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Why your walk in pantry is a pain to use… and how to fix it

You were soooo excited to have a walk in pantry when you moved in. Finally, more space for your dry foods, cans, appliances and even those H-U-G-E chocolate fountain and fondue makers the kids made you buy!

You thought everything would be so organized. Then reality happened. And now, here’s a few challenges which are so obvious:

  • Your boxes and spices are falling over those aggravating wire shelves. And you hate when spice packets fall through the gaps and you can’t for the life of you find them, even though you KNOW you bought them.


  • The 12” deep (OK, let’s be real, shallow) shelves aren’t taking advantage of the room available. Or your 16” deep shelves leave cans stranded in the back which are expired by the time you remember about them.


  • You have 3’ of dead space at the top of your 9’ tall pantry because the top shelf was set too low.


  • You have no prep counter in the pantry to help tame the messiness of your kitchen.


  • Your wood shelves are bowed, and paint is peeling off.  

And while it’s simple to point out why your walk in pantry is a P.I.A. to use (OK – for those of you playing at home, I’m trying to keep this a family friendly blog, so I’ll only use initials here), it’s much harder to know where to start to create an effective pantry.

And if this describes your dilemma you’ve come to the right article. Below I’ll identify 9 practical strategies to fix a hard to use walk in pantry. After implementing these ideas you’ll be able to ‘show off’ (imagine that) your pantry this holiday season vs. it being an unmitigated (as opposed to a mitigated) disaster. Now, let’s look at the strategies.

Walk in pantry design strategy #1 – Don’t use wire shelves. Don’t use wood shelves. Use thick laminate pantry shelves.

So, if you ask why most builders put in flimsy wire shelves in a pantry, I’ll bet (more than a dollar to donuts – and yes, that’s a weird saying), you know why. And it’s because….

Wire shelves are the cheapest material the home builder could ‘get away with’ putting in the home!

And while wire shelves were cheap for them, it’s a pain for you. They’re flimsy and bend. Stuff is always falling over. And since they’re screwed into the wall (at predetermined heights) -they’re not at the best location for you (more about this in strategy #2).

And even if you get the ‘more stylish looking’ (at least at first) painted wood shelves, they’re prone to warping and chipping (and you KNOW the builder isn’t coming over years later to repaint them for you).

So, what material can/should you use to make your hard-working pantry shelves hold up – and work- for you?

The top material for durability (and value) are laminate pantry shelves. They’re ¾” thick. They’re sturdier than wood (and are dimensionally stable – a fancy way of saying they don’t warp). And since they’re solid shelves with no spaces (OK – let me say that again- they have ZERO spaces) smaller items can’t escape through the ‘cracks.’

Open door to empty pantry room with white shelves | Columbus Closet Pantry | Pantry Storage | Pantry shelving

Walk in pantry design strategy #2 – Insist on adjustable shelves.

If I’m a bettin’ man (which I’m not), I’ll bet all the things stored in your pantry ARE NOT the same height. The cereal boxes are taller than the cans. The chips need more space than boxes of Jello.

So, why are all the shelves set (and screwed in) equal distance apart? This is CRAZINESS.

Strategy 2 unadjustable pantry shelves | Innovate Building Solutions | Innovate Home Org | Columbus Pantry Storage | Columbus Shelving

Its for this reason insist on adjustable pantry shelves between sections. With adjustable shelves you can vary the height within sections to fit what you’re storing.

Strategy 2 adjustable laminate pantry shelves columbus | Pantry Storage Columbus | Columbus Pantry

Walk in pantry design strategy #3 – Put the top shelf 12” to 18” from the ceiling.

Doesn’t dead space – in your already-too-crowded pantry, make you want to SCREAM?

There’s nothing worse than fixed wire (or wood) pantry shelves which are 24” to 36” away from the ceiling. And in this situation you have a humongous amount of wasted space at the top.

