Monday, November 3, 2014

How to redesign a kitchen pantry

We're rehabilitating our new home. Here's how we redesigned our kitchen pantry.
Before: dirty and unusable, lots of wasted space.

Problem 1. The shelves were few (3) and too deep (24 and 36 inch)

In a situation like a pantry, instead of a small number of deep shelves, you want many shallow shelves to reduce situations where one object hides behind another.
The deep shelves also cause dark shadows at the back of the pantry, making it even less usable.
To fix this situation, we'll increase the number of shelves from 3 to 5 and reduce the depth from 24 and 36 inches to 12 inches.
To ensure that we use our available storage space efficiently, we're creating L-shaped shelves which increases the linear shelf space by more than 50%.

Problem 2. The interior was coated with flat paint. 

Anyplace where you want clean or disinfected, you need to use a semgloss or high gloss paint.  Unlike flat paint, glossy surface coatings are water resistant, cleanable and resist sticky substances (like food spills).  Additionally, flat paint soaks up light, making the pantry seem dark and dingy, not attributes I want where we store our food.
To maximize visibility and cleanliness, we used a low-voc white semigloss paint.

Problem 3. Shelves were held up with 2x4s.

Using a 2x4 in your food pantry to hold a shelf is not only overkill, it looks clunky, wastes space, and when working on a closet for a few hours, I'd rather not deal with material that bulky or heavy. We decided to go with pre-primed 1x2 for the long shelves along the rear of the closet and twin-track standards for the short shelves along the right side.

Design goals:


  • Maximize storage space without making things hard to see or reach
  • Solid shelves instead of wire shelves - wire shelves are bad for small objects and useless during spills
  • Sometimes food gets messy: make everything easy to clean
  • As always, re-use as much material as possible

Let's get started!


To begin, we ripped out the shelves and 2x4s holding them up:

Then we cleaned and patched everything, painted the interior with semigloss white, and installed 12" deep shelves along the rear (using pre-primed 1x2, painted to match the rest of the pantry).


Then we installed a set of 12" deep shelves along the right side using twin track shelf supports to create L-shaped shelves, maximizing our storage space.
The actual vertical tracks were found unused and neglected in our garage - we painted them with a spray enamel and re-purposed them for our pantry.
On the right are four Melamine planks and one OSB plank.
At this point, we discovered a few really useful products:

  • Melamine planks: particleboard that is finished with a white plastic veneer (hard wearing and easy to clean). It's a little pricey, but saves hours of painting and finishing. This material is what many IKEA furniture pieces are made from.
  • White iron-on veneer edging: this lets you give your cut edges a very nice finished look. It works like magic.
  • Contact paper: you can see that we made the bottom shelf out of OSB, wrapped it in white contact paper, and gave it an iron-on edge. It looks just as good as the melamine shelves, involved zero painting, and cost a fraction of the Melamine planks. If we were to do this project over, we might do it all with contact paper, edging, and OSB.
We ironed-on white veneer edging to the cut edge of the shelves and wrapped the OSB shelf in contact paper.

It's not obvious from the photos, but we cut, cleaned, painted, and reused the old shelving to make some of our new shelves.  That's how I know that we now have nearly double the square footage as the old pantry had - about half the boards are reused, and the rest are new.

When we started this project, we thought it would take us a few hours, but planning and painting took a long time.  It ended up taking more than a week between the project start and end. If we had thought to use contact paper at the beginning of the project, that would have saved us a lot of time (and work) painting the original shelves, and the decision to purchase twin track shelf supports took almost a week of research.

However, the end result is a hugely useful space that we use many times a day, and no matter how much stuff we shove in there, I know that everything can be easily found.

Future plans: lighting.

As you can see in the photo, the lower shelves are still a bit obscured by shadow. It's not terrible, but I might upgrade the lighting by 
  • adding LED strips around the doorway
  • installing an automatic door switch so the light turns on when you open the door