Apothecary Cabinets

Chinese Apothecary Cabinet

Apothecary cabinets: practical storage combined with traditional charm

Apothecary cabinets are exquisite pieces of furniture, boasting multiple small drawers, originally intended for storing herbs and medicinal remedies. With their unique charm and functional design, these cabinets have become increasingly popular among style-conscious homeowners. They offer the perfect combination of antique allure and practical storage, making them an ideal addition to modern interiors. At Shimu, we take pride in offering a wide range of apothecary cabinets and chests, with an ever-changing assortment of antique pieces. Whether you're looking for a unique storage solution or a touch of history, our collection has something special for every home.

The history of Chinese apothecary chests and cabinets

The history of these cabinets can be traced back many hundreds of years. These unusual pieces of furniture have become increasingly popular with style-conscious homeowners and it’s not hard to see why as they offer the perfect combination of antique charm combined with useful storage.  They were once prominent features in pharmacies and physicians' shops in China, with their use dating back centuries. Their purpose was to store various herbs, medicines, elixirs, and tea leaves used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Apothecary cabinets come in a range of designs to suit different needs. Some feature large chests of drawers with numerous small drawers and a few larger ones at the bottom, while others are low chests with multiple small drawers. There are also herbalist chests, smaller in size, which are perfect for use in bathrooms or as bedside tables.


Whatever their size or shape, apothecary cabinets or chests were originally used to store a variety of herbs, medicines, elixirs and tea leaves. The contents of an apothecary cabinet would have been meticulously organised, hence the numerous small drawers, designed to keep different medicines and preparations separate. In some antique pieces you’ll still be able to see the original draw markings and label holders which only adds to the unique charm of these wonderful items.

Apothecary chests and cabinets were often decorated with lacquered or painted finishes which becomes worn and crackled over time to give a charming and highly original appearance. As already mentioned, many antique pieces still feature their original drawer labels, whilst some have drawers which are split into several sections with wooden dividers. Antique herbalist chests and apothecary cabinets are, however, becoming increasingly difficult to come by so adding one to your interiors is a very special way to bring a touch of history into your home.

Craftmanship and Techniques

The creation of Chinese apothecary cabinets involves intricate craftsmanship and traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations. From the selection of materials to the final finishes, each step in the process contributes to the exceptional beauty and quality of these remarkable furniture pieces.

One of the key aspects of crafting these cabinets is the use of traditional joinery techniques. Skilled artisans employ methods that have been refined over centuries to ensure the durability and structural integrity of the cabinets. Mortise and tenon joints, commonly used in Chinese furniture construction, create strong connections between wooden components. These joints involve a protruding tenon designed to fit into a corresponding mortise, creating a secure and long-lasting bond. Through precise measurements and careful carving, the artisans achieve seamless joints that enhance the overall strength and stability of the cabinets.

In addition to the joinery techniques, the art of furniture painting plays a vital role in the creation of Chinese apothecary cabinets. Traditional painting methods are employed to enhance the visual appeal of the furniture and add intricate details. Typically, a layer of primer is applied to the wood to prepare it for painting. Skilled painters then employ techniques such as freehand brushwork or stencilling to create intricate patterns, scenes, or calligraphy on the surfaces of the cabinets. Many antique apothecary cabinets are still labelled with the characters used to denote the contents of each individual drawer, adding a charming touch of additional style and history. The decorative elements seen in Chinese antiques often draw inspiration from nature, mythology, or traditional Chinese motifs, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Chinese craftsmanship.

Lacquering is another essential aspect of creating these cabinets. Lacquer is a natural resin derived from the sap of the lacquer tree. It has been used in China for centuries as a protective and decorative coating for furniture. The process of lacquering involves several meticulous steps. First, the wood is sealed with multiple layers of lacquer, allowing each layer to dry before the next application. This creates a smooth and glossy surface. Skilled artisans then employ techniques such as polishing and buffing to achieve a lustrous finish. The lacquer not only enhances the visual appeal of the cabinets but also provides a protective barrier against moisture and wear, ensuring the longevity of the furniture.

The selection of materials is crucial.Local elm wood, known as "Northern Elm," is a popular choice due to its durability and distinct grain pattern. Elm wood has been favoured by furniture makers in northern China for centuries. Its porous nature makes it suitable for absorbing lacquer finishes, resulting in a beautiful and rich appearance. The careful selection of wood with desirable grain patterns ensures that each cabinet possesses its unique character.

Throughout the manufacturing process, the artisans pay meticulous attention to detail, aiming for excellence in every aspect of the cabinet's construction. Whether it's the precise joinery, intricate painting, or flawless lacquering, every step is executed with a commitment to quality and authenticity.

