Humans have long looked to the world around them for ways to store their valuable possessions. Cavemen looked for stone crevices to put their spears. Mayans and other early settler civilizations built store houses with shelving units to keep their wheat and maize away from pests and infestations. It wasn’t until the Renaissance era (1400-1600) that the important structures we know as “cabinets” became more commonplace.
French aristocrats and Chinese high society were best known for their artistry and craft around armoires during this time. With their ornate decorations, hand painted detailing, and excellent craftsmanship, these wardrobes, closets, and cabinets became a symbol of luxury and pomp. Some were even used as “booty” in wars, including the famous Wrangelschrank cabinet that many times over swapped sides during the Thirty Years War.
During the mid 1700s is when cabinets and bookshelves became commonplace throughout the Western world, turning to well-studied carpenters and crafters to build what was now an important staple in household life. Furniture had taken a place of more than just function as the middle class began to network and socialize. Owning cabinets and armoires, most of which would take over 600 hours of work to create, became an important economic and design symbol for homemaking purposes.
The cabinet making process now involves many intricate steps, a deep understanding of engineering, physics, and mechanics, and an eye for interior design as well. Cabinets now come in a myriad of textures, colors, materials, and styles. The design of how these structures are made goes hand in hand with how they are used, how they look, and where they are placed in a house or office.
While today you can go to IKEA and follow a somewhat oversimplified step by step process of how to put together a shelving unit by yourself, the beauty and craftsmanship of properly made cabinets remains a mastery of design in itself.