Let me start by saying I am in no way an expert carpenter or interior designer. I’m just really good at monkey-see-monkey-do and Pinterest. So, if I can figure out how to renovate an old dining room into a glorious pantry, so can you. I firmly stand by this decision to dedicate an entire room to a pantry space, and really, how many of us still use a formal dining room with any regularity? As a pantry, this room is now obviously one of the most used rooms in our house on a daily basis. It’s also weirdly fancy with a chandelier that I assumed at first I’d have to replace but now looks quite cool over our pantry island.
So. Without further ado, here are the first 4 steps I took to make our awesome pantry. I’ll give as thorough a how-to as I can, but you are always welcome to reach out and ask questions! I also made a pretty good list of the tools and materials I used, so I’ll specifically add those links where I can. (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. But it doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps me keep up my site!)
Step 1: (Obviously) gut your old dining room. This was easy for me since we were just moving in and all I had to do was clear out a few moving boxes we’d shoved into the room. An empty room will make it much easier to visualize and plan what you want to do. I used painter’s tape to outline where I wanted the cabinets, and that really helps you visualize how much room you’ll have to work with.
While your room is empty, PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. Decide what look you want and search for ideas online – Pinterest is my absolute favorite because you can pin pictures you like and literally see how things you like will look together. Then, once you know what to buy, you can measure out how much you’ll need of your materials. All of this planning makes the actual creation of your pantry – or any room – go much more smoothly and build your confidence in what you’re doing.
Step 2: Paint! It’s amazing what a coat of fresh paint will do for a room. Ours was a
lovely 1990’s pea green color. (Bless the previous owners’ hearts, they painted every room in our house a different color…more on that later.) I chose to use the same white I’d used in our living room and kitchen to tie the main floor together better, and it took about a gallon to cover the darker green. This was Swiss Coffee by Sherman Williams. I could have used primer and saved myself some trouble, but I had a LOT of this 5-gallon supply left and little time to shop that day, so there ya go.
I also knew I wanted an accent color on that back wall by the window, so I chose the same green color I’d used to convert our coat closet’s old bifold doors (yuck, more later) and what I used over our fireplace to create an accent wall. This green, again, helped tie the rooms together. The color I used was Royal Pine by Valspar.
An important note when picking paint: Get a test sample first! I don’t always do this, but do as I say, not as I do. A paint color might look great on a little swatch in the store, but the lighting in your house can make it look completely different, OR the other colors in your room might throw off the undertones. Long story less long, be smarter than me and test it out first. I got lucky and loved the green with the white, the stain of the wood I used throughout these rooms, and the gold hardware I’d picked for the pantry cabinets.
And again as a “do as I say, not as I do” I had to wait to paint until after I had my cabinets installed, and this made it a lot more difficult. (Life as a toddler mom means you do things when you can!) So just paint as soon as you can to make it easier on yourself.
Step 3: Flooring. If you are going to change your floor, now is the time to do it. I had a particularly funky plan for our floor and knew I would be doing that when I did our kitchen, pulling the same tile from our kitchen only partly into the pantry, so I knew that part I would skip for now. But if you’re going to do it, do it while your room is gutted and AFTER you have painted the walls in case you slob (if you’re like me, you will).
Step 4: Plan your cabinet layout, then secure them in place. I looked at a lot of “standard height” layouts for upper cabinets, counter depths, etc. Since I knew I had old cabinets to work with, the size of those made a lot of choices for me. But if you’re buying your own, obviously make sure they’re going to fit in your room and not make things too crowded.
I did buy the upper cabinets to go over the wider counter on one wall, and those we got from Ikea. Ikea is by far the cheapest option and really the most customizable and DIY friendly. Due to the age of COVID, supply was a bit of an issue, but eventually all my doors arrived and we didn’t have to have open shelving for too long. We got these guys from the Sektion collection, and they look really cool and add a modern touch to all the rustic wood I used on the counters.
They were also really easy to hang. You get the rail system for the back of the cabinets, cut it with a hacksaw to fit what size you need, and use a level, pencil, stud finder, screws, and a drill to hang the thing. Nothing complicated except maybe finding studs. I did this all by myself and only needed my husband for the “muscle” of lifting the cabinets to hang on the rail.
As for the lower cabinets, I used hand-me-down base cabinets from my grandmother’s old kitchen. Think very 1980s-but-cool, rounded, white cabinet doors. To install these, I screwed a (level!) 2×4 into the back wall, then lined up the cabinets how I wanted. If one wasn’t level, I simply shimmed the bottom with cheap wood shims, but mine were fortunately pretty level. Yay! Then I screwed the cabinets into the 2×4. This nicely secures them in place.
For the other lowers on the other side, I had to get a bit more creative. I used my grandmother’s old upper cabinets as lower cabinets, which meant I had to prop them up and make sure they were secure. I used my same method of screwing a 2×4 into the back wall, plus I built a frame out of 2x4s for the cabinets to stand on. I screwed a 2×4 into the wall along the floor for the whole length of the cabinets, then lay out 2x4s for the front of the cabinets, then measured cross pieces to make sure the whole frame wouldn’t be wider than the cabinets. basically, it looked like a ladder lying on the floor to lie under the cabinets. Then I screwed it all together wherever it needed until it was all secure. I knew the counter on top would do a lot to forgive how pieced together they looked, so don’t be afraid if it looks a bit… DIY. (lol) But the most important step is definitely to plan out the spacing between the cabinets and the order you want them in.
Next week… Step 5: The countertops! This step was a bit more involved and deserves it’s own blog post. But it was also really fun, so stay tuned for how I used cheap tongue-and-groove pine boards to create a butcher block look…and a waterfall edge that was a pain but totally worth it once done.
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Sneak peak of the final pantry result?