Glossary of Furniture Terms
acroterium - Originally an ornament on the roof corners of Greek temples. Similar ornaments are used on the top corners of classical furniture.
ambulante - (French). Small portable table used for serving tea.
amorini - (Italian). Decorative cupids profuse in Baroque work, especially under direct Italian influence.
angel bed - Canopy bed with no pillars in the front. The curtains draw back on the sides at the head of the bed. Typically the canopy extends over only a portion of the bed, while the counter pane goes right down over the foot. Chiefly French, 18th century.
anthemion - Greek honeysuckle pattern conventionalized to radiating clusters.
arabesque - Ornamental design consisting of intertwining floral or geometric scrolls. Usually framed within a simple shape such as a rectangle. Originally found in Arabic or Moorish decoration.
arcade - A carved decoration representing a series of arches.
armoire - A tall cupboard or wardrobe with doors.
Arts and Crafts Movement - A movement in decorative and fine arts in Europe and North America between 1880-1910, emerging in Japan in the 1920s. It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms, and often used medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration.
Art Deco - A style of decorative art that first appeared in France after World War I and began to flourish internationally in the 1920s. It is an eclectic style that combines traditional craft motifs with Machine Age imagery and materials. Characterized by bold color, bold geometric shapes and symmetry.
Art Nouveau - (French for "New Art"), defines a style of art which was applied to furniture (as well as many other objects and structures) from approximately 1890 to 1910. The primarily curved line style is artist inspired by natural objects like trees, plants, flowers, leaves, the human female figure, flowing hair, etc.
Baroque -The tendency of European design in the 17th century toward exaggerated, over-emphasized brilliance. Characterized by large curves, twisted columns, distorted and broken pediments, and oversized moldings.
Biedermeier - An influential German style of furniture that evolved during the years 1815-1848. Emphasis was kept upon clean lines and minimal ornamentation. Artisans used locally available materials such as cherry, ash and oak wood rather than expensive imported timbers. Stylistically, the furniture was simple and elegant. Its construction utilized the ideal of truth through material, something that later influenced the Bauhaus and Art Deco periods.
boulle - A style of furniture with ornate brass and tortoise shell inlay, named for Andre-Charles Boulle, (1642-1732), who perfected the marquetry style and was a cabinetmaker for King Louis XIV of France.
bronze - Extensively used for furniture in the ancient world, its strength permitted an extreme lightness of design that is accepted as typically Greco-Roman, and was so copied in the classic revivals of the 18th-century France. Louis XV and subsequent work is noted for its superb bronze chasing and modeling.
bureau - In America it refers to a chest of drawers, generally found in the bedroom, that was highly developed in the early 19th century.
Byzantine - From the Roman Empire of the East, centering in Constantinople, 476-1200. The furniture is characterized by rich carving, with inlays of gold, glass, stones, in motives of ritual significance. Interlacing bands, stiff animal forms, sharply cut foliage, etc. remain in later Russian and South European as well as Italian work.
cabochon - Carved ornament resembling a gem or polished stone, common in French Rocco work and English derivatives.
cabriole - Furniture legs shaped in a double curve, the upper part swelling out, the curve singing in toward the foot, which again flares out.
cane - Flexible rattan woven in open patterns for chair seats, backs, etc.
canopy - Covering or hood over bed or throne, suspended from wall or ceiling or carried on posts. Architecturally, an ornamental projection.
Carlton Table; Carlton House Desk - English writing table from the end of the 18th century and early 19th century. Also referred to as a lady's drawing or writing table with a bank of small drawers and compartments placed upon a desk. The central part of the tabletop pulls our or is adjustable to an angle, and beneath this leaf are wide drawers for drawing paper.
Caryatid - Greek architectural ornament in the form of female figures used as supporting columns. Adapted to form legs of tables, chairs, cabinet stands, etc., as well as pilasters for beds, cabinets, mantels, paneling, etc..
cassapanca - Italian settee formed by adding arms and back to a chest.
castor - Small roller attached to the feet or base of furniture, for ease in moving around without lifting.
