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What Do I Need to Know About China Cabinets?

China cabinets are an elegant way to showcase your valuable chinaware and crystal, while protecting them from dust and other potentially harmful environmental hazards (including curious little fingers). Since they come in a wide range of sizes, styles and types, the best thing to do before purchasing one is to consider what you want to use the china cabinet for, what features you want the cabinet to have and how much space is available. Once you've considered these three factors, you will be ready to find the ideal china cabinet that will meet all of your requirements.

Before you Begin

One type of cabinet for storing china or collectibles might appear much like any other type. While this is mostly true, there are some important distinctions between curio cabinets and china cabinets. Typically a china cabinet has enclosed sides, since it is intended to display dishes from a front or surface view. On the other hand, curio cabinets are designed to hold china figurines or other types of collectibles and characteristically have glass sides and a mirrored back so that the decorative detail of each item can be seen from all sides.

Decide what you will predominantly use the china cabinet for. If you intend to display and store your grandmother's china she brought over from the Old Country, a cabinet with a mirrored back is a great way to show off the pieces to their best advantage. If you would like a place of honor for your Hummel figurine collection, maybe a curio cabinet will be a better choice.

Since china cabinets are available in a wide range of sizes, take stock. Have an idea of how small or large your collection is before you go shopping. Are you storing a ten place setting china set with accompanying serving dishes and plates? If you are still adding pieces to the dinner set you will be storing in the cabinet, make allowances for future growth. Or will you be using the china cabinet for a number of smaller dish sets, such as a tea set or demi-tasse collection? If you intend to use the cabinet for glassware as well as china, select a cabinet with adjustable shelves.

Decide where the china cabinet will go, then measure the available space. You don't want to get your new cabinet home only to find it won't fit.

Since you will most likely be purchasing a china cabinet for a room that has already been furnished, determine the style of the décor and match the new cabinet accordingly.

China Cabinet Features

While china cabinets are designed to hold chinaware, they are available with a number of features that can be used to display your dishes and collectibles in a specific way. When buying a china cabinet, consider how you want to showcase your collection and then choose the cabinet with the features that will display your valuable possessions to their best advantage. For example, if you have a fine collection of vintage plates, you might want to select a china cabinet with plate grooves that will allow you to stand them upright. On the other hand, if you have a china set or are displaying unique, freestanding pieces, selecting a china cabinet with interior lighting will be the perfect way to shine the spotlight on your collectibles.

Mirrored Back

The mirrored back of a china cabinet serves several purposes. The main purpose, of course, is to showcase and emphasize the items in the cabinet. It can also add style and definition to your cabinet. In a small room, a china cabinet with a mirrored back has the added benefit of making the room appear larger. Depending on what and how you display, a mirrored back can have dramatic effect, especially when combined with some type of interior lighting.

Interior Lighting

Interior lighting in a china cabinet draws the eye inward, focusing attention on what is being displayed. Depending on the manufacturer and the design of the china cabinet, it can have canister lights, a halogen interior lighting system or some type of track lighting specifically designed for cabinets.

Adjustable shelves

The shelves of a china cabinet are usually made of glass or wood. Some types of china cabinets have fixed shelves only. If the collection you intend to house in your cabinet includes pieces of varied sizes, select a cabinet with adjustable shelves. If you intend on displaying plates and dishes vertically, glass shelves, just like wood shelves, can include plate grooves.

Plate Grooves

A plate groove is a pre-cut channel in the back of the shelf, designed to display a plate or flat dish in a vertical position. Plate grooves are an essential feature if you have vintage or collectible plates you wish to show off.


When shopping for a china cabinet, it might seem more of an issue if it didn't come with any doors at all. But it is important to take into account the type of doors a china cabinet has for it to convenient and easy for you to use.

  • Outward opening doors are hinged panels, either of wood or a combination of wood or glass that open toward you. They typically allow access to the interior of the cabinet from the front.
  • Sliding doors open and close by sliding along a track or groove system. A one way sliding door will slide only left or right, while a two way sliding door will slide both left and right. Both types of doors give you easy access, but a two-way sliding door is more convenient.
  • Side entry doors can either be outward opening or sliding. But, as the name suggests, access to the interior of the cabinet is gained from the side. The advatage of this type of door is that it gives the front of the cabinet an unimpeded view of the items inside for heightened viewing pleasure.


Especially in a home with young children, being able to lock your china cabinet has distinct advantages. Depending on the size of the cabinet and the manufacturer, you may have the option of locking one or all sections of the cabinets with a key.

China Cabinet Styles

China cabinets are beautiful pieces of furniture, whether the style is contemporary, traditional, modern or country. If you are purchasing the china cabinet for a room that has already been furnished, the style you choose should blend with your existing décor. A china cabinet is an investment. Choose the style of your china cabinet wisely, and it will reflect your personal taste and flair for many years to come.


A traditional china cabinet commands attention, with its rich, lustrous finish and decorative and structual elements that reflect thoughts and customs of another era. Typically made of wood, traditional style china cabinets include elegant features like pediments, broken pediments, pilasters, carved accents and inlays. Especially if it is crafted from genuine woods, a traditional cabinet will have a timeless appeal that can be shared by several generations.


Transitional china cabinets have the general appearance of traditional furniture, but ornamentation is simpler and decorative detail is not as elaborate. Lines and forms tend to be more linear but are still flowing. A transitional style china cabinet possesses a sophisticated yet comfortable allure.


Contemporary style china cabinets are generally made from lighter woods and finished in colors like espresso, white, beige and black. A mix of materials is commonly used in the construction of a contemporary china cabinet; for example, brass accents or inlay panels. Contemporary furnishings have smooth, clean lines and make maximum use of geometric forms.


Country style china cabinets are universally appealing with their unpretentious designs yet elegant and charming looks. This is the perfect choice for the person who is looking for a more traditional feel, but without a formal, stylized appearance. A country style china cabinet might include decorative details like stenciling, a scalloped apron, blunt arrow or bun feet and wainscotting.

Other Helpful Hints

Particualarly if you will be using the china cabinet to store odd-shaped or oversized items, check the interior dimensions of the cabinet before making a final purchase. A cabinet might appear to be spacious on the outside but might not have as much usable space on the inside.

After assembling the shelves, make sure that the brackets fit tightly and the shelves are secure, before you place your collectibles inside.

Don't stuff as many items as possible on each shelf. You want to display your valuable possessions so that each one can be seen and appreciated.

Especially if you have your eye on a traditonal style china cabinet with a broken pediment or other fancy ornamentation, consider the ceiling height of the room you are buying the cabinet for. You want to make sure that a tall china cabinet will fit, both vertically and horizontally.

If you intend on purchasing a china cabinet with interior lighting, make sure that the space you allotted for the cabinet is near a power source.