Wardrobes, Armoires & Chifforobes

By Paula Kirwan


“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” was a famous line in “Romeo and Juliet.” Believe it or not, there is definitely a correlation between Mr. Shakespeare’s famous words and antique and collectible furniture, since the phrase implies that a name is merely what something is and not what it’s called.


As you browse through Gaslamp’s 300-plus booths, you will undoubtedly come across a piece of furniture that looks similar to another piece you’ve seen, but in one booth, the dealer has given it a certain name, and in another booth, that dealer has called it something else. Take the word “wardrobe”, for example. This versatile piece of furniture looks very similar to what we call an “armoire,” and is also very much akin to what we call – especially down South – a “chifforobe.”  (Photo, below left: Flame wood wardrobe, Booth B-318; $725.)


Although wardrobes have been used for storage for hundreds of years, they were originally built as low chests for clothing and other items. Over the centuries, they evolved into standalone cupboards with a look that we are familiar with today. They are usually made from solid wood and can vary in designs, from the more simplistic Shaker styles to fancier pieces with carved decorations and details. Along with a place to hang clothing, they may also include drawers and shelves.


Armoires originated in France, where they were first used to store tools or weapons. Artisans began making them more and more ornate and they eventually became a place in which the upper class could store their clothing, evolving into a cabinet with a rod to hang clothing, and shelves and drawers to hold folded clothes. (Photo, right: Mid-19th century gentleman's wardrobe, Booth T-700, $2950.)


Chifforobes were first advertised in the United States in the 1908 Sears Roebuck catalogue, which describes them as a “modern invention” with both drawers and a space for hanging clothes. Their versatility has insured that similar pieces are still being manufactured today.


Since most homes typically did not have closets until the turn of the 20th century, all of these furniture pieces were ultimately used to provide a place for clothing storage. In today’s world, all offer excellent options for storing linens, dishes, toys and more, as well as for clothing. All can be retrofitted to provide space and storage for modern devices like TVs and computers. All can be transitioned into a piece of furniture for every room in the house, including bathrooms. And all are decorative and versatile as well as practical. (Photo, left: English wardrobe, Booth T-359, $1600.)


So what’s in a name?  Ultimately, the names “wardrobe,” “armoire” and “chifforobe” are not important. Instead, it’s deciding which style you like best, how the piece fits in your home and how you choose to use it. 





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