They are at once statement objects and great concealers; their majestic presences lend living rooms, drawing rooms, libraries, bedrooms and even bathrooms a sense of grandeur, establishment and mystery. Decorative cabinets are artworks in themselves, often richly adorned inside and out. Cabinet doors often reveal further drawers, shelves and miniature cupboards, inviting curiosity and awe as each nook, compartment or jib is discovered.
I find myself drawn unfailingly to these pieces in any given room. They are such enchanting works, like dwarfed classical edifices complete with Liliputian loggias for handles, scaled-down friezes and dolls’ house-sized pediments. Perhaps the most famous examples can be found at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in the form of dolls’ houses themselves and apothecary cabinets, lining the exhibition rooms like a grand metropolitan square of illustrious homes.
“The authentic gilt, baroque cabinets or commodes such as these are selling really well at the moment,” says Martin Millard, Director of Cheffins, an auctioneer. “They are increasingly popular with interior designers or private buyers looking for that one stand-out item to bring a room to life.” Millard tells me that clients are often very happy to invest large sums of money into this furniture category. According to Cheffins’ commode and cabinet analysis, French Louis 15th styles dating from the mid-18th century can fetch upwards of £700,000.
“However, we have also seen an increase in more affordable versions,” he says. “The relatively common marble tops make them the perfect piece of furniture to be repurposed into a bathroom cabinet with a basin dropped into the centre. There are some beautiful examples of these repurposed versions which look completely at home in traditional bathrooms or guest bedrooms, whilst the drawers are the perfect hiding place for toiletries, toothbrushes and so on. Previously these have always been too ostentatious for contemporary tastes, however as pattern and maximalism continue to take centre stage in interior styles, these special pieces of furniture are making a comeback.”
Contemporary makers are flooding the market with beautiful new editions and ranges as this rise in popularity accelerates. One particularly exquisite example is Oh Myung Hee’s Secret Chamber for the upcoming Venice Biennale, opening on 23rd April. The artist, who is showing a series of artworks titled Mothers, Men and Marylin: Reflections on a Turning Point, is inspired by the liberation of the women of Korea following the Korean War in the 1950s. The lacquer and mother-of-pearl cabinet forms part of her exhibition with some integrated video technology to help tell her story. Traditionally, in Korea, lacquer and mother-of-pearl were applied to the objects used in the boudoir – an exclusive space for women.
Other collectible pieces that bridge the gap between art pieces and furniture can be found at independent galleries or collectible marketplaces like REHAUS for vintage designer furniture, Artegian for contemporary design pieces and 1stDibs for a range of modern and antique treasures.
For the wider markets and more readily shoppable collections, a number of the leading names in furniture design have launched their own versions of the statement cabinet. Bethan Gray, for example, has launched her Bedroom Collection, featuring a chest of drawers that is at once minimalistic and decadent, combing the serene pairing of greys and blues with metallic accents for which the designer has become known.
Interior designer, Matthew Williamson’s collaborative collection with furniture maker, Roome London also includes a fine example of the statement cabinet, The Tamara. Handcrafted in England from lacquered oak wood and upholstered in handpainted silk, the designer worked on the bespoke sun print specifically for this item.
Finally, a cabinet that leaves its most beautiful element to only those curious enough to open its doors. The Kelling Cabinet from KDLoves, the retail arm of Kelling Designs, has a spare, delightfully geometric exterior with a vibrant, contrasting, handpainted interior. Handpainted to each customer’s requirements, the options are endless when commissioning your own piece.