The butler’s pantry is making a luxe comeback. Local design experts share how to raise the bar.
RISING TO PROMINENCE shortly before the turn of the 20th century, the butler’s pantry was the true heart of the Victorian home. As the command center for the butler — who often served as a combination of the chief of staff, party planner and sommelier — this pantry was a place to keep records, polish the family’s silver (safely kept under lock and key alongside the fine china), pour drinks for party guests and, in upper-class homes, store foods in early refrigeration and warming appliances, ensuring guests wanted for nothing under his exacting eye.
But, once innovations like the Hoosier cabinet (a freestanding all-in-one kitchen cupboard) and larger concept kitchens became de rigueur for the American family in the 1920s, the butler’s pantry fell out of fashion — until recently. “All of our clients want a butler’s pantry — no exception,” says John Deering, director of design and principal at Homeline Architecture.
Today’s iterations are far more expansive in scope. The organization is unbeatable, thanks to painstaking planning, and the palettes are more glamorous and unbridled (not to mention, hardwearing) than their Victorian predecessors. Here, local design experts share tips for incorporating the multifunctional — and stunning — space into your home.
PLAN ON IT
First, decide on the perfect location, such as a spot adjacent to the kitchen, dining room or garage that is best for dropping groceries and dinnerware storage. Then, begin brainstorming the room’s function with a simple to-do list.
“The first thing I figure out is how many things we need to accommodate, and the function of the room,” says Robyn Roberts, interior designer and owner of Robyn Roberts Design. “I ask clients, ‘Is the room going to be just a pantry or a morning kitchen as well?’”
A lot of people have multiple kitchens now, says Linn Gresham, director of interior design at Homeline Architecture. “They keep the main kitchen beautiful and perfect and have a prep kitchen where they make eggs for their kids in the morning,” she adds. Several of her local clients have even requested designs for air-sealed, felt-lined cabinets for silver service or cedar-lined drawers for linens, drinkware, gift-wrap centers and potting stations in their butler’s pantries. “Some people also give them double duty as a mudroom,” says Gresham.
With so many functions, a full suite of appliances is just as crucial as cabinetry. “Many want a sink, an additional dishwasher, an extra refrigerator, a wine cooler, an ice maker and even refrigerator drawers,” says Deering. Small appliances like toaster ovens and Instant Pots can hide behind cabinet doors, freeing up valuable kitchen counter space.
PALETTES THAT PLEASE
The thoughtful design doesn’t stop with space planning. “The butler’s pantry is the new powder room,” says Roberts. “[It] should be designed like a destination.”
Whether you carry over finish selections from your kitchen or dream up an entirely new palette, designers recommend dressing up the pantry to the nines. Patterned wallpapers, stone slab backsplashes and countertops, as well as a mix of hardware finishes, make these small spaces enchanting. And, though white kitchens still have their place, cabinets in adventurous shades of gray and blue or stained wood selections are here to stay.
“If it is a windowless space, we always say to go with a high-gloss cabinet to reflect the light. Antiqued mirror doors also help, too,” says Deering.
Glossy tiles and antiqued mirror backsplashes are also designer favorites for making cleanup a breeze. “Because [the butler’s pantry is] so multifunctional, you want durable materials that are easy to clean,” says Gresham.
Despite their reputation as hard to maintain, Roberts insists that stone countertops — namely granite, quartzite and marble with heavy veining and a honed finish — make the space. “People do not need to be scared of real stone. We’ve been using it for thousands of years because it works,” she says.
Still not sold on stone? Consider a glossy Formica, a la Miles Redd, or stained maple or mahogany. “Whatever you do, don’t go for the fake stuff,” Roberts adds.
“The butler’s pantry is the new powder room. [It] should be designed like a destination.” — Robyn Roberts, interior designer
TOP IT OFF
Don’t forget to top off your design with distinctive hardware. Metal grillwork on cabinet doors and a variety of bin pulls and knobs are a great way to add some flash to your palette. “A little bit of sparkle in a room where you’re showing off heirlooms is a good idea,” says Gresham. “Especially when people have china with gold, silver and pewter rims, mix your metals!”
To make the most of your finishes, Gresham insists on layering light. “I use a minimum of five layers of light. Daylight can be one of them, but it’s good to have general lighting. Task lighting can be under-counter lighting (channel lights from Circa Lighting are a favorite) or sconces. [Then] in-cabinet lighting and decorative lights, of course.”
Once the construction dust has settled, infuse your space with art and objets d’art. “I have a glass display of old chicken bones in my pantry,” laughs Deering. “You want to layer in strange things to make it successful, wonderful and visually appealing.”