China Cabinet Vs Curio Cabinets: The Differences

China Cabinet Vs Curio Cabinets

When it comes to using furniture for storage, there is nothing better than a nice china cabinet or curio cabinet. Both of these traditional pieces of furniture offer storage while giving your room a classic style that is nothing if not timeless. 

Differences between the two cabinets include construction materials, their uses, location in the home, and what items are stored in each cabinet. Each piece has its own uses for storage. Curio cabinets usually have more glass than china cabinets. 

No matter which cabinet you are using–china cabinet or curio cabinet, you are sure to have a piece of furniture that is both functional and beautiful, while seemingly similar in nature. Take a look below for more on the differences between china cabinets and curio cabinets. 

China And Curio Cabinets: Major Differences

Both china and curio cabinets are in the same family of furniture, but they have many different uses and locations. China and curio cabinets also have similarities that may make the two cabinets seem to be essentially the same thing. 

China Cabinet
China Cabinet
Curio Cabinet
Curio Cabinet

While both are used for storage, china cabinets and curio cabinets are individual pieces of furniture. The two cabinets vary in aspects of: 

  • Construction material and design
  • What they store
  • Style
  • Wall hanging or on the floor

There are other minor differences, as seen below. Depending on your storage needs, you might opt for one cabinet over the other. 

Construction Material And Design 

The main distinction on this point is that the curio cabinet will have more glass, perhaps even including a mirrored interior. Curio cabinets will have glass on the front, the sides, and the back, providing a 360-degree view of what is being displayed. This is because curio cabinets are purposed for displaying the front and sides of the piece of art, statuette, or whatever else you want to display. 

On the other hand, China cabinets are built to show only the front of what is displayed, so these pieces of furniture will have glass only on the front. Display pieces are positioned so the most precious side, normally the front is seen through the glass. The glass will be framed panels, as opposed to a full plate of glass enclosing the whole area.

While both also use wood, the curio cabinet will have only a wood frame, with the rest of the material being glass. Glass may also be used for the shelving so as to create a mirror effect. Conversely, the china cabinet will have solid wood sides and shelves; the shelves may be of stronger, thicker wood to handle heavier display pieces. 

Finally, curio cabinets are generally one solid piece with shelves and wood frames. China cabinets are usually two pieces–an upper display case with glass doors and a lower non-display storage unit with a cabinet and/or drawers. The two pieces can be separated for moving purposes. China cabinets usually do not have interior lights, but curio cabinets may have such lights. 

What China Cabinets Or Curio Cabinets Store

The other big difference between china and curio cabinets is what they store. China cabinets store dinnerware and related items, while curio cabinets are used to display showpieces–items meant to be seen but not touched. 

While either type of cabinet can technically store anything, by official definition a china cabinet focuses on a display of cutlery, china plates and tableware, and similar items. Plates may be displayed on plate easels, or are held up by a groove milled into the shelf. The display pieces may be there permanently or are actually used for special occasions. 

Conversely, curio cabinets are display places for a more keepsake type of thing. You would keep figurines, awards, dolls, or any other non-food-related items in curio cabinets. Items you place here would not be used at all, they are here just for display purposes. You would use a curio cabinet for items that you want to display but keep dust- and touch-free. 

The idea is to use china cabinets for things that are used often. Curio cabinets are to display items such as memorabilia and collector items that you want to keep safe while looking at and enjoying them. 

The Style of the China Or Curio Cabinet

Lastly, china cabinets and curio cabinets have different, distinct styles. The cabinets come in two particular types: 

  • Traditional or transitional
  • Contemporary or classic

Both of these styles would look good in any home, even in different rooms of the same home. Each of these cabinets, however, is traditionally made in one style or the other. 

Generally, china cabinets are made in the traditional or transitional style. This means the piece will have carved, curved shapes in an intricate pattern. They will have a casualness about them, employing antique furnishings and perhaps a hint of a floral design in the carving. China cabinets such as these will also look good with a country or industrial decor. 

On the opposite end, a curio cabinet will be constructed in a more contemporary or classic build. These are more formal than china cabinets, as they are meant to be more of a “museum” style display. There is more focus on function and will be stained in more neutral colors, allowing you to enjoy what is on display without much distraction. 

Is the Cabinet on the Wall Or Floor? 

As discussed below, the room the china cabinet or curio cabinet is used in is different for each kind of cabinet. A big difference is whether or not you can hang it on the wall. 

Of course, there are wall-hanging cabinets in kitchens and perhaps dining rooms, but those are not normally considered to be china cabinets. Actual china cabinets do not have an option that they can be hung on a wall. 

In contrast, curio cabinets come in both styles–floor and wall hanging. You occasionally see wall hanging curio cabinets in museums or perhaps historic houses and other buildings. One good thing about wall hanging curio cabinets is that they are space savers if you do not have much floor space or if you do not have a high number of items to display. 

China And Curio Cabinets: Minor Differences

You have now seen the big differences, but there are a few minor differences between china cabinets and curio cabinets. These differences consist of either cabinet’s: 

  • Room of use
  • Items stored 
  • Interior lighting
  • Interior climate control 

These may be subtle differences, but in the world of cabinets, these are small but important differences. 

Room of Use

First, you have what room the furniture piece will live in. Traditionally, the china cabinet will be placed in the dining room or in the kitchen. The idea is to have convenient access to what is stored in the cabinet, so you can easily grab it when you are setting the table or sitting for tea. If you are not using those pieces at that time, you still have the pleasure of enjoying looking at them through the glass panels in the doors.

