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What is the Difference Between a Wardrobe and a Cupboard?

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  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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There are several differences between a wardrobe and a cupboard, including appearance, intended use and where the piece is typically placed. A cupboard can be any piece in a wide range of furniture used to store kitchen tools and utensils or other items for display; these include plates, porcelain, religious items and small pieces of clothing that can be folded. During Medieval times, cupboards were used to display items that showed the wealth of the homeowner. Wardrobes are a specific type of cupboard used for storing clothing that creases easily or is used for everyday wear. Cupboards are typically placed in living rooms or kitchens, while wardrobes are placed in more private spaces, such as bedrooms.

Looking at both pieces carefully can yield clues to help distinguish between a wardrobe and a cupboard. During the 18th century, the standalone cupboard typically had four doors on the upper portion and three drawers on the bottom part. Kitchen cupboards — then and now — are smaller and simpler, consisting of only one or two doors with shelves inside. A wardrobe also has only one or two doors but is rather large and often has a mirror attached to at least one of the doors.

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A wardrobe is only one of several types of cupboard that have evolved over the years. The development of this piece of furniture is derived from the hanging press and the linen cupboard. Both the hanging press and the linen cupboard are types of cupboards used to store linens or small pieces of clothing. A wardrobe stores clothing that needs to be hung or is worn every day. During the 18th century, the wardrobe was used to store clothing that was heavy and creased easily.

Location is also important when identifying between a wardrobe and a cupboard. Standalone cupboards are placed in areas of the home frequented by visitors, such as the living room or the front hall. Built-in cupboards are more common in the kitchen. Wardrobes can be freestanding or built-in but are typically found in more private areas within the home, such as the bedroom, the attic or a quiet corridor.

A wardrobe and a cupboard are both similar types of storage furniture. They are both boxy pieces, which can make it tricky to tell the difference between a wardrobe and a cupboard. Looking more carefully into the features of the storage pieces and identifying their use and where they are positioned can help in distinguishing one from the other.

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Eviemae
Post 15

I have a stand alone cupboard, but I chose to use it for a wholly unique purpose that has nothing to do with dishes, kitchens or even cupboards for that matter.

This is an antique cupboard, and I thought it to be quite quaint. I also happen to love to craft.

I do everything from sewing, quilting and embroidery to jewelry making. I decided my pretty little cupboard was just quaint enough to hold all of my fabrics and tools.

It is positioned right along beside my straight stitch sewing machine table and holds all of my threads and needles in its drawers.

Fabric is stored in the bottom, and the top cabinets hold patterns, scissors, accessories and such. My surging machine is on top of the cabinet, along with a portable sewing basket.

It is perfect to be a little, itty bitty craft closet!

oscar23
Post 14

My mother actually gave me her antique stand alone cupboard a year or so back. I had always loved it, and thought it was just the sweetest piece of furniture ever.

It’s not particularly fancy, and was probably pretty common during the day when it was originally crafted. However, they are hard to come by now.

I found one a few years back at an antique mall and was amazed to see a five hundred dollar sticker on it.

I know that may not be huge, but this is really a fairly simple piece of work; and with many imperfections to boot.

I am very proud to display many of my antique dishes (also given to

me by my mother and collected at yard sales and the like) in my stand alone cupboard, as two of the doors are glass with black etchings.

I have found that I prefer not to overweight the shelves for fear that they might buckle under severe weight.

momothree
Post 13

It is amazing to me how better the quality was back in the day than it is now. I know that mass production has a lot to do with it. If you buy pieces of furniture from a place like Wal-Mart, you are going to get a lot of press board that is not very sturdy.

I went to an estate sale last month and we were allowed to walk around the back and look through all of the old buildings. I saw a piece of furniture that had the potential to be beautiful. Apparently, it was just being used as a storage wardrobe. When my husband was trying to pull it out, we knew it was built well because it was extremely heavy. I bought it for $35 and had it refinished. It is now a beautiful wardrobe that is a conversation piece in our home.

Mykol
Post 12

My grandmother had a stand alone cupboard in her small kitchen that I can still remember her using to store special dishes. They did not have much for storage space in their home and a unit like this was well used.

They also had an old armoire wardrobe in their bedroom that was a big, heavy piece of furniture. They didn't need nearly as much space for their clothes and shoes as we do today.

I think my grandfather only had one pair of nice dress clothes. The rest of his clothes were all for work. My grandmother also stored her linens on one of the small shelves in her wardrobe.

These pieces of furniture were very sturdy and well built. They were nothing like some of the wardrobes I see today that don't have nearly the quality of material or unique patterns.

John57
Post 11

We needed a corner unit in our bedroom to put the TV and DVD player on. I was not looking for a wardrobe, but found one that worked perfectly for us.

This unique wardrobe cabinet had two shelves in it that worked perfectly for what we wanted. We don't watch a lot of TV in our room, so I wanted something where I could close the doors to hide the TV and the movies.

