Hidden Pantries, the Best-Kept Kitchen Secret

Have you ever seen a hidden pantry (or should I say, not seen)? Call it a secret room, “invisible” or a Murphy pantry, it’s the best kept secret in kitchen design. These are often walk-in pantries with a surprising amount of room inside.

It’s not just a neat kitchen magic trick, hidden pantries serve a purpose. Read on to find when it’s a good idea to design one into new kitchens or a kitchen remodel.

What is a hidden pantry?

A hidden walk-in pantry is comprised of a tall cabinet with door that is wide enough to walk through and matches the rest of the kitchen cabinets. The cabinet door functions as an entrance door, opening up to a storage room or closet on the other side. A hidden walk-in pantry is incorporated within the kitchen cabinet floor plan.

Hidden pantry cabinet doors can conceal a small pantry closet up to large walk-in rooms.

The  cabinet doors are the equivalent height of a passage door and wide enough to walk through when opened. Pantry door configurations can be a single door, double doors, or even an imposter set of drawers and doors made to look more like a built-in hutch. The cabinet doors are durable as a real door with heavy duty hinges to withstand daily use.

Unlike a Murphy Door, the hardware for a hidden pantry door doesn’t need to be hidden. Murphy doors pantry doors often have storage right on the door, sufficient hinge strength is critical to sucess. Hidden pantry door hinges should match the rest of the cabinets to blend in with the rest of the kitchen.

Luckily, these days there are heavy-duty kitchen cabinet hinges that will work adequately for hidden pantry door hinges.

A hidden pantry works best in a kitchen with taller ceilings. The extra height allows the space to conceal a full-height door that a person could walk through.

To add to the illusion, another set of cabinets are often installed above the hidden pantry doors and top moulding finishes the look. This extra touch really makes the cabinets feel built-in and appear as if intended as a kitchen cabinet.

This TikTok video takes you through a quick tour of a hidden pantry. You will be shocked to discover how big the hidden room is. The point is a hidden pantry can be as little or as much as you need it to be.

This flexibility in the floor plan has led to the rise in popularity of hidden pantries.

Why use a hidden pantry in kitchen?

Hidden pantries often solve a problem. There isn’t the usual space outside of the kitchen floor plan to add pantry door access. Hidden pantries are very efficient – access is within the cabinet flow. Look at the photos below showing a hidden corner pantry.

In the article “Are Corner Pantries Outdated?” an argument is made that corner pantries are not effective pantry solutions (here’s a tip, consider converting a traditional corner pantry into a hidden pantry). However, corner pantry door access is a completely different story in the photo below. This scenario works beautifully. Instead of “stunted” storage in a traditional corner pantry, the space gloriously expands to a respectable size.

Hidden pantries are convenient, functional, and seamlessly integrate into the kitchen plan. For kitchen owners who want a strong emphasis kept on the presentation of the kitchen or a side clean-up kitchen, hidden pantries are the way to go.

Hidden pantry doors hold secrets

Most hidden pantries are dropped right in the kitchen footprint, allowing the seamless flow of cabinets to continue. The cabinet leads to a pass-through and out the door to a mudroom – it isn’t a dead end room at all. If you look at the picture below, you will see pantry storage in the small hallway that was created, with an exit beyond.

In this example, Wisconsin Homes demonstrates a “walk-through” pantry. I had a chance to experience a similar layout in their model unit in Decorah, Iowa.

When passing through the doors, there are cabinets and counters on either side of the narrow hallway. This picture looks directly into a full bathroom. The model home I toured connected to a back entrance and mudroom area and 1/2 bath (it’s awkward enough looking into a bathroom, maybe that was why the hidden pantry strategy was used here).

This layout seems very practical and close to the idea of a “Costco” door (the humorous name given to a door that enters directly from the garage to the pantry to unload groceries).

I thought the little hallway would be more practical if, instead of counters, it was all shelving, or at least shelving one side and a counter on the other side. The nice thing about Wisconsin Homes is that the buyer can customize layouts to their heart’s content.

How big should a hidden pantry be?

There are no limits on the size of a hidden pantry. Hidden pantries can span the space of a modest step-in closet up to a room bigger than the kitchen itself – and holding an entire second kitchen!

If you were debating how much room to allow for a hidden pantry, let me put it into perspective using average pantry sizes. A standard closet pantry is 2′ x 5′ = 10 square feet. Small step-in pantries average in size 4′ x 5′ or 5′ x 5′ giving you up to 25 square feet to play with.

