A History of the Closet

By Cathy Alberich

We've gathered a brief history of how this now fundamental organizing system of all things personal came to be.

Records show that the first proven remains of a storage unit date back to the classical Greece period 323 B.C where simple cabinets were used, without decoration and with a basic stand / shelving system. But it was in Rome and most of France where they became a popular piece of furniture. The Romans and French used them mainly to store weapons and so the Armoire came to be in the 17th century, and the name might have come from the Latin word "armorium," which is a chest for storing armor.

Later they were used to contain all kinds of items. They were made of wood and were locked with keys. Most Roman households featured a niche or altar designed for private worship, called the lararium. Often located in the atrium or near the kitchen hearth, the design of the lararium evoked the architecture of public temples in miniature.

For most of the Middle Ages, chests and trunks were used as furniture containers. It was in the late Middle Ages when chests and trunks began to be replaced by proper cabinets. They were, normally, of a single body, closed by two doors, painted, and decorated. The best known were the sacristy cabinets where religious attire and ornaments were kept. Others were used to store weapons or clothing.

During the Renaissance period they became luxury furniture, with a classical inspiration. They were one or two doors. The first sideboards appeared in the 17th century, during the Baroque period, they completely replaced other types of container furniture. At the end of the century, they were considered essential in the houses of the aristocracy and high bourgeoisie. They were made by cabinet makers and were used, on many occasions, to display artistic collections. It was the most representative piece of furniture of the Louis XIV style, they became almost jewels made with materials such as tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl or ivory. With the Rococo style, the artistic and decorative value of the wardrobe was enhanced.

In the nineteenth century there is a tendency to seek greater functionality. Biedermeier style cabinets, in the first half of the century, were of a simple structure and smaller than in the previous century. Those made by the Shakers (an American puritan group) were simple, robust, and functional; they served as a model for the cabinets we use now. Built-in wardrobes became widespread, replacing, in many cases, free-standing cabinets, sideboards and chests. Although we would still find cabinets in which the decorative aspect is valued above all. The historicist-eclectic trend led to closets that followed styles from the past such as Gothic or Baroque. The Nouveau-Modernist style makes it one of its most significant pieces of furniture. In the case of French, Belgian and Spanish Nouveau they were highly ornamented with floral motifs.

The arrival of the Modern Movement in the 20th century led to cabinets with geometric lines, modular elements, generally leaving aside any ornamental aspect, basically looking for functionality as we know it today. Minimalism reinforced this trend. Only styles such as postmodernism claimed ornamentation as an important element but the closet has become a minimal staple valued for its organizing capabilities, durability and performance.

Technology has evolved in such way that closets can include automatic and electronic functions, lighting, multiple finishes and hardware, accessories, pull-out units and innovative designs making it an exemplary storage solution that has established itself as one of the smartest components of modern homes.


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