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History of Armoires


The armoire is a large piece of furniture that traditionally is used to store clothes. But what did the first armoires look like? Which country invented them? What was their original purpose?

Let us first look at the name of the piece. "Armoire" refers to a large wardrobe or movable cupboard that features doors and shelves. The word was first recorded in 1565-75 AD and stems from Middle French, possibly a blend of the Old French words armaire and aumoire. The word armaire probably stems from the Latin word armarium, which refers to a cabinet used for storing weapons and armor. The first armoires as we know them today didn't appear until 17th Century France, designed by André-Charles Boulle, the cabinet maker to Louis XIV. Armoires have remained one of the most luxurious and impressive pieces of furniture that you can own, especially if your home is full of vintage furniture reproductions.

History of the Armoire

To understand the history of the armoire, we must also understand the history of the wardrobe. The earliest wardrobe was actually a chest, also referred to as a press, of which we have records stemming from Medieval Europe. These chests were usually made of oak and used only by the nobility. As the desire arose for a neater way to organize and store clothes, the chest evolved into a standing closet complete with exciting features like doors and drawers. This new wardrobe allowed bedrooms more space, which would have been a luxury for nobles.

The first armoires were very tall and wide, sitting directly on the floor since they had not yet been designed with feet. Though they were originally either left plain or painted in simple styles, as the armoire's practical functions evolved, so did the creativity of the craftsmen who created them. Some of the stunning decorative features armoires began to showcase included painted interiors, elaborate carvings, detailed hinges, and embossed marquetry. By the Renaissance period, armoires had become slimmer and taller, much like the armoires we have today. Despite all the changes armoires have gone through, they remain the pride and display piece of every house.

Because English forests tended to be either over-harvested or reserved for the English Navy, Europe looked to the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries for more affordable wood so that they could continue to create armoires. Oak was originally the favorite wood used to fashion large furniture pieces, but as deforestation in the American colonies ravaged the oak trees, favor slowly shifted toward more plentiful walnut wood. Large armoires made from walnut were actually quite rare, while smaller pieces like chests were quite common. Nineteenth-Century armoires were typically crafted from mahogany, and as rare materials like satinwood became more accessible, armoires became more luxurious and magnificently inlaid. During the 19th Century, we also begin to see the more familiar designs of central doors that cover the full length of the armoire appear instead of doors that only cover the armoire's top section.

Today, armoires can be made out of a wide variety of materials and an even wider variety of decoration and design techniques. Because most modern homes have built-in closets, we don't really need armoires to store clothes anymore, but there are many other ways that homeowners choose to use armoires. For example, during the last few decades of the 20th Century, some families began to use their armoires as entertainment centers. Armoires have the ability to neatly conceal televisions, speakers, computers, and monitors so that living rooms and home offices remain relatively clutter-free. When the doors are closed, though, the armoire can double as a strikingly regal furniture piece that adds personality to any room. Because new technology is all about flat screens and easy portability, the necessity for more storage space is decreasing. However, armoires still make perfect accent pieces or focal points in any home that features vintage furniture reproductions. Armoires carry a long history inside them, making them a must-have for any vintage furniture collector.

Laurel Crown Armoires

If you don't yet own an armoire, we have French and Victorian styles sure to take your breath away. One example is our Normandy Armoire. In designing this stately armoire, we drew inspiration from the northern coast of France, where grand farmhouses and stone castles speckle the magnificent countryside of Normandy. This antique French armoire looks as if it could have been plucked from a Norman home, marked by Romanesque architecture. This faithful reproduction of a Normandy armoire features regional motifs, including floral accents, medallions on each door, and decorative gadrooning to frame the shapely silhouette.

Our other French armoire is our Large Antique Armoire. Laurel Crown's spectacularly grand antique armoire is a detailed replica of a French Louis XIII antique wardrobe, making it one of the most exquisite pieces to have ever been reproduced by our cabinetmakers. The dedication of our craftsmen shows in perfect proportions and skilled attention to detail. The centerpiece and focal point of this replica is the heavily raised paneling motif that decorates the doors and the sides of the antique armoire. The ornamentation is a beautiful balance of masculine orthogonal shapes with more feminine and organic floral carvings that accentuate and frame the doors. A scalloped ogee crown adorns the top of the wardrobe, completing the regal look of the French Louis XIII style and counterbalancing the round shape of the large bun feet.

Like all of Laurel Crown's antique reproductions, our Victorian armoire has been carved, sanded, and finished by hand, put together using traditional construction techniques. We only use the finest wood favored by cabinet makers throughout the centuries: including solid mahogany wood. Unlike the softer pine and the harder oak, mahogany is less brittle and more flexible. What makes mahogany particularly beautiful on these pieces is the natural deep and rich reddish-brown color, straight grain, and medium texture which are all accented by our gorgeous satin finish. Give your home an Old World look with an heirloom-quality Victorian armoire from Laurel Crown.

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