,” he says. “Today’s walk-in pantry can have everything, including a kitchen sink.”

A butler’s pantry is usually located in a short hallway between the kitchen and dining room. This space can be designed to not only store lesser-used china and glassware, but also can be used as an additional work space when entertaining, says Sally Geller, senior buyer with Williams-Sonoma in San Francisco.

Whether your pantry is as large as a butler’s 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 light, low humidity and a relatively cool temperature.

While the butler’s variety can be the most mouth-watering of all pantry options, the space needs to be organized. When it comes to arranging a pantry, Geller believes in the French “mis en place” philosophy (meaning “put in place”).

“Store like things together and have them ready to be used,” she says. “Modular storage racks make walk-in pantries customizable, allowing shelves to be designed to house everything from dry goods to wine or kitchen equipment.”

Modular units allow homeowners to take stock and spruce up a new or existing pantry.It’s easy to get cooking with an organized kitchen pantry. Whether a home’s pantry is spacious or fits in a cupboard, food stores should be easily seen and accessed. Roll-outs 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.

“Washable storage baskets made from food-safe polypropylene make it easy to store foods such as potatoes, apples and onions right on the shelves,” Geller says. “Wine racks with wooden tops can store wine and pull double duty as an extra work space to prep meals.”

A pantry should be personalized to suit your family’s food needs. Common sense dictates putting items you use most in easily accessible places. Also, make your pantry kid-friendly, so little hands can help put canned items away after a trip to the grocery store.

Flours, sugars and other dry goods, like beans and rice, are easier to use when contents are poured into clear, airtight containers, says Geller. This will not only help keep items fresh, but will discourage your pantry from becoming infested with pests. Airtight canisters with gasket lids are ideal for flour and sugar, while sealed quart-sized canning jars can be used to store beans and rice.

Non-refrigerated liquids, such as vinegars and oils, should be kept in original bottles and are usually good for six months after opening. Place items such as these on a tray in your pantry to keep potential drips off shelves. Snack items can be placed into a basket, so when the munchies hit, hungry hands can grab the container and go.

You don’t need to be a world-class chef to enjoy a top-drawer pantry. “As the kitchen becomes more of a social area, you want to keep countertops clear of clutter,” Geller says. “Pantries are getting larger as they house more items … and that makes this area work before guests arrive.”

Part of a working pantry can include a sink, countertops, small appliances, refrigerator drawer and plenty of storage space. If you are using your pantry for entertaining, have all your platters, utensils, linens and glassware ready for service before guests arrive.

Geller says people want to cook more, but have less time than ever to shop and prepare meals. A well-stocked pantry solves that. “The pantry is a useful tool that saves time by having all the ingredients you may need to make a quick weeknight meal or a few jars of your favorite antipasti ready to go for an impromptu get-together.”

To keep the space organized, clearly label each shelf and drawer. Also, post a running inventory near the door, so you see when certain food items are running low in the pantry.

“Today’s pantry is to the kitchen what the mudroom is to the living room,” Melman says. “This space helps keep the mess out of the living area.”