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Dresser vs. Chest of Drawers | Furniture Explained

By Samantha Todd | December 28, 2021

Often thought to be a Southern expression, “chest of drawers” is actually a term for a particular piece of furniture separate from what we call a dresser. Although the terms are used somewhat interchangeably, there are distinct differences between these two furniture pieces, and learning the differences can make shopping for bedroom furniture much easier. 

The design team at Modloft is here to offer you a crash course in Bedroom Storage Pieces 101. We’ll discuss what makes a dresser different from a chest of drawers, the different types of dressers and chests that are available, and how you can decide which is right for you and your space. 

What Makes a Dresser

A dresser is the standard-issue bedroom storage piece. Usually short and long, a dresser contains drawers that are used to store clothing that does not need to be hung or clothing that is currently out of season. 

Generally, you will see dressers topped with a large mirror, or in some cases, a television or screen for a projection. Dressers are the quintessential second piece of a bedroom set, and there are several different types of dressers. 

Horizontal

The horizontal dresser is the most common dresser available. It is square or rectangular in shape and typically consists of a single row of drawers for clothing and assorted items. It’s perfect for a single person’s belongings, a child’s room, or even a very minimalist couple. 

The top of a horizontal dresser is the perfect location for a mirror, a small television or Bluetooth speaker, or an assortment of other items one may use while getting dressed. 

Double Dresser

A double dresser looks like a horizontal dresser squared. Rather, it looks like two horizontal dressers connected side by side. Double dressers feature two columns of drawers, which are perfect for couples who will share this piece of furniture for clothing storage. 

These dressers look beautiful topped with a long mirror. The mirror can create space and open the room if the dresser feels overpowering. It’s imperative to consider the size of your room prior to buying a double dresser. 

A good rule of thumb when selecting bedroom furniture by size is to ensure there are at least two feet of walking space around the sides of the bed that are not touching the walls. If your dresser sits at the foot of your bed, there should be a distance of at least two feet between the bed and the dresser. 

Combo Dresser

A combination dresser is a less popular design. These types of dressers were very popular mid-century and feature a horizontal dresser with a tall wardrobe-style cabinet attached to the side. These were generally used (and still are, to some degree) as additional closet space for jackets, sports coats, scarves, slacks, or other items that need hanging but don’t require immediate real estate in a closet. 

If you are limited on closet space or have a large collection of handbags or ties, this could be a great option for storing those additional items without stacking or folding. 

It’s important to remember that because of the odd shape of these dressers, space is a major consideration, as well as any items that you would normally place atop your dresser, like a television or a mirror. 

What Makes a Chest of Drawers

A chest of drawers is akin to a dresser but typically tall and narrow in design. Often sold as part of a bedroom set, the chest of drawers or “bureau” as it is also referred to, has become somewhat of an “extra” and non-essential piece of furniture. 

This is likely because many bedrooms simply don’t allow the space for a dresser and a chest of drawers and because there is often no need for the additional storage. 

As with the dresser, there are different styles of chests of drawers. 

Vertical

The most common type of chest of drawers is tall, vertical, and narrow. They contain one single row of drawers for storage and look somewhat like a horizontal dresser but slightly less wide and about double the height. 

The benefit of the vertical chest of drawers is that it can easily accommodate storage for two people in a smaller space than a double dresser. If space isn’t an issue, a vertical chest of drawers is often used as one partner’s personal wardrobe storage while the dresser is used for the other partner. 

Lingerie Chest

A lingerie chest is a shorter, thinner, more lightweight version of a vertical chest of drawers used for storing smaller items such as socks, ties, undergarments, and lingerie. These types of chests may have panel doors that swing open on the sides for storing necklaces, a lift-up top with additional jewelry storage underneath, and a series of smaller, shallow drawers for lingerie and related items. 

These chests may also have a mirror inside the lift-top and are often constructed so the lowest drawer sits a foot above the ground. These are great options for people who have the space, as they can offer a better way to organize small items that can become separated or lost in a larger chest of drawers or dresser. 

Wardrobes

Wardrobes are cabinets that feature at least one side that opens for hanging storage. Sometimes referred to as a gentleman’s chest, these cabinets allow for hanging suits, ties, long shirts, or skirts. 

Most wardrobes will only have one side for hanging clothes; the other side is usually a series of small drawers for socks and undergarments, cufflinks, jewelry, and other items. 

The bottom of a wardrobe may have two to three horizontal drawers similar to the ones found on a dresser, making the wardrobe a very versatile piece of storage for any bedroom. However, because wardrobes can tend to be taller than a standard vertical chest of drawers, it may be impossible to use the top of it for additional storage. 

Media Chest

A media chest, or media console, is a piece of furniture designed to hold televisions, disc players, gaming systems, and speakers. It will also have drawers or shelves for storing media or other items. Media consoles are perfect for your main living space or wherever you will house your television.  

Determining Which You Need

If you walk blindly into a furniture store with no idea what you need in terms of bedroom furniture, it’s almost a guarantee you’ll walk out with a four or five piece set that includes a bed, night tables, a dresser, and a chest of drawers. 

While you may need all these items or simply want them, it’s best to decide beforehand what you need in terms of bedroom storage and how to effectively use your space. Here’s how to decide whether you need a dresser, a chest of drawers, or both. 

Space

Space is the biggest determining factor when deciding between a dresser or chest of drawers. Even if you own a lot of clothing, your bedroom space may not accommodate both pieces of furniture. 

Measure your space to properly assess what will fit. If you have to make a decision between one or the other, note which will fit your space more efficiently; a unit that is tall and narrow or one that is slender and long. 

Functionality

If you’re planning to use your bedroom’s storage unit as double duty for media display, make sure the unit you purchase is wide enough to house your television on top. If you opt for a horizontal dresser, for instance, it’s unlikely a 55” television will fit properly and safely on top. 

Design

When selecting the best storage pieces for your bedroom, aesthetics are important. After all, your bedroom should lend itself to serenity, tranquility, and create a calming effect that helps ease you out of your day into a good night of sleep. 

Studies show that our bedroom furniture and bedding choices matter and play a large role in how well we settle in for slumber. 

Look for modern pieces made from traditional and non-traditional materials like wood, steel, copper, and glass. Pieces should be timeless, constructed with care, and able to withstand use. Pieces that are modern or contemporary in design will generally be well-built and be able to flow with different decorative patterns you select over the course of time. 

Final Thoughts

There are distinct differences between dressers and chests of drawers, and your needs and space will determine which is best for you. Modloft can help you find the perfect bedroom storage that is timeless and functional with a modern feel. 

 

Sources:

Bedroom Environment: What Elements Are Important? | Sleep Foundation 

The Defining a Style Series: What Is Contemporary Design? | My Move

Minimalism: 8 Essential Principles of a Simple Lifestyle | Becoming Minimalist