Pantry building, step by (slow) step

In May of 2017, Mark started building me a pantry — the old-school walk-in pantry I’ve been dreaming of for years — pledging that I would have a finished space by November.

Thanksgiving came and went, and my pantry did not get done. Mark, always the card, says he never specified which November. He also insists that he’s not the one who’s been holding up the schedule.

He hasn’t wanted to pressure me, he claims, but in fact he’s been dying to start framing the cabinets. I just haven’t given him any plans.

This is partly true.

I haven’t given him blueprints, per se, but I have told him that I want some shelves, some cupboards and some drawers, and I want everything the right dimensions so that all of our stuff fits without too much wasted space.

He says I need to be more specific.

Fine. So one time I got a piece of paper and drew the right end wall of the pantry. It had shelves across the top and a bank of drawers and cupboards on the bottom, plus side-by-side pullouts for trash and recycling.

“Like this,” I said.

He looked at my sketch.

“This is what you want?”

“This is what I want.”

“See, it’s gonna be a little tough, because you’ve drawn nine feet of cupboards, and that wall is 60 inches long.”

What a perfectionist.

Recently, I explained to him that we needed to work together, one step at a time, to hammer out the details of what I want and what he can fit in a 5-by-10 space.

He says this is not how he works with typical clients. I say I am not a typical client: Not only are we shackled together for life in an arrangement that goes beyond a normal business relationship, but also I am not paying him.

There are so many decisions to be made: How deep should the cupboards be? How many shelves? How wide should the drawers be? Where will I keep the waffle iron?

I haven’t had much luck finding online resources. There seem to be only two types of pantries represented.

The first are those on fancy home-design sites, where the shelves are bare but for a set of matching glass canisters equally full of colorful bulk items (because who doesn’t keep three pounds of red, orange and green lentils within easy reach at all times?) and a series of white bowls placed 18 inches apart. Not a cereal box in sight.

The others are those seen in more practical home magazines. These are designed by detail-oriented cooks who arrange items by function, size and color and alphabetize their canned goods. There is a checklist by the door, and every time an item is added or removed from the pantry it is noted accordingly, using a color-coded key for canned vs. boxed items, etc.

Not only do I not work that way, but I automatically hate anyone who does.

I need a space where I can grab things quickly — suggesting open shelves — but where my cavalier storage habits are hidden — requiring closed cupboards. I don’t want to say I’m a slob, but the completely open-shelved pantry at our last house usually looked like it had just been hit by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake.

My food storage habits reflect my cooking style: off-the-cuff and whirlwind. To see me flying around the kitchen — splashing olive oil on the counter and leaving an eddy of onion skins in my wake — you’d think I was a contestant in some sort of speed-cooking competition where the penalty for coming in second was death. (Note to Food Network: This is a brilliant idea for a show.)

I’m sure there’s an ideal pantry layout for me; I just don’t know what it is yet. Fortunately, Mark is playing along. Whether he’s being a good husband or he’s just too tired to argue, he has started framing up the base cabinets in his workshop, and he’s letting me make decisions as he goes.

Just before he makes a cut, I shout “Stop!” and run into the house with the tape measure. I check the diameter of my largest stockpot or skillet, run back out to the shop to give him the OK (or, more often, a revised measurement), and he cuts. It’s not the most efficient process, but we are getting closer to having a functional, finished pantry.

Call me overconfident, but another November is coming around soon, and I think it just might be the one.