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The Revival of the Butler’s Pantry

The Pantry of today by definition is a small room or cupboard in which food, crockery, and cutlery are kept.

The word “pantry” comes from the Old French word “paneterie” loosely translated as ‘bread sack’. ‘Pain’ is the French word for bread which was prepared in the pantry.

In medieval times food and supplies were stored in specific rooms: meats were stored in a larder, alcohol stored in the buttery and bread was stored in the pantry.  This was a precautionary measure so that if something spoiled it wouldn’t affect other foodstuffs. There’s a wise old saying – don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Just like the kitchen, design and function of the pantry was influenced by economic and social trends. The influence of the French style of cooking in the 18th and 19th Century had a major impact both in England and America on how food was stored, prepared and served. The elaborate dishes, formal table settings and multitude of courses became the strict etiquette du Jour among the rich.

An 18th Century Victorian dinner table

Booming trade between Europe, America and Asia saw new foods being introduced increasing the demands on the kitchen and its servants. It was not uncommon for an 18th Century dinner party to last several hours as one course could consist of between five and twenty-five dishes.  Servants were not only expected to cook but to clean the mountains of dishware and cutlery. The customs of dining required considerable effort.

Over time these customs and social expectations established by the upper-class caused a great rift between the upper and lower class. Between 1850 and 1900, only estate homes of the upper class featured a “Butler’s Pantry”

Historically the position of Butler cane with a great deal of responsibility. The Butler was one of the most trusted servants in the household. The Butler was both butler and chief server and ‘his pantry’, so called was where valuable silver serving pieces and other kitchen items rather than food was stored.

18th Century Victorian Butler’s Pantry

Merchant account books and wine logs may also have been kept in there. To guard against theft the Butler would sleep in the locked pantry. Over time the ‘Butler’s Pantry’ become more popular in the modest middle class homes minus the resident ‘butler’.

Butler’s Pantry in Victorian house 1874 with copper sink.

The 20th Century, post war, experienced an economic boom and an increased selection of processed and prepared foods graced the supermarket aisles.

1950’s Supermarket aisle – in the cereal section.

With the improvement of refrigeration technology and the ability for better freezing and storing of food, the Butler’s Pantry lost popularity and became obsolete. In its place came the floor to ceiling cabinet incorporated into the design of the modern kitchen and in more recent times, the Walk in Pantry was the must have.

Typical Walk in Pantry of the 1990’s with Vegemite proudly on display.

The design of homes today reflect a more relaxed lifestyle where the kitchen and living area is incorporated into an open space. The connection between kitchen and living area makes for great entertaining but does put the kitchen and the chef on full display.

An open plan kitchen and dining area completed by Supa Group Extensions. The door to the Butler’s Pantry is just to the right of the wall oven.

Supa Group has added many open plan ground floor extensions over the years.  People love the idea of an open concept Kitchen, however in reality it is not always practical for some.

It is all well and good if you are a tidy cook but if you don’t get a chance to tidy up there are no doors to close, everything is out in the open, and the everyday mess and clutter is out on display for all to see.

And so we come full circle; today heralds the revival of the Butler’s Pantry which has all the attributes of yesteryear’s version and so much more, except the bed.  It is the kitchen within a kitchen and one of the most requested features in ground floor extensions.

A Modern ‘Butler’s Pantry’ created by Supa Group at a home in Melbourne’s Caulfield South, complete with dishwasher, microwave, coffee machine and sink.

Open Floor to ceiling cupboards and shelving for easy access and maximise storage. It’s okay to have things on display when they’re tucked inside a pantry, away from open view.

The Butler’s Pantry is a bit like a real butler – it makes for a quiet efficiency so you hardly know they’re there.

It’s a hidden room connected to the kitchen, often with open shelving to store food and a servery. There’s bench tops to house large appliances and do prep work, sinks and even a dishwasher to clean and contain the mess after entertaining. In the mean-time your main kitchen remains pristine and free of clutter.

It is the perfect accompaniment to the open plan kitchen.