When you hear ‘China cabinets,’ do you automatically think of porcelain dishes, intentionally placed in an antique-looking cabinet along one of the main walls in a dining room or kitchen? Traditionally, China cabinets were perfect for putting anything and everything fancy on display, especially in the kitchen or dining room. However, over the years, they took a dip in popularity as many homeowners moved from fancy to functional.
But China cabinets are making a comeback. Not only can they be used to store those precious family heirlooms, but designers have gotten creative about what they can do, house, and showcase in these versatile pieces.
Whether you’re hip to this new trend or curious about how you can make this staple piece of décor more functional in your space, here’s what you need to know about China cabinets and their ‘moment’ in the contemporary design world.
What Are China Cabinets?
First thing’s first: what are China cabinets? As the name suggests, they traditionally housed ‘China’ or porcelain and glass dishes, plates, drinking glasses, silverware, and more. Historically used to showcase the items that were used less frequently, they added a bit of elegance to a space.
Over time, this décor element dropped in popularity, largely because homeowners didn’t have as many precious items to display, opted for more usable space, or were less inclined to make a larger purchase like this or design a room around this bulky item.
These cabinets are now making a comeback as people redesign their spaces, prioritize the showcasing of different items, and use the cabinets as part of their décor rather than a central focus.
Why Are China Cabinets Making a Comeback?
There’s something to be said for the functionality of a China cabinet. Despite being on the larger side, these display cases are often added to a space because they help to store items in a unique and sophisticated way. And, depending on your home or family, they can serve different purposes.
“I love anything that provides storage and visibility into what is actually in my cabinets!” shares Mimi Meacham of Marian Louise Designs, “I have a China cabinet in my office that I lovingly refer to as my ‘Mom Command Center.’ It's perfect for displaying just enough decor while providing tons of storage for things I don't want cluttering my desk. The bonus is the lattice design on the window panes that hides when things get a little out of place.”
As both a designer and mother, Meacham finds that her cabinets help to store items she isn’t using all the time while providing a bit of aesthetics that traditional cabinets simply don’t provide. And for anyone with kids or a family, having items that are out of sight can be particularly helpful to keep your design intact.
How Can We Design These Cabinets?
When it comes to adding a China cabinet to your home, there are simple and subtle ways you can make a big impact. First and foremost, it’s a good idea to prioritize what you want others (and yourself) to see.
“I love the visibility the cabinet provides,” shares Jamie King of JLK Interiors, “[There’s] no excuse for not using your best pieces when they're on display, and the benefit is the safekeeping for when you're not. Also, you can always buffer with some fun showpieces for another design detail in the room.”
The idea is to create a China cabinet that works for you. As King suggests, it’s a good idea to find ways to hide what isn’t always used and emphasize what is, while visually displaying those often-ignored pieces so that they can become a part of your routine more often.
Another way is to modernize your cabinets. Maria Juvakka, Lifestyle Blogger and Founder of Chic Pursuit, says that this is as simple as adding a coat of paint.
“Vivid greens and blues will make the China cabinet a statement piece, rather than an antique piece collecting dust,” she shares. “A colorful China cabinet will look best in a room with other neutral colors and patterns. [Or], if you'd rather not paint the exterior, you can also paint the interior with a bright color.”
Juvakka also suggests considering the color of the items inside. Rather than just focusing on the cabinet itself, shifting the color scheme or accents of items can make for a sophisticated, vintage, or even trendy look.
“Touches of silver and gold will make the cabinet more eye-catching and modern,” she shares, “While you can balance it out with glass and ceramics, having a few statement cups and bowls in the cabinet will make it pop.”
If you’re looking to get a little more ‘out-of-the-box,’ you can opt for something less traditional.
“Give your China [cabinet] a new life by using it as a children’s armoire to hold their clothing. [Or] turn one into a mini bar station for storing and serving your favorite wines or other alcohol.” Andra DelMonico, Lead Interior Designer for Trendey, shares. “If you have a designer purse, shoe, accessories, or perfume collection, you could keep it in a China cabinet.”
DelMonico also suggests using it more practically rather than simply to display. Instead of having towels tucked away in closets or buried on shelves, for example, she offers the idea of using a China cabinet to display these towels and create a more ‘hotel-esque’ vibe.
Should You Add a China Cabinet to Your Space?
“Just like everything, design styles come and go,” says Yoselin Castro, senior interior designer at Mackenzie Collier Interiors. “China cabinets are pieces that naturally lean toward a classical and Victorian aesthetic, although with more people becoming interested in thrifting and shopping for antiques and secondhand items the demand for traditional pieces, such as a China cabinet, has increased.”
While design styles of the past focused on building the space around the China cabinets, designers today are realizing that it’s quite easy to give furniture a makeover—and even easier to add a statement piece to a room without disrupting the feng shui.
“The rise in popularity of China cabinets fits with the 'grandmillennial style' trend,” shares Juvakka, “It's all about feel-good nostalgia and sharply goes against the minimalist mid-century modern style.”
You can paint, redesign, update items, reconfigure layouts, and even move your cabinet to a non-traditional location—all of these are ways this piece of décor is sneaking its way into our homes.