I Asked 5 Kitchen & Organizing Experts How They Would Add Pantry Storage to My Galley Kitchen

updated Apr 16, 2021
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Credit: Ashley Abramson

When I first saw the listing for what’s now our new house, I raced to schedule a showing. The bright, Scandinavian feel felt like a breath of fresh air compared to our forgettable, carpeted rambler, and the semi-open layout felt like just the right balance of functional and cozy (perfect for quarantining with your family). But it was the kitchen that sold me.

A month in, and I still love the quartz countertops, the open shelf, and the hexagonal-tile backsplash. When you love the way something looks, it’s easy to see past potential inconveniences — in my case, the limited storage space. I’ll admit, I’ve panicked about it a few times. The kitchen has plenty of cabinets and a few drawers, but one thing I’m already missing is a formal pantry. In our last house, we used ours to store snacks, canned goods, baking ingredients, and small appliances, including my Instant Pot, blender, and air fryer. 

Now, thanks to the limited space and my new resolve to keep clutter off my gorgeous countertops, I have to be more strategic. I thought about adding a bar cart for snacks or freeing up drawer space by storing non-essentials in a hall closet or the basement, but I wondered if I was missing any obvious (or beautiful) opportunities to create a faux-pantry in my space. So I decided to enlist a few experts I respect — people who know a whole lot more about optimizing kitchen space than I do.

Credit: Ashley Abramson

What the experts recommended:

I emailed photos of my kitchen to an organizer, a chef, an interior designer, and two of my favorite kitchen editors, hoping they’d have suggestions I’d be able to use. Here’s what each one of them recommended about my kitchen pantry space.

Michelle Vig, professional organizer and founder of Neat Little Nest

I wasn’t even a little surprised that Michelle’s recommendations were all about making the most of my existing space by organizing it efficiently. “Many people think small kitchens don’t have enough room for a pantry, but it’s just not true,” she told me. “By being intentional about what items you bring into the space and by maximizing every inch of each drawer and cupboard space, a beautiful (and practical) pantry is within your reach!” Here’s the low-down on what she suggested: 

  • Use bamboo drawer organizers, dividers, and bins to efficiently organize drawers and cabinets
  • Decant as much as possible in bins and baskets
  • Store spices in the narrow upper cabinet on a tired bamboo organizer with oils above it on a lazy susan
  • Use extra space in upper cabinets for the pantry

Meghan Splawn, food editor at Kitchn

Meghan had a similar idea: Take advantage of my existing upper cabinets by squeezing in as much as I can with organizers, risers, and baskets — plus, add a gorgeous piece of furniture in the open space. “The small nook shelves made me think immediately of Rebecca Plumb’s kitchen renovation,” she said. “She used a combination of open storage on built-in shelves as well as a small cart to make an easy to access and beautiful micro pantry. Practically speaking, it might be annoying to walk into your dining room every time you need a spice, though!”

Here are Meghan’s official recommendations: 

  • Store as much as I can in cabinets and drawers using organizing tools
  • Reserve open shelving for dishes and glasses
  • Add a low cabinet or credenza where the window seating area is for additional storage of small appliances while creating additional counter space

Taryn Williford, lifestyle director at Apartment Therapy 

Since Taryn also doesn’t have a natural pantry, I was excited to hear her suggestions. She stores food in one of her double-wide upper cabinets, adding a few lazy susans and bins so the entire depth of the cabinet is easy to get to. “It works OK, but if I had a big, blank wall space like you have, I’d probably put a piece of furniture there to act as the pantry,” she said. This is what she suggested: 

  • Creating a faux pantry with a piece from the IKEA IVAR shelf line, and adding bottle racks and hooks for random necessities
  • OR, adding a full-height closed cabinet that matches the kitchen
  • OR, investing in a freestanding piece of armoire-type furniture (secured to the wall, of course, because kids and heavy groceries) 

Kathleen Anderson, interior designer and founder of Material Design 

Kathleen, an interior designer, was all about  maximizing open space with beautiful, functional furniture pieces. Since we already have a table at the end of the galley kitchen, she had her eye on the space where the breakfast nook is. Here’s what she thought would work best: 

  • Removing the bar in the window and adding a storage piece like a simple bookcase organized with baskets, plus a small round table for additional counter space
  • For a higher-end look, adding a cool antique storage piece for character and storage for food and snacks, plus a simple table nearby for use while cooking without taking up too much space

Carla Contreras, a food stylist and chef

I knew Carla would have lots to stay about making the most of space and streamlining operations for food prep. Her biggest (and most controversial idea!) was to ditch the junk drawer and drying rack to save space for storage. The rest of her tips capitalized on her chef’s sensibilities:

  • Storing pots on the stove instead of cabinets
  • Using the fridge and freezer to store nuts, seeds, coffee, and flours 
  • Store small appliances I don’t use regularly outside the kitchen
  • Add a storage cabinet adjacent to the breakfast nook or in the dining area
  • Add hanging items to maximize vertical space (baskets, a knife rack, and a pot rack)

What I did:

Everyone’s ideas were so insightful, and I ended up using a combination. I decided early on I wanted to keep the breakfast nook around (it’s really nice to watch my kids play in the backyard while sipping coffee). I also didn’t want to spend money on a big piece of furniture that might end up making my light, airy kitchen look cramped. Here’s what’s working for me so far: 

Credit: Ashley Abramson
Credit: Ashley Abramson
  • Decanting everyday foods in jars on my open shelving
  • Investing in drawer organizers to corral snacks 
  • Storing my most-used spices in a bamboo rack and the ones I use less in a higher, unused cabinet
  • Only shopping for groceries when I need them vs. keeping lots of extras on hand
  • Storing all seasonal items and larger items (my Instant Pot, slow cooker, and blender) in the basement to pull out when I need them
  • Nesting smaller items inside pots and large bowls to save space
  • Nixing the junk drawer altogether to cut down on clutter

I’ve lived in my house for a month now, and so far, I haven’t been bothered by the amount of space. If anything, this exercise has helped me examine what I really want to keep around (groceries, kitchen gadgets, and otherwise) so I can make the most of the space I do have. I’m so grateful for the experts who contributed their thoughtful ideas to make my house into a functional home!