Furniture Dictionary: Common Furniture Definitions

I remember when I first started in the furniture industry how long it took me to get it straight that case goods referred to bedroom furniture and occasional living room. Like any industry there’s ton of furniture jargon you never need to know in real life but that might come in handy the next time you’re looking for new furniture.  We are continually updating and changing this list so please let us know if we miss any!

Accent Furniture: Any piece of furniture used to add decoration to a space or other piece of furniture.  Accent pieces can have both aesthetic value and/or functional value as well.

Antique: A genuine object of an earlier period, valued for its beauty, workmanship & age.

Area Rug: A rug intended to cover a limited area.

Art Deco:  An artistic style dating from the 1920’s. It had a strong geometric style, with simple forms, a move away from the patterned, floral art nouveau style.

Arm Chair: Seating that has arms on both sides as well as a back rest

Armoire: A fancy name for a wide tall cabinet usually having two large doors where clothes are hung or stored behind.  Armoires originated in France (hence the fancy term) originally used to store armor.

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.

Banquette: A long benchlike seat, often upholstered, and generally built into a wall.

Barcelona chair: An armless leather chair with an X-shaped chrome base; designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1929.

BaroqueName 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.

Bow BackA chair back formed by a bent piece of wood fitted with vertical spindles (as in a Windsor chair). The bow or hoop is continuous down to the arms or the seat.

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

Bunk BedTwo beds that are joined together so that one is placed above the other.

Butler’s Table: An oval wooden tray on legs whose four sides are hinged to fold out flat when set down.

Butterfly Table: A small drop-leaf table whose leaves are supported by a swinging support which resembles a butterfly wing on a rudder

Button Tufted: Fabric covered buttons are sewn through the upholstery surface and tied down. The placement of buttons and the resulting folds produce geometric patterns

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 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.

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

Case Piece: Furniture that provides interior space for storage

Casting: The art of forming metal objects by pouring the molten metal into a mold and allowing in to harden. After hardening, the castings are finished by hand.

Center Glide: A center track that a drawer glides on

Chaise lounge: Literally, “long chair,” a sofa or daybed with an upholstered back, designed for reclining. It can be a single piece or it can be attached to a sofa piece to form a sectional

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

China cabinetCabinet 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

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.

Coffee Table: A long narrow occasional table

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

Coil Springs: Wire coils used in quality upholstery to give a desired resiliency and firmness to the seat and back. These are often “tied” or incorporated in a “marshall unit.”

Comb Back: A Windsor chair having an extension of the back above the arm rail that consists of five or more spindles and a curved top rail that resembles a comb.

Commode: A low chest of drawers and/or doors or a cabinet on legs which usually stands against a wall

Component: An electrical device such as a cassette deck, compact disk player, graphic equalizer or amplifier. Each is purchased separately and then connected together to make a complete system.

Console: A table that is fixed to a wall and supported by one or more carved legs. Also any table meant to be placed against a wall

Corner Blocks: Blocks of wood that are placed at major joints in a furniture frame. Usually glued and screwed into place. Triangular blocks which strengthen important frame joints

Couch (Lounge): A sofa that has a half-back and only a head end

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.

Cupboard: A cabinet, box or closet with shelves designed to hold cups, dishes or food.

Curio: A case piece which has glass doors, panels and shelves, which is used to display collectibles. Derived from “curiosity” cabinet

Damask: a firm, glossy patterned fabric used for draperies and upholstered furniture

Daybed: A sofa with head and foot and/or back pieces, having a twin sized mattress which doubles as a sitting and sleeping surface. Daybeds often have decorative removable covers and matching pillows or bolsters which act as back rests.

Dentil Molding: Ornamental cornice molding consisting of rectangular blocks spaced at regular intervals resembling teeth.

Diamond Tufting: An arrangement of tufting buttons to yield a diamond shaped pattern on the back of an upholstered piece.

Dining Chairs: A chair usually accompanied by a dining table. The most popular style of dining chair is the side chair, a chair with a back but no arms. Although the armless chair is most popular for dining, a chair with arms may also be a comfortable alternative.

