This Furniture Staple from Your Grandparents’ House Is Having a Moment

published Aug 16, 2021
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Credit: Carina Romano

China cabinets are one of those things that remind some young adults of their grandparents’ only-for-show parlors or their parents’ dining rooms they maybe ate in once or twice a year growing up. They’re pieces of furniture that, along with huge dining room tables and hulking entertainment centers, don’t feel especially relevant to living in smaller spaces or more modern times. Millennials don’t throw formal dinner parties the same way that older generations did, but that, of course, doesn’t mean at-home entertaining isn’t happening at all. People just do it in a way that fits their current reality, meaning no need for a lavish 12-person china set… or the china cabinet to put it in.

While china cabinets have fallen out of popularity for the last several decades, that doesn’t mean they aren’t functional or entirely irrelevant. In fact, china cabinets and hutches are having a bit of a moment right now, thanks in part to grandmillennial style. They’re just being used a little differently these days, and appearing in new decorative contexts. Here’s why you might want to consider one for your space now.

Credit: Layne Barrac

Primarily a rebellion against sleek mid-century design, grandmillennial interiors lean into classic shapes and flowery details like chintz, ruffles, embroidery, and ditzy floral prints. “In general, we’ve seen a rise in the popularity of traditional furnishings and styles,” says Alessandra Wood, the vice president of style at online interior design service Modsy. “Just as Gen X found nostalgia in the mid-century designs their grandparents coveted, millennials may be finding a similar sense of nostalgia in familiar, classic designs.”

According to Wood, grandmillennial style feels attainable because previously, the Victorian and Neoclassical elements it incorporates weren’t part of popular design movements. “These antiques are often a deal, especially considering their build quality and the inherent sustainability factor of buying secondhand,” she says. “Buying these old pieces is a great way to make budget go further while purchasing something that will last a lifetime.”

As people begin embracing this aesthetic, they’re also starting to shop for more traditional pieces like the china cabinet, and the data, even at larger home stores that skew modern, seems to back this up. “Since 2020, we have seen more and more shoppers interested in China cabinets and buffets,” said Lani Murakami, Overstock’s vice president of sourcing and operations. Beyond their competitive price tags, Wood believes china cabinets are on the rise because of their functionality. They help to organize smaller wares and provide lots of storage opportunity relative to their footprints, since they tend to be more vertical pieces.

Credit: Viv Yapp

While some are decorating their dining rooms with the same wooden cabinets of yesteryear, others are choosing sleeker styles or DIYing vintage pieces to make them feel more current, whether that’s through paint or stain. TikTok’s #chinacabinet hashtag has over 227,000 views, with the majority of videos being furniture flips. One couple painted their cabinet a matte black, making it feel Southern gothic. Another TikToker covered her cabinet’s back with polka dot wallpaper, creating a bold background for her collection of pottery and artwork. Another user took it a step further and turned an old-fashioned cabinet into a greenhouse for his plants.

One thing all of these china cabinets have in common is that they’re being used more as curio cases than just dinnerware storage. They’ve become a new way to display an assortment of bric-a-brac, collections, and thoughtful home decor, with curated groupings. China cabinets may even be replacing bar carts for bottles and spirits storage, and you could also treat it like a freestanding closet and deck it out with your favorite shoes or sweaters.

My suggestion? The next time you’re on OfferUp or scrolling through Facebook Marketplace, keep your eyes peeled. A new china cabinet might be just the thing you need to spice up any room in your home, and you most certainly don’t have to use it for dishes if you don’t want to!