The traditional armoire finds a modern niche

Most people today are looking for better ways to utilize space, especially as room sizes dwindle and possessions increase.

The classic armoire, designed originally for the storage of weapons, armor, and clothing used by the residents of the chateaux and castles of France, Italy, and Austria, has been revived to fill a special niche in contemporary homes. Storage is still the basic need.

For those with the money and the inclination to buy genuine antique armoires, some beautiful pieces are available. But one New York interior designer says that most of the ones she checked out recently for a client were in the $10,000 to $20,000 price bracket. These 17th- and 18th-century armoires offer lots of exterior charm and character but not much in the way of useful interior fittings.

The furniture industry, sensing both style trend and practical need, has, in the past decade, introduced dozens of well-planned and handsome adaptations of vintage armoires. Customers have responded with such ready acceptance that, as one manufacturer said at a recent market show, ''It may surprise you, but the symbolic piece of furniture for the 80s might well be the armoire that is traditional in styling, conservative in mood, contemporary in its multi-functions, and so strong in its design statement that it satisfies today's consumer demand for getting one's money's worth.''

Most armoires being made today are suitable for living rooms, bedrooms, and foyers. They come as parts of suites or matching collections. Or they are introduced as completely individual pieces. Many of them serve as decorative focal points in the rooms that they help furnish.

They may range in price from

,000 to $4,000. Styles range from French Provincial to Oriental to American Shaker and include many modern versions. Many reflect the French Provincial styling of rural France, although Baker has just introduced a hand-painted armoire that is more ornately Louis XVI in styling. It comes in 12 pastel colors and sells for $2,800.

Ken Volz, designer for Henredon, has adapted a rare and costly antique English armoire for his 18th-century Aston Court collection. ''Armoires were not so common in England,'' Mr. Volz explains, ''so we were fortunate to find this extra-large one, which we have copied and adapted to sell here for around $4000. ''We've thought of every possible use for the piece and packaged all the 'options' right in the shipping carton, to be used as needed, or new living demands require. These include a Lucite rod for hanging clothes and divider partitions for all the wood shelves. Glass shelves are included, too, as well as a pull-out writing surface, a pull-out work surface, pull-out shelf for television set, interior lighting, and six deep drawers.'' This company includes an armoire in all its collections.

At the recent Southern Furniture Market in High Point, N.C., Drexel Heritage, one of the trend-setters, was showing 20 different armoires. Fred N. Isenhower, vice president and general merchandise manager, says that the big shift of interest in armoires at his company has come in the past five years. ''People want to make better use of their vertical space, and they like . . . interior compartmentalization. All our models have adjustable shelves and removable partitions, and slide-out trays. They also are equipped with electrical outlets for those sophisticated customers who want to store their entire entertainment collection in one unit. Those people like the idea of storing all their hi-fi and video equipment behind protective doors, which help keep it clean and free from household dust.''

American of Martinsville goes a step further and calls its armoires that are especially designed and engineered to hold hi-fi and video equipment ''entertainers.''

Stanley Furniture Company is another Southern firm that has consistently been adding good-looking armoires to most of its collections in the last few years. Albert L. Prillaman, vice-president, comments, ''Armoires were commonly used many years ago in homes where closet space was at a minimum. Now they are being used to hold many of the things that won't go into closets and also because they can be easily accommodated in smaller rooms. They go up the wall rather than across the wall, and that is an important asset when you don't have much wall space to begin with.'' The newest Stanley armoire, in oak and oak veneers, has two full-length doors, shelf and drawer storage, and writing surface behind a lighted drop-lid compartment.

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