Dining TableA dining table is a table at which meals are served. Dining tables have evolved into many different styles and shapes.  The most common shapes are square or rectangular and round or oval.  Some dining tables have the versatility of additional leaves that can be added or removed from the table to provide for extra space when needed.  Dining Room Furniture Sets are often accompanied by matching chairs, buffets, hutches, china cabinets, or a sideboard server

Distressed Finish: artificially produced to simulate the character marks of aging and use, such as small scratches or holes.

Dorm Furniture: Furniture made with space-saving features suitable for a small (sometimes shared) dorm room. Loft beds are a very popular dorm room item, as they combine sleeping space with study space. Other pieces of furniture include desks and desk chairs, sofas, shelving and dinettes.

Down: feathers used to fill cushions of upholstery, which trap air to provide comfort

Dovetail: a type of quality joinery using interlocking wedges with alternating grooves to connect the front and sides of a drawer.

Easy Chair: Any large chair which is suitable for lounging.

Entertainment CenterAn entertainment center is a shelving unit to place a TV and stereoequipment on.  The larger TV’s have become, the larger entertainment units have grown.

Entryway Furniture: Any furniture found in the entryway of a home, upon entering the front door. May include benches (for easy removal of shoes), coat racks, umbrella stands, rugs and hall trees.

Escutcheon: shield around a keyhole in furniture

Fiberboard: a board made of compressed wood fibers and glue, used as an inexpensive substitute for a solid wood edge.

FinialsThe curved cast, turned or stamped decorative piece that adorns the top of bed posts

Finish: a surface treatment that embellishes and protects. In wood, it can bring out the natural grain, protect from stains, and make the surface more glossy or matte. With fabrics, it produces a desired surface effect such as napping, embossing, waterproofing, or wrinkle resistance.

Floor LampA tall lamp which stands on the floor, usually including a wide base to prevent the lamp from falling or tipping.

Fleur-de-lis: a decorative design of three petals, with the center one erect and the other two bending outward. Originated in late medieval Europe. Became associated with French royalty during the rein of Louis XIV.

Four Poster: Any bed with four high posts positioned at each corner. Originally, the posts were designed to support elaborate fabric curtains and upholstered treatments which totally enclosed the bed.

FrameThe bed frame supports the mattress and attaches to the headboard and footboard. They often have self locking devices at each corner and are connected to threaded reinforcements inside the bedposts. The wooden skeleton of an upholstered piece.

FutonA futon is a type of sofa that folds down into a bed. They often have a ‘futon mat’ as a mattress that doubles as a seat cushion when it’s folded up into the sofa position.

Gallery: A small ornamental barrier or railing around the top of a table, cabinet or buffet, etc.

Game Room Furniture: Furniture which is useful in a game room or recreational room. This includes game tables for playing card games or board games as well as pool tables and covers.

Glaze: a color development step in the furniture finishing process – properly hand- whipped and blended to highlighted grain characteristics of wood.

Grille: a lattice of wood or metal used to protect glass doors on secretaries, bookcases, and china cabinets.

Hand Tied: Single coil springs that are attached to the webbing with links and then “hand tied” to each other and the frame with twine to achieve differing amounts of elasticity in the seat. Two, four, and eight way hand ties are commonly used. The more ways the spring is tied, the harder the seat.

Hardwood: Wood derived from angiosperms (broad leafed trees such as oak, beech, maple, mahogany, and walnut). The category consists of some woods that are actually much softer than “softwoods.”

Headboard: An upright structure rising above the mattress at the head of the bed. Common types include the chairback headboard, panel headboard, and bookcase headboard.

High BodyA tall chest of drawers that is often made in two sections – the upper chest is sitting on a table with long legs called a lowboy.

