By Carleton Varney
Are armoires out? The beautiful French armoire that once upon a day held a lady’s dressing gown or a gentleman’s smoking jacket or simply daywear and nightwear was replaced long ago by the room closet, with its real door, hanging bar, shelving and overhead light.
It’s hard to believe that once upon a day, closets didn’t exist and rooms had only armoires. But when closets became standard parts of the home, many armoires went to the basement, the attic or the furniture cemetery, where they were either chopped up for wood or, sometimes, taken apart bit by bit to salvage architectural embellishments that could be repurposed.
I have dismantled many an armoire’s set of doors, complete with their side hangers and hinges, to use as closet doors in a handsome dressing room. Antique armoires often have handsome detailed doors, some in the French or English style, some with glass-panel or mirrored fronts and some whose fronts have been gilded and even upholstered.
I continue to be a big fan of the armoire, for its very size can lend character to a room setting, especially when displayed with the doors open — although, as I’ve learned, the backs of armoire doors are sometimes unfinished and can even be crude-looking.
No, I do not think the armoire is going away. It is looking for a new purpose, however, as it is no longer the universal happy home of the television set. Technology has given us the flat-screen TV, so pencil thin that it surely must have followed a very regimented diet. You, of course, recall the day when just about every television set in the world found itself housed in a beautiful armoire. There were many armoires that received the Dorothy Draper touch — sometimes painted to brighten the exteriors, with the interiors covered in toile or checkered-tablecloth fabric. The latter is still be a good look for an armoire placed in a family kitchen, where these pieces seem to fit so well. They can house the TV, certainly, but they’re also great for storing and displaying china.
I have a collection of Staffordshire figurines and dogs that I proudly put on parade in my French Provincial armoire, as the TV today occupies the space over my mantel that was once home to a framed painting. Last Christmas, my youngest son, Sebastian, informed me that he was installing as my holiday gift a flat-screen TV over the mantel in our country-house library — a house used by all the family members at various times. And so I went along with the change in decoration. Where once hung a Currier and Ives , today I have a Sony.
Yet I shall not give up the armoire in my design work, although I do admit that some examples can be large and cumbersome. I think the armoire can be an ideal home for a flat-screen TV, because the shelves and drawers can hold the cable box, digital recorder or stereo equipment, as well as DVDs or CDs. I am no fan of those freestanding towers of laminate that have slots to store DVDs or CDs. I prefer to create storage space for them in my armoire.
And so, dear armoire of yore, even as you have reinvented yourself a few times in your lifespan, we shall help you do so again.