Park City Home Trend Report: The Butler’s Pantry
You’re not likely to find that distinctive white-gloved personage known as the butler in many private homes today. But one vestige from the days when butlers were responsible for the seamless running of grand estates is making a reappearance: the butler’s pantry.
The Push for Pantries
“We are seeing them more and more in the plans of the custom home builders we work with,” says Nancy Lehman, co-owner of Bella Tile & Stone in Delafield, Wisconsin. And the company, whose handful of independently owned shops stretches from the Midwest to Park City, is not alone in what it has found.
According to a recent report by the National Association of Home Builders, the number one kitchen feature home buyers want is not granite countertops or side-by-side double ovens, but a walk-in pantry. And another NAHB report has found that more than 85% of new homes of more than 3,500 square feet feature walk-in pantries.
The Wall Street Journal, attributing the trend in part to an instinct for hoarding triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, has even labeled the walk-in pantry “the new designer shoe closet.”
But a walk-in pantry is not exactly the same thing as a butler’s pantry.
In the past, in the days before electric kitchen appliances and income tax, the butler’s pantry, typically a connecting area between the kitchen and dining room, was chiefly a place to store and keep track of a wealthy family’s best china, silver, and serving ware, often under lock and key. Sometimes it would even have sleeping accommodations for the butler.
Nowadays, especially very recently, when many people have come to think of stocking up as a survival skill, kitchen-related storage is still one of a butler’s pantry’s primary purposes. And it’s still where you’ll find the best of the family china, although often no longer hidden away but displayed in glass-fronted cabinets. But butler’s pantries have also taken on a broader role.
“Meant primarily as an area for prepping and staging meals, many of them are essentially a second kitchen, with countertops, a sink, a dishwasher, and sometimes even a small refrigerator or wine chiller,” says Lehman.
Among those who would agree with Lehman’s assessment is celebrity home-improver Bob Vila. He attributes the growing popularity of butler’s pantries to the dual rise of home entertaining and open floor plans, which can necessitate having cooks create their meals in front of guests, even if they would rather not.
“Enter the butler’s pantry, which can serve as a valuable buffer zone between the kitchen and dining areas,” Vila says on his website, bobvila.com.
“Generally hidden by a door, it offers just enough privacy for hosts to keep
the food prep mess out of sight without detracting from the spaciousness of an open kitchen.”
Lehman adds that as with many areas in a home, butler’s pantries can also be multifunctional. They might serve as a laundry room, perhaps, or wine cellar. Increasingly, as more people started working remotely and attending virtual classes at home, it has become a place to work or study away from other family members.
In some homes, butler’s pantries are designed with features that have kids and pets in mind, such as a low shelf or drawer containing toys or treats. Which may not seem so far-fetched when you consider that it keeps them nearby but not so much underfoot when the action gets lively in the main kitchen.
In more conventional use, a butler’s pantry can help declutter the main kitchen by providing space for coffee stations, mixers, toasters, or even, Lehman says, a cookbook collection.
From the perspective of décor, because even the largest butler’s pantry is likely to be among a home’s smaller rooms, it can be an opportunity to experiment.
“You can be creative with a butler’s pantry’s tile or wallpaper and at the same time relate it to an adjoining kitchen or dining room’s colors and patterns,” says Lehman.
The hardest part of building a butler’s pantry can be finding room for it. For a new home still in the design stage, the ideal area can be made to connect to both the kitchen and dining room, which among other things allows for a style transition from one to the other.
For existing homes, locating a butler’s pantry can be more of a challenge. With luck, there may already be a hallway between the kitchen and dining room that can be converted. But the final result may have to be more along the lines of a butler’s closet, which can be useful, but does not make quite the dramatic statement as opening a swinging door to reveal an entire second kitchen.
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