High Pressure LaminatesSynthetic sheet surfacing that are bonded to a core material. Laminates offer heat, soil, and stain resistance. They can be grain and color matched to surrounding woods for use in dresser or bureau tops, or produces in decorative colors used to surface entire contemporary bedroom suites

Hitchcock Chair: Named for American furniture manufacturer Lambert Hitchcock, the chair has a rush or caned seat, slightly bent back, and an oval turned top rail. These chairs are often painted or stenciled with fruit and flower patterns.

HutchA low cupboard with doors usually surrounded by open shelves.

InlayWood or other materials which are set into corresponding carved out recesses often producing a pattern.

Iron Beds: Term often used to describe beds made of steel that are coated with white or colored protective coatings.

Jacquard: fabric with a woven pattern, named after the man who invented the puch card loom used to weave it in the 1700s.

Japanese Platform BedJapanese platform beds are known for gently swooping lines,reminiscent of the architectural phenomena of pagodas.

Jewelry ArmoireA tall storage cabinet with drawers and sometimes double doors which open to reveal hooks, compartments and shelves for easy storage of jewelry and valuables.  A mirror and felt-lined compartments are also common additions to an armoire.

Kiln DriedKiln drying reduces the moisture content of the lumber, a process which inhibits checking, splitting and strengthens the finished product.

Kitchen Furniture: May include storage furniture for storing food related items or tableware such as bakers racks, wine racks and pot racks. Kitchen carts and islands are (sometimes movable) pieces of furniture used for preparing or serving food.

Ladder BackA chair back which has horizontal cross rails or slats that resemble a ladder.

LawsonAn overstuffed furniture design that has square seat cushion, short square shaped back rests and high square or rolled arms. Variations of the Lawson sofa are often called transitional.

Leather Recliner: A leather recliner is a chair that reclines when the person lowers the chair’s back and raises the front. Leather is the material it’s upholstered in and can be found in different leather grades.  Some recliners come with complimentary ottomans while others may have drink holders or adjustable headrests, back rests, arm rests, and foot rests.  Some swivel while others are stationary.

LightingAny furniture such as table lamps, chandeliers, floor lamps or wall lanterns which are made for illuminating a room, patio, or walkway in dark environments or at night.

Lingerie ChestA tall, narrow chest or drawers originally designed to hold women’s undergarments.
Loft BedLoft beds are similar to bunk beds except there is sometimes only one bed and the lower space is used for storage or a desk.  Often the beds are placed perpendicular to each other and the supports for the top bed also container drawers, shelving, or cabinets for storage.

Log FurnitureFurniture crafted from wood logs. Log furniture is known for its style of long, cylindrical pieces and is prized for its rustic sometimes craggy look. Although some prefer the sleeker more finished log pieces. Both types can bring a “natural” feel to a room, as the wood is not usually stained, although still lacquered as a protective finish for durability.

Loop Back: An oval chair back or a Windsor bow back without arms.

Loose Pillow Back: A pillow treatment which can be removed from an upholstered piece.

Loveseat: Double chair or small sofa.

Mattress: A large rectangular pad used for supporting a person’s body comfortably while they sleep. A mattress is most often combined with a bed frame and a box-spring although may be used by itself. Mattresses may contain coil springs, foam rubber (or “memory foam”) or air chambers.

Memory Foam Mattress: A Memory Foam Mattress is distinguished from a regular ‘inner-coil’ mattress in the way that it is made. Memory foam mattresses are made only with memory foam, which is made from polyurethane with additional chemicals that add to its viscosity level. Memory foam was initially developed by NASA to protect astronauts from G forces and impact on landing. Different types of memory foam mattresses have different thicknesses and densities of memory foam in the layers of memory foam that provide the support.

Miter Joint: A joint made by fastening two pieces cut at an angle (usually 90 degrees).

Mission Style: an American furniture style of the early 20th century and an offshoot of the Arts & Crafts movement.

Mortise: A hole, groove or slot in wood into which a tenon or tongue fits to form a secure joint.

Nest-of-Tables: Small occasional tables which are graduated in size so that they slide beneath one another.

Night Stand: A small, low table or cabinet which sits by a bed.

Occasional Table: refers to any small table such as cocktail or coffee tables, end tables, and sofa tables.

