Furniture Glossary from
Ever wonder what all of those decorating terms and period styles
mean? Here is a wonderful list compiled by House Beautiful that
gives insight into these terms and styles:
ARMCHAIR - Seating that has both a backrest and
armrests (see bergère and fauteuil).
ARMOIRE - Tall, upright cupboard or wardrobe
that does not contain drawers and may or may not contain shelves.
It closes with a door or doors at the front.
ART DECO - Derived from an historic Paris exposition
in 1925 that celebrated the marriage of art and industry in denunciation
of Art Nouveau. It introduced simple, streamlined forms that were
majestically interpreted in exotic woods and materials. American
designers of the 1930s took this look further, using asymmetry,
arcs, sleek lines, and geometric shapes not only in furniture, but
also in architecture and a wide range of household objects.
ART NOUVEAU - Style based, literally, on the
"new art" of Europe in about 1875. Flowing, nearly freeform
shapes from nature were carved and painted on furniture. An elongated,
slightly curved line that ends in a more abrupt, nearly whiplike
second curve is its most characteristic design.
ARTS AND CRAFTS - Both a furniture style and
a movement that emerged in England toward the end of the 19th century
in reaction to the excesses of the Victorian era and the Gay Nineties.
It glorified craftsmanship in deliberately simple shapes with exposed
joinery and spare ornamentation. William Morris and John Ruskin
were among its proponents in England. Based on their beliefs and
designs, Gustav Stickley pioneered a similar movement in America,
before it waned with the onset of World War I.
BALL-AND-CLAW FOOT - Carved-foot motif that depicts
a crane's claw gripping a ball or an egg. While it is most associated
with 18th-century English and American furniture, it originated
in China as a dragon's claw clutching either a crystal ball or a
pearl or other jewel.
BALUSTER - Small turned, square, or flat column
that supports a rail; also used to form chair backs.
BAROQUE - Name given to the 17th-century exaggerated
style that originated in Rome. Massive and heavily decorated, it
is an extension of ornamental Renaissance style and is characterized
by a lack of restraint manifested in large, irregular, even fantastic
curves, twisted columns, elaborate scrolls, and oversize moldings.
BASSINET - Bed for a baby, originally basket
BLOCK FOOT - The square end of an untapered leg.
BOMBÉ - Chest or commode with a bulge or
swollen, convex shape on the front and sides.
BUFFET - Sideboard or "dresser" for
the dining room, designed to hold platters and serving dishes.
CAMEL BACK - Triple-curved chairback frame with
a raised central curve. A pierced-shield design, such as honeysuckle
or anthemion, spans the back from the seat to the high curve.
CHAISE LONGUE - Literally, "long chair,"
a sofa or daybed with an upholstered back, designed for reclining.
Today it is usually a single piece, but early versions encompassed
a bergère with a large stool or two armchairs and a center
CHINA CABINET - Cabinet with glass fronts, created
to display and store fine china. The sides may or may not be of
CHIPPENDALE - English rococo style of the mid-18th
century, named after Thomas Chippendale. The graceful proportions
and delicate decoration of this furniture were refined adaptations
from late Baroque, rococo, Louis XV, and Georgian periods. Two variations,
Chippendale Gothic and Chinese Chippendale, attest to the famous
cabinetmaker's influence and ability to borrow styles.
COLONIAL - In America this style dominated from
the earliest settlements to the Revolution of 1776. Here as elsewhere
it represents styles that are rooted in mother countries but adapted
to the materials and uses of the colonies, primarily Africa, India,
the Americas, and the Caribbean.
CONSOLE - Term originally applied to a bracket
that supported cornices or shelves and later used to describe tables
that were affixed to a wall and supported with legs only at the
front. Today it describes all types of tables used along a wall.
CREDENZA - Serving table with a cupboard below
the surface. It originated in the 15th century; in the 16th century,
an upper, recessed tier was added.
DAYBED - Any type of elongated seating, including
the chaise longue, designed for resting rather than sleeping. It
usually has a raised end.
DROP LEAF - Hinged flap or panel that can be
raised, then supported in order to increase the surface area of
a table. The term now applies to such a table.
ELIZABETHAN - Large furniture of severe form
and style that emerged initially during the reign of Elizabeth I
in England from 1558 to 1603. It was revived in the 1820s and is
characterized by heavy carving as well as massive size.
EMPIRE - Neoclassical style dictated by Napoleon
in France between 1804 and 1815. It is based on imperial forms from
Greece, Rome, and Egypt and was designed to draw parallels between
Napoleon's realm and the great ancient empires. Furniture was consciously
majestic, made of rich woods and metals, and decorated with emblems,
including bees, crowns, laurel leaves, mythological figures, and
the letter N.
ÉTAGÈRE - A series of open shelves
supported by slender columns and used to display curios.
FEDERAL - American furniture style from 1780, following
the Revolution, to 1830. It began by echoing and often amalgamating
the neoclassical styles of such English masters as Adam, Hepplewhite,
and Sheraton, and later took on influences from France. Duncan Phyfe
is among its most notable craftsmen. It is refined and rectilinear,
often with veneering and inlay. Brass feet and casters and brass-ring
drawer and door pulls are common on casegoods.
GEORGIAN - Refers to furniture styles that evolved
during the long reign of England's three Georges, I, II, and III,
from 1714 to 1795. At first it retained earlier Queen Anne forms,
with an increasing use of decoration and diverse ornamentation.