Strategy 3 dead space on top of Columbus ohio wire pantry shelves | Columbus Pantry | Innovate Home Org | Pantry room | Columbus, OH

This is stupid.

I recommend a space between the top shelf and the ceiling of 12” to 18” for a pantry with an 8’ ceiling, and an 18” space for a pantry with a 9’ ceiling.

Don’t be robbed of valuable volume by a poorly ‘engineered’ (and I’m using this term sarcastically here) wire or wood pantry system.

Walk in pantry design strategy #4 – Use pull out drawers so you can see what’s in the back.

You aren’t knowingly trying to throw money down the drain, but you are throwing money down the drain every time you ‘finally’ put your hand in the back of your pantry shelves and start purging cans of soup, vegetables, and cereal with expired dates.

Since it’s not easy to ‘see’ the cans in the back or ‘rotate your stock’ (like grocers do when they pull the oldest dates to the front of the shelf), you end up throwing out what was (originally) perfectly good food.

What a waste of money!

The problem with the buried cans and boxes with stationary shelves is it isn’t simple to see them or move them forward. However, it’s good to know there’s a solution to this problem.

Invest in pull out pantry drawers. With a slide out scoop drawer, every time you go to the grocery store you can move old items up and put the new items in the back.

Strategy 4 pull out scoop drawers organized Columbus pantry | Innovate Home Org | Storage Organization | Pantry Room Storage Near me | how to build a pantry

Stop wasting money throwing out expired foods!

Walk in pantry design strategy #5 – Eliminate ‘uncovering’ boxes with almost nothing in them. Use clear containers for dry foods.

OK – I’ll bet this has happened to you.

You were dying to sneak in eating that (oh-so-healthy) Count Chocula cereal while your spouse or partner was away. You excitedly grabbed the box. But wait one doggone minute…it was…..AS LIGHT AS A FEATHER! It only had crumbs at the bottom.

Strategy 5 Count Chocula box not left empty | Innovate Home Org | Dublin, OH Closet Storage | Pantry Room Storage

And you know who the ‘culprit’ in your family is who ate (almost) all of it. You mutter a few words (OK, obscenities). You know at that moment you’ll be stuck eating ‘healthy’ oatmeal…..again! Why is there always plenty of oatmeal, you ask yourself?

And I’ll bet every family has one of these people who leaves boxes with almost nothing in them. They make you want to wring their little (or big) neck. You can’t buy what you ‘need’ (although some health-conscious family members might disagree), if you don’t see what you have.

To eliminate this problem (without going full Terminator on the family member who play this evil game), use clear plastic containers for your dry goods. This strategy (along with labeling the jars) not only gives you a Pinterest-esque level of neatness to impress family and friends, but it’ll also prevent you from wanting to ‘go postal’ on your Count Chocula eating family member who leave powdery, chocolatey ‘dust’ at the bottom of the box.

Strategy 5 clear glass containers in organized Columbus Ohio pantry | Innovate Home Org | Upper Arlington Ohio | Pantry Room Storage | Storage System

Walk in pantry design strategy #6 – Stop visual clutter with doors and drawers.

For many people visual clutter is a nails on a chalkboard experience. And the best way to stop seeing clutter is to hide it behind closed doors and drawers.

And while it does take more effort to open the drawers and doors before getting what you want – they can really tame your ‘O.C.D.-ness.’

Strategy 6 closed doors drawers in modern Columbus pantry | Gahanna, OH | Pantry Room Storage | Pantry Shelving near me

However, there’s a drawback to doors and drawers (especially in small pantries). That drawback is if you have enough room to open them. So, if you want a pantry with doors and drawers, make sure you’ve got room to stand (or squat) behind them when they’re opened.

Walk in pantry design strategy #7 – Create a prep space (in the pantry) for a better organized kitchen.

I’m sure if you’re like my wife (who really knows how to throw a party – and be organized at the same time – without hiring a catering company) you want guests to think (even if it’s a bit of an illusion) you’ve got things under control (even if you’re hosting Thanksgiving for 20+ Italians and Greeks like we do every year).

