The History and Use of Armoires

White armoire in between wall and bed

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Just like any other type of furniture, the armoire came to be because there was a need for it. In this case, the need was for storage. Chests were used for these purposes for many years. Storage was needed not just for clothes, but also for large items like linens, rugs, and tapestries, as well as weapons and armor. 

What Is an Armoire?

An armoire (pronounced ärm-ˈwär) is a tall, freestanding cabinet with doors that conceal shelves and drawers. There may also be space for hanging clothes. Armoires are typically in bedrooms rather than closets.

This piece of furniture in its present form was devised by the French in the 17th century, and the name might have come from the Latin word "armorium," which was a chest for storing armor. 

The earliest armoires date to medieval times when they were known as presses. Usually built of oak, a press had shelves for storing linens or clothes. Over time the look changed, as new features such as drawers and doors were added.

The earliest armoires were massive and stood very tall and wide. They were placed directly on the floor and did not have feet. These armoires were sometimes sculpted and also painted inside and out and had elaborate hinges. In France, the highly decorative armoire, with its paintings and embossings, became a showpiece in castles. They were also decorated with architectural elements such as columns. After a while, heavy ornamental carving replaced the painted surface. Less well-to-do owners had less ornamental armoires with plain hinges.

By the Renaissance, the armoire had become less massive, narrower and taller. Eventually, space was created for hanging clothes. This is the form a typical armoire takes today.

As part of the Country French tradition, armoires were most often made of indigenous wood. They usually were simple in design, but sometimes the maker of the armoire mimicked the formal styles of so-called court furniture of the time. This imposing piece was often the most valued in the house.

Over the centuries, dimensions changed, feet were added, and the surface treatment and general shape kept pace with the fashions of the day. 

Uses for an Armoire

Originally armoires were used to store personal belongings and treasures because there were no built-in cupboards or closets, even in the homes of the wealthy.

When built-in closets became the norm, armoires were freed up for other uses. During the last decades of the 20th century, armoires became popular for storing TVs, audio equipment and other tech equipment. Shut the doors, and all you see is a striking piece of furniture. Armoires also became part of the evolving home office. Their generous proportions and ample storage space helped hide away computers, monitors and files when not in use, making home offices relatively clutter-free.

Armoires have also served another important purpose through time. They have been used to provide decorative accents or focal points in rooms. Its very size makes an armoire hard to miss, and depending on its color and style; it can give any room character. Many people buy them for that reason alone, and all that extra storage space is a bonus.