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Versatility and history of the armoire

Published Feb. 28, 1998|Updated Sep. 12, 2005

(ran HS edition)

One of the most versatile pieces of furniture is the armoire. Depending on individual taste and need, the piece is used to store a home entertainment center, a home office or, more commonly, clothes.

The armoire comes in a variety of styles, despite its French name.

Ethan Allen makes a spacious Louis XV pine armoire that can be tailored for between $3,299 and $3,999. Good detective work can produce great finds at garage sales, flea markets and auctions. Antique armoires, depending on the condition and rarity, can cost from $2,000 to $50,000 and more.

In earlier times, the armoire was known by other names. The earliest so-called wardrobes may have been used for storage of arms and armor. During the Middle Ages, the wardrobe meant dressing room. It was a special room or closet where clothes were hung or stored in chests.

In the 17th century, examples had two drawers in the base. Through the 18th century it was usually known as a clothes press, which often included sliding trays or shelves on which clothes were laid. Armoire is the French term dating from the 16th century for a large cupboard, clothes press or wardrobe. The French armoire was often so large that it became the dominating feature in rooms in which it was used.

By 1833, the American wardrobe (as it was commonly known) was a large cabinet or cupboard used solely for hanging clothes in rooms where clothes closets were not commonly provided. By this time, the clothes press simply meant an arrangement of shelves within a wardrobe and was no longer an article of furniture identifiable by that name.

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