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Chifforobe

Author : Lawrence Bell

Submitted : 2010-05-17 02:17:01    Word Count : 530    Popularity:   50

Tags:   chifforobe, furniture, antique, wardrobe, chifferobe

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The name “chifforobe” (sometimes spelled chifferobe ) owes its history to two words: the French chiffonier, a tall piece of furniture containing drawers, and the Old French warderobe or wardrobe,a closed movable closet, and having a space inside in which clothing can be hung from pegs or hooks. A chifforobe may also be fitted with shelves or removable drawers and trays. The chifforobe is, in fact, a combination of both the chiffonier and wardrobe, for it is fitted with drawers and an open space in which clothes can hang. The hanging clothes usually run the entire height of the piece, flanked by the separate compartment housing a vertical stack of at least three drawers.

The origin of the chifforobe dates back to 1908. Sears Roebuck was the first to advertise a chifforobe in its 1908 catalogue, declaring it a new invention. The word seems to be used most commonly in the Southern United States, though chifforobes do appear in lists of belongings in Alberta and elsewhere in the 1920 s.

Since the chifforobe made its appearance after the Industrial Revolution, it was common for it to be factory made, though hand made versions were also available. The wood of choice was often oak, though this could vary as well. The stain tended to be dark as well as finished with shellac.

The chifforobe was a practical piece of furniture, for it was not until later in the 20th century that reach in or even larger closets were included as a part of the architecture of homes. By combining a hanging space with drawers, this versatile piece of furniture was a welcome way for homeowners to organize their clothing. Their popularity spilled over into literature and movies, beginning the 1953 short story by Carson McCullers entitled The Ballad of the Sad Cafe , and perhaps most famously in the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs , where Clarice Starling remarks to herself that she knew the policemen with whom she must work came from houses that didn’t have closets but chifforobes, and that she could probably guessed what those chifforobes contained. Chifforobes were even the subject of a court case as recorded by the Southern Reporter in 1934, when seven chifforobes that had been ordered were never actually delivered.

Today, chifforobes are available as custom pieces or factory made pieces from stores such as Crate and Barrel and the Pottery Barn, or even assemble yourself ones made by Sauder. A doll sized chifforobe is available through American Girl for its collection of dolls, and has an accompanying description that describes the wooden chifforobe as being a common piece of furniture found in bedrooms in Molly’s (the doll’s) time. At 24 inches in height, you are invited to own a piece of history in miniature.

While the chifforobe may not be regarded with the same reverence as a Hepplewhite wardrobe, it has its place in the history of American furniture. It is also a demonstration of American ingenuity, where two pieces of furniture were combined not to fulfill a practical purpose, but as a thing of beauty.

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Lawrence Bell serves as Editor of The Antiques Bible at http://www.antiques-bible.com. The site offers an illustrated glossary of antiques terms with links to other helpful resources.

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