Tuesday, 20 November 2012

French Armoires

As an online boutique specialising in authentic French furniture we stock a wide range of original French armoires. Since beginning to import French furniture in 2011 we have learnt a great deal about these beautiful pieces, and what makes them special. We are passionate ambassadors for real French furniture (over cheaply made reproductions) and here we hope to share some of this passion and knowledge.

Exterior of Painted Henri II Style Vintage French Armoire

What is an Armoire? 

There tends to be a general misconception that the term 'armoire' is simply the French word for 'wardrobe'. In fact there is no literal translation of the word armoire into English as no such piece of furniture exists in English culture. The closest translation would be 'French cupboard', so the many UK furniture dealers you find advertising wardrobes as armoires are really being quite deceitful! It's known that tagging items as 'French' tends to make them more desirable, however, to be a REAL armoire an item must be:

1. French (that is, actually made in France)

2. Have once had, or still have, shelves

Interior of Painted Pine Louis Philippe French Armoire with original shelves

In their essence, French armoires are really large multifunctional cupboards. If you peak through the windows of many traditional French homes you'll see huge armoires inhabiting dining rooms, kitchens, hallways and bedrooms. Basically they serve a use in every room of the house, which is why they are such terrific pieces to own. In the kitchen they can be used as larder cupboards, in dining rooms they serve as great storage for plates and serving bowls and in bedrooms and on landings they serve to store clothes, bedding and other linens.

What are the different types of French armoire? 

Under the umbrella term armoire many styles exist. These mostly represent different eras and different areas of production. Perhaps the most familiar style to British buyers is the often reproduced 'Louis' style.

'Louis' Style French Armoires: These pieces are made to emulate the style and opulence of the French court of Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette. They usually have double mirror doors, stand on decorative scrolled feet and have a domed shaped cornice, often with a large crest. This style probably epitomises what most people think of when they visualise French furniture, in particular, armoires. However, it isn't that typical of true French furniture and much of what is seen on the market today is mass produced in countries such as China and India for the UK and American market. Any real armoires surviving from Louis' reign are now worth a small fortune. The Louis armoires that we find in France, such as the two pictured below, date from the early to mid 20th century and are French 'revivial' pieces, made to emulate the original 18th century styles. These vintage pieces tend to be of far higher quality than the new ones being produced today.

Small Louis Style French Armoire

Large Louis Style French Armoire

Louis Philippe Style French Armoires: In the style of furniture popular during the reign of Louis Philippe I (1830-1848). Known as the 'Citizen King', Louis Philippe was a popular figurehead. Noted for not leading the usually lavish lifestyle of a royal, furniture named after him is beautiful for its simplicity. These pieces epitomise elegance and tend to be less ornate and more refined than other styles. Armoires are recognisable by their wide cornice, tall body and raised feet. Like the Louis style, these are much imitated, but originals tend to be beautifully constructed and cleverly fully knockdown.

Louis Philippe Style French Armoire

Interior of a large provincial French armoire

Provincial French Armoires: Provincial furniture was made in the provinces, as opposed to the furniture made for the King and court in Paris. Court fashions often took a while to filter to the provinces, and as result French provincial furniture displays an array of overlapping styles. Most notable are pieces showing the influence of the countryside, with simplified carving representing wheat sheaves and foliage. Provincial French furniture is often highly rustic in finish and style but beautifully made. Large armoires such as the one pictured below are fully knockdown and held together with chunky, hand made wooden pegs.

Original Provinicial Armoire

Art Deco French Armoires: The Art Deco movement first appeared in France during the 1920s. Reflecting a new modern era, Deco embraced geometric forms such as rectangles and zig zags. French Deco furniture is often quite chunky, with chunky feet, geometric lines but also strong floral motifs that are far bolder and heavier than previously seen. 

Painted Art Deco Armoire

Henri II Style French Armoires: Also known as French Renaissance, Henri II furniture is notable for its size and solidity. Armoires tend to be huge and rectangular in composition, with heavy carving, dark wood and large bun feet. They are notable for their often elaborate cornices with large finials and crests, and show a strong Italian influence in their carving and design. Armoires have either solid wooden doors, such as the piece pictured below, or glass mirror doors.

Henri II Style Armoire

Breton French Armoires: Breton furniture is highly distinctive. Often made of heavy, dark oak and highly carved, with fretwork a notable feature. Squares and rectangles predominate, with intensely carved human figures and faces, animals, plants and ships wheels. Maritime motifs predominate, reflecting Brittany's close association with the sea. Armoires are often shorter than other styles and many come as bedroom sets with matching beds and pot cupboards. 

Why should I buy an original French Armoire rather than a modern reproduction piece?

When there are so many reproduction armoires on the market it's tempting to ask why buy originals? Possibly one of the most unrecognised points is that often the real thing is far cheaper! Many repro armoires retail at far higher prices than antique and vintage ones, despite often being quite poorly made. French armoires of all styles tend to exhibit exceptional craftsmanship. As well as being beautiful and practical, they will never devalue (unless you ill treat them!). French furniture never goes out of vogue and purchasing an authentic armoire is a solid investment as well as a beautiful storage solution. 

How can I tell a real French armoire from a reproduction one? 

As with most antique and vintage furniture we can age pieces according to their construction and their apparels. Look at feet, hinges, handles, keys and locks and such give aways as depth and wood patternation. Most authentic French armoires will fully knockdown, that is, disassemble completely. Antique French armoires, pre-1900 will often knockdown into very small constituent parts are held together using a mix of wooden pegs and inbuilt large screws. Very old armoires will have pegs only. More modern armoires (post 1930) will usually be held together with large removable screws and will knockdown into less pieces, often with intact bases, cornices, sides and back panels.

Who are we?

Dazzle Vintage Furniture is an online boutique specialising in authentic French furniture, lighting and accessories. We stock vintage French armoires, French buffets, French vintage beds, antique mirrors and chandeliers. All our French furniture is original, vintage and imported directly from France.


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