Sophisticated Touch in the Butler's pantry

Eric Piasecki Photography; Design by Suzanne Lovell, Inc. as featured in Elle Decor

The butler did it! Perhaps I played a few too many rounds of the Clue(R) murder mystery board game in my youth, but there is something mysterious about a butler, let alone a butler’s pantry. Still, this room is an indispensable accommodation for people who love to entertain (when a pandemic doesn’t prevent us from doing so) and/or have collections of china, glassware, serving dishes and linens that would overwhelm their kitchen. If your parties end up crowded in the kitchen where you’re preparing meals, a butler’s pantry could be just what you need to stage the cuisine in an area tailored to those needs. Let us solve the mystery surrounding this oft overlooked room and discover the best things a butler’s pantry can bring to your home.

butler's pantry design

Decor by Pamela Hope Designs

To begin, I want to point out the difference between a butler’s pantry and a walk-in pantry. From a historical standpoint, the butler’s pantry stored valuable, cherished family items like silver services and sets of china passed down through the generations. The butler would keep this room under lock and key to protect those possessions and often his own. The butler’s pantry is where he would stay and even sleep when not tending to his employer or the guests. Today, butler’s pantries do not come with a butler, but they remain a step above a walk-in pantry.

The biggest differences between a walk-in pantry and a butler’s pantry are the size of the space, the storage features of the space and its intended use. A butler’s pantry is a small room with cabinetry and counter space that is used to supplement the kitchen. It is a bridge between the hectic activity going on in the kitchen to prepare the meal and the calm around the table where family and friends gather. A walk-in pantry, although still very useful, is still a closet for food. From a design standpoint, the butler’s pantry provides another room for you to express your unique style matched with the function that you want out of the space. For fans of organization, the butler’s pantry is often one of their favorite spaces in their home.

store fine china in the butler's pantry

Photo Credit: Eric Piasecki; Design by Mendelson Group, Inc. as featured in Elle Decor

Now that we have clarified the difference in a butler’s pantry and a walk-in pantry, let’s discuss the location, use and style of the space. The butler’s pantry should be situated off the kitchen and connected to the main room where you entertain (when COVID-19 allows) or dine. From a use standpoint, the butler’s pantry provides a place where meals can be plated before being delivered to your guests in a more formal setting or used as a serving area during larger parties. In the right design, the butler’s pantry can be used for both roles during the same event. As guests socialize in the kitchen or living room, you can plate entrees from behind closed doors and serve the meal in a coordinated fashion. Later, open the area up for serving dessert, coffee and other after-dinner drinks. From a style standpoint, more open versions of the butler’s pantry can feature glass-front cabinets with lighting that highlights prized collections and family heirlooms. In this case, recessed dimmable lighting with the right color choice can bring a museum-like feel to the collection of prized possessions passed down by generations of your family or those you’ve discovered on travels and local outings.

floor consistency from dining area to butler's pantry brings fluidity

Design by Elevation Homes

A butler’s pantry can also be a more private space that focuses on function, instead of acting as an extension of your entertainment area. I choose the cabinet type, countertop selection and flooring choices based on what works best in the space for my particular client. I also recommend tying the design into that of your kitchen and dining room with extra attention paid to optimizing storage and counter space. Popular upgrades to this room include secondary dishwashers, small beverage icemakers, refrigerators, wine racks and sinks.

To that end, many of you may find that you don’t fill your butler’s pantry with cherished crystal and china from your past. You may not have a lot of tableware or you may have enough kitchen storage to house it elsewhere. I have an antique breakfront that holds all of my fine china and much of my crystal. Another great use for a butler’s pantry can be a bar, wine room or coffee bar. I store all of my wine and beer glasses, my liquor and drinks, serving items such as napkins, shot glasses and stir sticks in the butler’s pantry. It leaves plenty of room for a wine chiller, additional wine storage and a sink. My butler’s pantry is located next to the kitchen and has a pass-through window into the living area and foyer so it’s ideal for a bartender to serve drinks. One of my clients keeps all of her coffee and hot beverage items in the butler’s pantry. Hers is in between the kitchen and the regular pantry so it’s a great spot to keep coffee makers and milk frothers handy.

No matter the style, a key consideration of the butler’s pantry is to allow for plenty of storage in the allowable space and smart storage makes a world of difference. Rollout shelving makes it easy to store and access large serving platters and dishes. Drawer organizers lined with silver cloth help prevent utensils from needing polish before every use and help you keep things in place until the next gathering. Overhead cabinets provide the perfect space for storing glassware and dishes that you only use for special occasions. Plus, storing those items in the butler’s pantry opens so much needed space in the kitchen.

Design by Tim Barber Ltd. Photo Credit: Laura Hull

After storage, another important consideration is your choice of countertops. Here you need to balance function with style to make the right choice. Countertops need not match those in your kitchen, but they should work together. If meal preparation is going to be a primary use for the space, consider installing one countertop that is a butcher’s block or easy to clean stainless steel.  The photo here uses a natural wood counter in one area but a butcher’s block could easily be added, tying the wood tones together. A natural stone countertop is another popular option that blends function with style. For those who crave clean counter space in the kitchen, the butler’s pantry is the perfect location to hide your microwave, blender and other appliances that you would prefer not clutter the kitchen counter.

A third consideration is the aesthetics and tying your butler’s pantry design into that of your kitchen and entertainment spaces. If you like a more open style butler’s pantry, open doorways and flooring consistent with that of the dining room or entertainment area will invite guests to come and enjoy the space. Visually, a natural flow occurs from room to room when these elements are consistent. The butler’s pantry will stand out with the cabinetry and countertops but designed correctly, it extends the useable space. If you prefer to keep the butler’s pantry behind closed doors, then a transition of flooring is more natural and helps define the area as its own. If you’re caught between those two choices, consider keeping the floor consistent between the connecting rooms and use pocket doors that allow you to open the space when needed and close it off when needing more preparation space. In any case, the entry ways should flow easily from your kitchen to the dining room and entertainment area with doorways wide enough for you to deliver the holiday turkey without forcing you to tango with the bird in the process. (I like dancing but not with turkeys!)

The butler’s pantry continues to provide an incredibly useful space that can improve the functionality of your kitchen and dining room, bring a bit of sanity to entertaining (again, when permitted) and add charm all its own to your home. Whether it is there strictly to provide storage and meal preparation or used to alleviate congestion that forms in the kitchen during larger parties, the butler’s pantry is one of my favorite design opportunities. If we can help you better maximize this space for your own use, contact us today. After all, the holidays are just around the corner. Whether you’re comfortable entertaining large groups or plan to keep the seasonal celebrations to immediate family, you deserve living and dining spaces that work optimally for you. If you have the luxury of a butler’s pantry, do you use it for meal preparation or an additional space for guests to peruse? If you’re considering the addition of a butler’s pantry to your home, what is the most important aspect to incorporate?

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