Today’s butler’s pantry: The “kitchen” behind the kitchen
In the late part of the 19th century, small rooms used primarily for storage were built between the kitchen and the dining room. According to Buffy Goodwin, a designer at Deane, Inc. with locations in New Canaan and Stamford, these butler’s pantries were originally used by staff in large homes as a “behind the scenes” area for preparing and serving meals to the family in their dining room. They were also used for storage of fine china, sterling serving pieces and flatware.
“There were often locked cabinets for these items,” Goodwin explains. “Merchants’ logs were kept in the pantry, as well. Additionally, wine and the “wine log” were stored in the butler’s pantry behind lock and key.” To ensure these valuables were kept safe, the butler was expected to sleep in this room — hence the name.
In addition to the historical background, Goodwin offers her insight into current butler’s pantry trends. “We have recently done a lot of high gloss installations in many colors, such as deep blue, gray, green, teal, and even black. Other materials we use consistently are inset mesh metals in brass, nickel, copper, and aged iron which complement both color and gloss.”
Drawing upon Deane, Inc.’s experience designing and building distinctive luxury spaces throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties since 1961, Goodwin describes other requested designs: “Floating shelves in wood or glass are popular for showcasing beautiful, curated items in the bar. Installing backlit etched glass behind them is a stunning way to display bottles or barware.”
Deane, Inc. also incorporates inset leather and faux leather panels, which are rich and unexpected in cabinetry. “Combined with high gloss, it harkens back to the golden era of hotels and bars of the 1920s and ’30s, and makes for a really distinctive space in a home,” Goodwin says. “Metal countertops in stainless steel, zinc, copper, and bronze are also trending … often these metals are available in a ‘living finish,’ which patinas and deepens richly over time, creating a vintage look.”
When it comes to practical applications, tall or under counter wine coolers are requested in addition to pullouts for red wine storage. Often, vertical tray storage is requested for cutting boards, bar boards, and serving trays and platters, according to Goodwin, who notes that some clients are using their pantries as an additional food prep and cleanup space. A second sink helps with rinsing and pre-cleaning, and a second dishwasher can be installed in the butler’s pantry to help with the overflow of used glasses, plates, and flatware.
Other options for this transitional space include a beverage station with a built-in coffee machine, extra fridge, and storage for mugs and sometimes electric kettles. “Many homeowners set up their butler’s pantry as a fully stocked bar, with wine storage, drawers for spirits, ice maker, and plenty of upper cabinets for stem and barware,” Goodwin observes.
Lynne Persan, owner of Building Designs, LLC in Ridgefield, has seen similar trends, and with almost 20 years of experience in commercial and residential design and numerous awards including the Hobi Award, Persan has a lot of knowledge about butler’s pantries. “People use their pantries as an extension of the kitchen,” Persan says. “They are no longer just about bulk storage and broom closets, as homeowners want access to appliances that they don’t want cluttering up their kitchen counters.”
Persan’s clients also often want a second refrigerator and freezer in their butler’s pantries for the extras, and easy access to everyday dry goods such as rice, cereal, and snacks. Some homeowners are eschewing upper cabinets to allow for more windows within the space; consequently, they may store their daily dishes in the pantry, as well. “Usually, we do a pocket door that stays open mostly or a barn door or even no door at all, just a cased opening for easy access,” Persan states.
She adds that recently clients have been asking for “a pull-out recycling bin in the base cabinets, which makes it easy to grab stuff, and an area for bulk storage in either a large pantry cabinet within the space or just large three-foot-wide double door base cabinets.” Persan says that butler’s pantries are no longer basic cabinets and wire shelving. They are beautiful cabinets with granite or quartz countertops. “The only difference between the kitchen and pantry now is that the pantry won’t typically have a backsplash but will have an accent color behind the shelves,” she states. “They are no longer just closets, either — they have morphed into small rooms.”
Interior designer Lisa Lieberthal, of Lisa Joy Designs in Trumbull, prioritizes function over beauty but still likes to give the client what they want. “Butler’s pantries usually include a wine refrigerator, a mixing sink, and a place for linens, but it is important to consider the existing design to achieve harmony in the space,” Lieberthal explains, adding there is no one trend, when it comes to this space: “Designs can range from classic to contemporary; glass cabinets or solid doors can be contemporary or lacquer from Italy or antique wood.” It all depends on the client’s taste.
Lieberthal notes another possible use for the butler’s pantry: a separate area for children. If homeowners aren’t big entertainers but still want a butler’s pantry, it can be a nice area for children or a little alcove like a private suite for guests. “Butler’s pantries have departed from the original concept to fit personalities and taste,” she concludes. “No longer guarded overnight by a tuxedo-wearing butler, these pantries have become the ultimate kitchen luxury space that can be used for anything from extra storage to a place to prepare food and beverages for guests.”