Post 514  -by Gautam Shah



armarium, arium, almery, almirah, alamari, almarie, wardrobe, cupboard, cabinet, chest, closet, chiffonier, bureau, dresser, panoply.


The word almirah derives from Latin armarium = arma (weapons, tools) + arium =place, a place or device associated with a specified thing or function. Middle English almery and Anglo-French almarie, both are based on weapons or arma. Hindi alamari derives from Portuguese almirah.

Dutch wardrobe Wikipedia image by Author Hajotthu

An almirah was a free standing chest or closet, and a storage place to keep vestments in the sacristy of a church. Almirah in modern sense is synonymous with a cabinet, cupboard, wardrobe, etc. but not with sandook, patara, chest or box. It is closed or a shuttered-storage entity, so cannot be equated with storage with shelves in niche, alcove, bay or recess. There are some doubts if a chest of drawers or bureaus used for storing small things, underwear, make-up things or writing papers and pens, study chests, etc. may also be called almirah?

Sainte-Marie de Corneilla-de-Conflent Wikipedia image by Author Acoma

Almirahs were custom made, from wood by carpenters, for a client and the place, till about the industrial age. Ancient almirahs were heavy and bulky, and difficult to shift around, except within the room or premises. The bulky almirah, when full of stored items, were almost impossible to move anywhere. For planning any shift, it was necessary to open the concealed, secret and multiple locking systems and empty the contents. In the vast premises of church or palace, almirah were nearly immobile safe keeping unit. And yet during invasions, the almirah, in spite of the bulk and weight, were carried off as treasured catch. Almirah were carried away as part of the luggage during immigration. New almirah were created and offered to European brides as part of the dowry.

Armoire de mariage, musée pyrénéen, château fort de Lourdes, Hautes-Pyrénées, France With pediment Head Wikipedia image by Author Père Igor

A Dowry cabinet in German Museum Wikipedia image by Author Frank C. Müller, Baden-Baden

There are essentially two classes of Almirahs, fixed and movable. Fixed ones were not bolted or tied to anything but are situationally designed and mounted in a corner, or set inside a niche. The movable ones were placed against a corner or a flat wall. The traditional almirah are of human height with one or two single leaf shutters or with dual doors providing wider access. The almirah have two bottom level drawers opening on the outer face, and sometimes two internal drawers covered by the main shutters. It had secret chambers on the sides of drawers, under the head side, and as a false bottom. Almirahs were also made into smaller height cabinets, or as dual depth cabinets.

Wikipedia image National Museum in Warsaw

Image by Pavel Ševela / Wikimedia Commons.

The inside faces of the doors were simply finished except in the post 18 C periods, when metal hooks and micro shelves began to be included in the door. Early almirahs were all shelves’ arrangement, with no provision of rods or hooks for hanging of clothes. Similarly the door fronts were carved or decorated with veneer or marquetry, but no mirror or painted, etched or engraved glasses were used. The almirahs in renaissance period began to have a top heading of pediments. The solid or square bottom now had round ball or pawed legs. The legs were spaced with an intermediate panel.

Armoire “Chantilly” de style Louis XV, réalisé par les Ateliers Allot Frères. Wikipedia image by Author Allot rené

First almirah were used for storing and protecting the armour (almery and almarie). Religious places like churches used this for storing vestments and ritual vessels. Craft’s person like carpenters, goldsmiths, used it to store delicate proprietary tools. Master muralist stored parchment, fabric and paper-based cartoon roles and studies on canvas. Almirah have compartments some of which were used for storing items of day to day use, and additional secret chambers and drawers for securing jewellery, documents and other valuables, which were rarely opened.

Liège, Belgium Wikipedia image by Kleon3

Wardrobe, spruce, painted. Upper Austria, Linz area, 1790; Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg Wikipedia image by Author Anagoria

Very early Almirahs (pre 7- 8th C) were a simple wood log like raw assembly without any decorative finish or embellishment. The remarkable surface ornamentation was of iron or bronze hardware like hinges, spikes, nails, and locks. The Egyptian Canopic chests are cases used to contain the internal organs that were removed during the process of mummification. These chests, and later a walk-in cabinet like forms were tall wooden shrine-like forms. These were made from wood and coated with gesso, and brightly painted.

Egyptian Box for Ushabtis or Canopic Jars

Coffre à vases canopes de Toutânkhamon, Musée égyptien du Cairo, (Egypt) wikipedia image by personnelle de Gérard Ducher (user:Néfermaât).