Cathedral shape - Pointed arch in bookcase tracery, late 18th and 19th centuries (Gothic revivals) in England and America; also on the backs of some Sheraton chairs, and in the shaping of the bases of some simple chests of drawers.
causeuse - Upholstered armchair with open sides.
center table - A table finished on all sides so that it may be used in the center of a room.
certosina - Style of inlay using bone or ivory on a dark wood ground. Usually small geometric patterns - stars, triangles, crescents, etc.. Appears in Venetian work in the 14th century; also in Spanish work of Moorish type, and in subsequent derivations.
chaise lounge - A long chair; a form of daybed or sofa with upholstered back, for reclining.
chamfer - Groove, beveled, or splayed corner of a post or a molding.
chest of drawers - A case fitted with drawers for storage, usually of clothing.
Chesterfield - Overstuffed couch or sofa with upholstered ends.
Chippendale, Thomas, 1718-1779 - London cabinet-maker and furniture designer in the mid-Georgian, English Rocco, and Neoclassical styles. In 1754 he published The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director. Its influence spread everywhere; the Continent and colonies used it as a guide to style, design, and construction. Chairs of Chippendale design are most characteristic, particularly the types in which the solid splat is made lighter by being pierced into graceful openwork convolutions of ribbons and scrolls. Bookcases and cabinets are remarkably well proportioned; sideboards and chests, cabinets, tables show the same mastery. Chippendale died in 1779, and his son, Thomas Chippendale Junior, continued his workshop.
claw and ball - Foot carved in the form of a bird's foot gripping a ball. The cabriole leg terminating in the ball and claw was a favorite motive in Chippendale's earlier work, but it ceased to be fashionable after 1765.
coffee table - Low, wide table used before a couch or sofa.
credenza - A dining room sideboard cupboard, particularly one where a central cupboard is flanked by quadrant glass display cabinets.
cupboard - Cabinet or box with doors, for storage. The special types and names are numerous, springing from special uses and locations. Sometimes a cupboard is considered an architectural feature only, the free-standing equivalent being a cabinet.
davenport - An upholstered sofa
davenport desk - Small writing desk, chiefly mid-19th century English. Characteristically, there are small drawers that pull out sideways and a lift lid.
decalcomania - Picture applied in reverse to paper, then transferred to furniture by sticking and removing the paper. It appeared in the late 18th century as a less expensive substitute for hand painting. It was popular in the early 1800's chiefly in America. Hitchcock and similar chairs were often decorated with such transfer patterns.
desk - A piece of furniture with a flat or sloped surface and typically with drawers, at which one can read, write or do other work.
demilune - (French for "half moon"), used to describe shape of half-round or bowfront furniture pieces.
disc foot - Flat, rounded foot in Queen Anne work.
divan - Upholstered couch with arms or back, originating in Turkish form of pile of rugs for reclining.
dovetail - Method of joining boards at the ends, as in a drawer of a case, made of interlocking tenons suggesting the form of a dovetail. Also, a butterfly shaped inset used to join boards lengthwise in table tops, floors, etc.
dowel - Wooden round peg or pin fitted into holds in two adjacent pieces of wood, with glue to hold them together.
draft chair - Large English wing-backed chair; wholly wood in Tudor, upholstered in later styles.
drake foot - Three-toed foot occurring in 18th century furniture.
dresser - A low chest of drawers, with a mirror over it, for clothing, storage, and dressing (American usage).
dressing table - Almost any form of table may be used as a dressing table when it is equipped with the customary mirror, drawers, etc. Dressing tables appeared commonly around the end of the 17th century.
dressoir - Buffet-cupboard-sideboard, usually with open shelves or racks for china.
drop leaf - Hinged flap or leaf on the table that when raised enlarges the top.
Duchesse - French chaise longue, or large upholstered chair and stool designed together to form a couch.
Duchesse bed - French canopy bed with full tester, fixed to the wall instead of to posts, the drapery hanging down to the bedding and floor.
Dutch Colonial - Period of Dutch colonization in North America, 17th century. This is simplified Baroque; massive, stolid, unpretentious. Local woods were used almost exclusively; turning is common, usually deeply cut and with feet oftern eccentrically turned to produce a rudimentary cabriole foot called Dutch foot, spoon foot, or duckfoot. There was some rude carving, but paint wasa more common decorative medium.
