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Dresser vs. Armoire

A close look at an armoire with glass panels showcasing the lit interiors.

I moved house a few months ago. As I filled in the inventory list, I got a little confused because the form mentioned both dressers and armoires. To be honest, I had always thought they were essentially the same thing.

My curiosity got the better of me, and I went investigating. Also, a bit of research was a welcome reprieve from packing boxes. Yes, I’m a procrastinator.

Dresser is short for “dressing table.”  An armoire is a French word for a tall, free-standing, ornate cupboard. Commonly known as a wardrobe, an armoire is usually larger than a dresser. 

It varies in shape and size and often includes a standing closet. Both are generally used as bedroom furniture.

I discovered that there is a lot more to know about the finer details of bedroom storage furniture. There is also a fascinating history lesson about the origin of the terms. And, of course, where and how they can be used.

Where Does The Term “Dresser” Come From?

This is an elegant blue dresser with golden accents on its hinges and handles.

A dresser or dressing table is also called a  bureau, a vanity, or a lowboy. It is generally a small table with a couple of stacked horizontal drawers. It also may have a mirror attached.  

The term lowboy contrasts with a tall chest of drawers, know as a tallboy or highboy. The dresser is also commonly known as a chest of drawers. The dresser or lowboy is most often used as a dressing-table but occasionally as a side-table.

The lowboy and the tallboy became very popular in the 18th century in the UK and the USA. Oak, walnut, or mahogany were the most common materials initially used for this elegant piece of furniture. The drawer-fronts were mounted with brass pulls.  

You could often find a scallop shell motif below the center drawer. Queen Anne, early Georgian, and Chippendale styles often have curvy cabriole legs and carved knees. The feet would be slippered or claw-and-ball feet.

The Origin of Armoire?

The term armoire is pronounced as arm-waar. As we’ve established, an armoire is a French word. It describes a tall free-standing, ornate cupboard.

The word, however, can be traced back to the late 12th century Old French word armarie. Armarie came from the Latin term armarium. This word meant a closet or chest for implements, tools, and arms.

A few hundred years later, the English took the term and adapted it to ambry, meaning a storeroom or cupboard or a pantry.

And then, a few years further down the line, the French took the term back from the English to describe this decorative storage piece. And that name stuck.

How’s that for a bit of etymology for you?

Before the invention of wardrobes and closets, folks of old stored clothing in a chest. Over time, the nobility began to keep their elegant attire in a separate room filled with hanging space and lockers. Presumably, they wanted to avoid their expensive garments being crushed in a chest. This room became known as a wardrobe.

The combination of cupboards and lockers became the handy storage solution that we now know as a wardrobe or armoire.

Fun fact: Apparently, an armoire was the correct size if eight small men could fit inside it. Can you imagine if your primary purpose in life was to be a measuring unit for a piece of furniture?

Uses For Dressers and Armoires

This is a formal living room with cushioned chairs and sofas adorned with a large wooden armoire on the far corner.

Although we generally classify both pieces as bedroom furniture, we can use armoires and dressers throughout your home and even your garden. Both can be very useful as well as stylish storage solutions.

Although traditionally, an armoire was designed to be a clothing storage unit, they can be repurposed for some beautiful uses, cleverly hiding clutter and creating a talking point in your home.

Imagine a converted armoire as an ideal home office space. The internet offers a host of ideas for reusing this space as a work-from-home station. They are a perfect size to house your computer, some books, stationery, and a printer, even a pinboard or whiteboard.

And what’s better than closing the doors at the end of the day and literally putting your work away.

Another smart option is a craft space. As an avid crafter, I always look for a tidy, stylish storage and worktable solution. And as a bonus, this can keep my precious craft supplies away from curious little hands.

Or how about upcycling an armoire to be a trendy liquor cabinet and home bar? 

A dresser is lovely for storage in a bedroom, but if you’re shopping for new bedroom furniture, you don’t need to throw out your old dresser. We can easily repurpose or upcycle these old pieces.

How about using a dresser as a TV stand or entertainment unit in your living room? They can also look fabulous as a hallway stand. Or how about using it in your dining room space as a server.

With a bit of DIY energy, you can reuse an old dresser as a bathroom basin vanity. A great option is in your kitchen as a center island? Just as an armoire can be used as a home bar, a dresser can also make for a stunning liquor cabinet.

I’ve even seen some examples of where they’ve been used in a garden to create a tiered garden display. Just remember the drainage holes.

The drawers, too, can be turned into clever wall shelves as shadow boxes. They’ve even been used as cute pet beds and window boxes.  

There’s nothing you can’t do with some inspiration, imagination, and paint. Pinterest is your best friend when it comes to repurposing or upcycling your furniture.

Other Storage Furniture Names You Might Come Across

Almirah: An almirah is an Indian word for a free-standing cupboard or wardrobe. It is usually smaller than a wardrobe and is used to store anything from medicine or clothing to tools.  It is made from various materials.


This is a wooden bureau with a built-in study desk paired with a swivel chair.

In the UK, a bureau is a name for a writing desk with drawers. A bureau often has an angled top opening that opens downwards to create a desk. In the USA, a bureau is known as a dresser.


This is an antique wooden credenza with cabinets.

A credenza is a cabinet generally used in a dining room, with either no legs or very short legs. It often has sliding doors that open up to create storage space for your dining ware. It can also have use in an office for stationery and file storage.


This is a vintage wooden sideboard that has sliding cabinet doors and drawers.

A sideboard is similar to a credenza. A sideboard is also known as a buffet.


This is a hallway with built-in white wooden chifferobes along the walls.

In short, a chifferobe is another name for an armoire or wardrobe. The only minor difference is that a chifferobe usually has drawers and an armoire does traditionally does not as drawers are a relatively modern invention. The word chifferobe is not commonly used anymore.


This is a walk-in closet with racks and structures surrounding a bench in the middle.

A closet is usually built into a home and used for storing clothing and other personal bits and pieces. Closets are not moved from one house to another, whereas wardrobes are mobile.


This is a white vanity with drawers and cabinets in the middle of the shower and toilet areas.

A vanity is a dresser with drawers and one or more mirrors attached. It is to apply makeup and do hair. The table is generally about the same height as a desk, and the user will use a chair or stool for sitting at the vanity.

Welsh dresser: A welsh dresser is called a china hutch in the USA and is used to store and display dining ware in the kitchen or dining room.


Although both are used for storage in bedrooms and throughout the house, an armoire and a dresser are slightly different types of furniture. An armoire is bigger than a dresser and includes hanging space, whereas a dresser usually only has drawers. 

We can use them for their intended purpose or repurpose or upcycle them into an innovative new piece of furniture in your home. There are also a variety of other storage furniture options.


Madison Seating: Know Your Furniture Dress Armoire or Chest of Drawers

AM Home Furnishings: Armoire History

Living Spaces: What is an Armoire

Bobvila: New Uses for Old Dressers

Southern Closet: Differences Between Almirah Armoire Chiffarobe Closet and Wardrobe

Britannica: Bureau

Elle Decor: What is Credenza

First Dibs: Difference Between Chiffarobe and Armoire

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