This Is What Makes a Pantry Perfect, According to a Pro Closet Builder

updated Aug 21, 2022
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(Image credit: Shutterstock/Design: Susanna Hopler)

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a pantry, you still might not feel like all of your food-storage prayers have been answered. Sure, it’s nice to have some extra shelves beyond your cabinets, but why can’t you ever find what you’re looking for?

We talk a lot about using bins, organizers, and plenty of labels to keep order in a pantry. And while those are great helpers, you also might need to take a look at the shelves themselves — specifically the depth, placement, and measurement of each pantry shelf. So says Scott Davis, vice president of product development and marketing at Closetmaid, a storage system manufacturer.

Because Closetmaid designs pantries both for consumers and for builders, we thought Davis would be the perfect person to share the ideal measurements for pantry shelves. Here’s what he says you need to know.

1. The shelves shouldn’t be too deep.

The standard depth of most shelves is 16 to 20 inches deep. The highest shelf should be shallower, like 12 inches deep, to make those items easier to access. If you find that stuff seems to get pushed to the back and forgotten about, you should consider even shallower shelves.

2. You need floor space.

The bottom-most shelf is typically 20 to 24 inches from the floor. If you need to raise it even higher, do it. This will give you room to store bulk items like pet food, paper towels, or even crates on wheels (which essentially become rolling drawers).

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Design: Susanna Hopler)

3. There are magic numbers to figuring out shelf heights.

Depending on what you store on each one, raise or lower the shelves accordingly. Plan at least two inches of clearance above the tallest item on the shelf. This will make each item easy to access and help cut back on wasted space. Here are some general rules.

  • Allow 6.5 to 7 inches for a shelf of canned goods.
  • Allow 14 to 16 inches for cereal boxes.
  • Allow 18 to 20 inches for large items, like bins of potatoes.

4. Pay extra attention to a few key shelves.

The shelves between waist and eye level are easiest to access, so put your most frequently used items there. If you’re only going to use a few bins or organizers, these are the shelves to use them on. This way, people will put things back in the same place they found them — versus just placing them toward the front of the shelf.

5. Don’t be afraid to rearrange.

Once you get your system in place, you’ll want to revisit it periodically. “My wife and I are amazed at how much our pantry has evolved over the years,” Davis says. If you have kids, for example, you may (or may not!) want to place snacks someplace they can reach. And if the snack shelf now has eight inches of clearance space, you’re wasting valuable real estate. Once in a while, it’s worth taking a step back to reevaluate.