Creating your built in pantry
I had a secret desire to create a Pantry when I purchased our home. Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I literally am the world’s worst cook!
I cannot even cook soup from scratch without something freaky happening. My last attempt at soup tasted like water and was totally pea green, and no, it didn’t contain peas or anything green for that matter.
But- we want what we want, right? Why not have the pantry of my dreams?
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Our home was built in the 1950s and renovated sometime in the 1970s. The kitchen itself will need some redesign. However, when I was growing up, my mother had an entire pantry in our basement. Okay, so being in the basement, it was more like our personal store than a pantry. But, it was so sweet to go down and find whatever I needed. I have hated putting canned goods in cabinets because you are so limited on space and something always gets lost in the plethora of cans.
Our home has a closet that was likely revamped over the years. The left side is just deep enough for a vacuum cleaner, but the right side is much deeper than even a typical coat closet. It was my goal to turn this deeper side into my dream pantry.
You can see what we started with below. I had attempted to postpone this project by using a plastic shelving system in that area. Of course, cans were constantly falling behind and into oblivion. I couldn’t handle it any longer!
The first thing to do is take your measurements and plot out your design. You will have different measurements than mine, but I will include my measurements in case an example is helpful.
Drill (w/ both drill and screwdriver bits)
Sanding sheets or sander
MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)
1 X 3 furring strip boards
2 ½ inch wood drive screws
Pantry Shelf Preparation
My closet measurements ended up being 27 ¼ inch wide and 66 inches in height since there was a shelf already in place at the top. While the closet is deeper, I chose to only use the extra depth to design the pantry. In other words, my shelves extend to the existing wall on the left side of the closet. Thus, my depth would be 22 inches.
Each shelf will need a base on each side and one at the back for support. This means I will need 2 lengths of 22 inches for the sides. Keep in mind that your sides will extend the full depth of your space. Thus, you need approximately 2” less on your back piece. My 27 ¼ inch width is then only 25 ¼ inches.
Now, board widths are not exact measurements. You will discover (if you don’t already know) a 1 X 3 x 8 means the common measurements are 1-inch depth by 3 inches wide by 8 foot long. However, the actual measurements will be more like ¾ inch depth by 2 ½ inches wide by 8 foot long. I know! Go figure.
So I basically added up the quantities I needed and made sure I could get that from the amount of length. I wanted 4 shelves and needed 2 pieces of 22 inches per side= 176 inches for just the sides. An 8-foot board is only 96 inches. Thus, I could get 4 cuts of 22 inches per 8-foot board. I needed 2 boards then to make the 8 pieces for the sides.
Now I need 4 strips of 25 ¼ inch for each shelf back. Well, that would be 101 inches which is again more than our 96 inch (8 feet) board. To save money, think about the best way to maximize your boards and cut accordingly. I ended up using only 3 boards total. Two boards were cut at 22 inches, 22 inches, 25 ¼, and 25 ¼. The third board was then cut 4 times at 22 inches.
I chose to use ¾ inch MDF for my shelves. You can often find these in smaller pre-cut sizes, but many hardware stores will allow you to purchase one large 4’ by 8’ section and make multiple cuts. Of course, when we went to purchase our wood, the hardware store’s saw was needing service. Sigh.
I then used the circular saw I already owned to but my 4’ x 8’ panel of MDF into 4 sections of 22 x 27 ¼.
The final step of preparation is sanding the cut ends of your MDF. Then, of course, you will also sand your 1 X 3 sections. If you wish, you can prime and paint your wood at this time. I decided to forego painting as it was not a visible area to guests in my home.
This is the time to remove everything from your closet, cut-in, or whatever area you chose. It’s also a great time to go through all the stuff you’ve accumulated and discard old products that may have passed their expiration dates. Items you haven’t used may also be appreciated at a local pantry or food kitchen.
Now, I want you to really think about your layout for just a moment. You may be thinking 4 shelves in 66-inch height means a shelf every 16 ½ inches, but this is simply not practical. In your home, I’m sure you have that one cabinet where you store all your baking supplies, but darned if that one bottle of vegetable oil is just too tall to fit!
I opted to have larger space on the bottom for heavy items like bottled water or 2-liters of soda. Another shelf for larger staples such as paper towels or tissue boxes. Then, my upper shelves were for canned goods, health foods, and snacks. So the approximate spacing would be 20 inches, 15 inches, 10 inches, and 10 inches.
FYI- 10 inches is the perfect height to double stack your vegetable and soup cans. You may consider adding additional shelves if you don’t want to double stack. However, keep in mind your depth. If you have a deep space, it will be hard to reach items in the back with a smaller gap between the shelves.
Putting it together
Now it’s time to get to work!
Get your pencil and your stud finder. Your first goal is to locate the studs in your wall. You will drill your screws into these studs. This is what gives your pantry shelves the support they need. Once you locate a stud mark it lightly with the pencil. You should only have to do this once per stud as the stud most usually goes the full height of the wall.
Next, get your level and measuring tape. You want to measure from the floor to your first shelf location. Mark it. Do this in a second spot on the same wall. Now, use your level to verify that you have a straight line. Keep in mind that houses settle over time and your floor may not be exactly even. Always use your level as your guide instead of the measurements.
Using your level draw a line at your desired height. Remember my first shelf was to be at 20 inches. So my line was put at exactly 20 inches. Continue doing this up your wall with your next desired location each time. If something doesn’t look right, this is where you will see a fault in your measurements.
Next, take your 1 x 3 for the back support and place it near your stud marks from earlier. Mark the 1 x 3 in the location of the studs. Repeat for each back support. Then, do the same for the side supports.
Drill a hole into each location you marked on all the supports. I found this method of pre-drilling the holes to be much easier than other alternatives.
Again, starting with your back support place it on your first pencil line at the bottom. The top edge of the support should be exactly on the line. Do not worry about erasing your pencil line as your shelf will rest above and hide the line. Simply screw your board into the studs using the pre-drilled holes as your guide.
Next, take your first 1 X 3 for the side and repeat the same process. The top of your strip should be exactly at pencil line, and line up with the board you already placed at the back. Repeat for the second side board for that shelf.
Continue placing your boards throughout the project with back support followed by side supports. Once these are all placed, it’s time to place your shelves. The shelves will simply rest on top of the supports.
Now, remember how I mentioned all houses settle? You may find that your walls are not exactly straight vertically. You should be able to simply use a sander on the edge of a board that is a tight fit.
Now that your shelves are in place, it’s time to stock your NEW pantry!
This simple project can be done for any closet which needs extra space. Maybe you want to add a shelf to a bedroom closet or a linen closet. You can do this same process for just 1 or several shelves.
I hope you do take the time to create a pantry you love! Feel free to share your creations on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/msmomfixit.
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