Learn how my family and I converted an unused closet to a custom-built allergen-safe pantry to provide clear access and prevent cross-contamination.
As a family with multiple food intolerances and allergies, it has been hard to keep our groceries separated and organized to avoid cross contamination while still allowing everyone to access their own snacks and meal items. We decided to convert our old non-functioning laundry closet into an ultra-organized pantry with divided cubbies, shelves, and drawers so we never have to worry about accidentally eating something we shouldn’t. Here’s how we did it.
Step 1: Measure Closet
To start, I measured the laundry closet’s length, width, and height, as well as the distances of the outlet and door opening. I knew I wanted to add drawers, so I had to make sure the drawers would be placed where the bifold door opening was. Once I had all my measurements, I drew up a quick sketch of how I wanted the pantry to look.
Step 2: Create A Sketch
I decided on two base cabinet units in the middle with cubbies on both sides to fill the gaps. A wood countertop would span the full length of the pantry, and divided shelves would go all the way up to the ceiling.
Step 3: Add Beadboard
The first thing we had to do was remove all the plumbing and electrical outlets from the old laundry setup. My handyman was able to cap the water line and remove everything else. Instead of patching up all the holes, we added beadboard to the wall. It really gave the pantry some character and made it feel more like a designed room and not just “a closet”.
Step 4: Install Cabinets
We installed the cabinet units first, then built basic box units to go between the cabinets and the walls. These are just simple box units with one shelf in the middle, held together with pocket screws. We did raise them up using scrap 2×4’s to align them with the cabinets for a seamless built-in look.
Step 5: Consider Your Floor
We shimmed the bottoms, since the floor wasn’t level, and removed the baseboards so everything sat flush to the walls. That really helps make it look like built-in shelving instead of something that was just added as an afterthought.
Step 6: Assemble Counter
For the countertop, we used a 2×12 yellow pine board cut in half to make two pieces. Since the cabinet base unit is 24”, we added a 2×4 in the back to allow for a two inch overhang. All three pieces were joined together using pocket screws on the underside, then sanded, stained, and treated with two coats of polyurethane. This turned out to be way cheaper than using a butcher block countertop, and will be a lot easier to maintain, too.
Step 7: Plan & Assemble Shelving
Once the countertop was in, we started planning the shelving. I had drawn up measurements beforehand, and I also pre-painted each 1×12 board with white semi-gloss paint. I knew it would be really hard to paint each cubby once it was installed, so pre-painting was a super smart decision.
To assemble the upper shelving, we started by cutting the top piece of 1×2 to the width of the closet, then screwing it to the beams in the ceiling. Then we cut each 1×12 side piece and screwed them to each side of the wall. These three boards gave us something to attach the shelves to.
After the top and side framing was in, we screwed the two vertical dividers into the top board and the countertop using pocket holes and screws. Then we added the horizontal shelves using pocket holes and screws, too. We made a spacer board so we wouldn’t have to keep measuring for placements.
After all the shelves were in place, I filled the pocket holes, touched up the paint, and installed the cabinet drawer hardware. Then all that was left to do was fill it up with food.
Step 8: Stock & Organize
We use the upper shelves to store all our baking and meal ingredients, as well as breakfast and smoothie supplies. The lower cubbies hold snacks, drinks, and veggies. And the drawers are for specific snacks for each family member.
My husband is the only one in our family with no food allergies, so he has his own drawer with gluten/dairy/egg products that he takes to work for lunch. My son and I each have a drawer with lunch and snacks that are safe for our diets, and the other three drawers are for quick meals, post-workout snacks, and backstock/overflow.
Was Our Custom Pantry Worth The Work?
Having this custom pantry has completely changed the way we eat, cook, and shop for groceries. Now we all feel safe storing our food in the pantry because there’s no possibility of cross contamination. I can 100% say that it was worth the time and money it took to put this together. You can tour my entire pantry and see how I organized each section here.
The Exact Details Of Our Custom Pantry Closet Build
FINISHED DIMENSIONS: Build To Fit Your Closet Size (Mine was 63” x 38” x 96”)
- 1×12 Common White Pine Board x10
- 2×12 Yellow Pine Board x1
- 2×4 Yellow Pine Board x1
- 4×8 Beadboard Panel x2
- Pocket Screws (Pack of 100)
- Wood Glue
- Wood Stain
- Cabinet Grade Paint (I used Behr)
- Paint For Beadboard (I used this color)
- Baseboard & Quarter Round to match surrounding room
- 2 Stock Base Cabinets With Drawers (I used these 18″ cabinets from The Home Depot)
- Drawer Hardware (I used these from Amerock)
- Circular Saw
- Miter Saw
- Palm Sander
- Impact Driver
- Screwdrivers (Phillips & Flat)
- Tape Measure
- Utility Knife
- Wet/Dry Vac
- Pry Bar
- Pocket Hole Jig
- Nail Gun & Air Compressor
- Clear out closet and remove baseboard
- Install beadboard on back wall
- Install two cabinet base units and level with shims. Screw together.
- Build box units for both sides of cabinet base and slide into place. The box units should be 12” deep. You can use scrap beadboard to make the backs for these units.
- Install baseboard and quarter round shoe molding
- Attach two 2x12s and one 2×4 using pocket holes and screws to create a countertop
- Sand countertop, then stain and coat with polyurethane
- Paint cabinets and box units beside them (It’s also a good idea to prepaint the 1×12 boards now)
- Screw one 1×12 (cut to size) to the ceiling to start your shelving frame
- Screw a 1×12 (cut to size) to both sides of the closet wall to create the sides of the shelving frame
- Using pocket holes faced toward the wall sides, install the two vertical dividers to create three evenly spaced cubbies
- Using pocket holes, screw shelves to dividers. Use a scrap piece of wood cut to size as a spacer so shelves are evenly spaced.
- Paint shelving edges and touch up any scuffs on the wall
- Install cabinet hardware