Ebeniste (Ebonist) - French for "cabinetmaker." The craze for ebony in the early 17th century led master craftsmen, then called huchiers, to advertise their ability to work in this difficult wood. The name lingered to denote a cabinetmaker of masterful skill.
ebony - Tropical wood of general black color, heavy and dense in texture. Of those in current use, the blackest is the Gaboon ebony; the Macassar has stripes of light brownish orange and black-brown.
egg-and-dart - Carved enrichment of an ovolo molding suggesting alternately eggs and darts. An ancient architectural ornament, it is one of the most frequent in carved woodwork of all lands after the early 16th century. Echinus is Greek egg-and-dart molding.
Empire - The neoclassic style of architecture and decoration created practically by edict of Napolean. The furniture is rectangular, architecturally massive and excessively sumptuous, rich woods and metal mountings offsetting the rectilinear simplicity. Mahogany, rosewood, and ebony were the rule, with brass or gilt mounts in the form of swags and festoons, wreaths and laurel branches, torches, mythological figures, and the Napoleonic emblems of the bee, the crown and the letter N; later, sphinxes and other Egyptian figures were used. The tripod table and other Pompeiian details are common. Fabrics bore the same ornaments and were executed chiefly in hard textures and strong shades of green, yellow, blue, and red.
end table - General term for any small table used in relation to a couch, chair, etc. Small tables of all periods or original purposes are used now as end tables.
endive - Carved decorative motif, a variation on several acanthus leaves combined. Originally favored in work off the Louis XIV period, it was extensively used by Chippendale.
escritoire (scrutoire, secretary) - Writing desk with drawers, pigeonholes, etc.
espangnolette - Female busts used as terminal ornaments on posts of cabinets, etc, usually arranged on the upper curves of volutes. Common in styles of Louis XIV, the Regence, and Louis XV.
etagere - A series of shelves supported by columns, used chiefly for the display of curios. Common in the 19th century, although graceful examples in exotic woods date back to the time of Louis XVI.
evolute - Recurrent wave scroll used to decorate friezes and bands.
façade - Front, using the word in the architectural sense. The faces of chests, etc., were often treated to resemble architectural facades, particularly in the classic revivals.
fallfront - Drop lid or drop front, as in a cabinet-desk or piano.
fall-leaf table - Drop leaf or flap table.
farthingale chair - English chair, period of Elizabeth and James I. Constructed without arms in order to permit the then fashionable wide dresses, called "farthingales" to spread in all directions.
fauteuil - French upholstered armchair. The sides are open, while the sides of the bergere are upholstered solidly.
Federal - American period, coincidental with the early years of the Republic, 1780-1830. The style is completely classical, traces of antique Pompeiian and Greco-Roman design coming through Adam, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and Regency influences from England; Lois XIV, Erectoire, and Empire influences from France.
festoon - Scalloplike series of loops, such as a rope, chain of flowers, drapery, etc., painted or carved for decoration; swag.
fiddle brace back - Windsor chair with two spindels radiating from a projection back of the seat up to the top bar.
fiddleback - Chairback whose splat resembles a violin. Queen Anne.
fiddleback (veneer) - Parallel curly grain in wood such as maple, mahogany, walnut, koa, and others, like the finely marked sycamore selected for violin backs.
fielded panel - Panel formed by molding, grooving, or beveling around a plain surface. Also a panel made up of smaller panels.
filigree - Wire work in delicate ornamental patterns.
finial - Decorative terminal, placed vertically to accentuate a point of the ending of a structural feature, such as a post, pediment, or intersection.
Flemish scroll - Baroque double scroll on chair legs, etc. The lower curve is a C-scroll separated from the upper, a reserved C-scroll, by a right angle.
footstool - Low footrest related to a chair.
four-poster, four-post bed - American term for beds with the corner posts elongated. Probably the field bed or low canopy bed descended to the four-poster simply by omitting the canopy.
French bed - Roll-end bedstead without posts.
French foot - Scrolled or spiraled foot, ornamented as with a dolphin. Also, a slightly outswept foot as used by Hepplewhite.
fret - Interlaced ornamental work, either perforated or cut in low relief on a solid ground, usually in geometric patterns; also the tracery of glazed doors and windows.
