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Furniture Terms

APRON – Strip of wood adjoining the base of cabinets, seats and table tops extending between tops of legs or bracket feet.

ARCADE – A series of arches, with supporting columns or piers.

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.

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.

BANDING – Inlay or maqruety which produces a color or grain contrasting with the surface it decorates.

BANQUETTE – An upholstered bench or settee, also the ledge at the back of a buffet.

BARREL CHAIR – A chair shaped like rustic chairs which were originally made from half of a wine barrel. The back is usually upholstered in vertical ribs. Seat has loose cushion.

BASSINET – Bed for a baby, originally basket shaped.

BEAD – A small, convex molding of a nearly semicircular section.

BEDSIDE CHEST – A small bed-high chest with drawers.

BENTWOOD – Wood that is bent while wet into curved chair parts. Michael Thonet (1796 – 1871) of Vienna is the best-known producer of bentwood furniture and a pioneer in mass production. Bentwood is not related to molded plywood, a 20th-century innovation.

BIRD’S EYE – A marking of small spots often found in certain wood. Used and much prized from the earliest to present times.

BLANKET CHEST – Colonial storage chest often used as a bench.

BLOCK FOOT – The square end of an un-tapered leg.

BLOCK FRONT – A chest composed of a concave center panel flanked by two convex panels.

BOMBÉ – Chest or commode with a bulge or swollen, convex shape on the front and sides.

BONNET TOP – When the broken-arch pediment of tall case-furniture covers the entire top from front to back, this hood is called a bonnet top.

BOSTON ROCKER – An American rocker (19th century) with curved seat, spindle back, and a wide top rail.

BUFFET – Sideboard or “dresser” for the dining room, designed to hold platters and serving dishes.

BOWBACK – One of the types of Windsor chairs popular in America in the 18th Century.

BOW FRONT – A front that curves outward to appear convex

BRACKET FOOT – Low foot on case goods. Runs both ways from corner, forming a right angle.

BREAK FRONT – A bookcase or china cabinet made of three sections, the center one projecting forward beyond the two end sections. In bookcases, the lower part of the center section sometimes as a desk.

BREWSTER CHAIR – Wooden chair with large turned posts and spindles. First made in American colonies and named for governor Brewster of Massachusetts.

BUFFET – The French definition of the word is a sideboard, a place for keeping dishes. Today, more often the chest which supports a china cabinet of the same width.

BUN FOOT – A flattened ball, or bun shape, with a slender ankle above. Popular in William and Mary period.

BUREAU – The French word (from the Latin, burras, red) originally designated as a red cloth covering for writing desks. Later the desk itself. In America the name designates the commonly known dresser.

BURL – A tree knot or protruding growth which shows beautifully patterned graining when sliced. Used for inlay or veneer.

BUTTERFLY TABLE – Small folding table with splayed legs, generally turned. The top has wing brackets underneath to support drop-leaf wings on either side.

CABINET – Originally a glass fronted cabinet intended for the display of objects d’art.

CABRIOLE – Curved shape that resembles the leg of an animal, such as a goat (“cabriole” in Spanish). Its double curve turns in at the “knee” and flares out at the foot. It came into widespread use in the late seventeenth century.

CAMEL BACK – Triple-curved chair back 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.

CAMPAIGN FURNITURE – Portable furniture that folds, collapses, or is made of flat components that can be assembled or disassembled. It also often has handles. Initiated for military use, it is most associated with colonialism.

CANDLESTAND – A small (usually pedestal) and lightweight table with a round top built to chair height. Once used as a portable surface for candles.

CANOPY – A covering, attached to tops of bed posts, consisting of wood frame covered with fabric.

CANTED – Sloping at an angle.

CANTERBURY – A portable magazine rack named after the Bishop of England.

CAPPING – A tuned ornament used to make furniture more decorative.

CARD TABLE – Folding table that originated in late-17th-century England to accommodate the nobility’s passion for gambling.

CARVER CHAIR – Modern term for a 17th century Dutch type armchair made of turned post and spindles.

CASEGOODS – Pieces made largely, but not necessarily wholly, of wood and having certain storage facilities.

CASSAPANCA – A wooden bench with a built-in chest under the seat.

