Need help with shelf spacing for reach-in pantry, please

kaysdJanuary 13, 2013

Sadly, we do not have room for a walk-in or step-in pantry. We will have 2 custom cabinets that are 38" wide x 91" interior height, with 12.5" deep shelves. The cabinet maker's initial plans showed each cabinet with a fixed bottom shelf and 5 adjustable shelves. I asked them to add 1 more shelf. Deducting the thickness of the shelves, the 6 adjustable shelves will give me 7 shelves spaced a little more than 12" apart (if spaced evenly, which they won't be).

I am wondering if I should ask for one more shelf to have closer spacing for smaller items. These 2 cabinets will store all of our non-cooled foods, other than spices and frequently used cooking oils. There will be a mix of cereal & cracker boxes, cans, jars, small packets in boxes/baskets, canisters of flour, rice & other grains -- all the typical food stuffs, plus possibly a few small appliances (in case they do not all fit into the island cabinet for small appliances). I may use 1 shelf for cookbooks. We do not need to store pet food, and the Costco packs of paper towels can stay in the garage.

My previous pantry cabinets had shelves about 12" apart, and it seemed like there was a lot of empty space above the cans, unless you stack them high. I don't want a lot of wasted space, but know you also need open space to get your hands in.


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Our food shelves are 10" and 12" apart. This gives us the ability to stack cans. All low shelves are adjustable in case we need to store something on the floor. Currently we have a case of wine, pop, beer, extra stand mixer, and two booster seats on the floor.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 1:18PM
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Hi Kay. Maybe my experience can help. I had to design my pantry with my carpenter standing next to me. I've never had any kind of good pantry storage so I didn't really know what I was doing. Like you, I wanted to maximize space for storage. Here's how mine turned out.

Shelf height varies because I stood there trying to fit cans and boxes in to see what would fit. I started at the top figuring how high I wanted my first shelf to be for items I don't access daily then worked my way down. For the can storage, the shelves are spaced with 10.5" of open space. This allows for two cans stacked with enough breathing room to lift off the top can. Most other shelves are this same distance. My oils, vinegars, and other bottle storage needed to be taller so those are 11.75" apart.

After all the figuring and shelf moving, I was left with a narrow space about 5.5". I decided to put that at optimum eye height to make sure I didn't lose anything in the back. This shelf works perfectly for loaves of bread and cereal out of the boxes. I was proud of myself for thinking "outside the box" (ha!) to think of storing daily cereal just in the bags. Boxed cereal overflow is stored on the top shelf. You can't see in the pic, but around to the left from the bread and cereal are many little canned homemade jams, fruits, and relishes. I love this shelf.

**Caveat: This shelving was my cheap, need-shelves-now storage made from the off the shelf option at HD. I did want something more built-in and custom looking with painted wood shelves and without those ugly shelf supports. One day when the kids are older I'll tackle a pantry re-do. Also, I don't use as many canned and jarred items as shown here. A whole house reno made me turn to more pre-packaged foods than normal. And those paper plates in there make my cringe. Finally, my pantry is much better organized now.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 4:33PM
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Thanks, Motherof3sons and Breezy. It sounds like 1 more shelf could be useful to have some shorter spacing as well as taller. I like the idea of a shorter bread shelf -- thanks for the pic, Breezy. I store some items in rectangular plastic boxes that I planned to stack, but closer spacing would mean less stacking.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 2:07PM
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Breezy that is an awesome picture. I have a small closet that will be my pantry. My husband is vying for roll out shelves and I am interested in shelves like yours because I feel I will be able to use the "wrap around" more efficiently. I also feel it eliminates a step. Instead of opening the door and pulling out the shelf I can just open the door and there it all is. I will have to show this picture to my husband and my contractor.
I don't think they look that bad. Once they are loaded up it is hard to tell anyway. As long as they are sturdy and can support all the load..... I may be at the same point you were at- just get it done!!!!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 2:30PM
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Kay--you're welcome. That short shelf spacing one is just a result of me not wanting to waste space. I didn't want to use those inches on the top or the bottom as airspace. So why not a short shelf?

P.ball--The shelves resulted from us moving back into the house without it really being ready right before Thanksgiving, which I was hosting. I had boxes of food laying around the FR, LR, and kitchen. The food needed to go somewhere and was driving me crazy with the rest of the mess from the chaotic move. There simply wasn't time to do what I really wanted with the pantry. My carpenter did the buying, joining, and hanging in 1.5 days. I had to do it. The only real downside is how the shelf supports can interfere with items on the shelf. If you look closely, you can see how I had to work around those.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 2:53PM
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Breezy, I do see that now and that is a good point. From the front view they do look like nice shelves but I can understand why you want to get rid of those brackets. My plan is for wood shelves will have to consider the supports more now that you pointed out brackets getting in the way.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 8:32AM
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P.ball--If you're having shelves built, you might be able to get away with something like this depending on your dimensions. Notice these shelves have only the one bracket that would interfere with storage. I apologize for not remembering whose kitchen this is. Madeline maybe? I will use this as inspiration for my future pantry reno.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 12:57PM
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I say, when in doubt, order that extra shelf. It will be of minimal cost now and even if you don't use it right away, it is nice to have the option down the road. I don't have a ton of pantry space so we will have some closely spaced shelves similar to Breezy. I hate stacking stuff, which is what I've done in the past to get by.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 2:52PM
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