Friesian - Scratch carving in simple geometric designs, such as the wheel. In Pennsylvania Dutch work it is found as decoration on rude pine Bible boxes, spoor racks, etc.
Furnishings- Decorative accessories, curtains, draperies, rugs, furniture for a house or office.
Furniture- Movable equipment, such as tables, chairs used to furnish homes, office's, or make any space functional for living or working.
gadroon - Ornament carved on edges either of flat areas or of turnings resembling short convex or concave flutes or ruffles. It is common in Elizabethan work, Italian Renaissance work and all style with Italian influence. Chippendale used it exclusively for borders and top edges.
game table - One of the earliest specialized types of tables developed for games, such as dice, cards, chess or draughts, backgammom etc. Examples from the sixteenth-century have needlework tops in patterns required for the various games; the ultimate development occurred in 18th-century England.
gargoyle - Grotesque figure originally used in architecture as decorative rainspout. Best known in Gothic examples, it was adapted for purely ornamental purposes in some medieval and Renaissance woodwork.
gateleg table - The classification of table in which one or more drop leaves are supported by a leg or gate that swings away from a central fixed structure. Gatelegs were made with as many as twelve legs, and appeared in every style during the 17th century. In the nineteenth century the gateleg table retreated to provincial use, its place being taken by swing-leg types in the more advanced style centers.
Georgian (1714-1800) - In England within the period of George I, George II and George III. Furniture was designed to match the majestic Neo-Palladian architectures favored by the aristocracy. Curved lines were replaced with straight forms with intricate and abundant ornaments applied in low-relief. The importation of mahogany wood was the most important change of the period as it ended the common use of walnut in furniture making. The key designers of the period were Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Adam.
gesso - Plastic preparation used for raised ornamentation. It was used extensively in Italy on furniture during the Middle Ages and afterward. A gilded version was popular for a time under Charles II in England.
gilding - The application of gold leaf in order to produce a sumptuous effect.
Gillingham, James - Famous cabinetmaker born in 1736 in Philadelphia. Gillingham was known for his simple, high quality furniture.
Gillow, Firm of - English cabinetmakers who constructed much furniture during he 18th and 19th centuries.
girandole (from French; girandola from Italy) - An ornamental branched wall bracket or chandelier, often with a mirror back. In the late 18th century the mirror was made circular or convex-and was used alone.
Goddard, John - An American cabinetmaker of the late 18th century from Newport, RI. Together with his son-in-law, John Townsend, they produced a distinct form of block-front desks, cabinets, secretaries, chests, etc. with shell carving. Bracket feet, usually ogee in shape and finely carved or in clustered shapes are also typical.
gold leaf - Gold that has been hammered into thin sheets by goldbeating. Layering gold leaf over a surface is called gold leafing or gilding. This intricate ornamentation is a hallmark of the European Bronze Age. Gold leafing is applied to jewelry, art, furniture and architecture to create a sumptuous effect.
gondola (gondole) - Chair or sofa whose back curves continuously downward to form the arms. The name comes from its supposed resemblance to an 18th-centruy gondola.
Gothic - Period of design that was heavily influenced by Roman and Medieval architecture. Its initial design period was c.1150 to 1550, but saw a revival in the 19th century by the Victorians. Furniture was massive and oak, adorned with Gothic (religious) motifs. Constructions was sturdy, and featured arches, spiral-turned legs and rich upholstery in dark colors.
Gothic revivals - England had a brief interest in the Gothic after 1740. Gothic images and ornamental forms were incorporated into furniture by Chippendale and other designers. Another revival gained momentum in the early 19th century.
gouge carving - Rudimentary form of decorative carving. Usually simple chisel marks in rhythmic repetition.
graining - Painting process used to resemble the color and figure of wood.
grille - Lattice work made of metal or wood use in the doors of bookcases and cabinets.
grisaille - Painting in various shades of gray designed to create a three-dimensional effect. Fashionable in furniture decoration of the late 18th century.
gros pointe - Coarse stitch embroidery used for upholstering chairs, etc.
gueridon - A small, often circular-top, table that originated in France in the mid 17th century. Used for such humble purposes as holding a candlestick or a vase.
guilloche - Continuous ornamentation of interlacing circles, found in every style after Assyrian.
guinea holes - Hollowed or scooped our corners found in 18th century English card tables used as receptacles for coins.