CAST IRON FURNITURE – Very popular throughout the 19th century in varying forms from garden furniture and plant stands, to umbrella racks and doorstops. The cast iron bed was manufactured into the 20th century and remains popular today.

CAUSEUSE – A small settee popular in early French furniture.

CEDAR CHEST – A rectangular storage chest with hinged lid and made of solid cedar or cedar veneer surfaces to prevent moths invasion of woolens. Also, a bride’s hope chest in 20th century. Still very popular.

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 stool.

CHANNEL BACK – A chair back with grooves or fluting as decoration.

CHESTERFIELD – Overstuffed couch or sofa with upholstered ends and no exposed wood. Back and arms are usually of one continuous curve.

CHEST-ON-CHEST – Chests of drawers in two sections, one on top of the other.

CHEVAL GLASS/MIRROR – A full-length mirror mounted on swivels in a frame capable of being locked in various positions. Traditionally cheval mirrors had candle holders mounted on each side and were used in dressing rooms.

CHEVRON – A V-shaped ornament borrowed from military lexicon.

CHIFFONIER – A French word denoting a lady’s worktable, derived from chiffons, meaning rags. It is also used to designate a highboy.

CHINA CABINET – Cabinet with glass fronts, created to display and store fine china. The sides may or may not be of glass.

CHINOISERIE – Painted or lacquered Chinese designs in furniture.

CLAW & BALL – Foot of carved animal or bird claw clutching a ball, generally terminating a cabriole leg.

COAT OF ARMS – Heraldic insignia, as on a family escutcheon.

COFFEE TABLE – Long, low table used in front of a sofa.

COFFER – A chest or box covered in leather or some other material and banded with metalwork.

COMMODE – Initially a French chest of drawers on legs; now loosely defined as any type of low chest containing doors or drawers.

CONNECTICUT CHEST – Low chest, on legs, usually containing a double set of drawers.

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.

CORNER CUPBOARD – Triangular cupboard made to fit into a corner. It is usually a dining room china cabinet but may also be a curio cabinet for any room.

CORNICE – The top or finishing molding of a column or piece of furniture.

CORNUCOPIA – The horn of plenty, symbolizing peace and plenty, used as design motif.

COUCH – A 17th and 18th century term for daybed. Not used as a term for sofa or settee until recent times.

COURT CUPBOARD – A small cupboard used for storing silver, china, or other precious goods.

COVER – The external fabric of an upholstered piece.

CREDENCE – An early Italian cabinet used for carving meats or displaying plates. It was the forerunner of the sideboard.

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.

CROSS STRETCHER – X-shaped stretcher in straight or curved lines. Found on tables, a few chairs and in America on highboys and lowboys.

CUPID’S BOW – A term used to describe the typical top rail of a Chippendale chair back with curves up at the ends and dips slightly in the center.

DAVENPORT – An upholsterer in Boston, named Davenport, made such handsome and luxurious overstuffed couches that people began to speak of these couches as Davenports. This word has been replaced by the word sofa.

DAYBED – Any type of elongated seating, including the chaise longue, designed for resting rather than sleeping. It usually has a raised end.

DENTILS – A classic, decorated design consisting of rectangular blocks with spaces between.

DISC FOOT – A flat, disc-shaped foot used on tables or chairs.

DOLPHIN – One of the heraldic fishes represented as either embowed, counter embowed or extended. Symbolic of love and diligence.

DOVER CHEST – Early American hope chest, usually made of maple or oak.

DOWEL – headless pin, usually made of wood, used in the construction of furniture.

DOWERY CHEST – Made to store the trousseau of a prospective bride. American examples include the hadley chest, the Connecticut chest, the painted Pennsylvania-German chest and the Lane Company cedar chest.

DRAUGHT CHAIR – Early English equivalent of a wing chair.

DRESSER – A species of a sideboard. Also for the service of food or the storage of dishes. The term used today indicates a chest for the storage of cosmetics or clothing.

DROP FRONT – Hinged front of desk which lowers to form a level writing surface.

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.

DRUM TABLE – Circular top table on a tripod base with a deep skirt that may contain drawers.

DUTCH DRESSER – A cabinet with open shelves on upper portion, drawers or cupboard below.

EBONILE – To stain wood to look like ebony.

ECLECTIC – Work coined last half of the 20th century; infers artful mixture of decorating styles.

