French Armoires Styles – 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 styles of French armoire?
Under the umbrella term armoire many styles exist. These mostly represent different eras and different areas of production.
Louis XVI style. 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 visualize 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 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.
Louis Philippe style. 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 epitomize elegance and tend to be less ornate and more refined than other styles. Armoires are recognizable 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.
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 are fully knockdown and held together with chunky, handmade wooden pegs.
Art Deco. The Art Deco movement first appeared in France during the 1920s. Reflecting a new modern era, Art 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.
Henri II style. 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 or glass mirror doors.
Breton 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.