Here’s What a $3,300 Pantry Renovation Looks Like

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Have you ever had that dream where you find a room in your house that you didn’t know was there? That’s one of my recurring ones, and I’m sure it probably symbolizes something, but I tend to take it literally. Buying a sprawling, bargain Victorian home in need of some TLC three years ago was like that dream come to life. It had more rooms than I knew what to do with (which was a big adjustment, coming from a one-bedroom bungalow!).

(Image credit: Diane Deaton Street)

One of the most perplexing rooms was one at the back of the house, off the kitchen and opening to the side porch. Ninety square feet with 12-foot ceilings and somehow still-amazing hardwood floors, the room was a mess of crumbling plaster, peeling paint in a rainbow of psychedelic colors, a water-damaged ceiling — and a huge west-facing window and equally huge (we’re talking 10-feet tall!) arched door complete with antique lion’s head knocker. What madness is this? The mystery deepened when a friend’s husband who works in historic preservation took a look and told us this part of the house was probably 20 years older than the rest, dating to around 1870.

It’s in the wrong spot to be a butler’s pantry, which would be situated between the kitchen and dining room, so we honestly have no idea what the room was originally used as. For us it became a mudroom/storage/catch-all mess (in our nearly closet-free house) that we dreamed of making a laundry room, as our washer and dryer were wedged under the stairway. But a roadblock was quickly apparent: the room was on a slab foundation, with no HVAC and no practical way of getting heat to it, even if we could get plumbing there. Freezing pipes were too big a risk, so the laundry went elsewhere, and the mudroom sat for a year-and-a-half, an eyesore and a wreck that we dubbed the Nightmare on 6th Street until we had enough cash to tackle it.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

The plan? A ridiculously huge pantry in advance of a planned kitchen reno that would eliminate what little storage we had. The deadline? Before our house was booked for a special event weekend through Airbnb (aka a big part of the renovation budget!). Is it a good idea to start a renovation project when you don’t know what you’ll find and paying guests are coming to stay at your house? Probably not. But I knew we could count on the guys we’d hired for a lot of the work, so on a Saturday morning the demo crew rolled in and set to work busting out all the old crumbling plaster and ceiling. (Could we have done that ourselves? Yes. Did I want to? After ending up at the hospital the last time I demoed a room, not a chance.)

By late that afternoon we had a blank canvas. We didn’t know, going in, how the brick behind the drywall would look or if we’d have to cover it up, but all four walls were above decent, all things considered.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

The newly exposed ceiling showed off the weathered rafters and we opted to keep everything just as it was.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Over the next couple of weeks we cleaned the brick, and the dynamic duo of our painter/drywaller and his trim carpenter dad came in and installed crown molding to cover up the rough border between the brick wall and the ceiling, and additional trim along the baseboard and other trim to cover the gap left by removing the plaster wall.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Meanwhile, a friend who’d started a woodworking business specializing in reclaimed wood built some beautiful shelves of spruce salvaged from horse farm fences. (I know how precious that sounds, but they are absolutely beautiful!). Installing them took my husband and me a full weekend; drilling into the brick was super hard, and holding them in place over my head wasn’t much easier, so we had to take a lot of breaks.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

We finished up the space with a long metal cart I’d picked up at an auction, and a vintage custom-made cabinet I’d found at an estate sale. A coat tree by the door allows it to still serve a bit of a mudroom function, but overall, it became the kind of pantry I’d dreamed of. And that huge window? The light is so beautiful in there, I often use the pantry when I need to take a photo for a Kitchn assignment. Oh, and for those who don’t like being left in suspense: We finished with five days to spare before our Airbnb guests arrived.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Now, the nitty gritty. The brick sheds — a LOT. It has two coats of sealer, but I’d double that if I could go back (and will probably have to eventually). If we don’t stay on top of it, all the shelves and surfaces end up covered with brick and mortar dust. And the no-HVAC thing, exposed brick, and no insulation is a triple threat; the pantry doubles as a walk-in cooler in the winter, no joke. (A bid for spray foam insulation in the ceiling was more than $2,500 so we just deal with it being cold.)

It’s all open shelving, which looks so pretty when it’s pretty, but in the midst of a hurried week of grabbing things, it can go downhill fast. Every week or two I have to do a reset and get everything back where it goes. I wanted to line all the shelves with baskets but that dream was sacrificed when we totaled up the cost of all the work. This wasn’t a cheap project; it clocked in at more than $3,300. But it added a lot of value to the house, and I can’t put a price on how much more functional (and pretty!) our space is now.