Ottoman: An upholstered seat or couch usually without a back or an overstuffed footstool.

Overstuffed Furniture: Upholstered pieces in which the wood frame is completely and deeply covered by the upholstery with little exposed woodwork.

Overlay: a decorative trim piece of wood applied to a flat surface.

Pad Seat: Upholstered furniture built without springs. The seat usually has a solid or webbed base padded with loose stuffing and overlaid with a sofa material (felted cotton, poly-dacron).

Parquet Top: A table top made by using joinery or inlay which has geometric or other patterns usually made from different colored woods.

Patio FurniturePatio furniture is mainly used outside on the patio or around the pool.  It’s designed to withstand the elements.  Patio or pool furniture is made from teak, cedar, aluminum, or plastic compounds.

Pedestal TableA table which has a central supporting column or pillar.

Pediment: The usually triangular or rounded structure above the cornice often seen in tall case pieces.

Pier Group: Two very tall, narrow chests (pier cabinets) which sit at the head on either side of a bed.

Piping (fluting): Used on barrel back, fan back, kidney shaped and hollow backed upholstered pieces. Individual upholstered pockets (pipes) are stuffed separately to give a comfortable soft curve in the back.

Platform Bed: Platform beds are beds whose bases consists of a raised, flat, hard, horizontal surface meant to support a mattress. Usually, they have a ‘low-profile’ footboard.  You can use them with or without a boxspring, depending on your preference.

Plinth Base: A squared base (sometimes other shapes) which sits on the floor and usually recessed from the outermost outlines of the case piece.

Poly Dacron Wrap: A cushion construction method in which a soft resilient polyester material is wrapped around a polyurethane core.

Pool Table: A table with six pockets, one in each corner and two in the middle on both sides, used for playing the game of pool. Both the playing surface and the cushions (inner sides) are covered with felt of varying colors (usually green). Some tables come with a protective pad used for covering the table when not in use.

Pressboard: A strong, highly glazed board sometimes used for case backs, dust proofing or as the underlying structural base for veneers, engraving or vinyl wrap. Also known as composition board or particle board.

Punch-out Back: Entertainment centers are designed to hold many pieces of audio/video equipment each with separate power plugs, input/output cables, and antennas. To allow these unit’s wires to connect with each other, entertainment centers either have fully or partially open backs or backs with removable panels that can be “punched out.”

Rail Joints: The places where the horizontal members of an upholstered frame meet. These joints are often screwed, glued and doubled doweled for extra strength.

Rattan FurnitureFurniture made from Rattan, which is the name used for roughly 600 species of palms native to various tropical regions. Rattan features a slender, flexible stem which makes it very easy to craft into furniture items. Rattan furniture is used both indoors and outdoors to create a tropical look, although when used outdoors it may need to be brought out of harmful weather to prevent deterioration.

ReclinerAn upholstered armchair which can be put into a reclining position, with the back lowered and the front (foot rest) raised. Usually includes well-cushioned arms.

Recliner SofaJust like a reclining chair, a recliner sofa’s back can be lowered and its front can be raised so that you can sit comfortably in a reclined position and you can adjust the sofa accordingly to fit your own preferred setting.  Reclining loveseats are also available.

Refectory Table: A long narrow table with heavy stretchers positioned close to the floor which was originally used by religious orders in the middle ages. Modern adaptations are shorter and have under leaves.

Rolled Arms: Arms which flare out, then down and return to meet the sides of a chair or sofa – appearing to have been rolled.

RugA thick woven piece of fabric used for covering certain areas of a floor, either for aesthetics or comfort. Rugs are highly customizable, using varying materials and colors. Designs may be abstract or displaying a certain image.

Rule JointA knuckle joint as between a table top and drop leaf that leaves no open space when the leaf is down.

SaddleA chair seat which has been hollowed to the sides and back to resemble the pommel of a saddle. Often used in American colonial styled seats.

Scoop Seat: A chair with a seat that has been hollowed out to fit the body.

