IT MAY BE the smallest specifically designated space in the house, but -- just as it was 150 years ago -- it's one of the most helpful, convenient and comforting.
The space is the pantry -- the very name conjures images of plenty -- and it's back, both in newly constructed houses and in kitchen renovations. After decades on the out list, when refrigerators and built-in cabinetry filled the old food-keeping role of the pantry and butlers who polished the silver vanished, pantries have again come into favor in the past few years. This time around they're used for dry storage, such as canned goods and pet food, to house small appliances, and as staging areas for entertaining.
A study of design trends for the National Kitchen and Bath Association found that more than half of the kitchen designs sold in 1995 included a pantry unit, while 87 percent included pull-out shelves.
Pantries are so popular that IKEA is getting ready to remodel its kitchen display area to install a "pantry studio" that will display all the options the Swedish home furnishings store offers, said Marie Baity, an IKEA kitchen planner.
"Almost everybody who comes in wants a pantry," she said. Her theory is that a proliferation of culinary gadgets is putting pressure on kitchen storage space. The pasta makers, bread machines, food processors and mixers have to go somewhere, and most people don't have enough counter space to leave them all out, she said.
The New York Times recently devoted a page and a half in its Home section to pantries, noting, "designers are putting these relics of the mannered maximalist life into minimalist apartments, but within scale. In old houses, pantries could measure hundreds of square feet; in modern apartments they can be as simple as a wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves."
"Pantries are highly requested," said Alan Caplan, a designer at Stuart Kitchens. "In new construction it's an excellent way to give a lot of storage inexpensively." It may be more difficult to find space for a pantry in a renovation, but Caplan said designers often make use of odd spaces, such as nooks or offsets, that are perfect for a shallow pantry.
Randy's working on a kitchen that has a pantry closet 22 inches deep and 8 1/2 feet wide. To make the space more convenient to get into, it's being fitted with two sets of adjustable shelf units and 2-foot-wide double-track sliding doors, two to a side. It's a fairly inexpensive system -- $20 for the track and about $120 for all the doors -- that is sturdier and can be better-looking than standard bi-fold doors.
If you don't have an existing pantry space, you can use cabinets. IKEA has pantry units that go anywhere you can fit a base unit. "We sell pantry units that are 15 or 24 inches wide, and 24 inches deep," Baity said. "We also have shallower ones that are 12 inches deep."
There's also a tall unit with adjustable wire shelves that pull out of the unit all at once. Units range from standard cabinet height, 7 feet, to ceiling height.
Trish Houck, of Kitchen Concepts of Columbia, said she's been finding space for "pantries that don't look like pantries." She may use a wide base unit with doors and pullout shelves topped with a hutch-type 12-inch deep unit. "It looks great," she said, "and it's not a big clunky thing."
She identified this type of storage with the "kitchen furniture," or "unfitted kitchen" look associated with English kitchen designers. The look is less formal -- but less sleek -- than the "fitted" kitchen common in most contemporary houses.
Cindy McAuliffe, sales and marketing director for Ryland Homes' Washington Division, said pantries are the rule, not the exception, in new construction. "Every townhome or single-family home we build now has a pantry or pantry cabinet," she said.
In single-family homes, the pantry is likely to be a walk-in unit, or some sort of closet-type space with a door. In townhomes, the pantry is part of the cabinetry.
McAuliffe has a different theory about why pantries are so popular. "I think people these days are drawn to sales and coupons," and are buying items in bulk, she said. "They collect lots of sale items, and they need the space."
Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.
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Pub Date: 2/16/97