A pantry under 25 square feet will, for the most part, contain all your dry food plus a few small appliances and maybe some cookbooks. You may have to expand some of the storage to secondary pantry areas, such as the garage, or around the corner from the kitchen, or shared with a laundry room.

If you want all of your pantry storage all together as much as possible, then looking at configurations larger than 25 square feet will be more satisfactory. One would think the aspirations of all pantries would be to have everything all in one place, but it isn’t always the case.

Splitting up pantry space across the house can be done quite effectively, as in the this home with three pantries. Of course, pantry size is dependent on family lifestyle and size.

How wide should a hidden pantry cabinet door be?

The minimum clearance for a passage door is 32″.  A hidden pantry door should adhere to the same width. This measurement assures the widest inclusion of all body dimensions entering the passageway. Good design principles means designing for everyone.
However, pantry door sizes are available at sizes starting at 24″ wide.

I’m sure having a full 32″ door in a kitchen may seem a little out of perspective. Don’t forget that carrying armloads of groceries through the doorway requires more circulation space.

Squeezing through a narrow pantry door with arms full of bags wouldn’t be a pleasant experience and would get old fast. Think of future inhabitants of the space. It would be a shame if they couldn’t access the pantry because the doorway was made too small based on a decision made at one snapshot in time.

The only comment I have about the height of the door, is that it should be the same height as any other door in the house. That’s why this pantry type is best for kitchen with tall ceilings, because you need tall cabinets to pull it off and still look natural.

I can’t help but think, though, that people would have a natural tendency to “duck” their head when entering the hidden pantry. I’m sure that one would eventually overcome that instinct.

House plans with hidden pantries

A hidden pantry floor plan is really no different than a walk-in pantry plan (unless it is a pass-through or walk-through pantry). You might find it helpful to refer to our pages for walk-in pantry size dimensions.

Here are some examples of house plans with hidden pantries:

Best places for a hidden pantry in a kitchen

A hidden pantry can be located in a corner of a kitchen plan, in the middle of a string of cabinets, or at the end. Hidden pantries are not always located within the kitchen cabinet layout. They may be on a separate, unused wall.

In this case, the goal of the designer is to create visual cohesiveness in the room by using the same matching doors (instead of a traditional pantry door). The only tell-tale sign that there is a door is the absence of toe kick space.

Locating a hidden pantry next to refrigerator

Since the hidden pantry has a large presence, it is best to situate it next to other large cabinets, or a refrigerator. Careful attention should be given to integrating with adjoining cabinetry for a pleasing aesthetic. Remember, the aim is to give the impression that the cabinet is just a regular cabinet. Blending in as much as possible with the rest of the cabinets will provide the most successful results.

Along with design appeal, it’s important to not forget practicality. Locating a hidden pantry adjacent to a food prep area is smart.

Other variations of the hidden pantry

If you have ever heard of a Murphy bed? Murphy manufacturers specialize in making ninja furniture for the home that folds out. They’ve taken their ideas and applied it to Murphy pantry doors.

Across the pond in the land of UK, kitchen designers have a different perspective. They grew up in a country rich in architectural history, full of castles and manors… and hidden rooms. Metropolitan Cabinets in Massachusetts worked with their client (who came up with the idea and was born in the UK) to replicate the hidden approach using panels. In historic buildings in England, wood paneling was a popular way to finish a wall, but also perfect for building in secret doors.

Metropolitan Cabinets decided to panel the refrigerator, as well as the two side cabinets. The finished product achieved what the client wanted: the appearance of what seems to be a wall of panels, but disguises a walk-in pantry behind.

I’m guessing that if they chose to do something differently on the project it would be to swing the door out instead of in (keep that for your notes on hidden pantry design!).

Where did the hidden pantry design trend start?

Most of the videos of hidden pantries on the Internet are posted around 2018 and beyond. I was able to find this very dated October 2012 Youtube video that demonstrates the idea and a Salt Lake City Parade of Homes in 2013. The kitchen in the YouTube video isn’t amazing by any means, but the concept was really groundbreaking. Why the design trend was so slow to take off, I have no idea.

Hidden pantries are a nice way to get fantastic pantry space in a sometimes dismal kitchen floor plan. If you’re struggling with your kitchen layout, consider incorporating a hidden pantry!

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