The people of Mexico have traditionally held home storage in high regard. Storage units, after all, are essential to the organization and maintenance of a tidy living space. But reliance on storage was perhaps never more vital than during Mexico's colonial period. As the Spanish settled this rugged land, their prized storage furniture played such an important role that rustic wooden chests, cabinets and armoires remain a central theme in modern Mexican and Southwestern décor. So why were these storage pieces so valuable?
In colonial Mexico, the multipurpose wooden trunk was seen as nothing less than the single most important item in the household. Due to a lack of furniture in the home, the trunk functioned as a storage unit for food, clothing and valuables, as well as a place for sitting, dining and writing. These trunks were predominantly rustic in design, normally constructed from Spanish cedar or mesquite and, since nails and hinges were so expensive, mortise-and-tenon joints were used. Surface decoration on affordable trunks was limited to simple dovetailing, decorative paint or tooled leather, while more expensive trunks offered hand-chiseled carvings and iron locks.
The functionality of chests and trunks often depended on size and shape. Small wooden chests used to store clothing and valuables frequently displayed rounded tops and iron handles for easy transportation. Larger trunks, on the other hand, were made without handles and viewed more as permanent fixtures. Though cumbersome, they were treasured pieces in colonial Mexican homes. Large trunks almost always had flat tops and were modestly decorated on the exterior, while the interiors were often lined with colorful paper or paintings of religious icons. Slender grain-chests with multiple compartments for storing dry foods were also common, and usually raised from the ground to prevent rodents from damaging their precious cargo.
In colonial Mexican kitchens, freestanding wooden cabinets helped to preserve order in this busy workspace. Though mostly simple in design, it was common to find a decorative crest around the cornice and wavy or repeating patterns throughout the wood. Open shelves were used to house Talavera plates and cups, while the slatted doors of closed shelves hid food and dry spices. Larger wooden cupboards were sometimes built into the walls to save space and usually offered interior shelves and raised-panel doors or complex spindles.
One of the more recognizable pieces of storage furniture in colonial Mexico was the famed armoire. These gigantic cabinets were originally decorated with floral designs or religious icons and were used to store important documents, valuables and clothing. Handcrafted wooden armoires featured full-length doors, pullout drawers, carved panels and large iron locks for security. Due to the size and stature of armoires, few households in colonial Mexico could afford to own one as they tended to be reserved for wealthy citizens, churches and businesses.
Armoires used solely for storing clothes were called roperosderived from the Spanish word ropa, meaning clothingand were slightly more common. These early closets allowed items to be folded and kept on shelves or hung from suspension rods or hooks. Most roperos were rustic and box-like in structure, and often painted in single colors for aesthetic appeal and to preserve the wood. Because of their simplicity, roperos remained affordable and were produced in greater numbers than fancier armoires.
Since the Spanish colonial period, Mexican storage furniture has increased greatly in variety and design. Though functionality remains important, modern standards of living focus less on reliance and more on the beauty and craftsmanship of home furnishings. Explore all the styles of colonial Mexico at La Fuente Imports, which features one of the largest selections of handmade furniture available anywhere on the web today!
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