All about cellarettes

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A cellarette or cellaret is a small furniture cabinet, available in various sizes and shapes, which is used to store bottles of alcoholic beverages (e.g., wine, whiskey). They are found in many different designs.

Contemporary cellarette, built in 2009

Mission style cellarette, built in 2007

Cellarette at the de Young's International Arts & Crafts exhibition

Antique cellarette - "sarcophagus" style located at Lanier Mansion in Madison, In.

Sideboard, Cellarette, and Painting Cleveland Museum of Art - Gallery 205


Wood box containers as freestanding alcoholic beverage cabinets first appeared in Europe in the fifteenth century to hold and secure alcoholic beverages in public houses. "Cellarettes" first appeared in colonial America in the eighteenth century as a form of the European liquor cabinet. The main purpose of a liquor cabinet or cellarette was to secure wine and whiskey from theft.

During the American Revolutionary War and Civil War cellarettes for army officers often came with crystal decanters, shot glasses, pitchers, funnels, and drinking goblets. Cellarette designs of the eighteenth century were used into the twentieth century. Cellarettes of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries were found in taverns and pubs, and in some cases, in private homes of the elite.

Prohibition in the United States brought about variations of trompe l'oeil cellarettes designed to conceal illegal alcoholic beverages. For a casual observer, the three dimensional trompe l'oeil artwork on these cellarettes made them appear to be an ordinary table, bookcase, or other piece of furniture.


Cellarettes in England and America were custom designed wooden chests to carry, transport and store small quantities of bottled alcoholic beverages. They were often made of fine decorative wood like mahogany, rosewood, or walnut and could be of various shapes and sizes. They could be free standing, built into a "pedestal-end" dining room buffet serving sideboard, or portable, with handles. Normally a cellarette had a hinged door or hinged top cover. Frequently a lock was provided, to secure the contents from thieves.

Some cellarettes were internally lined for wine or iced foods, which would keep longer when chilled than at room temperature. Cellarettes were generally associated with dining room furniture. Sometimes cellarettes were small portable pieces of furniture with handles that could be moved from room to room in a house. Another type was a permanent piece of furniture built on a stand with a sliding shelf to hold glasses and a drawer for serving paraphernalia.

A cellarette would sometimes be referred to as "wine cooler" or "butler" during the eighteenth century. The word bouteillier/butler was later standardized as a reference to the staff person exercising custodial responsibility over the bottles contained in a cellarette or wine cellar. Men of wealth had as many as three cellarettes at a time as a status symbol, not necessarily indicating one was a heavy drinker. The cellarette "wine cooler" would be internally lined with some sort of metal so melted ice water would not enter into the wood.


Some sources say that the word "cellarette" came during the eighteenth century at the time of the cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite. In Hepplewhite's 1794 The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide he demonstrates cellarettes as being octagonal and elliptical shaped with internal compartments for bottles of wine and liquor. A cellarette in the eighteenth century was sometimes referred to as a "Mahogany Butler for liquors." Renowned eighteenth century Charleston, South Carolina, furniture craftsman Thomas Elfe made several "Mahogany Cases for bottles with brass handles" for £12. Furniture designer Thomas Sheraton in 1803 described the piece as: Cellaret, amongst cabinet makers, denotes a convenience for wine, or wine cistern.

When the word cellarette is broken apart as "cellar-ette" it denotes a small piece of furniture used to store bottles of alcoholic beverages. It is associated with a food serving sideboard used in a formal dining room area of a home.

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