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SHOPPING FOR ANTIQUES : Tyrolean Armoires

February 07, 1988|SAM BURCHELL

ONE OF THE most useful and decorative pieces of antique furniture long popular in Europe and Latin America is the armoire. This ornate cupboard was a handsome and roomy substitute for the closets that generally were not found in houses until the modern era.

Before the 17th Century, armoires tended to be formal, often monumental in size. They were found almost exclusively in palaces of the nobility or the houses of rich merchants. After 1700, however, smaller and more-rustic versions began to turn up in middle-class homes and farmhouses.

With the divided panels of its doors, the armoire lent itself readily to the painted and carved decoration that had been a staple element of European design since the Middle Ages. Floral patterns were popular, along with scenes from mythology and the Bible. Baroque pieces from Italy, Spain and some of the German states featured the most intricate and elaborate carving and painting.

By the early 1800s, the same sort of decoration, although simplified, had become folk art, particularly in Bavaria and the Alpine regions of Austria. The Tyrolean armoire ( Schrank ) was usually made to honor a wedding or the birth of a child. Relatively small because of the size of the rooms in Alpine houses, these armoires were constructed by local craftsmen--often by the homeowners themselves--during long winter months. Pine was the preferred wood, inexpensive and easy to carve.

Armoires from various countries and periods are available at antiques shops. Fine examples of carved Tyrolean armoires, however, are less common. A good selection of both painted and unpainted Tyrolean pieces, along with smaller Bavarian and French armoires, are found today at The Cricket, an antique shop in Venice. These are especially popular, since they fit so well into the informal California home. They hold all the linens and clothes that never seem to fit into existing closets. Best of all, armoires not only are decorative but also qualify as valuable antiques.

DR

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