Sometimes known as a serving pantry or a scullery, a butler's pantry is a transitional space between a kitchen and a dining area that's often used as a storage, food prep, or staging space. Although butler's pantries originally served as secure storage spaces for fine china and other heirlooms, today's butler's pantries have myriad uses—from food staging spaces, to coffee bars, to miniature wine cellars.
Whether you have bow-tie clad waitstaff or not, a butler's pantry can be a huge perk in a modern home. Learn more about the history of butler's pantries, their modern uses, and the must-have features and accessories for a functional, efficient, and beautiful modern butler's pantry.
The History of Butler's Pantries
Back in the day, butler's pantries were spaces the home's butler used to store, count, and polish valuable heirlooms, like silver, china, crystal, and serving platters, among other dining and entertaining accessories. More often than not, these spaces were kept locked up to prevent theft—and some butlers even slept in their pantries.
Modern Uses for a Butler's Pantry
Thanks to different architectural trends and homeowners' shifting perceptions and priorities, today's butler's pantries can be much more than a simple storage space—although they still make excellent storage spaces. Here are some of our favorite uses for a modern-day butler's pantry.
- A food prep space. If you love to entertain, a butler's pantry can make prepping and staging large meals much easier—and free up tons of counter space, so you can keep cooking. Because the butler's pantry is typically located between a home's kitchen and its dining area, it's the perfect place to store ready-to-eat dishes, plate food, or even store dirty dishes until the party is over.
- Extra storage space. Sure, it's a no-brainer, but who doesn't need extra storage in the kitchen? Whether you need to store extra cookware, glassware, and dishware, large platters or serving dishes for entertaining, or your beloved collection of coffee mugs, a butler's pantry can provide some much-needed storage space in a jam-packed kitchen.
- Storage for snacks. Think beyond your regular old pantry and picture the snack storage space of your dreams! Not only does a butler's pantry provide extra storage space for your favorite treats, but it can make them easier to access, too. If you have kids, consider placing their favorite foods and snacks in lower cabinets or drawers for easy access; and keep your adults-only snacks—like that super expensive dark chocolate you love—in higher cabinets. The additional space in a butler's pantry allows some serious snack organization, too. Try putting single-serve snacks in cute baskets or trays, and put multi-serving items in air-tight glass jars or containers.
- A tricked-out coffee bar. Between coffee beans, a coffee bean grinder, coffee maker or French press, and mugs, your daily cup of joe can take up a ton of counter space. Putting your coffee prep station can clear your counters and keep all of your gear super organized.
- A simple wine cellar. Few of us are lucky enough to have an entire wine cellar in our homes. Using a butler's pantry to store your vino and glassware, however, can transport you from a humdrum Tuesday night to a vacation in Napa. You'll have to install a small wine refrigerator to keep your wine at the perfect, cellar-like temperature, but fortunately, mini wine coolers can be found at most kitchen and home retailers.
How to Build a Butler's Pantry
If you have a small enclave or closet near your kitchen, you're in luck: By adding some cabinets and counters, you can turn this unused space into an awesome butler's pantry. Whether you work with a builder or DIY the cabinets and counters, it's important to consider not only the space, but your family's needs. How will your family use the butler's pantry? Do you need to add a small refrigerator, sink, or dishwasher, and need a plumber or electrician? Would you prefer cabinets or open shelving for easy access?
If you don't have an unused enclave or closet and need to build a space from scratch, unfortunately, building a butler's pantry will require a lot more work. Be sure to check your area's permitting and building requirements, and work with a fully licensed and insured contractor to complete the job.
Whether you're starting from scratch or redoing an existing space, you can design your butler's pantry however you wish. Some people choose to match the cabinetry and counters with their kitchen cabinets and counters, but Lauren Lowe of Lauren Elaine Interiors recommends getting creative: "When considering the design, remember that the butler’s pantry doesn’t have to be an extension of your kitchen. It’s a great opportunity to be bold with color and pattern!"
Butler Pantry Must-Haves
The must-have elements and accessories will depend largely on how you're going to use your butler's pantry, but Lauren Lowe recommends, "A beautiful tray to house favorite cocktail necessities, lots of storage for serveware and barware, ample countertop space for serving, and a petite lamp to add some charm! We love glass upper cabinets to display beautiful entertaining pieces."
Some other must-haves for your butler's pantry include:
- Ample counter space and cabinets for storing glassware, dishes, platters, and special-use kitchen accessories
- Decorative trays, baskets, or containers to store your favorite snacks, cocktail mixers and accessories, coffee beans, or glassware
- Adequate lighting for food prep or access
- Decorative accents that bring you joy, whether it's a bold wallpaper, bright paint color, or interesting knickknack
Like we said—accessorizing your butler's pantry will depend on how your family is going to use it, but don't be afraid to go bold or experiment with different decorating styles. A butler's pantry is meant to make your life easier, so it's important to make it yours.