Scrolls: Scrolls (curls) are the supportive and decorative members shaped like a scroll or curl which are connected to posts, rails, and each other on many brass (especially traditional) headboards and footboards. Scrolls can either be solid or made from hollow tubing.

Sectional: Furniture made up of modular units capable of use separately or in various combinations.

Self Storing Leaves: Leaves that store within an extension table.

Serving Table: A long narrow side table with drawers used in dining rooms for silver storage.

Shield Back: A chair back used by Hepplewhite and Sheraton that resembles a shield, the outlines of which are formed by a double curved top rail with a half ellipse below.

Side Glide: A drawer located on the vertical side faces on the drawer.

Slat Back: Often used in American colonial styled chairs. This treatment uses horizontal rails across the back and looks similar to a ladder back.

Sleigh BedThe sleigh bed has a high, scrolled headboard and footboard resembling the front of a sleigh.

Slip Seat: An upholstered “loose seat” insert that is dropped into the frame of a dining chair and can be removed for re-upholstery.

Sofa TableA long, thin, tall, occasional table placed against the back of a sofa or against a wall. Original 18th century versions had small, rounded drop leaf ends and drawers.

Soft WoodsWood from a conifer (cone bearing tree). Pine, cedar and redwood are common examples.

Spiral Leg: A leg having the shape of a spiral or twisted rope.

Springs: The most commonly used springs for upholstery are coil springs and sinuous springs.

Steam Bend: A method of bending a single piece of wood (bowback chair, bowed splat, etc.) into a furniture part. Since the wood grain is bent instead of cut, this method yields exceptional strength.

Storage BedStorage beds are beds that usually come with additional drawers underneath the bed to save space in the bedroom.  Some storage beds have hydraulic lifts instead of drawers.

Swing Leg: A hinged table leg lacking a lower stretcher (as in a gate leg) which swings out to support a drop leaf.

Tapered Leg: A chair leg whose thickness is reduced as it approaches the bottom.

Tight Seat Bed: Fully upholstered back designed not to have a cushion.

Trestle Table: A table top supported by a braced frame (divided foot, horse), often consisting of two posts with feet, joined by a connecting member.

Trifold MirrorA tri-fold or tri-view mirror sits on or hangs above a dresser. It has a central mirror panel and two mirrored side panels that produce three images of a person looking in the mirror.

Trundle BedA low or collapsible bed which is stored under another bed.

Tuxedo Arms: Slightly flared arms that are the same height as the back

Urethane Foam (Polyurethane): Flexible polyurethane foam is used as a cushioning material in upholstered furniture seats, backs and arms. It is an extremely versatile product that can be produced to have practically any “feel” – from very firm to very plush. For seat cushioning, foams that have a density of 1.8 pounds per cubic foot or higher offer the best support and durability characteristics. Several types of polyurethane foam are used in upholstered furniture. Conventional polyurethane is the most widely used. High resilience (HR foam) is used at higher price points because it offers superior support and surface softness. High comfort (HC foam) normally falls between conventional foams or foams containing a variety of materials used to increase density are also used.

Veneer: A thin decorative layer of wood which is applied to underlying wood solids or particleboard. Veneers are used to match and balance grain, create inlay and banding effects.

Vinyl Wrap: Flexible vinyl wrapping applied to underlying wood solids or particleboard to produce a surface that most often resembles wood. It is often used in less expensive furniture applications.

Wall UnitsLarge free-standing or wall hung units which can have drawers, shelves, cabinets, desks, ban units, entertainment centers or a variety of other features.

Webbing: Interwoven 3.5 inch wide jute (or synthetic) strips that provide a foundations for many upholstered arms, backs, seats and wings.

Welting: Cord wrapped in fabric which is used to trim upholstery seams and places where the fabric meets exposed wood.

Windsor Chair: A wooden chair with a bentwood, fan, hoops or bow back and legs which are pegged into a thick saddle seat. The back is often formed of plain or turned spindles with or without splats.

Wing Back Chair: A comfortable large chair with side pieces (ears, wings) attached to the sides of the back, usually overstuffed.

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