There are two things I learned very quickly upon moving to New York in 2006: when you live in an apartment the size of a postage stamp, armoires serve as excellent storage/hiders of things (they work great in large houses too); and, when you have a limited income/budget, Craigslist is an excellent source for finding said armoires and other delightful furniture at extremely reasonable prices.
I started this post with the intention of just focusing on armoires (there are, after all, billions of armoires out there that can be acquired via a variety of different vendors), but I very quickly realized that my love of armoires is very closely linked to my love of Craigslist. I love armoires, and I love Craigslist. Armoires, and in particular armoires purchased via the wild world of Craigslist, have made my life more beautiful, efficient, and organized (and I'm not going to lie... the Craigslist part is pretty exciting). Armoires allow you to have the illusion of cleanliness and sophistication while hiding a big ol' mess behind those gorgeous hardwood doors. They're the ultimate friend: open and welcoming when you want and excellent at hiding your (messy) little secrets when you need them too.
My mother is the one who taught me always to hide televisions in armoires or behind closed doors. When I was growing up, the TV in our house was hidden behind cabinet doors, and I learned that electronics were meant to be hidden in living areas where guests might visit. My parents had a giant built-in over the fireplace in our family room that they created around a massive tube TV purchased in 1988 -- which they adorably still have in place 25 years later and are finally going to replace this winter -- that had beautifully painted cabinet doors that could be opened or closed depending on whether the TV was to be seen or not. So when I moved to New York after college and was able to decorate my very first apartment, it was only natural that I thought to put my TV in an armoire and carry on the decorating TV peep show. My armoire was one of my first furniture purchases and it is one that will always make me feel warm and fuzzy because it was one of the first independent decisions I made post-college and the purchase experience was really great and seamless: I found the piece on Craigslist after obsessive searching for "antique armoire," and the seller was just the nicest guy ever -- he was a Sutton Place high-rise superintendent, his aunt in Mexico had painted the piece by hand, he negotiated on the price (I paid $500, down from his ask of $750, which I deemed reasonable), he offered to drill holes in it so I could use it for electronics and then delivered it himself to my apartment (truly a picture perfect Craigslist deal). It is a well-made piece that has served its purpose beautifully over the years.
Armoires work particularly well for electronics and for clothes (I have one for each, if your curious, but this post is more TV focused). When you have a lot of stuff in a small amount of space, and only a small area in which to entertain (when you live in a studio apartment, for example, your closet is in your living room), I think it's important to be able to hide that stuff, and it's a nice plus to be able to hide the stuff in a piece of furniture that elevates the look of your space.
I have noticed in recent years that with the death of tube TVs and the infiltration of flat screen TVs into the homes of everyone, everywhere, the trend is to stop hiding your electronics and to start hanging them on your wall for all to see. The conversation of "to hide" or "not to hide" was prompted over Thanksgiving weekend when my parents, Matt and I all went to Best Buy to check out the TVs. Matt and I wanted to buy each other a new TV (ours previously was 27" in -- top of the line in 2006 -- and I had to squint to see it from our sofa), and we diligently measured our armoire to figure out just how big we could go with the TV. I told my parents we could go do 40" - maybe 42" or 43" -- and nothing more. Otherwise, it wouldn't fit in the armoire. "Don't you want to get a really big one and just hang it on the wall?" my mom asked. WHAT?! Even my mother wants a giant flat screen TV hanging on the wall with nothing to cover it?! What about all of those childhood lessons I was taught? (Fast forward a few moments to the point of purchase and as Matt hands over our credit card, my dad swoops in and says that he and my mom want to buy the TV for us for Christmas. Unexpected treat! Thank you, Mom and Dad! And that is an excellent gifting idea if you want to go big for Christmas.).
I am not opposed to this TV-on-wall thing. My parents deserve to put a 60 incher up on their wall after having watched that eyesore of a boob tube for 25 years, and I am sure that in the next few years Matt and I too will slap our new 40 incher up on the wall and move the armoire elsewhere (especially if I could ever get my hands on a sideboard/credenza like this Danish rosewood piece on 1stdibs or this gorgeous buffet made by my friend Meg Piercy of MegMade -- more on her fabulousness coming soon!). I guess, as the saying goes, if you've got it, flaunt it. But I still find an armoire to be charmingly demure and a lovely touch that is particularly helpful for those like me who are not only messy by nature but also have, like, 1000 cords and random Time Warner Cable boxes that likely do nothing but might serve a purpose, and tampering with the evil gods of Time Warner Cable is just not worth it (I really don't want to mess with the functionality of my television and internet.). Armoires ground a room and give it weight and character. And they also add an element of height that adds excitement to a room's landscape and isn't otherwise attainable through other furniture means.
Let's face it: Armoires give a room two distinct identities and allow us to mix business with pleasure. It's fantastic! Let's take my living room for example:
95% of the time, our living room looks like the "Pleasure" side: Doors wide open (we have to prop the door open with that wire piece because the floors in our old building are slanted), TV on, feet up on the ottoman, it's a perfectly functional TV room. But for that 5% of the time that appearances matter -- when we have company over or when I just want to feel sophisticated -- we pop those doors back in place, and the living room is suddenly all "Business" and gorgeousness.