Hadley chest - Early American chest that has three panels in the front and drawers and that is typically ornamented on the front with tulip carvings. First found in Hadley, MA.
harlequin table - Table invented by Sheraton in which the center section automatically rises when the leaves are raised, revealing compartments.
heart and crown - Baluster-back chair with heart and crown cutouts.
heart-back - Shield-back Hepplewhite type chair.
Hepplewhite, George - London furniture maker from the mid-16th century. Some of his work modifies the earlier French styles; his later output develops the classic outlines. Two years after his death in 1786 his widow, Alice, published The Cabinet Makers and Upholsterer's Guide "from drawings by A.Hepplewhite and Co., Cabinet Makers."
herringbone - Inlay banding in which the alternately slanting grain produces a herringbone or chevron pattern.
highboy - English tall chest of drawers, usually consisting of two sections, the upper chest sits upon a tablelike structure or lowboy with long legs. Transported to the American colonies, it developed with William and Mary and Queen Anne influences into the unique and characteristic highboy of Colonial America of the 18th century.
High end- Of superior quality or sophistication and usually high in price.
Hitchcock, Lambert - American furniture manufacturer famous for designing the Hitchcock chair. The typical form has turned legs, a turned crest rail, and one or more slates in the back, and is painted black with gold stenciling.
hock leg - Cabriole leg with a curve and angle under the knee.
hooded top - Shaped top, typically curved, on a highboy, clock case, etc.
hoof foot - Hoof-shaped leg base,
hoop back - Chairback whose uprights and upper rail form a continuous curve. Similar to a bow back on a Windsor chair.
Hope, Thomas, 1769-1831 - English writer, designer, collector, and architectural dilettante. His book Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807) introduced the term "interior decoration" into the English language.
hope chest - Dower chest traditionally used to store a bride's trousseau.
horseshoe arch - Arch whose curvature is more than half-circle. Prevalent in Moorish decoration.
horseshoe back - The outward sweep at the base of the bow on the back of Windsor chairs.
horseshoe table - 18th century English wine table.
hunt table - Semicircular table with an opening in the middle with a pivoted device used for moving bottles around the table. Also known as a wine table.
hunting chair - Chair designed by Sheraton with a slide foot rest on the front.
husk - Drop ornatmentation, such as a cornflower or catkins of shrubs, arranged in diminishing series.
hutch - A set or shelves or cabinets with doors.
imbrication - Decoration or embellishment resembling fish scales, adapted from the antique Roman in the Italian Renaissance.
Ince and Mayhew - Publishers of the The Universal System of Household Furniture (1762). Many of the designs featured in the book were based on Chippendale's work, and much of their actual furniture is in a lesser Chippendale manner.
incised ornament - Engraved, deeply cut or carved work, cut into the surface rather than raised from it.
inlay - Designs formed in wood through the contrast of colors, grains, and textures of wood, ivory, mother-of-pearl, metal, tortoiseshell, etc., inserted flush into the wood.
intaglio - Carved design etched in to the surface.
Jacobean - General term for the period of English history that coincides with the reign of James I (up to 1688). Furniture of this era becomes lighter and more adaptable, with ornament changing from Early Renaissance types to Baroque.
jardinière - Ornamented box, jar or stand intended to hold flowers.
jeweling - Carving on the surface to simulate jewels.
joinery - The mechanics of furniture building and woodworking. It is the oldest term for the craft, and literally translates to the joining together of pieces of wood.
joint stool - Jacobean stool originally with mortise-and-tenon joints, and turned out legs.
Karelian birch - The wood is light yellow in color with dark brown markings, the wood is used in the manufacturing of furniture and woodenware.
Kas - A Dutch cabinet or sideboard that is wood paneled and painted with rather primitive ornaments of flowers and vases. First appeared in the Dutch American colonies of New York and the Delaware Valley.