Popular motifs were eagles' heads and claws, leaves, satyrs' masks,
and lions' heads and claws.
GOTHIC - Late medieval furniture forms derived
from the cathedrals of Europe. Heavy, large pieces were generously
carved in architectural motifs. Chests banded with decorative wrought
iron, large trestle tables, and such symbols of status as "beds
of estate" and X-framed chairs are characteristic.
HIGHBOY - Tall chest of drawers, usually consisting
of two sections. An upper chest sits on either a tablelike structure
or a lowboy with long legs. (See chest-on-chest).
INLAY - Design formed of contrasting woods, grains,
metal, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, or other material inserted
to be flush with the furniture surface.
LOVE SEAT - Double chair or small sofa, originally
associated with Queen Anne style.
LOWBOY - English low chest or table with drawers.
MISSION - Simple, rectilinear furniture, primarily
of oak, in which the construction techniques are often exposed.
It represents America's version of the English Arts and Crafts movement
and is principally associated with Gustav Stickley and the Roycroft
Community of upstate New York in the early 20th century, from which
it spread to other regions.
MODERNE - American style of furniture in the
1930's that derived from Europe's Art Deco and International Style.
It is characterized by polished surfaces, sleek shapes, curves that
contrast with straight lines, and asymmetry, and utilized new materials
and manufacturing processes adapted from industrial design. The
architecture of skyscrapers was also influential.
NEOCLASSICAL STYLE - Revivals of interest in
ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian themes, which occurred during
the Renaissance, Adam, and Empire eras, and especially in the late
18th century, when appetites for it were whetted by archeological
NEO-GOTHIC - Revivals of aspects of Gothic detailing,
which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the former,
circa 1745, references to Gothic arches and tracery were applied
to rococo furniture. Later, Gothic ornamentation was added to neoclassical
PROVINCIAL - Furniture from the hinterlands that
is inspired by designs from the major centers of a country but adapted
to local materials, tastes, and ways of living. Location not only
influenced alterations in design and materials, but also spawned
useful pieces, such as the cobbler's bench, that were not needed
by the cities' royals or nobles.
QUEEN ANNE - Style that arose in England during
the reign of Queen Anne, from 1702 to 1714, in a break from French
influences. Veneering in walnut was popular, and gentle, subtle
curves added grace. This period marked the development of secretaries
and china cupboards and a maturing of the cabriole leg, serpentine
arms, and soft, rounded frames and shapes.
REGENCY - Neoclassical style of British furniture
that was popular during the first four decades of the 19th century.
It is named for the Prince of Wales, who, as regent, stepped in
to rule from 1811 to 1820 because his father, King George III, went
insane. It spawned adaptations and faithful reproductions of Greek
and Roman furniture, such as the saber-legged Klismos chair, and
coincided with Directoire and Empire styles in France.
ROCOCO - Style of 18th-century European furniture
made of rich woods with elaborate scrollwork and curved forms. Its
origins are from the Régence style of France, and its influence
was widespread. It is considered a daintier, more refined version
of earlier Baroque style.
SECRETARY - Slant-top desk on top of a chest
of drawers that became popular in America and England during the
18th and 19th centuries.
SETTEE - An elongated armchair that accommodates
two or more people. It was developed in the 17th century, was often
upholstered, and predates the sofa.
SHAKER - Furniture designed and made by Shakers,
an American religious, communal sect founded in the 19th century,
that believed beauty derived from usefulness and impractical objects
were sinful. The unadorned furniture features clean, spare, elegant
lines, exemplified in the slim, tall, Shaker ladder-back chair.
SIDEBOARD - Table with a wide drawer at the center
flanked by drawers or cupboards on the sides and made to be used
against a dining room wall for storing and serving food.
SIDE CHAIR - Small-scale, armless chair, designed
to stand against a wall when not in use.
SLEIGH BED - Bed with a high headboard and slightly
lower footboard. It resembles the shape of a horse-drawn sleigh,
and it was developed in America in the early 19th century.
SLIPPER CHAIR - High-backed, usually upholstered
chair with short legs, developed in America in the 18th century
SOFA - An extension of the armchair, less formal
and longer than a settee. It was developed in the mid-18th century
and became very popular by the early 1800s when it gained springs
to aid comfort.
SOFA TABLE - Long, narrow table with drawers and
drop-leaf ends, typically used to store and use gameboards.
VENEER - Thin sheet of fine wood or other material
attached on top of and flush with an underlying layer that is usually
of lesser quality, for decoration. As a verb: the act of adding
this type of decoration. (See inlay, marquetry, and parquetry).
VICTORIAN - Style named for England's Queen Victoria,
who reigned from 1837 to 1901, applied to English and American furniture
of that time, particularly in the mid-years of her reign. That furniture
takes its cue from and elaborates on rococo and Louis XV style,
with exaggerated curves and size, lush upholstery (often in complicated
curves and shapes), ellipses, spools, and carvings. Among its hallmarks
is horsehair cushioning.
WILLIAM & MARY - Named for the joint reign
of England's King William III and Queen Mary II in the late 17th
century, this style carried William's Dutch influence, particularly
in floral marquetry and oyster veneer. It was elegant in scale and
shape. In America, it represented a provincial or country American
WING CHAIR - High-back easy chair with upholstered
"wings" or panels that project from both sides of the
back and curve down to upholstered arms.
For the complete glossary, check out HouseBeautiful.com.