The painted wood style continued for several centuries, in absence of any better wood surface finishing methods. Corners and bevels are often decorated with gilding. Flat surfaces were painted with landscapes. Painted wood surfaces were not long lasting. And as a result the emphasis turned to use of good quality of wood and carve it. Woods were explored for the arrangement of grains or natural patterns.

Painted Wardrobe Museum für Volkskultur in Württemberg, Waldenbuch) Wikipedia image by Author Photo: Andreas Praefcke




Post 493  by Gautam Shah



Storage systems have been with us from very ancient times. These systems have helped in spatial organization of living, commercial and manufacturing areas. Organized storage primarily means segregation and stacking of entities for the purpose visual identification and easy access. Storage systems for foods have been conceived for isolation, preservation and maturation. Commercial and manufacturing storage systems serve the same purposes, but for former visual merchandising and for the later goods and tools, access were important issues.

Storage Cabinets have been known by many names. Almirah is a Portuguese word, Hindi = Alamari, describing a free standing closet. It was a place to keep vestments in the sacristy of a church. Almirahs in modern sense are synonymous with cabinet, cupboard, wardrobe etc. A cabinet could be an open or shuttered-storage entity, so may not be equated with open storage systems with shelves in niche, alcove, bay or recess.


The Sandook, Patara, Manjusha (Hindi), Chest or Box, are all storage units of ancient origin, and considered predecessors of Almirah. Manjusha generally means a box for jewels, or treasure chest. These are associated with nomadic life, so were compact but were multi-functional. These were accessible only from the top and so were cumbersome for storing. These storage units, like the almirah, had few compartments or cells to store small things, and secret chambers for the valuables.


An important category of storage systems includes a chest of drawers, bureaus (French word for office), secretary, secretaire, or escritoire, and desks. These were primarily used for home-based offices, personal study areas, as communication console by officers, ministers and scholars. The units were independent entities, placed against a wall, and often on a raised platform of 100 to 200 mm height. The drawers were for minuscule in size for storing pins and pens, to very large ones for books and manuscripts.

Chippendale Desk

The efficiency of access and ergonomic size made them very popular and began to be used in bed rooms, dining rooms, pantry areas, shops, hotel lobbies, restaurants and bars. In bedrooms these were used as personal craft-station, as Lingerie chest for storing socks, underwear, hands kerchiefs, napkins, as a parlour for make-up things. Lingerie chests were of highboys or tall design where a set of drawers as a tall chest of were mounted on legs. Parlour chests were comparatively lower volume chests, of a bureau-dressing table in combination with a pivoted mirror on an integrated stand or as a wall-mounted frame.

Personal work area Sherlock Holmes Museum

In entrance halls the chests had drawers for shoes but low enough to sit on it to tie shoelaces. Entrance hall chests were accompanied by long wall mirror, a coat stand, and umbrella tray. In dining rooms these became cutlery and linen station taking away the functions of silver room.

The bureaus made their formal appearance in 17th C across Europe. These were similar to modern day office desks, with a set of drawers or shuttered cabinets on sides and knee-space in the center. The knee space often had a drawer, or a flat pull out board for writing. Europe bureaus as a writing desk had no knee space, but the top section had a fold-down flap that rested at both edges on sliding vertical supports. The projecting fold-down flap provided sufficient knee space. The fold-down flap covered a set of pigeon holes or micro-sized drawers.


Castle Ward Interior -Classical Palladian Library for J5749 >© Copyright Suzanne Mischyshyn and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Design and construction of bureaus was considered a challenge for furniture makers of the times. But as the time progressed designs became lighter, hardware superior and finishing techniques elaborate. The nominal inclined top was replaced with an accordion like folding flaps, or a curved tambour top. By 19th C it essentially became either delicate feminine furniture or robust commercial-use facility.

Dining room cabinet

Shelved storage systems were used for storing scrolls, manuscripts and arms. These were mostly open systems, to permit aeration and in colder climates prevent water condensation, but the same need some enclosure in other climates. The enclosure was provided to the entire room containing such shelves, rather then group of shelves. Almirahs were used where storage requirements of smaller volume. Shelving storage systems were in built niches or alcoves and formed within panelling system. From later part of 18th C it became fashionable to stock famous books in tea-coffee rooms, drawing rooms. Real and false libraries (with slices of books spines) were created as part of room panelling design. With availability of good quality of glass in late 19th C these were covered with wood framed glass shutters.


slotted angle shelving Industrial warehousing


The industrial revolution period saw streamlining of production processes. These required huge warehousing systems for raw materials and finished products. New storage devices such as steel-angle racks, steel almirahs, file cabinets, index card drawers, were now available.