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How to design the perfect butler’s pantry and make it work for you and your family

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Arguably every kitchen should have a pantry, but if you are lucky enough to have the space, a butler’s pantry is the super pantry of pantries.

A butler’s pantry is a room in and of itself; however, it connects to your kitchen and dining room in a functional way. Also called a scullery, a butler’s pantry can be large or small and have different functions for different homes depending on how you live and your priorities.

When designing a butler’s pantry, it is super important to think about how much space you have to dedicate, maximize that space for organization, and consider all that you need it to accomplish.

Enter senior designer Randy O’Kane from Bilotta Kitchen and Home. She knows what makes a good pantry and she is sharing her tips to help you create a super pantry of your own.

“[A butler’s pantry] should be a beautiful transition to the dining room,” says Kane. “It should have storage per the client’s needs and enough countertop space for ‘prep’ – maybe for a formal meal, coffee service, drinks — whatever the client needs and/or how they entertain. It can be a multi-purpose room in that sense.”

If you want to use it as a bar, you may want to add a sink, a wine cooler, bottle storage, and glassware. If you’re using it as a prep area for entertaining, you will want to have ample counter space, storage for serving pieces, and glassware.

Ideas to Inspire

Just like with any pantry, organization is key. Plan ahead for what you need to store, maximize the space you have, and be smart about storage.

“Make sure you have all the proper drawer inserts, silver storage with Pacific Cloth, glass doors to show off china, proper lighting under and in cabinet, roll-out for liquor/bottle storage, maybe a tray divider for platters. And again, plenty of counter space,” says O’Kane.

She suggests the Pacific Cloth inserts for silver storage in drawers because it makes the drawers “look like jewelry boxes.”

The butler’s pantry is also a space to have a bit more fun with your design or use more elaborate materials.

“I love using materials that are more elaborate and exciting than can be used in a kitchen (where they wouldn’t be practical),” says O’Kane. “Materials that are a little more fragile and precious – maybe a wood or zinc countertop – or onyx depending on what you are using the space for. Maybe beautiful wire mesh or glass doors and hardware that’s like jewelry,” she adds.

The key when designing a butler’s pantry is to plan ahead and have an idea of how you will use it, then have a bit of fun.

Mistakes to Avoid

Just like there are ideas to inspire, there are also mistakes to avoid according to O’Kane.

Not enough light. “The butler’s pantry is typically an internal space, a pass-through — so it could be fairly dark without the proper lighting,” says O’Kane. Think about under cabinet lighting or in cabinet lighting as well as ceiling lighting. You will also want to choose materials that brighten the space, not make it darker.  

Not enough counter space. Many homeowners do not have enough counter space in their butler’s pantry. Maximize your counter and prep space as much as you can so the butler’s pantry functions best for all occasions.

Wrong materials. Wrong selection of material for what they want to use it – for example, onyx would not be a good material for a bar but could be great for another use in the butler’s pantry.

“It really depends upon the home and the amount of light. Since butlers’ pantries are typically interior spaces – passing through from the kitchen to the dining room — I wouldn’t do black or anything too dark, at least not without proper lighting. It could be fun to do a pop of color (like the red!) – but there are generally no limitations,” says O’Kane.

Butler’s pantries can be large or small, as seen in this red beauty. O’Kane says to have fun with colors and materials in this space because it’s usually small and serves as a pass-through.

This white pantry is spacious with plenty of storage and great light. Just what you want in a butler’s pantry, especially if you have the space. Extra wine refrigeration a huge bonus.

O’Kane suggests, space permitting, having a double run, with countertops on two sides like this design. It is classic but serves up plenty of storage and prep space.

“In this pantry, the left has retractable doors and behind them is a desk – so it makes it a multi-purpose room – office during the day, sexy bar at night!” says O’Kane. “Also, the wall cabinets have Bendheim glass inserts with shimmering fabric sandwiched in between the 2 pieces of glass.” Now that’s something special.

Jenn Andrlik is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in home design and architecture, and parenting. She is formerly the senior editor of Martha Stewart Living and executive editor of both Westchester Home and Westchester/Hudson Valley Weddings. She has worked for other titles, including House Beautiful and Parents. She has two children and lives with them, her husband, and beagle, Lucky, in East Norwalk, CT.


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