And when you’re preparing everything inside the kitchen it’s hard for things to look neat. However, here’s a little secret many new home builders are designing into their homes. This secret is a ‘prep pantry.’

Large walk in butlers pantry storage area in a new home | Innovate Home Org | Columbus, OH | Pantry Room Storage | Home Organization | Prep counter

With a prep pantry include a counter (normally at 36” high) with an outlet or two so you can prepare food outside of where you’re entertaining. For most existing pantries you’ll (likely) need to add an outlet for this strategy to work.

Walk in pantry design strategy #8 – Be thoughtful your (pantry) door doesn’t hit you on the rear on your way in.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’

Well – when it comes to a pantry if you let the door hit you (or your shelving) on the way in, it becomes harder to create an effective pantry design.

It’s for this reason, you’ll neglect how the door swings at your own risk. But you may be wondering how can you stop your in-swing door from being a problem? Here’s three ideas:

  • Use a pocket door. This is a smart idea where there’s not a lot of room to swing the door in either direction.

Strategy 8 pocket door in dublin ohio pantry | Innovate home org | Worthington, OH Storage Organization | Pantry room

  • Use a barn door. If you have a larger wall on the side of the door, the sliding barn door is still on trend, and your pantry will live better.

Strategy 8 barn door to an organized Worthington pantry | Pantry Storage | Barn door | Columbus, OH Storage organization

  • Change the swing of the door.

Walk in pantry design strategy #9 – Don’t assume you can’t use ‘shallow’ walls for effective storage.

While it’s nice to have a lot of storage depth for every wall of your pantry, this isn’t always possible. So, you may be wondering how can you use shallower pantry walls more effectively? Here’s some thoughts:

  • If you’ve got 6” depth – then narrow shelving for cans can work.
  • If you’ve got 3” depth – shelves for spices could be the ticket.
  • If you’ve got less than 3” depth, add a ‘hook board’ to hang aprons, grilling utensils, or a broom.

Strategy 9 shallow shelves for pantry cans behind a door | Innovate Home Org Organization | Columbus, OH Custom Storage Near me

So, which of the 9 practical pantry design strategies will improve your space? Do you need help with a complete pantry design?

After reading this article, which pantry design tips can help you most?

And while it’s simple identifying pantry problems, developing a smart (and cost-effective) plan to fix these issues isn’t as easy.

However, if you feel this way (and live in Columbus Ohio) call 614-545-6888 or click for a Free 3D pantry design. And if you don’t live in Central Ohio, comment below and I’ll see if I can connect you with a home organization friend around the country.

Thanks for reading about pantries (and dealing with my wacky personality along the way).



If you’d like more information and articles on pantries, mudrooms, laundry rooms, garage, or custom closet design follow me on LinkedIn @MikeFotiLinkedIn

Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    Cindi Anderson


    It’s funny that you talk about pull out shelves to avoid expired food, then show a photo with objects on the shelves instead of food :-)
    Anyway, like always you’ve hit all the high points. I put a huge pantry in my new house, and the thing I’ve been struggling the most with is open vs closed. I really go back and forth. But in the end if it’s all closed then I might as well just have the stuff in the kitchen. So I’m going to do some closed for things that are just messy and ugly, and the rest open. The the question is whether to do shallow shelves so things don’t get lost behind other things, or deeper shelves with things corralled into baskets.


    • Avatar

      Mike Foti


      Cindi – good points. Most people end up with open shelves in pantries due to a lack of space. But if you’ve got room to put the ugly stuff behind doors – that’s nice. If you go with deep shelves (let’s say 19″ or deeper) I’d try to do those as glide out shelves. I’ve also seen shelves as shallow as 3″ to 6″ on narrow walls which can be helpful for spices of cans. When it comes to a pantry you’ve got to be space-efficient! Thanks for reading – Mike


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