The difference between a cabinet and a cupboard has perplexed Western Civilization for centuries. Or maybe not but I've deluded myself into thinking so.
And being delusional, I've decided in the interests of humanity as well as the arts in general, to provide you with the answer to this age old question:
The essential difference between a cupboard and a cabinet are:
If this advice saves even one perplexed decorator from giving up design to work as a Barista at Starbucks, then I think my blog has made a significant contribution to society.
- Cabinets are luxury pieces to store valuables and are therefore characterized by exteriors covered in precious materials (like gold, exotic woods, etc.) and have interiors elaborately fitted with many small drawers, secret panels and small doors.
- Cupboards, on the other hand, are more utilitarian pieces of furniture that are meant to store more general goods, items for daily use and typically have just a few shelves and/or storage compartments inside. Cupboard exteriors are not intended to "dazzle" or convey to guests that they conceal higly treasured objects.
Seen below is a good example of a cabinet. It's an 18th century Italian secretary bureau cabinet that has more than 65 secret drawers, doors, pockets and hidden cubbies concealed within. The exterior is rare tortoise shell veneered over pure 22k gold leaf to create a shimmering effect of unparalleled opulence. The buyer of this piece will effectively have the Sistine Chapel in their living room.
List price: $1,250,000 USD
Now compare this show-stopping cabinet to the very handsome 18th century English elmwood cupboard shown below (FYI, this type of cupboard is also called a Welsh dresser). It has shelves, drawers and doors but was clearly never meant to be a luxury cabinet for "the family jewels" or other family treasures. This piece was meant for utilitarian storage including plates, cups, utensils, and other household items that required storage but not the level of protection and/or display of objects de vertu like the precious cabinet above. BTW, object de vertu is a really good phrase to know and is pronounced "ohb JAY duh vair TOO" and refers to small objets of superb workmanship and value.
List price: $36,750 USD
So the next time you get asked, "What's the difference between a cabinet and a cupboard?" you can confidently answer, "About a million dollars."