We take you behind the scenes and show you how we search for the best vintage wardrobes and armoires and expertly restore them using experienced carpenters so their unique character and charm.
Hunting for Vintage Wardrobes
Each vintage wardrobe or armoire is unique and is hand selected by Carl, Scaramanga’s founder and director, he spends weeks hunting through the vintage and antique markets in India, searching antique dealers’ warehouses in the UK and local auctions looking for interesting wardrobes and armoires. We have been buying antique armoires and cupboards for over 10 years and have sold many hundreds. We buy from a small number of very experienced antique dealers and sellers across the UK and India. We work with the same dealers because they know us, what we like and how we like our cupboards and wardrobes restored. They are all small family run businesses that know the best places to find vintage furniture.
When searching for vintage wardrobes we buy different styles: grand colonial wardrobes are often made from golden teak, they will be influenced by Art Deco and Victorian design, but with a definite nod to Indian influences. and look very grand and imposing. Conversely, we also buy what are commonly known as almiras in Hindi. These are vintage wardrobes that have taken on a rustic charm after years of use.
Expertly Restored Vintage Wardrobes:
We rely on expert restorers and craftsmen like Umaida Ram. Umaida is 45 and from Barmer, a town in the Thar desert, Rajasthan, north west India. He has been a carpenter for 30 years. He comes from a long line of skilled artesans: his father was a carpenter, as was his grandfather and his grandfather’s father. His 17 year old son and brother are a carpenters. So working with wood is pretty much in his blood.
We often buy them with doors hanging off, drawers broken and needing many hours of expert restoration work. Buying them like this means we can ensure they are restored exactly how we like them to look. We don’t like them looking as if they are so well restored that they look brand new or belong in a stately home! At Scaramanga we believe wardrobes should have their own character and charm. Of course they need to fully functional for at least a couple of generations. We’ll try to keep them looking as they did when they were last used. They might have mismatched draw pulls and handles.
Buying vintage wardrobes in such a dilapidated state would scare many buyers off, but we know Ratna will restore our furniture using his considerable skills, using old reclaimed woods and good quality hardware. Small holes, dents and time-worn edges are left as we find them, but where a piece has broken we use seasoned wood that may have come from another piece of furniture of a similar age and style.
They will definitely have an original worn distressed paint finish and often reveal different colours of paint exposed by years of use.
We are not big fans of the fake distressing school of vintage furniture. Our finishing instructions are very simple and we are well known for ‘W&W’: ‘wash’ and ‘wax’. Once each wardrobe has been tested to see if it structurally sound and does lean or wobble too much (there’ll always be a little bit of movement in a vintage wardrobes joints) and treated for any potential wood boring pests. The wardrobe is washed using a mild detergent or often just water. We don’t want to wash away that unique patina that has built up over many years of use, but we have to make sure there are no spiders and layers of dust. Then we apply several layers of wax or polish to nourish the wood.
Vintage Wardrobes Around the House
Vintage wardrobes we buy can be used for lots of different purposes: bright colours or classic natural tones make striking free-standing kitchen cupboards in an eclectically styled kitchen or as larders they can be quite flat, so could also create extra storage space in hallway or landing. Where you don’t have built in storage then they work perfectly in bedrooms. Smaller compact ones add a flash of colour to children’s bedrooms, while bigger wardrobes at 2m high can store a lot of clothes. With 4 shelves the entire space could be filled.
In India vintage wardrobes do not usually have a hanging rail. Clothes were folded and placed in compartments (probably so more could be fitted into a wardrobe). In smaller houses almiras were and are still used for storing anything that other household possessions: jewellery, personal documents, money. We have several that have internal drawers and hidden compartments. So perhaps you understand why we love hunting for vintage furniture especially wardrobes. They’re such versatile pieces of furniture, really well-made and expertly restored and have a real story that is unique to each piece.
We designed and fitted this vintage inspired kitchen and opted for two vintage wardrobes and other free standing cupboards and cabinets. We mixed seven different woods, many different colours and styles to create a an eclectic kitchen with an overall bright and inviting atmosphere. Read our full free standing kitchen blog about what inspired us and how we sourced the wardrobes.