Eventually, we'll redecorate. I'll get my swanky midcentury credenza and hang our flat screen on the wall (I feel so hip just talking about it), and I'll remember my time with this trusty little armoire in the living room fondly. We'll paint it (though it would hurt to do so) and put it in our bedroom or in a future child's room, or anywhere, really. And it will stay in the family until it's time to move on (via Craigslist, I'm sure, if ever). Armoires -- if you get a solidly built hardwood piece that you love -- are pieces that can last for years and that is what I adore so much about them. They're like these big, oversized, looming members of the family, comfortably sitting in your living room, loyally hiding your electronic baggage when you want them to and comfortingly opening their big armoire arms whenever you want to hang out and watch TV.
If that doesn't defend the armoire, I don't know what will.
Where to Buy:
Armoires can be purchased from a number of vendors, but as I'm sure you've figured out by now, my favorite armoire finds are on Craigslist. It's convenient (i.e. local), and pricing is negotiable, and if you're discerning in your search, you can find something truly great. There's no shipping of course, so you either need to figure out how to transport it yourself or hire a small mover (man with van or TaskRabbit) to do the job for you - usually around $100. I did a quick search of the local NY Craigslist listings and was particularly intrigued by this antique French armoire -- I love that it has pretty wallpaper on the inside, the wood seems really beautiful, and the piece seems well-built and has some gravitas to it. It's pricey, but that's always negotiable if you go about it the right way (and it looks like it should be pricey). This solid pine armoire is also nice - a bit more plain, but also quite a bit cheaper. A good, solidly made armoire will run you anywhere from a few hundred to $1000+, but shouldn't exceed much more than that on Craigslist. Don't do particle board; only do hardwood. And if you can, try to find something that has a nice history to it. If you wait long enough, you should be able to find something that fits your budget and lifestyle perfectly.
You can also check out local flea markets, antique shops, Etsy, eBay and Chairish (with the latter three you'll be responsible for shipping costs, which can be high), and depending on your budget, 1st dibs and mainstream e-shops like Layla Grace and Horchow. But once you get to the Layla Graces and Horchows of the world, you're looking at $3000+, which is a very hefty investment indeed.
I am also of course more than happy to help you find the piece of your dreams! Just let me know what you're looking for!
Staving off apartment entropy is a constant battle; I have to fight hard against my messy nature. I have been trying to incrementally de-clutter our apartment, and sometimes practicality - like having easy access to books (or, more likely, not having a receptacle to store them in) - must win, and clutter must be put on display rather than contained behind closed doors. How to cope? I have found an easy trick ("borrowed" from my good friend Kate P., who has an excellent eye) that easily makes viewable clutter appear "organized" and aesthetically pleasing: organize/arrange along a color gradient! It takes an otherwise visually distracting (and messy looking) display and makes it appealing to the eye. (And the feeling after completing this task
is downright satisfying!)
As you can imagine, this works best with books (though it can be done with other objects too). I have read that people who are hard-core organizers find this method of organizing books by color to be difficult to swallow ("How on earth would I find the book I need if it's not alphabetized!?") and others just take inexplicable offense to it (seriously, I had no idea it was so controversial), but for those of us who remember a book by its cover color rather than its title, this trick is a quick way to turn something displeasing into a lovely rainbow. It appears harmonious to the eye and creates an inner sense of order (and couldn't we all use a little of that?). Also, if you're prone to messiness like I am, it makes you feel downright pleased with yourself to be able to contain clutter in a pretty, organized fashion. It's the book organizing equivalent to making the bed (a satisfactory deed indeed).
(Side note, I love the interplay between the fashion world and the world of interiors. Chanel's Spring 2014 runway featured some major rainbow action, and I
am happy to carry that trend forward in the home. It's like having a little bit of Lagerfeld on the cheap!)
I have arranged books by color in two areas of our apartment: 1) with our cookbooks (left), which are proudly on display on the window sill in the alcove next to our kitchen (and viewable from the living room); and 2) with Matt's and my grad school books in our "office" area (thankfully hidden from living room view, but viewable in the slideshow below). The final product is decidedly less appealing with law and business school books than with cookbooks. Law books come in exactly two colors - blue and red (so stringent, these law types!) - and business school books are either case books with black binding or just atrociously ugly text books - but there is a certain level of satisfaction that can be achieved by finding a level of order and calm amid the chaos that is grad school (or really anything stressful). The real trick for organizing all those school books was scoring a ginormous bookcase from Craigslist (I refuse to pay retail for bookcases, and I'm happy to scour your local Craigslist for you), which Matt and I hauled home from a nearby apartment after work on Valentine's Day 2012 (I would make a joke about marriage and romance, but seriously, Matt's willingness to go along with my insane Craigslist furniture procurement schemes is one of his most loveable qualities).
The best thing about this color arranging process is that there is really no right or wrong way to do it, though I would not recommend removing all of your books and starting from scratch (a truly daunting scene) - much easier to pull out a few and keep the majority of your books upright and intact and then move colors around incrementally from there. I am sure you could get very rigid in following the color wheel (and really, who's got time for that?), but I tend to just go from dark to light and see what works in between. Give it a whirl and see what you think!
Happy harmonizing! :)
I am an artist/designer and former financial professional with a background in comparative literature, business and design. I live in New York with my overworked lawyer husband and my two boys Michael and Theo and spend much of my free time dreaming about how to enhance the aesthetics of our little world. I am endlessly inspired and always in search of something new. This is a blog about my search, my inspiration and things I just really, really like or want.