ESCUTCHEON – Name applied to a shield upon which a coat of arms or other devices are emblazoned.

ÉTAGÈRE – A series of open shelves supported by slender columns and used to display curios.

FAN PANERN – Description of the back of a chair when fitted with ribs somewhat resembling the stalks of a half-open fan.

FIDDLE-BACK – A chair splat shaped in manner of the violin’s contour.

FINIAL – A decorative finishing device, usually foliated, for the terminals of projecting uprights.

FLUTING – A grooving on any horizontal or perpendicular surface.

FOLIATED – Decorated with leaf designs of an intricate pattern.

FOUR POSTER – A colonial bed with posts extended upward, may or may not hold a canopy.

FRENCH BED – A bed in which the ends roll outward. It has no posts.

FRET – A kind of Greek ornament formed of bands or fillets variously combined. A piece of perforated ornamental work.

GATELEG TABLE – A table where the folding leaf is upheld by a leg swinging out lake a gate. A development of the Jacobean period, it was popular in Colonial America.

GLASTONBURY CHAIR – An X-framed, ecclesiastical Gothic seat with sloping paneled back. Arms had a drooping curve in which a priest’s vestments rested.

GRILLE – Metal lattice work used in a great many 18th century bookcases.

HANDKERCHIEF TABLE – A single leaf table with leaf and top triangular in shape. Closed, the table fits in a corner, opened, it is a small square.

HASSOCK – Large upholstered cushion used as ottoman. Circular or square.

HIGH RELIEF – This term refers to deep carving of any plane surface of any material.

HIGHBOY – Tall chest of drawers, usually consisting of two sections. An upper chest sits on either a table like structure or a lowboy with long legs. (See chest-on-chest).

HOPE CHEST – Colloquial American term widely used for dowry chest.

HUTCH – Enclose structure, often raised on uprights, or an enclosed structure of more than one tier.

INLAY – Design formed of contrasting woods, grains, metal, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, or other material inserted to be flush with the furniture surface.

IONIC – Designating or of a Greek style of architecture characterized by ornamental scrolls of the capitals.

KD or KNOCKED DOWN – Applied to pieces shipped unassembled or only partially assembled.

KIDNEY DESK – A desk or a table with curved front and a top shaped like a kidney bean.

LADDER-BACK – A chair-back in which horizontal cross-rails, used instead of a splat, give a ladder effect.

LAZY SUSAN – A revolving tray or stand of wood or metal.

LINTERS – Short cotton fibers clinging to cotton seed after it has been ginned. Used for early mattress filling.

LOTUS – The conventionalized Egyptian water lily as found in classic ornamentation.

LOVE SEAT – Double chair or small sofa, originally associated with Queen Anne style.

LYRE – A stringed instrument of the harp class. Its form was used as a decoraive motif by Ouncan Phyfe and others.

MARQUETRY – Inlay of contrasting wood, inserted flush with the furniture’s surface.

MIRROR STAND – An adjustable mirror mounted on a shaft and tripod base, resembling a pole-screen; popular at the end of the 18th century.

MOLDING – Ornamented or shaped strips, either sunk into or projecting from a surface. Used mostly for decoration.

MORRIS CHAIR – A large, easy chair with arms usually extending beyond the back and adjustable beyond the back and adjustable to various angles. It was named for its inventor, William Morris.

MOTHER-OF-PEARL – Inlay of nacreous shell slices, often used on early 19th century American fancy chairs, tables, mirrors, etc.

MOTIF – A dominant feature or theme in artistry or craftsmanship.

NESTED TABLES – Three or four identical lightweight tables sized from small to largest, each one nesting under the next.

OCCASIONAL TABLE – A term applied loosely to any small table.

OGEE – A compound curve, the directions of which are opposite to those of the Cyma curve.

ONLAY – ornament applied to the surfaces of woods

OTTOMAN – Upholstered bench or seat with no arms or back, named after the Turkish influence of the early 18th century.

OXBOW, OXBOW FRONT – Often used in the finest 18th century New England case furniture such as chests of drawers, secretaries, etc.

PARQUETRY – Furniture inlaid with a geometrical cube design in the manner of a parquet floor.

PATINA – A surface texture produced by age, wear or rubbing.

PEDESTAL TABLE – A table on a round center support.

