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Armoires & Wardrobes

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VINTAGE ARMOIRES

Clever storage is always in vogue—hence the near-perpetual appeal of a vintage armoire. A relatively constant fixture since Medieval times, the antique armoire has endured for centuries thanks to its abundance of storage, unmatched by virtually anything short of a tooth-and-nail closet.

Essentially a weighty, freestanding cabinet designed to stow clothes, linens, towels, and the like, most vintage wardrobe armoires come outfitted with two doors which open French door-style to reveal a hanging bar for clothes. Bare-bones models will sometimes contain only the bar, but more souped-up wardrobe armoires will often come equipped with a stack of drawers under the bar, ideal for socking away foldables like sweaters and jeans.

The armoire has undergone many iterations since its inception. In the Middle Ages armoires were known as “presses,” and like the armoires of today, were used for stashing clothing like robes and other textiles. Presses were mostly composed of wood, and typically featured ornate woodwork, which earned them showpiece status in the castles and manors in which they resided.

As generally happens, regional versions of the antique armoire emerged. In Italy, the concept transmuted into the linen press. In the Netherlands, presses were translated into the kast, a huge cupboard or wardrobe used for storing essentials. In France, presses evolved to assume a new use: stockpiling weapons and defense gear. The name “armoire” is thought to derive from the Latin term "armorium," which was a traditional chest employed for stowing armor. The current iteration of the armoire, a large, free-standing wood cabinet intended to function as a makeshift closet, surfaced in France in approximately the 17th century.

Beginning in the 1980s, armoires began to take on more tech-driven tasks. Namely, housing hardware like TVs and computers. As the TV armoire and computer armoire took hold, armoires became increasingly nondescript. True, some featured subtle French Provincial stylings—an in-vogue style at the time that worked in natural cohesion with armoires, but more often computer and TV armoires were lumped in with office furniture and were bereft of any flattering details.

When TVs and computers underwent a slim-down in the late aughts, computer and TV armoires were cast aside in droves. For a time it seemed plausible that the armoire closet had seen its day. And yet, the quest to curb clutter and chaos never truly ends, and so it was only a matter of time before the vintage armoire became ready for a redux.

Coming back from the brink of extinction, the armoire has been reimagined as a trimmer, more compact version of the standing closet. Special details like caning, parquet inlays, and even glass-paned doors abound. Armoire wardrobe shapes have also transformed. Rather than a standard-issue box, many armoires are coming to market with domed tops, a design element that helps to soften armoires’ overall appearance. At the end of the day, an armoire is essentially a big, massive box taking up residence in your living room or bedroom, so details really are a matter of necessity.

Another way armoires are being reinvented this time around: they’re just for bunking your duds. Rather than be pigeonholed as a stand-in closet, clothing armoires are co-oping new functions (and revising a few previous ones). To help you reimagine the vintage armoire in your own space, we’ve compiled some of their most ingenious reworkings below.

Refashion an Antique Armoire As…

An Office Cabinet

In the late 1990s, armoires were occasionally marketed as “home offices in a box.” The idea being that an armoire would open to reveal shelves for a computer monitor, printer, and modem, as well as a slide-out surface for a keyboard and mouse. While novel in concept, opening these computer armoires was on par with cracking open an office building server room—which is to say, wholly uninviting. The universal slim-down of digital devices; however, has breathed new life into the concept of an office or computer armoire. A laptop can be housed on an interior shelf, leaving the rest of the space open for an aesthetically-minded set-up, complete with valets or trays for holding papers and brass or ceramic cups to corral pencils and pens. The interior of an armoire can even be wallpapered to lend it the distinction of a separate room.

A Laundry Closet

Whether you have a dedicated laundry room or not, an armoire can lend organization to the accouterments required for sudsing and steaming. An armoire’s hanging quarters provide the perfect holdover space for garments awaiting dry cleaning or air drying delicates, while shelving and drawers provide an ideal place to sequester gadgets like irons, steamers, and stain sticks. Use baskets to keep essentials like clothespins and laundry pods handy on the shelving above or below your hanging rod. Some especially large wardrobes could even be used to stow an ironing board or broom to keep everything feeling especially spick-and-span.

A Pantry

Just because you don’t have a pantry doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to partake in the pleasure of an everything-in-its place pantry. Get your organization fix by employing an antique armoire as a makeshift pantry. To get the look, first, remove any hanging rod and line your armoire’s interior with shelves to store snacks packed into baskets or clear plastic bins. Use any below drawers to stow basics like spices (lid-labeled for easy retrieval), or unopened bottles and boxes. In an extremely space-compromised kitchen, bottom drawers could be refashioned as a holding spot for pots and pans, or even Tupperware. Armoires’ deep drawers mean never having to divvy up your plastic fantastics ever again.