What Is a “Butler’s Pantry,” Anyway?

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Wrap around butler's pantry in a luxury new kitchen renovation
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A renovated butler's pantry

At the turn of the 20th century, a time of lavish dinner parties for the wealthy, some households found themselves wanting a point of transition between the kitchen, with its clatter of pans and wafts of cooking smells, and the dining room itself. They desired a place where butlers, along with other kitchen staff charged with overseeing the meal, could plate the dishes before serving and maintain easy access to any tools required. Thus, the butler’s pantry was born. 

What is a butler’s pantry?

Although the term, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a service room between the kitchen and dining room,” first appeared in pantry history around 1757, the butler’s pantry gained increasing popularity in the mid- to late-19th century. Often found in wealthy estates of the era, the spaces typically included a prep area — sometimes accompanied by early ice boxes or warming drawers, according to Practical Preservation Services — and cabinetry stocked with silverware, china, and glassware.

Credit: Hattie Kolp

Where can you find a butler’s pantry?

In some sense, the butler’s pantry constituted a downsizing of the sprawling housekeeping complexes found in English manors. In The Pantry, a 2007 compendium of the oft-overlooked space, architectural historian Catherine Seiberling Pond explains, “Victorian England would retain the many workrooms, storerooms, and larders in its larger homes and estates, as in the Middle Ages, while almost all smaller dwellings, as in America, had a kitchen pantry (or larder) and a butler’s pantry.” These spaces were often tucked out of sight, Pond writes, “because only servants used this space in more prosperous homes.”

But don’t assume that butler’s pantries lacked grandeur. Pond points to the two-story butler’s pantry at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, as an example. In order to meet the demands of entertaining during the early 20th century Gilded Age, the butler’s pantry was equipped with sinks, storage, ample prep space, and the latest in home technology. A telephone and annunciator system (a call bell system linked to each room) kept the space in constant contact with the rest of the estate; dumbwaiters kept food sailing between floors; and an electric warming oven kept food warm. The Breakers, a Gilded Age mansion located in Newport, Rhode Island, boasts a similarly lavish pantry space

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Do homes still have butler’s pantries?

Even though many decades separate modern homeowners from these Gilded Age estates, the butler’s pantry endures. A quick search around for “butler’s pantry,” on Instagram reveals a cache of inspiration for kitchen design obsessives. From the nearly 67,000 tagged posts, you can find luxurious, kitchenette-style nooks generously outfitted with marble countertops, exposed shelving, and stylish accent lighting, alongside DIY pantry bump-outs carefully organized to accommodate a surplus of spices and flour.

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On TikTok, videos related to #butlerspantries boast a total of 44.5 million views and cover everything from butler’s pantry tours to the reasons why a butler’s pantry should be at the top of your kitchen renovation wish list. 

Today, closet designers such as St. Louis Closet Co. find butler’s pantries play a more holistic part in modern homes. They’re often integrated into living and entertaining spaces rather than tucked away for prep work. Although storage remains a core function, modern butler’s pantries are more likely to include coffee makers or under-the-counter wine cellars than annunciator systems. But don’t worry: I won’t blame you for wanting a dumbwaiter.