Der Kleiderschrank

What’s big and tall and fills the south wall? Der Kleiderschrank, of course! Kleiderschrank is German for clothes closet, wardrobe, armoire. This one has been in my family for many years. It’s another piece salvaged from my grandparents’ dark and mysterious basement. It probably originated at my great-grandparents’ lake house outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve always admired its simple lines. It’s so different from the other Eastlake pieces that came from “the lake.”

Vintage walnut armoire

Der Kleiderschrank

In Wisconsin, where I was born, my family always called it the kleiderschrank, but, as no one out West seems to know what that is, my tongue fumbles around for a more commonly understood word, until I haltingly spit out “armoire.”

My dad refinished the piece and replaced the wooden door panels with glass in the 1960s, before anyone suspected that antiques were more valuable with their original finishes. Otherwise, I’d have a green kleiderschrank in my living room now … and I’d probably love it. Antique greens are some of my favorite shades. But, if Pop hadn’t refinished it, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the mellow glow of the wood when the lights are on, or the aroma of the old walnut and wood stain when I open the doors, which brings back childhood memories. It’s smelled like this for a half century.

In my parents’ house it held china, much of it hand painted by my great-aunt Alvina. (Painting china was a popular ladies’ craft at the turn of the 20th century.) In my house, I use it to display my small collection of vintage tabletop radios, along with selected china pieces that survived the Nisqually earthquake of 2001, when I came home to find half of its contents shattered on the floor. Eric has added a few vintage cameras.

Front of armoire with reflection of windows in glass doors

Lots of reflection, but you get the idea

It’s also Rose’s safe spot. It’s a long leap from the back of the couch, but 13-year-old Rose can still do it. She’ll have to find another high point while the living room walls get patched and painted.

Tabby kitty sitting on top of armoire

You can’t touch me!

This piece is too big to move, so we have to disassemble it. Remarkably, the kleiderschrank has no nails. It’s all put together with joinery. Watch as we “knock it down into a pile of lumber,” as my mom used to say. Look out, Rose!

I began by taking everything off the shelves, packing it in plastic tubs, and storing it in the library. I’m not keen on cluttering up the library, but the stuff’s got to go somewhere. It’s just temporary, I reassured myself.

Armoire with doors open, showing vintage radios and china

Duke helped me wrap items in newspaper

Knocking it down is an easy job for two people. Eric carefully removed the doors, which are attached with standard inset hinges.

Armoire with doors removed

Doors and drawers removed

Next, we slid the wooden locking pieces toward the narrow end of the rails (toward the back of the kleiderschrank) and removed them. This freed the top of the unit, which we carted off to the dining room.

The top is held on by this wooden locking device

The top is held on by this wooden locking device


Armoire with top removed


The shelves simply lift out.

Armoire with shelves and top removed


A different kind of wooden locking pin holds the side walls to the base. The side walls lift up out of slots in the base.

Locking pin device holds side walls to base

Yes, I see the dust, too.

My dad replaced the back wall with two pieces of walnut plywood that fit into slots in the central spine.

Armoire's plywood back comes apart in three pieces

The back comes apart in three pieces

That left us with the base … and a black cat. Can you make out Lacy peering beneath the center support?

Black cat checks out base of armoire

Biggest hairball ever!

So that’s it. In a few minutes we went from having der Kleiderschrank standing in our living room to lying on our dining room floor like a new piece of IKEA furniture. Who wouldn’t want a dusty antique pile of lumber lying in their dining room during the holiday season?

Disassemb;ed armoire stacked on the floor

“Knocked down into a pile of lumber”

Wall color update

And who wouldn’t want a mantel decorated in festive paint sample containers? Kind of looks like the mascot for the painting Olympics.

Sample paint cans stacked on the mantel

No one else has a mantel display quite like this

Subtle changes are afoot in our color selection! Thanks to my blog friends, Jo from Let’s Face the Music and Jacqui from Home-in-the-Making for suggesting a greener gray to help coordinate the new paint to the existing wallpaper. Their advice sent me back to the stores for more samples. I’ve sampled eight shades of gray for this project—something I’ve never done before (not that I’ve never made a mistake with paint, but usually I’m quite sure of what I want).

Displaying paint colors on computers is almost useless because monitors are hardly ever calibrated for color accuracy, but just for kicks, here are my first color choices (top) and the new wall color (bottom).

I know … they look virtually identical, don’t they? I have no idea how they look on your monitor. On the wall, Jogging Path is noticeably greener than Anew Gray. Suffice it to say, this paint pickin’ exercise drove me a little crazy, and I hope the results are similar to the fabulous, light, and crisp paint job that exists in my imagination. I’m usually good at visualization, so I’m cautiously optimistic. Grays have been tricky.

We’ve lived with these samples on the walls for long enough now that I think we’ve bonded. The winner is the top color in the photo of the mantel, above. Enough sampling, already! Let the fun begin!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


15 thoughts on “Der Kleiderschrank

  1. Karen B.

    That is one amazing piece of furniture. See the top remove reminds me of one of our early marriage antiques that was a pine armoire with a mirrored door. When we recarpeted Mr. B. removed the top, not realizing the door would fall to the floor, shattering the mirror. Bummer. We got rid of the piece as at the time the mirror would have cost us too much to replace. It held the TV which then necessitated the ultimate buying and building of a custom entertainment center. It’s always a can of worms when we renovate! You are very lucky to have such helpful pets. 🙂

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I think they built things a little differently back then! I really treasure this piece … this will be a good opportunity to clean it and make sure it’s fitted back together properly. Just part of what’s becoming a big project!

  2. Jo

    Beautiful piece. I, too, have refinished an antique before I knew it was a no-no. I think your new color is going to lighten your room up quite a bit. Hope you love it. Jo

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      The color will certainly be different. I hope we’ll like it, too–don’t want go through another color search! We’ll know as soon as the first wall is painted. We are already wondering how our existing furniture will look with the new color. I think most of it will be fine, but I may have to update a few things, like a new rug.

  3. atkokosplace

    What a stunning kleinderschrank! Truly a master crafted piece. So smart. I wish furniture was built like that still. Well, I’m sure somewhere it is. You are so lucky to have come across this treasure and how wonderful it belonged to your grandparents! I love it! ❀

  4. Nine Dark Moons

    wow what an amazing piece of furniture! i’m in awe of the craftsmanship that goes into something like that! it’ll be nice to see it back and full of treasures when your living room is done being painted!

  5. Gail D.

    Why, oh why, do so many people want gray in their homes? It just looks dirty to me, and most everyone has it so it’s not unique, and it really is unattractive. I read a few weeks ago that it is on its way out in 2016, and it cannot be soon enough for me!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Gail, thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing your unambiguous opinion! Color is personal, and definitely not one-shade-fits-all. Fortunately, we have almost unlimited choices. I hope your wall color makes you as happy as mine makes me!

      1. Anita

        I see a lot of gray tones that are very beautiful. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done D’Arcy!

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