The precursor to the modern wardrobe, an armoire is essentially a movable closet. Also known as a cupboard, wardrobe, or clothespress, it is a tall piece of case furniture, typically with a pair of paneled doors enclosing space for storing clothes, linens, and/or other household items. The word is borrowed from the French “armoire” , a form of the Latin armârium, or chest, from arma, tools, suggesting its origin as a large wooden chest for storing arms and armor.
Cupboards as we know them seem to have appeared around 1400 and were sometimes set into the paneling of a room. The term “armoire” was in use by 1560. Fine examples from that period were crafted of expensive woods such as oak and mahogany and exhibit detailed carving in the Flemish style.
Simpler paneled pieces were made by local householders and joiners all over Europe and Scandinavia. These were typically of pine with one or two doors which might conceal shelves and hand-carved pegs for hanging. In some cases, drawers were added under the storage compartment. Sized for interiors with low ceilings and for transport by farm wagon, the larger examples disassemble or “knock down” for ease of handling. Bun, or occasionally bracket, feet and hardware in pewter, brass, or iron complete the piece.
Scandinavia and Northern Europe are areas with abundant pine forests, and country cabinetmakers used this resource in their furniture. Armoires were painted to cover and preserve the soft pine surface and to brighten the dark interiors typical of the time. Decorative motifs include figural painting, as well as graining and marbleizing used to imitate more expensive furniture. Dates and initials personalize the pieces and suggest that many were made as wedding gifts. (The painted date does not always indicate the earliest date of manufacture. These expensive pieces were often overpainted to commemorate a later significant event.)
Because a large piece such as an armoire or cabinet represented a major investment, these prized possessions were usually placed in the best public room. They often contained secret compartments and were always equipped with lock and key to protect the valuable items placed inside.
The cabinets and armoires at Cupboards and Roses are from the 18th and 19th centuries. They are in excellent condition, retaining their original surfaces and hardware. The cabinets have their original interiors with shelves, drawers and compartments. The armoires are often empty boxes, perhaps with shelves or pegs. When a customer purchases one and explains how it is to be used, we custom fit the interior to best serve that purpose. Today, this may be a media center, a wine bar, or a computer workstation. Now, as in the past, the armoire will assume a position of importance in its new home.