Kent, William (1684-1748) - English furniture designer and architect of the Golden Age. Credited with being the first English architect to design the furniture (both fixed and movable) of his rooms. Also, famous for his landscape architecture.
kettle base, front - Bombe shaped case, with bulging front and/or sides.
key pattern (Greek fret) - Ancient Greek ornamentation that features interlacing lines at right angles. Inlaid or painted on English Regency and carved on Mid-Georgian furniture.
kidney style table, bench, desk, etc. - Oval shaped workspace with concave front to make it more accessible while sitting. Appears in 18th-century furniture of France and England. Favored by Sheraton.
klismos - Chair of ancient Greece, prototype for Classic Revival.
kneading table - European utilitarian furniture, now used as side tables. Provincial French styles were particularly decorative.
knee - The upper, convex curve of a cabriole leg, sometimes referred to as the "hip".
kneehole - The opening in the center of desks, chests, or bureaus meant to accommodate the sitter's knees.
knuckle - The carving on the outside of a chair, prevalent in Chippendale and Windsor furniture.
lacquer - A high dense finish acquired by tedious padding up and rubbing down multiple coats of shellac. Modern lacquer is a compound of cellulose derivatives.
ladder back - Chairbacks with horizontal slats that resemble a ladder. Common in Pilgrim furniture and in simpler Chippendale pieces.
ladies' desks - Smaller, lighter desks developed in France and England after 1690.
lambrequin - Drapery found around the top of a bed.
lampadaire - Pedestals designed to hold a lamp or candle; popular in the French Empire.
Lannuier, Charles-Honore - 19th century French-born cabinetmaker who lived and worked in New York city. The style of his furniture was considered "French Antique." Today his work is primarily classified as Federal, Neoclassical, or American Empire.
lantern clock - Table top clock in the shape of a lantern; late 17th century English. Typically crafted in brass.
lapis lazuli - A bright blue metamorphic rock consisting largely of lazurite, widely used in decoration and jewelry.
lattice - Crisscross pattern in cutout work, often found in chairbacks.
leaf scroll foot - Base of a leg with foliated design.
lectern - Reading desk constructed of wood, metal, or stone.
library table - Large table with drawers usually in pedestal form. Often containing a kneehole and a space for books.
lignum vitae - West Indian wood used for veneering in the Late Stuart period.
lip molding - Small convex decorative molding found around drawers. In Queen Anne and Early Chippendale work it was intended as a dust stop.
listel - Flat, plain molding.
lit clos - Paneled enclosure of wood around a bed; French "closed bed". Chiefly provincial French, 17th-19th centuries.
Lock, Matthias - English furniture designer and carver. In collaboration with Copeland, published several books on ornament. His early works were a Rococo character, later almost exact replicas of the Adam style.
long clock - Tall, hall or Grandfather's clock.
loop-back - Oval shaped chairback; also Windsor bow back, without arms.
loop hinge - Early hinge design constructed from two intersecting loops.
loose seat - Separate wood frame upholstered and fit into the framing of a chair seat.
loper - Sliding arms that support the drop front or lid of a desk.
lounge - 19th century style of couch often with one end high as a pillow.
love chest - 18th-century Pennsylvania Dutch chest often engraved with the initials of the bride and groom.
love seat - A double chair or small sofa. Also known as courting chair or a settee.
low relief - carving or built-up work.
lowboy - English low chest with drawers. Starting in Jacobean times by raising a chest on a stand, continues through English and American work of the 18th century in various forms as dressing tables, side tables, etc.
lozenge - Panels, overlays, inserts, etc., of diamond shape that occur in Renaissance work of all descriptions.
lunette - Semicircular or half-moon shape filled with carving, inlay, or painting. In Gothic furniture, lunettes were carved, while in English Late Georgian work they were often inlaid or painted with fan-shaped designs.
luxury- a material object, service, etc., conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity.
lyre motive - In Greek decoration it was a naturalistic representation of the lyre figure that was adapted by the Renaissance artists. Strongly featured in Louis XIV and Louis XV decoration. In Louis XVI style it occurs in symmetrical form. Sheraton employed it conspicuously, as did the entire school of the Empire and Empire influence in England and America. It is featured in Biedemeier's work in Germany and in early 19th century Italian furniture.
malachite - A semi-precious stone named from the Greek word "mallow", a green herb. Its banded dark and light green design give it a unique ornamental quality unlike that of any other stone. The distinctive pattern of malachite is popularly imitated in design.