PEDIMENT – The space or structure above a cornice. The classic pediment, seen in the conventional Greek temple, was triangular in shape. It is found on the tops of secretaries and grandfather’s clocks, usually as a broken pediment.

PEMBROKE – Small rectangular drop-leaf table with a drawer, named after England’s Earl of Pembroke, circa 1771.

PIE CRUST TABLE – A table so named because the edge is finished off in a series of serpentines or curves, as cooks crimp the edges of a pie.

PIER GLASS – Large, window-height mirror suspended above a table between two windows.

PINEAPPLE – Carved pineapple-shaped ornament found frequently in early 19th century American bed posts.

PINNACLE – A carved ornament at the top or crest of a piece of furniture.

PLINTH – Square or octagonal base of a chest or other column, solid to the floor. Primarily, a stand for a plant, sculpture or other 3-dimensional item.

PILASTER – Flat column superimposed on any plain surface to serve as a support for a cornice or a pediment.

PORTIERE – A curtain hung in a doorway.

POUDRESSE – Small table with mirrored lid covering space for cosmetics.

PRESS – Broadly, a tall, enclosed and doored structure comparable to a wardrobe.

PRIE-DIEU CHAIR – A high-backed chair of Italian origin with a narrow shelf, rail or pad upon which the user may rest his arms while kneeling in the seat.

PULL-UP CHAIR – A term for a small light arm chair. Sometimes called an occasional chair.

RAIL – The horizontal piece in framing or paneling. In a chair back the top member supported on the stiles.

RAKE – The angle or slant of a chair back or of a non-vertical table leg.

RECLINING CHAIR – An upholstered chair or rocker that reclines.

REEDING – The reverse of fluting. A decoration consisting of parallel lines formed by beaded mountings projecting from the surface. Sheraton, Adam and Phyfe used it.

RELIEF – Any ornamentation raised above the surface or background.

RESTORATION – A proper renewal of a piece by a candid replacement of hopelessly damaged or missing parts.

RIBBAND-BACK – A chair with an entwined ribbon motif ornament.

RISING SUN – When a fan-shaped ornament is carved half-circle and the resulting spray of stalks suggest sunrays.

ROLL-TOP DESK – Similar to a cylinder-top desk but the writing table and fittings are enclosed by a curved slatted panel.

ROUNDABOUT CHAIR – Corner chair with triangle front and usually a circular back.

RUNNER – The curved rocker of a rocking chair. Once made solely of wood but now largely of metal.

RUSH SEAT – A seat woven of rushes. Used in America from the earliest times, generally with simple furniture.

SABRE LEG – A term used to describe a sharply curving leg in the classical style which has also been called scroll shaped. It is generally reeded.

SADDLE SEAT – A chair seat hollowed out to resemble a saddle.

SALTIRE – A straight, X-shaped stretcher used on chairs or tables.

SAWBUCK TABLE – A table with an X-shaped frame either plain or scrolled.

SCALLOP – A carved ornament in the shape of a shell used widely on rococo pieces.

SCONCE – A general name for a wall-light consisting of a back plate and either a tray or branched candleholders, usually metal.

SCOOP SEAT – A chair with a seat which has been hollowed or formed to fit the body.

SCROLL – A spiral or convoluted line used for ornamentation.

SCROLL FOOT – A foot in the form of a spiral line; not fully articulated with part above it.

SECRETARY – Slant-top desk on top of a chest of drawers that became popular in America and England during the 18th and 19th centuries.

SEIGNORIAL CHAIR – An imposing high back seat for the master of a house.

SERPENTINE FRONT – Front of a commode, desk or bureau shaped in a waving curve.

SERRATED – A saw tooth or zigzag ornament that is one form of a notched dentil.

SERVING TABLE – A long, narrow table with drawers for silver, napery and crystal.

SETTEE – An elongated armchair that accommodates two or more people. It was developed in the 17th century, was often upholstered, and predates the sofa.

SETTLE – Colonial all wood bench or settee with solid arms. The pilgrims brought it from England.

SHIELD BACK – A chair back shaped like a shield.

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.

SKIRT – A wood or fabric flounce at bottom of a furniture piece.

SLANT-FRONT DESK – A frame or chest of drawers with a top section as an enclosed desk for writing, the hinged lid sloping at a 45-degree angle when closed.