Apothecary cabinets can be masterpieces of craftsmanship, created using traditional techniques and an appreciation for the beauty of natural materials. The combination of traditional joinery, skilled painting, and meticulous lacquering results in furniture pieces that exude charm, durability, and cultural significance. By bringing a Chinese apothecary cabinet into your home, you not only acquire a practical storage solution but also a work of art that embodies the rich heritage of Chinese furniture making.

How will you use your apothecary cabinet?

Regardless of their size or shape, apothecary cabinets and chests were meticulously organised to keep different medicines and preparations separate. The abundance of small drawers allowed for easy categorisation and accessibility. In some antique pieces, you can still see the original drawer markings and label holders, adding to the unique charm of these remarkable items. Many were adorned with lacquered or painted finishes, which have aged beautifully over time, creating a worn and crackled appearance. These distinctive characteristics make each piece truly original and captivating. As the availability of antique herbalist chests and apothecary cabinets diminishes, owning one of these rare finds becomes an extraordinary way to bring a touch of history and elegance into your home.

The versatility of apothecary cabinets extends beyond their historical significance. In today's contemporary interiors, they serve as functional storage solutions with a touch of nostalgia. The small drawers are perfect for organising and stowing away various items, such as CDs, DVDs, toiletries, socks, and underwear. Additionally, these cabinets can be repurposed in creative ways. Consider using one to store herbs and spices in your kitchen, or as a haberdashery cabinet for your craft materials. Furthermore, low apothecary cabinets can serve as stylish television stands in the living room, offering convenient storage drawers underneath.

Our range of apothecary cabinets and herbalist chests includes unique and original antique pieces, alongside superb quality newly made items. As our antique items are unique and sourced by us directly from China, our selection is constantly changing. Every piece is carefully chosen for its unique beauty and original charm and we take great pride locating items which are in excellent condition.

Alongside our collection of antiques we also offer a wide range of newly made items. Our ranges of new furniture are designed to replicate original vintage styles and are hand made in China using original joinery skills and techniques. Our range of classical Chinese furniture includes a selection of beautiful apothecary cabinets and chests which are mainly constructed from local elm wood which is also known as ‘Northern Elm’. This type of wood has been used for making furniture in northern China for centuries and is appreciated for its porous nature which is ideal for holding coloured lacquer. In addition, elm wood often shows a lovely grain pattern which has helped to ensure its popularity amongst furniture makers.

You’ll find that our newly made classical Chinese apothecary cabinets and chests are available in a range of sizes and wood finishes, including black lacquer, warm elm, light elm and coloured finishes.

Once you’ve chosen the perfect apothecary wooden cabinet for your home, why not accessorise the top of the cabinet with a stylish Chinese ornamental item from our accessories range? From ornaments and sculptures, through to Chinese style lamps and lanterns, we have everything you need to create a welcoming home, inspired by the charm and beauty of oriental living

Buy Chinese apothecary cabinets from Shimu


At Shimu, we offer an extensive range of apothecary cabinets and herbalist chests. Our collection includes unique and original antique pieces sourced directly from China. Each antique item is carefully chosen for its exceptional beauty and original charm, ensuring that you receive furniture in excellent condition. However, due to the rarity of these antique finds, our selection is constantly changing. We also offer a wide range of newly made furniture that replicates the vintage styles of classical Chinese cabinets. Handcrafted in China using traditional joinery skills and techniques, these new pieces are constructed primarily from local elm wood, also known as "Northern Elm." This wood has been used for making furniture in northern China for centuries, appreciated for its porous nature, which makes it ideal for holding coloured lacquer finishes. Furthermore, elm wood often exhibits a lovely grain pattern, further enhancing its popularity among furniture makers.

Our newly made classical Chinese apothecary cabinets and chests come in a variety of sizes and wood finishes to suit your preferences. Whether you prefer the timeless elegance of black lacquer, the warmth of elm wood, or the light and airy feel of coloured finishes, our collection has something to suit every taste.

To complete the aesthetic appeal of your apothecary cabinet, we invite you to explore our range of stylish Chinese ornamental items in our accessories collection. From ornaments and sculptures to Chinese-style lamps and lanterns, we have everything you need to create a welcoming home inspired by the charm and beauty of oriental living.

Purchasing Chinese apothecary cabinets from Shimu is a convenient and enjoyable experience. We offer a wide and ever-changing collection of unique Chinese antique furniture pieces directly imported from China. Each piece is meticulously selected to ensure its original beauty and charm. If you don't find exactly what you're looking for in our current selection, please don't hesitate to get in touch. We are committed to helping you find the perfect piece of furniture to meet your needs. In addition to our antique pieces, we also offer a range of high-quality new furniture designed to replicate original Chinese styles.

You can easily order our antique and new furniture online through our secure website, and we provide UK-wide delivery for your convenience. Alternatively, we invite you to visit our spacious showroom located at Albion Mills, Greengates, West Yorkshire, where you can explore our collection in person and experience the timeless allure of Chinese apothecary cabinets.


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