Building an Elegant Pantry

In this bizarre time, organizing can be a soul salve

Photo: Haskell Harris

One night at our house (pre-apocalyptic social distancing), a friend commented on our spice cabinet while we were making dinner together. “Oh, I wish I was organized enough to do something like that,” she said. “It’s so charming. And useful!” The cabinet she was referring to formerly served as an ironing-board closet in the kitchen we’d just finished redoing in our little craftsman cottage. While it didn’t make sense for an iron anymore, the shallow cabinet worked perfectly for everything from spices to sprinkles. We added shelves and a door with a glass front to magnify all the textures and colors inside each glass bottle of goodness. 

As my friend opened the door and inspected the labels on the bottom of each container, I reassured her: “Don’t wish a cabinet like this on yourself! When you see something like it in anyone’s house, it’s a dead giveaway that a crazy person like me lives there.” By “a crazy person like me,” I mean someone who might be found at 3 a.m. rearranging a linen closet when she’s stressed out. Something about organizing, or making a corner of this room or that room more orderly or beautiful, soothes my soul. That does not mean our whole house looks spotless (quite the opposite; we have a two-year-old living with us). But when I can’t solve a problem or I’m in limbo over something I absolutely cannot control, a spice cabinet represents something I can get a handle on. 

Naturally, during the current crisis I’m making my way through every room in the house, tidying up. But I started with the kitchen pantry. If you too feel a sense of peace wash over you while making labels for three different kinds of grits or pouring Carolina Gold rice into a glass container, read on for a handful of these practical resources for doing just that. 

Glass Jars
Dry goods just look better behind glass, and I love pared-down kitchen organization essentials such as these airtight containers from Muji. $12;

The Austin, Texas–based company the Global Pantry produces labels that are both washable and reusable. From $5;

Every pantry needs baskets, and I love this open design by Yamazaki Home for storing Vidalia onions and the like. From $25;

Silicone Bags
In my opinion you cannot have too many of these: for pantry goods, for leftovers—whatever. Made from food-grade silicone, these Stasher bags help cut down on single-use plastics and solve the whole lid-and-container debacle that can plague cabinets. $87 for a starter bundle;

When we got married, my husband introduced me to the value of the food clip and I’ve never looked back. I like that these Onyx versions are made of metal (not plastic). $24 for 24;

Spice Bottles
These Encheng four-ounce glass bottles are both functional and beautiful to gaze upon when the world is upside down. $29 for 30;

Bread Bin
We just started ordering bread from a local company here in Charleston called Void Baking Co., and it has emphasized to us the value of real bread and of supporting small businesses. Their levain is a work of art that deserves this handsome Typhoon Homewares bread bin to keep it fresh. $40;

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