The Scullery Reinvented for Modern Living (2024)

When the idea of installing a scullery or butler’s pantry was first suggested to me, I thought I’d stumbled into a Dickensian novel. Surely a scullery was the domain put upon young maids or the dank place to which Cinderella’s wicked stepmother banished her? While I could see the point of a scullery in, say, Downton Abbey, the rationale for installing one in a modern house escaped me.

Then I did a little research and realised that not only does a scullery make absolute sense in a modern context, it also solves the eternal dilemma between having a truly useable kitchen and a tidy, presentable one. I suddenly couldn’t see how I’d lived so long without one. There are many reasons to lust after a scullery, from the ability to confine messy food preparation to a hidden section, to having space to leave all your gadgets out and within easy reach without cluttering up your kitchen. Top of my list is having somewhere quiet to hide away with a cup of tea and a new recipe book.

Waller Projects

Essentially, a scullery is a second, smaller kitchen, or an addendum to the main kitchen, designed to operate as a preparation, cleaning and storage area. It’s the backstage to the main arena; a place to hide the mess and mechanics of cooking and entertaining while the show goes on in the kitchen.

Whether you’re designing a kitchen that will cope with feeding a young and growing family, or are looking for a flexible space that will adapt to changing needs as your household waxes and wanes, a scullery can be a very useful addition to your house plans.

Plan It Green

Varying in size and scope from a butler’s pantry with pretension to a full-scale second kitchen, a scullery can be whatever you need it to be. The key to designing a scullery that works for you lies in understanding how you’re most likely to use it, what specific functions it will need to perform and on what scale.

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A scullery lets you expand the size and capacity of your kitchen to cope with preparing and cooking larger-than-usual meals. It makes it possible to confine all the mess when you’re entertaining, making it easy to keep things looking neat and feeling calm in the main area.

In households where members come and go – perhaps a partner travels a lot or adult children work or study away but return on a regular basis – a scullery provides a small, functional space that lets you cook for one without needing to use, or clean, a large kitchen designed for many.

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Where to put it
Most sculleries are connected to, or are an offshoot of, the main kitchen. In some of the grandest houses, you might find a scullery next to the dining room as a sort of staging area between the distant kitchen and the table.

Assuming you’re not looking to build or renovate something enormous that dates from the Gilded Age, a scullery off the kitchen makes sense in both design and practical terms. It allows you to economise on the installation of plumbing and extraction, and means that the additional workspace offered by a scullery is close at hand.

The simplest design solution may be to have an open scullery area – a section of kitchen that is tucked away on one side, or forms the short end of an L-shaped room. However, there are plenty of other options worth considering.

Hilary Bradford Photography

The screened scullery
Installing a screen, folding door or partition is a simple and cost-effective way to turn one end of a long, open-plan space into a discrete scullery area, especially if you’re renovating within an existing floor plan.

A screen allows you to open or close the area as and when you need to. You can open it up to increase the overall available space when necessary, or use the screen to keep food preparation or dirty dishes out of sight while dining or entertaining. It’s a flexible solution, as well as being practical and attractive.

If opening up the space isn’t on your wish list, a bank of built-in storage makes a practical screen. You can choose to install something that ties in with the rest of the kitchen, or use the opportunity to make a bit of a design statement.

If you have the space, installing a deep enough structure to accommodate cupboards on both sides is always a good idea. There really is no such thing as too much storage, especially in the kitchen.

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Enigma Interiors

The ‘backstage’ scullery
Another excellent option for a large space is to install the butler’s pantry or scullery behind a false ‘back wall’ with the entrance in a shared passageway. From the kitchen, the scullery area is essentially invisible.

Carving out a length of the room allows you to install a sizeable scullery – one that’s large enough to hold multiple appliances as well as provide a food preparation area, washing facilities and storage.

SGS Design Ltd

A ‘backstage’ scullery can be especially useful for the dedicated baker as it allows you to separate ‘recreational’ baking from the everyday cooking and preparation of family meals. You can get down and dirty with the flour, butter and chocolate without needing to whisk everything away just because dinner needs to be cooked.