This was a mission style which is one of my favorites. When we are not watching TV I like to close the doors which helps the room look neater and not so cluttered.

While I am sure most wardrobes were not made with this idea in mind, it worked great for us without doing much improvising.

myharley
Post 10

We don't have a lot of closet space in our bedroom, so I was shopping for some wardrobe furniture that would give us extra space to store our clothes.

I was surprised by the selection there was available for modern looking wardrobes. Since I had not done much furniture shopping, I imagined most of the wardrobes as being older and vintage style.

I ended up buying a wardrobe from Ikea that was well built and fit in well with my contemporary decor.

It is really nice having the extra space for our clothes. My husband took over the wardrobe, so I have most of the closet space to myself.

alianor
Post 9

@LTimmins - There are a few stores that might have vintage furniture, but you'd have to go out of your way to find them. Have you tried Craigslist? They sometimes have old furniture that people are selling, and you can often get a pretty good deal on it too. Anyone else have some suggestions?

LTimmins
Post 8

@ALevine - I do love the look of the old style furniture but for most people, Ikea-type furniture is just more convenient, not to mention more affordable!

In any case, what's a good place to find an authentic old wardrobe? You don't often see them on sale in stores or anything.

ALevine
Post 7

Isn't it a shame that those old hand-crafted decorative furniture like wardrobes are so hard to find these days? More and more, most of our furniture is mass-produced without any of those old aesthetics.

If they were more easily available, would you pay more to purchase a handmade closet or instead stick with an Ikea wardrobe?

wavy58
Post 6

Since my dad doesn’t own a lot of clothes, his wardrobe is plenty big enough for storing them all. He has six pairs of pants and twelve shirts, and he can hang all of them in there.

His clothes are pretty generic. The pants are black, khaki, and gray, and the shirts are mostly solid colors, except for a few plaid ones. He can easily mix and match them and wear them every week without anyone really noticing that he is wearing the same things over and over.

It would be hard to tell my dad’s wardrobe apart from my mom’s cupboard from the outside, because the only difference in their appearance is that the cupboard has four doors and the wardrobe has only two. Her cupboard has wooden doors that match those of the wardrobe, and she uses it to store our dishes and cups.

Perdido
Post 5

It is easy to tell my grandmother’s cupboard apart from her wardrobe, because both were custom-made by my grandfather for her specific needs. She made a lot of dresses, and she needed extra space to hang them, so he made her an extra-wide wardrobe closet.

My grandmother’s wardrobe is ten feet wide and six feet tall. It is the biggest wardrobe I have ever seen. It has two sliding doors for easy access. A rail for hanging garments runs through the top of it.

Since my grandmother collects decorative items, she also needed a big cupboard. So, my grandfather made one for her that is five feet wide by seven feet tall. It has six glass doors that run the length of it.

seag47
Post 4

Many of my older relatives have both standalone cupboards and wardrobes. I have never seen a wardrobe with drawers or shelves in it, because you really need the space for your dresses or pants to have room to hang down.

Another difference I have noticed is that their cupboards all have glass doors so that you can see the items on display. My grandmother keeps all of her decorative glass items and fancy glasses in the cupboard. My great-aunt keeps vintage jewelry in hers.

The wardrobes that I have seen in person are usually less fancy than the cupboards. Most are just wooden boxes for wardrobe storage. The cupboards are more ornamental, like the items they house.

Oceana
Post 3

My husband uses a wardrobe to store his nice pants and shirts. His actual closet is full of folded t-shirts and shorts, and he needed somewhere that he could hang his dress clothes to keep them from being crowded and getting wrinkled.

We found a wardrobe at an antique store. It has scrolls on top of it. It has two doors that run the length of the piece, and the handles are scrolls.

When you open the left door, you are greeted with a full-length mirror. The whole thing smells like cedar, which I love. It keeps the moths away.

popcorn
Post 2

My grandmother used to have a gorgeous old wardrobe in her bedroom and it was absolutely huge. There was no mistaking this particular wardrobe for some old cupboard.

The wardrobe was made out of solid mahogany and had very clean lines and small inlays that reminded me a lot of something from the Edwardian period. For all I know it actually could have been from that time as my grandmother would have been a teenager back then.

My favorite thing about that old wardrobe was the numerous drawers it had inside and all the treasures my grandmother used to keep in it. I was always sneaking in to look at her old fur coats and the lovely dresses she kept from her youth.

Sara007
Post 1

I have found the easiest way to tell a wardrobe apart from a cupboard is the overall weight and feel of the piece. In my experience wardrobes tend to be heavier, and of course, once you look inside you will notice that the shelving is intended for clothing. The spaces are much wider and larger than in cupboards and often there is a place specifically for hanging jackets and dresses.

When I went in hunt of an antique wardrobe I came a cross quite a few cupboards that tricked me at first glance into thinking they were for bedroom use. It wasn't until I looked inside that I realized they would be better off used to display dishes and cups.

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