For curio cabinets, the room of use is any room you choose. When they are used as actual display cases, you can place them anywhere. For instance, if you collect dolls, you may have a special cabinet just for them. If you are in Hollywood, you may have a curio cabinet in your living room or office full of your Academy Awards. Businesses can use them in the lobby. 

For that matter, you may even find curio cabinets in stores to display their more expensive items for sale. Also, all display cabinets in museums are technically curio cabinets. 

Items Stored in the China Or Curio Cabinet 

This has been touched upon already, however it is worth noting more specifically what kinds of items are stored in each of the two cabinets. 

China cabinets generally store such items as: 

  • Crystal bowls and plates 
  • Delft (blue and white ceramic, usually from the Netherlands)
  • Spode sets
  • Tea and coffee sets
  • Champagne, wine, or other glasses
  • Silver and silverware 
  • China plates and table sets 

As you can see, these items are all related to food or dining. They are used every day or at least on special occasions. In the drawers or storage space in the under cabinet, you can keep silverware, placemats, or other types of kitchen-related items like cookbooks. You may even keep your liquor or mixers in the storage space under the cabinet. 

On the other hand curio, cabinets are used to display many different kinds of collectibles such as, among other similar items

  • Porcelain dolls
  • Crystal figurines and statuettes or awards
  • Antique jewelry and watches 
  • Travel, wedding, anniversary, or convention mementos
  • Vintage and antique books
  • Small antiques and vintage items
  • Any displayed collection that needs to be kept safe and dust-free

These items are more of a collectible type of memorabilia that is not meant to be used every day but are more meant just to be looked at and enjoyed for the beauty of the piece or the memory that seeing it evokes. These items will not be touched once placed and set in the curio cabinet. 

Interior Lighting

When considering the items you will display or store in your china or curio cabinet, and the cabinet itself, you may have to think about your lighting scheme. You may be just fine with the natural light of the room combined with any sunlight coming in through the windows, or you may need interior lighting in the actual cabinet. 

The difference here is that china cabinets do not have any interior lighting. They do not come like this, nor is interior lighting normally added. China cabinets are utilitarian pieces of furniture. Items stored in them are meant to be used every day if not on special occasions. This is different from curio cabinets with their display items. 

On the other hand, curio cabinets often come with interior lighting, or it is easy to add a lighting system. This makes sense because the items you want to show in the curio cabinet are meant to be seen, and seen well; you can not enjoy what you can not see. This means day and night. That is not to say you have to leave the lights on all night, but you do want to have the option. 

Interior Climate Control

In the same vein as interior lighting, interior climate control is certainly another difference between china and curio cabinets. 

China cabinets, at least for everyday use, will not have interior climate control. Again, the items stored and displayed in the china cabinet are meant to be used, not just looked at, so there is no need for a feature such as interior climate control. The natural climate in the room will suffice, no changes are needed. 

Contrarily, if you are keeping and displaying items such as old papers, books, letters, or other items that are susceptible to changes in humidity and temperature, you will want to consider having a curio cabinet with climate control. Not all curio cabinets have a climate control system as constructed, but you can add one. This will keep your display items in perfect condition, or at least keep them in the condition they are in currently. 

Similarities Between China And Curio Cabinets

With all these differences, there are a few similarities that china and curio cabinets have in common. Both cabinets are, generally, tall, heavy pieces of furniture. They display items that are meant to be seen, if not used, and they keep those items free and clear of dust, grime, and accidental breakage. 

Another similarity is no matter what style of china or curio cabinet you decide to have in your home, you will find one that fits your decor. As you saw above, each of these types of cabinets will traditionally come in different design styles, but you will be able to have one you would like. 

Finally, you will find that china and curio cabinets both come in different shapes. By way of example, both types of cabinets will normally come in a tall, square, or rectangular shape, but will also come in more triangular shapes. These are good for corner cabinetry if you have an odd corner to fill or need the extra floor space where you do not want the cabinet to stick too far out into the room. 

China And Curio Cabinets: Formal Definitions

With all of this being said, a china cabinet has a formal definition, while a curio cabinet does not. 

A china cabinet (or china closet) is a cabinet or cupboard for storing or exhibiting chinaware. This makes sense because of the use and location of the china cabinet, in partnership with what is stored in the china cabinet. 

Interestingly, there is no formal definition of a curio cabinet. However, the word curio is defined as any unusual article, object of art, etc., valued as a curiosity. Given the items that are stored in a curio cabinet, this fits right in with what you now know about curio cabinets. Curios are absolutely what would go into such a storage unit. 


While China cabinets and curio cabinets are similar, each type of cabinet serves its own unique purpose. A cabinet’s purpose is reflected by its makeup and construction.

China cabinets are made of wood with just a bit of glass on the display case doors. On the other hand, curio cabinets are all glass, with a wood or metal frame. China cabinets have a storage cabinet under the display case, while curio cabinets have no closed storage.

When you choose your cabinet, think about what you want to use it for, what items you will keep in the cabinet, and how you want to show those items. When you do this, you will have a great piece of furniture that is both functional and suits your display needs. 


Hi there! I’m Alex, the one behind this website. I ran and operated a Local Furniture Store in Southern California. The store opened in 2010, during the “Great Recession,” It is still thriving today; however, I have dedicated my time to helping our online customer base. My primary focus is to help you with all your furniture & mattress questions.

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