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Art of Kitchens Pty Ltd

The walk-in scullery
It’s possible to fit a scullery into any space that’s capable of containing a decent-sized walk-in pantry. In fact, if you’re pushed for room, combining the two can be a very effective use of the available space.

Extending a walk-in pantry to provide the facilities of a scullery is not a particularly difficult undertaking. It’s a matter of sorting out plumbing, power points and shelving, which provides both storage and adequate work space.

A smaller scullery may be less about providing a preparation area and more about dividing the kitchen into autonomous zones.

Kitchen Design Co.

The walk-in scullery is a great place to keep appliances that are in heavy use but not part of your cooking equipment, such as the coffee machine and toaster. It’s simply far less annoying when someone decides to make themselves a cuppa while you’re cooking – they won’t get under your feet.

It’s also a sensible place to install a kind of organisational hub, somewhere for bags, notes and everyday paperwork to be stored that’s both on hand and out of sight.

Renovation Capital

What to store in a butler’s pantry
The extent to which you equip your butler’s pantry or scullery will depend on its size and on how you expect to use it. There’s no single item that is a non-negotiable inclusion, however a sink gets pretty close. You can have a scullery without a sink, but it seriously limits the kind of work that can easily be performed within the space and restricts its ability to function as a clean-up zone when entertaining.

If you have the space and budget, a scullery can be fitted out as a full second kitchen, with a sink, dishwasher, appliances, bench space and even a second oven. If you regularly entertain or cook on a large scale, going all out with a fully-equipped scullery is worth the investment.

Garsden and Clarke Kitchens

Alternatively, a scullery can be designed to function primarily as storage area with cleaning and preparation areas as a useful postscript. If you’re a collector of kitchen and dining paraphernalia, whether it’s linen, china, gadgets or appliances, capacious and well-designed storage is a blessing. It allows you to indulge your hobby without being condemned to life with a cluttered kitchen and a third drawer down that just won’t open.

Lorin Hill, Architect

However you plan to use a scullery, whether as a functional wet area or as storage with a sink on the side, cast the idea of a grim little room out of your head. A well-designed scullery can be a delightful space in which to work, as well as a practical design feature. It can be anything from a stripped back, professional-style staging zone to a cosy nook in which to potter, bake and order your household affairs.

Cosentino Australia

Your turn
Which of these butler’s pantries or sculleries would you love to have at your house? Share your thoughts in the Comments below, like this story, save the images, and join the conversation.

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The Scullery Reinvented for Modern Living (2024)


What is a modern scullery? ›

A scullery kitchen offers more room and, in modern times, may also hide unkempt cooking and cleaning tasks from the main kitchen. A scullery must have a lot of storage space, counter space, and a sink. To fit one's demands, homeowners can modify a traditional scullery design as they please.

What was scullery used for? ›

A scullery is a small kitchen or room at the back of the house used for washing dishes and other dirty household work. Until recently, sculleries were most often associated with the Victorian period and turn of the 20th century in larger homes where the kitchen was not a place to be seen.

How does a scullery work? ›

A scullery kitchen is essentially a smaller, secondary kitchen space that can help handle the extra dirty kitchen tasks or the overflow from your main kitchen. A scullery often has plenty of storage for appliances or fancy dishes that don't fit in your main kitchen cabinets, but don't necessarily belong in the pantry.

What is a scullery next to a kitchen? ›

The scullery was a back kitchen located adjacent to the main kitchen, frequently to the rear of the house nearest the water supply, such as a public fountain or a well, or near a barrel that collected rain water, which was the preferred water for washing dishes.

What is the difference between a back kitchen and a scullery? ›

Unlike a back kitchen which is essentially an extension of the kitchen to allow more space for cooking, sculleries don't tend to have an oven or fully-fledged cooking set up, as a back kitchen would.

What is the difference between a kitchen and a scullery? ›

Historically, sculleries are associated with grand Victorian homes or English manors where kitchens were not to be seen. Today, the scullery is an additional prep room off of the kitchen for overflow dishes and plenty of cabinet storage.

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