Storage: Armoires

Store it in style with armoires that are not just beautiful but practical.

Although most armoires today are sold as entertainment centers, you can buy an armoire to store or disguise almost anything: home office, baby layette, kitchenette, wine bar, even a treadmill.

"There are as many styles of armoires as there are furniture styles," says Patricia Bowling of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.

Most armoire interiors can be equipped one of three ways: as a clothes closet, with drawers, rods, mirror, and even shoe racks and accessory cubbies; as a media center, with a TV swivel, adjustable shelving, and a system to keep the tangle of cords straight; or as an office, including storage for computer components and supplies. High-end furniture manufacturers usually offer all these choices in each model of armoire.

Armoire doors can open three ways. The least expensive open wide–to 180 degrees–while other doors open to a wraparound 270 degrees. Many expensive models have pocket doors that slide inside.

Before visiting stores, "measure, measure, measure," Bowling says. For example, each home's combination of electronics is different, so some shelf configurations may not work. Can the scanner lid open fully? Will the television fit?

Armoires are growing both bigger and smaller. Some American furniture makers are rolling out oversize armoires for suburban mansions. The biggest measures eight feet tall by nearly five feet wide.

Other manufacturers are crafting armoires for tight spaces, whether a compact kitchen armoire that organizes cookbooks, recipes, or bills, or a small computer armoire that can turn a hallway into office space.

In between come medium-size armoires that, like their larger counterparts, use great styling, gorgeous woods–often reclaimed or plantation-grown tropical species–and interesting hardware to make a style statement while hiding clutter.

A good way to narrow your search is by visiting the "Furniture Finder" Web site sponsored by the American Furniture Manufacturers Association (findyourfurniture.com). The site lets you browse 55 member companies that build armoires. Click on your price range and you're linked to manufacturer home pages; from there it's easy to compare styles, dimensions, accessories, and finishes, and find local retailers.

Armoires range from $200 to $20,000. Even lower-price armoires are a good value, Bowling says, because ready-to-assemble units from stores like Office Depot and Staples are incorporating better engineering than in the past.

Another good feature to look for: antitip devices, often built into armoires for children's rooms.

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