Armoires & wardrobes come in all sorts and styles. They are an excellent way to create storage in rooms that do not have hanging places or drawers for clothing.
They are not specific to any era, although there are some truly beautiful antique or vintage models.
What Are Armoires & Wardrobes?
Although both armoires & wardrobes provide storage areas, they are different.
Wardrobe: The inclusive term for free-standing storage units that include drawers and a hanging area. The drawers might be displayed beside the hanging area, or both might be hidden behind a pair of doors, giving the unit a uniform appearance. Armoires and chifforobes are types of wardrobes.
Armoire: A type of wardrobe, often ornate and sometimes antique or vintage. It is a free-standing unit with doors and often includes a hanging bar. The first known use of the word is in 1571, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
Chifforobe: A combination wardrobe and chest of drawers. Often somewhat smaller than an armoire.
Before the days of built-in closets, these furnishings were essential to keeping your clothing and personal items in order. In modern settings, armoires are also sometimes used to conceal modern items such as televisions or computers that might clash with a Victorian or Edwardian setting.
What Should You Look for When Buying Wardrobes & Armoires?
When looking for wardrobes and armoires, pay special attention to:
If at all possible, even in modern replicas, try to find items that are made of real wood rather than presswood or other modern manufactured materials. Real wood will hold its shape better, is less affected by dampness, and can more easily be refurbished if wear impairs function.
Look for dovetailed corners, drawers that rely on wooden fittings rather than nails or glue. Check the depth of grooves that are intended to hold the edges of the bottom of drawers. Minimal depth gives greater likelihood of the bottom of the drawer popping out.
Wardrobes, armoires, and chifforobes are often made of an inexpensive wood that has been laminated with a more expensive wood for better appearance. For example, a unit might be made of pine, then laminated with cherry or maple.
Look for the condition of the laminate. Is it bubbled? Are pieces of it peeled away? Does it seem to be firmly glued? Also, check the condition of decorative features.
If you are shopping yard sales, flea markets, and similar venues look carefully for signs of cockroaches, bedbugs and similar vermin. While you are unlikely to see any adult bugs, used furniture always has this possibility. It is a good idea to thoroughly fumigate any used furniture before introducing it into your house, and certainly before storing any sort of fabric in it.
- Maker or Manufacturer Markings
While your goal might be to simply get the clutter in your home organized, it never hurts to know if your yard sale or secondhand store find might be an antique or vintage piece. If you have the good luck to find one, you might need to know how to successfully clean it.
Is It Hard to Care for Armoires and Wardrobes?
Armoires and wardrobes are usually easy-care items. Their upright nature gives more storage space than a shorter item, such as a credenza, for the same amount of floor space.
Most of them respond well to dusting with a soft cloth sprayed with a dusting compound. With that said, it is a good idea to be aware of the various possible finishes, especially on antique or vintage furniture.
Avoid using chemicals on lacquer. It can be cleaned with a damp cloth or deep cleaned with water and mild soap. Avoid getting it wet, and do not clean with spray cleaners that contain ammonia or bleach.
Can be cleaned with mild soap and warm (not hot) water. Avoid using oil soaps or heavy-duty cleaning chemicals.
Again, clean with damp cloth. Use mild soap and water for deep clean. Wipe down with a dry cloth after cleaning. Use a solvent cleaner to restore shine to dull varnished items.
The insides of a wardrobe are rarely finished – they are usually raw wood, although it is likely to be sanded smooth to avoid snagging on fabrics. Wipe out with damp cloth that has been moistened in a vinegar and water mixture.
If you suspect bugs of any kind, paint the cracks and seams inside the wardrobe and drawers with oil of citronella or lemongrass. You will have a nice, lemony fragrance and fewer pests. For persistent odors, place bowls of baking soda inside the closet part and in each drawer.
- Rescuing a Vintage Item from the Shabby Chic Craze
Too often a good piece has been painted over either as a hasty makeover or in an effort to create the ever-popular shabby chic effect. Too often the first step is to remove layers of various types of paint.
Test an out of view section with paint remover, shellac remover or even varnish remover before tackling the whole unit. Always work out of doors, and follow manufacturers cautionary directions.
What If You’re Buying a New Wardrobe?
Most of the conditions noted above are going to hold true for new wardrobes. You might have a hard time finding a unit that does not use pressboard or other manufactured materials. Buying new, you are unlikely to need to combat odors from previous owners or insect pests, but you might need to work toward maintaining an aroma of cleanliness.
Children, pets, dirty laundry, and other things can challenge your ability to keep your wardrobe smelling nice. Those bowls of baking soda and a periodic wipe down will usually do the job.
What Should You Do Before Buying a Wardrobe?
Take Measurements: Measure the space you have available for a wardrobe, and measure any and all doorways or stairs up/through which your new item will need to be transported.
Organize a Way to Get It Home: If you buy from a store, ask about delivery. If you purchase from a flea market or similar venue, think about borrowing or renting a truck.
Congratulations on your new wardrobe! Whether you are buying new, refurbished or as-is used, your wardrobe, armoire or chifforobe should be a storage unit that will help you declutter and organize your belongings for many years to come.