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Isn’t a Curio Cabinet the Same as a China Cabinet?

Buying Guide: China Cabinets

Isn’t a Curio Cabinet the Same as a China Cabinet?

While it's true that curio cabinets and china cabinets do share many similarities, there are some important differences between the two. Since a china cabinet is designed to display chinaware, the sides are typically enclosed, while curio cabinets generally have glass sides and a mirrored back so that the decorative detail of each item in the cabinet can be seen from all sides. A curio cabinet can be used to showcase pretty much anything you want to show off. Since they come in a wide variety of styles, sizes, styles and types, consider where the curio cabinet is going and the features you want the cabinet to have before you make your choice final.

Before you Begin

Decide what you will be using the curio cabinet for. Will you be proudly displaying your trophies, souvenir dolls or china figurines? Give some thought to how large your collection is, and if you would like buy a curio cabinet that is larger than what you currently need to allow for future additions.

A curio cabinet is typically a tall piece of furniture. Take measurements. Make sure that it will fit, both vertically and horizontally, into your space.

You will most likely be purchasing the curio cabinet for a room that has already been furnished. To ensure that your new cabinet will blend with your existing décor, choose one that either matches or complements the style of furnishings currently in the room.

Decide what features you would like your curio cabinet to have. Will you be displaying a mix of tall and short items? Choose a curio with adjustable shelves. If you want to shed some light on your collection, select a cabinet with interior lighting. When purchasing a curio cabinet with interior lighting, make sure that it will be near a power source.

Types of Curio Cabinets

Curio cabinets come in all shapes and sizes. The size of the cabinet will largely depend on the size of your collection. A wall curio cabinet may be the perfect accent piece in a dining room to display a collection of salt and pepper shakers. If you've always wanted a curio cabinet but didn't think you had the room for one, a corner curio may be the ideal space-saving solution.

Standard Curios

A standard curio cabinet is typically freestanding, is available in a range of sizes and is constructed to hold heavy objects like large china pieces or metal trophies. Standard curios generally have mirrored backs and glass sides. They can include such features as interior lighting, lockable doors, adjustable shelves and plate grooves.

Wall Mounted Curios

A wall mounted curio cabinet, as the name suggests, uses wall rather than floor space, making it a great choice when you just don't have the room. Designed to hold a small selection of collectibles, a wall mounted curio is a self-contained unit that can be mounted on the wall of virtually any room in your home.

Corner Curios

Corner curio cabinets have many of the same features a standard curio does, but is designed to fit in the corner of a room. If you have an awkward shaped room in your home, a corner curio is an ideal way to utilize what otherwise might be dead space. A corner cabinet is also a good way to create a focal point in a room that may not already have one.

Clock Curios

A clock curio combines the charm of a grandfather clock with the beauty and practicality of a standard curio cabinet. The stunning result is an accent piece that is multi-functional and appealing. Some manufacturers offer curios that have battery-operated clocks, so you won't have to worry about placing the cabinet near a power outlet. Especially the ones that incorporate the works of a grandfather clock into the cabinet design, a clock curio has a heirloom appearance you will appreciate for many years.

Curio Cabinet Styles

Commanding attention with rich, lustrous finishes and decorative and structural elements, traditional style curios reflect the philosophies and customs of past eras. Usually made of wood, traditional style curio cabinets include elegant features like pediments, broken pediments, pilasters, carved accents and inlays. A traditional curio cabinet, especially if it is crafted from genuine woods, is a possession you will want to pass along from one generation to another.

Transitional curio cabinets have many of the same architectural decorative elements such as crown molding and broken pediments that traditional style does. However, with transitional style furnishings ornamentation is simpler and decorative detail is less elaborate. A transitional style curio cabinet is elegant and sophisticated and can be typically found in deep espresso.

Contemporary curio cabinets have smooth, clean lines and use geometric forms in unique ways. They are typically made from light wood finishes or a painted look in neutral colors like white, beige and black. A contemporary curio might be made of wood, with brushed nickel or chrome accents. A contemporary curio will give a room a calming, uncluttered appearance, with its relaxed lines and minimal decorative elements.

Country style curio cabinets have unique designs that range from charming to enchanting to rustic. A country curio can retain a distinctive period flavor like Mission, Shaker or English Country. It can include decorative elements like beaded molding, scalloped aprons and wainscotting. A country style curio is ideal for someone who likes a more traditional feel without elaborate or formal ornamentation.

It is Made of Wood...But What Kind?

Considered to be the most durable material for furniture, genuine wood furnishings are constructed from timber cut from the trunks of trees like pine, mahogany or oak. They are more expensive than engineered wood products. Timber can be produced from wood of hardwood or softwood trees, and refers to whether or not the tree is deciduous (sheds its leaves) or coniferous (doesn’t shed its leaves/needles). It is not an indication of the strength of the wood. Curio cabinets can be found in rich finishes like cherry or mahogany as well as more casual tones like oak.

Other Helpful Hints

A curio cabinet might appear spacious on the outside but not have as much usable space on the inside. Especially if you intend to use the curio to display bulky or oversized items, check the interior dimensions of the cabinet before making a final decision.

Before placing your precious memorabilia inside the cabinet, ensure that all brackets have been installed properly and that the shelves fit snugly in place.

Resist the temptation to cram every valuable item you own into the curio. You want to enjoy the individuality of each item. Give your collectibles room to breathe.

Do have children of your own or grandkids that visit on a regular basis? Consider purchasing a curio with locking doors, just to be on the safe side.

Curio Cabinet History

Cabinets especially designed to display curiosities have been around for several centuries. Emerging out of the 1500s during the height of the Renaissance, ‘Wunderkammern’ or cabinets of wonder originally referred to rooms that were designed to showcase the curiosities discovered by scientists, artists, explorers and other enlightened minds of Europe . The treasures they held and the way the curiosities were arranged drew attention to the world in ways never before considered and demanded that the viewer question and rethink the world as they currently perceived it.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the scientific community became more analytic rather than eclectic, the Wunderkammern were scaled down in size , and adapted to store the special collections of the royal and aristocratic families of Europe that were no longer strictly of intellectual or academic interest. They emerged as pieces of furniture, bulky and oversized. Curio cabinets, as they became known as, were now being used for aesthetic purposes, housing items of interest only to the collector.

Today the same still holds true for the modern curio cabinet. Emerging from traditional methods of cabinetry into mass production, the contemporary curio cabinet is designed to display those items of interest or of value to an individual collector. Curio cabinets, also known as simply curios, are generally made of wood and glass and are available in a variety of furniture styles, from traditional to contemporary.