he armoire came into favor during the late 15th and early 16th Centuries to meet the growing need for storage space by Renaissance Europe’s wealthy and acquisitive city dwellers.
The armoire provided upright storage of fine goods; before, belongings were usually packed in large chests.
From the beginning, the armoire was as prized for its decorative attributes as for its practicality. The piece is essentially a freestanding closet featuring one or two doors, providing space to hang clothes, and occasionally drawers and shelving to furnish additional storage.
The design reached a pinnacle in the late 17th Century, when Parisian cabinetmaker Andre-Charles Boulle produced several for the court of Louis XIV.
Though his pieces were undeniably Baroque in their elaborate ornamentation, they still serve as loose models for the armoires of today.
In America, the term armoire is often interchanged with its English equivalent, wardrobe. By whatever name, the piece has proven to be popular in North America since the late 18th Century, and now it serves as everything from a food
cupboard and a clothes closet to an entertainment center.
Whatever its use, the modern armoire is usually built in the traditional, or period, style. Like its ancestors, today’s armoire begins with an upright, rectangular cabinet, typically 74 to 80 inches tall and 36 to 48 inches wide. For use as a wardrobe, the piece should be deep enough to house a clothes hanger—about 22 inches.
The basic cabinet shown on page 60 was put together with frame-and-pan – el joinery (page 32) to achieve a combination of attractiveness and strength. Dovetails (page 26) and plate joints (page 29) are equally sturdy alternatives.
This chapter shows how to add the adornments of an armoire to a basic cabinet: pilasters (page 64), cornice and base moldings (page 66), and frame – and-panel doors (page 72). The elements of the armoire are highlighted in the anatomy on page 62.
Despite its elaborate appearance, the armoire is a reasonable project for a woodworker of average skills. Build the various pieces carefully and the result will be an attractive, versatile piece of furniture.
The armoire at left displays a muted Baroque design typical of many modern American wardrobes.