Apothecary cabinets, used to store medicinal herbs and tinctures before modern medicine, may not seem like the foxiest piece in your contemporary décor, but when styled right, they can actually be an alluring touch. With an astounding number of drawers (some have 24, 45, or as many as 76!), a symmetrical appearance, and solid wood construction, this old-world charmer is as functional as it is gets. Ahead, discover seven fabulous way to use an antique apothecary.
Apothecary–Cabinet or Hutch?
Plug away at a search for an apothecary and you might find that the answer is less than crystal. Technically, both cabinets and hutches can be apothecaries, as both were historically used to stow medicinal herbs and related apparatuses. Most commonly found today are apothecary cabinets. Apothecary cabinets can take many forms, including a low, dresser-like cabinet bedecked with many drawers (Chinese apothecary cabinets were traditionally called “hundred-eye cabinets”), or lanky cabinets outfitted with two or more columns of thin, stacked drawers. Apothecary hutches are much larger, traditionally consisting of a wide shelving unit (sometimes encased with glass doors) set atop a bank of drawers. In their heyday, these apothecary hutches were prized for the extra room they offered, ideal for displaying tall items like mortar and pestles, labeled jars, and the like. Both apothecary cabinets and hutches pack all kinds of style, but it’s the apothecary cabinet with its itty bitty decorative drawers that we especially love for its go-anywhere appeal.
7 Ways to Reimagine an Apothecary Cabinet
As a China Cabinet
If you think a proper china cabinet makes your dining room feel too stuffy, swap it out for an apothecary cabinet topped with a bookcase-style shelving unit. We promise Grandmère’s china will never have felt so chic. While the shelving portion is perfect for displaying plates and bowls, the drawers underneath are ideal for stowing loose linens like napkins and serving utensils.
As a Multi-Tasking Buffet
Use an apothecary cabinet against a wall as a stand-in buffet or credenza. When your buffet isn’t in use, employ it to display a special collection, like a hodgepodge mob of vintage candleholders or a show-stopping collection of Murano glass vases. Speaking of show-stoppers, an apothecary cabinet used as a buffet can be the perfect place to park a showy floral centerpiece that might normally hog up space on the dining table. Not only will relegating a floral arrangement on an apothecary chest promote easy-flowing conversation among your oh-so-fabulous guests, but less pomp on the table also means more room for those delicious dishes.
As a Side Table
You might not want an enormous apothecary chest eating up precious space in your living room, but luckily, apothecary cabinets come in loads of different sizes. Plunk two small apothecary cabinets on opposite ends of a cushy sofa and top them with table lamps to instantly transform them into whimsical side tables. Behind a sofa, an apothecary chest that’s wider than it is tall can be used as a sofa table or console. Adorn the top with a tableau of precious items, including books, candles, and sculpture.
As an Entryway Console
An apothecary cabinet’s plethora of drawers are the perfect hidden compartments for all your dog-walking, kid-wrangling, and weather-defending accoutrements. Assign a column of drawers to each person in the house so those always-lost keys are now always-found. For the person who’s always dashing out the door in a rush, plunk a whimsical cachepot or studio pottery bowl on top to corral all the equipage needed to make a smooth getaway.
As a Kitchen Sidekick
With a nod to the apothecary cabinets of yore, which held not only dried leaves, seeds and powders for cooking, a table-top apothecary chest can be a bewitching addition to any kitchen. On a countertop, use a small vintage apothecary cabinet’s teeny-tiny drawers to organize your most-reached-for spices. If you’re looking to make a bigger statement in your kitchen with an apothecary cabinet, try using two identical apothecary cabinets pushed back-to-back. Cover them with a custom slab of marble and viola, you have the world’s most ingenious butcher block.
As a Nightstand
Ever feel like all of life’s odds and ends wind up congregating on your nightstand? Swap a nightstand for a small apothecary cabinet and you have the perfect commode to squirrel away that clutter. Chinese apothecary cabinets often have raised edges, making them the perfect stand-in for a nightstand. Crank up your maximalist tendencies by complementing a hand-decorated apothecary with chinoiserie pillows, a dhurrie rug, and a mix of patterned linens. Even the most discordant patterns feel cohesive when grounded by a weighty apothecary.
As Office Storage
Think library card catalog with a twist and it’s easy to envision the kind of function an apothecary can bring to an office. Whether your office is a separate room or a nook tucked into a corner, an apothecary cabinet is the quintessential storage solution. Use one to stash all the essential (and notoriously itty-bitty) office hardware like paperclips, rubber-bands, and pens. Counteract the seriousness of your workday by displaying mementoes from your latest vacation or a favorite collection.
What is an Apothecary?
The word “apothecary” can either be a person or a place. Sound a bit murky? Let’s break it down a bit more.
Apothecaries (the people) historically combined herbs, minerals, foodstuffs, and other ingredients for healing purposes, much like a pharmacist does today. The difference is today’s pharmacists primarily fill prescriptions from a doctor, whereas anyone could visit the apothecary for an all-natural fix.
Apothecaries (the place) were varied in scope. They were separate businesses, part of the general store, or even located in someone’s home. Along with medicines and snake oils, apothecaries also carried perfumes and cosmetics. If something could be mixed and mashed to improve health or beauty, you could find it at the apothecary!
Lead photo by Eric Piasecki / OTTO / Designed by Cullman & Kravis