An antique armoire is one of the most quintessential antique pieces of furniture out there!
With large full length doors, we often look at antique armoires as passageways to secret rooms or even different worlds. While most antique armoires don’t take us to a different dimension, they nonetheless add incredible charm and beauty to both new and old homes alike.
Essentially, antique or vintage armoires are tall wardrobe or cabinet pieces with usually one or two tall doors on hinges. The interior may be fitted with rods or bars for hanging clothes, small drawers or shelves. An antique armoire with mirror may have mirrored doors, glass doors or wooden doors.
History of Antique Armoires
Before closets were built into rooms, a solid wood free-standing wardrobe or “armoire” (French for Wardrobe) was standard for storing clothes. However, not all could afford such a luxury, and many antique wardrobes belonged to the upper classes who owned more than one set of clothes.
Thus, on antique armoires from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, we often see artistic embellishments and luxurious details. Antique French armoires often have Rococo or Gothic carvings, mirrored doors and naturalistic carvings. These feminine elements on antique French armoires demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship and artistry afforded only by the rich.
Later, 20th century antique armoires often copied these trends, making early turn of the century armoires just as beautiful as some of their older counterparts.
In America, antique Victorian wardrobes of all styles, woods and sizes came out between the 1850’s and 1910’s. Many of these antique armoires are often called “knock-down” wardrobes. Simply put, these pieces could be easily disassembled and reassembled. This helped these monstrously large wardrobes fit up narrow staircases and winding hallways during the Victorian era.
In the 1920s, the chifferobe (another French term that combines “robe” meaning dress and “chiffonier” or a type of chest of drawers) became popular in America. Often, furniture makers during the depression made chifforobes to become an affordable dual purpose piece of furniture. The difference between an armoire and a chifforobe is that a chifforobe will have one side completely comprised of drawers like a dresser.
Finally, several cedar wardrobes and cedar-lined wardrobes came out in the 20th century as well. These special wardrobes help keep moths at bay and they smell nice too.
How to Date an Antique Armoire?
Because antique armoires have been around for centuries, people often have difficulty dating an antique armoire.
Firstly, it is important to take note of the construction and materials of your antique armoire. Obviously, the style alone can mislead you, as many different furniture styles were reproduced over the years.
Take a look at the hardware, hinges and nails in your wardrobe. These can provide clues as to when your antique armoire was built and where. Large, heavy and very ornate hardware can signal a wardrobe made before the industrial age, because much of it was hand forged. If it has nails in the back, rather than screws, it may have been made prior to 1920.
Likewise, take out any drawers and take a look at the construction. If you see dovetail joints (or corner joints that are weaved together), you likely have a well made piece. Also, if the dovetailing shows irregularity, this can signal your antique armoire was made by hand prior to 1850.
Lastly, take note of any patina on the wood, mirror glass of your antique wardrobe. These clues can help you tell the difference between a reproduction and an authentic antique wardrobe.
How to Refinish an Antique Armoire?
If you own an antique armoire and wish to restore it, prepare yourself for lots of satisfying work.
Refinishing takes lots of time, space and trial and error, so if this is your first refinishing attempt, consider these easy steps to beautify your antique armoire.
Sometimes, a vintage armoire simply needs a little cleaning to restore it. You may also wish to preserve the original finish and only clean, polish and wax it.
I always start by using a mild cleanser like Murphy’s Oil Soap and water (or the Murphy’s spray cleaner for ease) to remove grime and dirt.
Then, I typically use Howard’s Restor-a-Finish (available in multiple colors) with a rag or 0000 grade steel wool to bring out the color of the wood and minimize any scratches or water damage.
Next, wipe of the excess Restore-a-Finish with a clean rag.
Finish it off and protect the gleaming wood with a high grade furniture polish. I use two kinds almost exclusively: Howards Beeswax Polish and The Original Bee’s Wax (in an aerosol can). Both work great and give a satiny finish to your antique furniture.
Paint an Antique Armoire?
While I have become somewhat of a purist when it comes to antique armoires with beautiful wood detail, I understand the desire to paint an old armoire to fit in your home.
Especially if you live in the country, you may be after a more casual, lived-in look. Why not paint a farmhouse armoire to fit in your home? A simple pine or poplar wardrobe after all can look very homey in a fresh new color.
How to Disassemble or Assemble an Antique 1800s Armoire?
Knock-down Victorian Wardrobes can often be a puzzle to put back together.
Most have a solid base (usually a bottom drawer with feet). Then, they typically have a solid back wall (which will be wide and have an unfinished side) two outer side walls, one or two doors, and a crown. Sometimes the crown is decorative, with a full bonnet or carvings on the top. Occasionally, there is a middle wall inside the wardrobe as well.
Typically, knock-down wardrobes have wooden pieces that slide on to lock every “wall” into place. Or they may be held together with large screws or wooden dowels. Victorians had a lot of ingenuity in putting together these mobile pieces of furniture.
I recommend putting together a Victorian Wardrobe with a friend, as you often have to hold the walls in place in awkward positions to reassemble them. If you attempt to do this by yourself, use long clamps or wooden supports as you put each piece back together.
Decorating with Antique Armoires
Antique armoires don’t just have to be used for clothing. Also, antique armoires fill an empty void in a living room, in a kitchen or even a foyer.
Antique Wardrobes in the Living Room
One of the most obvious modern uses for an old armoire? Concealing a television. You can often retrofit a stylish antique armoire with shelves or supports to store your components, electronics and T.V.
Of course, you can also use an antique armoire to store cozy blankets, pillows, wrapping paper, art supplies or candles. These awesome storage pieces can help you hide whatever may be taking over your living room.
Antique Armoires in the Kitchen
An amazing pantry can start as an antique armoire. Simply add more shelves or hang pots and pans from the hooks and rods already installed in your wardrobe.
Historical homes often look more natural and authentic when the kitchen is decorated with free-standing furniture (rather than pre-hung cabinetry). Invest in an antique wardrobe for your kitchen as a useful alternative to the typical standard cupboards.
Old Armoires in the Bedroom
Of course, even if you already have a standard closet or walk-in closet, an armoire may store your shoes, handbags, purses or out of season clothes. Many people opt to use antique armoires in a large master bedroom simply because they look so pretty. Why not put a television set or other electronics inside?
Antique Statement Armoires in Foyer
An antique armoire can really dress up a drab foyer or entryway. Of course, an antique armoire adds elegance that a simple mudroom bench cannot.
Where to find an antique armoire near me?
Of course, local vintage furniture and antique stores tend to carry antique wardrobes. However, there are always alternatives if you can’t find what you are looking for.
The wide and wonderful world of the internet can bring you a wealth of options when local stores don’t give you what you need. Certainly, you may need to arrange shipping, but where there is a will there is a way.
If you see an old armoire you simply can’t live without, you most likely can tolerate the shipping costs. After all, no two armoires are exactly the same so you must follow your heart and purchase the one that will fit your home.
How much are Old Armoires Worth?
Honestly, no two armoires are the same. However, you can get a good idea on the value of an antique armoire by searching online.
You may want to start with this armoire that sold for about $4000.
Other more simple 1800s antique armoires can be valued at lesser prices. Typically, Victorian wardrobes from the 1800s sell for between $600 and $1500. Of course, the price of an 1800s armoire depends largely on the condition and beauty.