What Is an Armoire Anyway, and What Makes It Different from a Wardrobe?

published Jul 31, 2023
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Credit: Chloe Berk

If you’re short on storage or closets, you can’t go wrong with a tall, somewhat slim piece of furniture to maximize vertical space — whether that’s a wardrobe, chest, armoire, or any other cabinet with doors designed to keep clothes and clutter out of sight. While each of these styles look and function similarly, though, they’re not quite interchangeable terms. And of these options, you may especially be wondering what an armoire is, as well as what differentiates it from its freestanding storage counterparts. Below, get the full lowdown on armoires, plus how to style one and where to buy them.

Quick Overview

What is an armoire?

An armoire is a large, ornate cupboard, usually made from rich woods like mahogany or oak. Unlike wardrobes, which typically only store clothes and are relatively smaller in scale, most armoires will have both a hanging rod and shelving or drawers inside.

What to know about armoires

An armoire (pronounced aarm-waar) is essentially a large cupboard that usually features two exterior doors and some combination of storage and hanging space within. “Ornate carvings or other intricate design features, such as painted interiors or embossing, are also good markings of an armoire,” adds Audrey Scheck, founder, CEO, and principal designer of Audrey Scheck Design. “Inside an armoire, you often see shelving, a hanging rod for clothes, and/or drawers.”

According to Scheck, the first armoires — as we know them today — can be traced back to 17th-century France, where they were originally designed to store weapons and armory. “Armoires are historically made from beautiful, rich woods, like oak or mahogany,” she adds. 

What are armoires used for?

“Armoires have been adapted over time to serve as additional closet space,” says Scheck of their current function in modern homes. That’s not to say they’re limited to just clothing, though. “We’ve also seen them used as entertainment centers in bedrooms, toy and book storage in children’s rooms, and as china storage in dining rooms,” she adds. 

What’s the difference between an armoire and a wardrobe?

According to Scheck, armoires look distinctly “large in scale, often tall and wide, featuring intricate design details.” Wardrobes, on the other hand, “are typically smaller and are specifically designed for clothing with a hanging rod inside of them,” she says. Essentially, armoires tend to be bigger and more versatile overall, while wardrobes simply double as an additional closet. You can differentiate between their constructions, too. Original armoires usually feature primarily wood tones.

Where to style an armoire?

Because they’re “designed for external storage outside of built-in closets,” notes Scheck, “armoires can be styled anywhere in your home depending on the intended function of the piece.” They also add height and visual interest wherever they’re placed — from the bedroom to the living room — by drawing the eye upward. Plus, you don’t need to worry about accessorizing a tabletop or filling surrounding wall space the way you might with a shorter storage piece like a dresser or credenza. 

Where to buy an armoire? 

You can find original, intricately detailed armoires from antique or vintage stores in your area or shop online secondhand platforms like Chairish and 1stDibs. Prices will likely be at a premium, given the historic, heirloom-quality nature of this item, but consider browsing resale sites like Facebook Marketplace or Kaiyo for a deal. You can also check out local estate sales or flea markets for armoires. Otherwise, contemporary brands like Wayfair, Anthropologie, and even The Home Depot offer stylish armoires or armoire-adjacent designs in a variety of sizes, silhouettes, and finishes.

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For an antique-looking piece (minus the price tag), Wayfair has you covered with this farmhouse-inspired wood armoire. Cast in a worn-in finish, it’s relatively compact at just 36 1/4 inches wide by 21 3/8 inches deep.

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Although on the pricier side, this Anthropologie piece checks all the boxes if you’re looking for something modern and minimalist: an arched silhouette, cane doors, and neutral coloring. Count on an interior clothing rack and small upper shelf, too — perfect for overflow from your closet.

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Home Depot

An external mirror lends this white armoire from The Home Depot a classic feel. Not to mention that it also does double duty practicality-wise — you can store and try on your clothes all in the same spot.

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Crate & Barrel

This Crate & Barrel design is another definite investment piece, but it’s a total contemporary keepsake. The clean-lined silhouette and small knobs revamp this otherwise traditional-leaning furniture style, and the inside features adjustable shelves so you can customize the setup based on your storage needs. Choose from this light hue or a darker driftwood finish.

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was $692.72

Overstock has a diverse selection of armoires for any style, including this timeless two-door, paneled design with drawers. It can work like a dresser or closet, with optional extra shelves sold separately to fill the main compartment.