SLAT BACK – Type of back, used in early American chairs and settees, composed of horizontal slats attached to back parts.

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.

SLIP-SEAT – A removable upholstered seat for a chair, used especially in dining and light pull-up chairs.

SLIPPER CHAIR – High-backed, usually upholstered chair with short legs, developed in America in the 18th century for bedrooms.

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 game boards.

SPINDLE – Slim length of turned wood, often used in a series for chair backs.

SPINET DESK – A writing desk designed after a small musical instrument of the colonial period. When the instrument wore out, the keyboard was removed and the cabinet used as a writing desk, for which the recessed space, formerly housing the keys, was happily adapted.

SPLAT – The central member of a chair back, also called a spald.

SPLINT SEAT – A seat made of oak or hickory strips interlaced. Used in furniture through the 18th century.

SPIRAL LEG – A leg carved in the shape of a rope twist or a spiral.

SPOOL BEAD – A continuous turning having the form of a series of connected beads.

SPOON BACK – A chair back which is spooned or shaped to fit contours of human body.

STEP TABLE – A table resembling a stone-step stair commonly used at the end of a sofa. The top shelf being shorter and higher.

STRETCHER – The underbracing of chairs and tables taking an H or X diagonal form.

STRIPPING – Removing the old surface or finish from a piece of furniture.

SUITE – A complete set of matched furniture.

SWING LEG – A hinged or folding leg used to support the drop leaf of a table.

SWIVEL CHAIR – A chair which revolves on a stationary platform or on legs.

T-CUSHION – A T shaped back or seat cushion made to fit around arms of a chair, love seat, or sofa.

TAPER LEG – A leg which diminishes in thickness as it approaches the foot.

TAVERN TABLE – Sturdy, rectangular table on four legs, usually braced with stretchers. Much used in 18th century taverns.

TESTER – Top framework of a high-post canopy or draped bed, of wood or fabric.

TIER TABLE – An occasional (usually pedestal based) table with 2 or 3 tiered round tops of graduated size.

TILT-TOP – A small table, with the top hinged to a pedestal base permitting it to hang vertically when not in use.

TORCHERE – A floor lamp designed to throw light upward. In early times, it was any stand that held a light.

TRESPOLO – Elegant three-legged tables usually designed to stand against a wall.

TRESTLE – A braced frame, forming the whole support for a table top.

TRIPOD – A three legged stand for a pedestal table. Adam and Chippendale favored it.

TRIVET – A three legged stand or small table normally flanking a fireplace. It now often refers to a wall decoration or a heat-resistant stand for hot objects.

TRUMPET LEG – A leg shaped like a trumpet and having its characteristic flared profile.

TRUNDLE BED – A low bed of colonial days which, during the daytime, was rolled under a larger bed. Just as popular in 21st century.

TUCKAWAY TABLE – A hinged leaf gate-leg table with cross legs which fold into each other as compactly as if tucked away.

TURNING – The shaping of legs or trim obtained by using a lathe. It is one of the most venerable wood working processes.

UPHOLSTER – To fit, as furniture, with coverings, padding, springs, etc.

UPRIGHTS – The outer vertical posts of a chair.

URN – A vase-shaped receptacle also used for ornament, especially on sideboards, or as finial of a broken pediment.

VALANCE – A horizontal cross section of draperies.

VANITY – A low, drop-center ladies’ dressing table with an attached mirror and drawers and matching pull-up bench.

VENEER – Thin sheet of fine wood applied on top or sides of furniture, since solid wood tend to warp of split veneering is very commonly used instead of solid woods  As a verb: the act of adding this type of decoration. (See inlay, marquetry, and parquetry).

 

WARDROBE – Tall, upright cabinet with a door or doors. Designed for storing clothing, it sometimes also contains a chest of drawers.

WASH STANDS – Specially adapted for bedroom use after 1750. A cupboard or chest of drawers on four legs with a basin sunk in the top.

WINDSOR CHAIR – Style of chair that originated near Windsor castle circa 1710 and is thought to have originated with wheel-makers. It has a bentwood back frame, usually with a chair back that has a pierced slat flanked by spindles.

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.

X-CHAIR – An ancient folding-type chair dating back to Egypt, Rome and the Middle Ages.

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