Styles of Danish Armoires
The Danish armoires available in our shop range in age from early 1800's through about 1930. No two are alike because each was made by the local carpenter to suit one particular individual. There are definite regional and period similarities.
Wardrobes originated as stylish replacements for large trunks. The simplest paneled pieces, six feet high by 3 feet in width are generally among the oldest in the shop. These armoires were the prized possession of the farmer and his hired hands. They were too nice to hold anything but Sunday best, thus the locks on doors and drawers. Usually, these pieces were not kept in damp bed chambers but in the finest parlor of the house. When you look inside, you can still see the arrangement of hand carved pegs on which to hang clothing.
They were sized to fit low ceiling cottages and transport in the back of farm wagons which incidently is still the sizing of today's farm cart replacement-the pickup truck!
The classic raised panels on this age group are frequently interior with smooth panels facing out. The feet were often bun style and occaisionally a bracket foot. Hardware was often pewter or bone, rarely brass or iron.
Often, they can be taken apart for easy moving and are therefore called 'knock downs'. The farmer's armoire was finished in a yellowish grain paint to resemble the yellow mahogany of the wealthy people. As time went on, these pieces often acquired garish coat after coat of paint.
The more ornate armoires of the early period were often two doored Roskilde cabinets (Roskildeskab). These are the armoires we all hunger for with beautiful rosemaling designs and marbling. Bowed doors, marvelous thick moldings, finials, turned columns abound. They were made in the 1700's and through to about 1820. Most are in museums or smart antique dealer's collections today and a few were mistakenly stripped of their beauty. Generally, these pieces were made to break down into pieces.
Around 1870, a new style came into vogue: the false secretary. The front door of the armoire was made to resemble a drop leaf desk complete with drawers. False keyholes are decorated with bone hardware.
The top always curves to a distinctive 'u' shape known as the Christian 4th top. These must have been very expensive pieces and were intended for the better off.
Around the turn of the century, there was another shift in style to elegant dramatic armoires intended for the first time to serve as clothes closets with hangers and rods. They are easily identified by their bonnet tops and cabriole legs. Often, the front is divided into three or more panels, each side panel with a glass window which could be draped with fabric and the middle panel fitted with a beveled mirror.
These armoires were part of an elaborate bedroom suite comprising a gorgeous bed, vanity, vanity chairs, marble topped nightstands and washstand, as well as delicate dressers. Thin veneer panels were often used in their construction with applied wood moldings and beading. Their finish was still grain painted, but towards the end of their popularity in the 20's and 30's many were painted white and gilded or finished in a patinated yellow-green paint. Fortunately, they all 'knock down' for moving.
In the late 1800's, armoires for young women were defined by size and decoration. 'Ungpigeskab' or 'young girl cabinets' were smaller in stature and beautifully proportioned and decorated. There are very few of these and they are highly prized.
Many young woman who had to leave home to 'go into service' switched to tiny chests of drawers outfitted with locks on each delicate drawer. These 'handkerchief' dressers could be roped and sent along on the train as luggage. For the first time, the young woman leaving home had a stylish piece of furniture, easily transported, which could fit into her tiny bedroom. These chests of drawers had the usual grained wood finishes with Queen Anne style legs or bracket feet and brass or bakelite hardware.
This is just a sampling. Visit our shop, ask us and we will be happy to share all we know.
For photos of common ORIGINAL FINISHES please click on this page.
A little armoire history....
Bowtop armoires... All were made from about 1880-1920, late Victorian style. All of this type come apart which was probably necessary since they were most often owned by city folk with narrow steep staircases. Usually part of a suite which included a bed, vanity, vanity stools, and nightstands. Often painted just white or a yellow-green. Interestingly, these armoires were the first to incorporate a rod and were truly deep enough to hand clothing on hangers. Usually the hinges are of the interior type, considered far more elegant.
Armoires are found with one door or two for the most part, bow topped armoires from 1890-1910 sometimes have 3.
Prior to about 1890, an armoire was a locked parlor piece for your personal possessions. It followed you wherever you lived and worked and your few pieces of good clothing hung on pegs. For this reason, most armoires are fairly shallow; after the invention of the hanger, armoires got deeper.