Why Do Old Homes Have a Tiny Kitchen and a Huge Pantry?

Old houses often had a less-than-spacious kitchen and an overwhelmingly large pantry to accommodate the household’s staff. Called the butler’s pantry, it was a place to store food, dishes, silverware and more.

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The kitchen is the heart of the home. For cooking and entertaining, it’s a space where magic happens and memories are made. If you live in an old house, you may wonder why your kitchen (arguably the most important room in the house) is so tiny while the pantry is so large you could turn it into a guest room! Long ago, this peculiar design did actually make sense.

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What is a butler’s pantry?

Old houses often had a less-than-spacious kitchen and an overwhelmingly large pantry to accommodate the household’s staff. Called the butler’s pantry, it was a place to store food, dishes, silverware and more. The butler’s pantry also has extra counter space and a sink to allow household staff the opportunity to do their job out of sight. It also shielded the family and guests from smelling, seeing or hearing any unpleasant or distracting things occurring while meals were being prepared or cleaned up.

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In some elegant homes, the butler’s pantry also housed heating lamps or drawers for keeping food warm and refrigerators for chilling wine and salads. In Europe, sometimes the butler actually slept in the pantry to guard valuables like crystal and silver!

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The butler’s pantry dates back to 18th-century England, when the rise of the professional class led to luxuries like having a butler. Adding a butler’s pantry, a place for the head of the household staff to do their work, was a sign of social status. Wealthy Americans soon caught on to the idea, and by the 1940s, even some modest homes had a separate pantry.

How to use an old butler’s pantry today

While many homeowners today ask their architect and remodeling contractor to remove an existing butler’s pantry in favor of a larger eating area, some people have revived the pantry with new, more modern purposes.

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Carlene Anderson, an Oakland, CA kitchen designer, replaced the butler’s pantry of Carolyn and Jim Squeri’s 1920s home with a cozy nook. The wall between the pantry and kitchen was replaced with a half-wall and counter that integrated it with the kitchen. The space was completed with a small bay window, window seat and bookshelves.

Some people choose to take off the doors and dress up the pantry space by adding a dish-storage cabinet or shelves to showcase a wine collection.

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Perhaps less glamorous, but certainly more functional, an old butler’s pantry can be turned into a place for bulk items. Those trips to Costco may ensure you’re stocked with necessities for months, but where do you put that pallet of bottled water? If your butler’s pantry has doors, it can be a place to neatly store mega-sized items out of sight, but always within reach.

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Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer, currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty and scientific news. Follow her traveling adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected] and check out her website: livingbylex.com