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Furniture Glossary

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Over my many years in the furniture business I have encountered a language used in the trade to describe things furniture and antique related. When talking with customers, some may think I’m speaking a foreign language to them. It can be frustrating at times but I usually get a point or an ideal across well to a client. Here is a list of terms that relate to furniture design, and finishing’s for your use in alphabetical order. Yes there are numerous terms use to describe a single object or idea. Hope this helps in your furniture finding quest:


Abattant- A French term used to describe a drop front secretary desk, usually with drawers or cabinet doors below; Secrétaire à Abattant.

Acanthus- A carving of the acanthus leaf used to decorate furniture.

Alder- A light brown hardwood from the Birch family.

All Wood Furniture- Constructed of wooden components; includes solids, veneered and engineered woods.

Altar Table- A place of slaughter or sacrifice. Altars were generally erected in conspicuous places made of reclaimed wood. Some being primitive and other being elaborate in design.

Altar Cabinet- Traditional-Piece of asian furniture. frame features classic upturned ends with ornamental winged supports and apron.

Antique- An item according to U.S. law that is at least 100 years old.

Applique'- Term used to describe an applied ornamental piece.

Appraise- The process of estimating or assessing the value of a piece.

Apron- The board placed below the underside of a chair seat, table top or shelf usually for support; also referred to as the skirt.

Arm Chair- A chair with arm rests attached to each side.

Armoire- A tall wardrobe which originated in France during the 16th century.

Arrow Foot- A cylindrical tapered foot.

Art Deco- A style period from the 1920's and 1930's featuring basic geometric patterns and lines.

Ash- A light colored hardwood used in furniture and cabinet construction.

Astragal- A small molding used to overlap or seal the joint where a pair of doors meet.


Bachelor's Chest- A small chest of drawers; typically from the 18th century.

Bail- The hanging loop or ring which forms a handle.

Backrest- The back of a chair which supports a person's back while seated.

Back Splat- Vertical slat of wood in the center of the back of a chair.

Baker's Rack- Open, slat back shelving unit with or without a cabinet below used for storing goods in the kitchen.

Ball Foot- A full round turning used as a foot on furniture items.

Ball and Claw Foot- Carved or cast furniture foot of a claw holding a ball.

Barrel Chair- Semi-circular or barrel shaped low back chair.

Barstool- A high stool used at a bar or high counter.

Bas-Relief- A sculpture or carving that projects minimally from the background.

Bentwood- Wood that has been steam bent into curved shapes; commonly seen on rocking chairs.

Bevel- An edge which is cut at a slant to that of a main area such as that of a beveled mirror.

Birch- A close grained light colored wood used in furniture and plywood construction.

Bird's Eye- A decorative feature common to Maple features small concentric circles resembling that of a bird's eye.

Blanket Chest- Low storage chest with hinged lid often referred to as a hope chest used during Colonial times.

Blockfront- A three section chest with the center section set back from the end sections.

Bombe’- An item of furniture such as a commode or chest with a pronounced outward or convex bulge towards the base.

Bookmatched- A veneering technique where two slices of veneer are glued next to each other so that grain patterns mirror each other.

Bowfront- A convex front of a chest or buffet.

Box Joint- An interlocking joint commonly used to construct cabinet drawers

Bracket Foot- Decorative or plain right angled foot shaped like a bracket placed at each corner of the piece.

Brass- An alloy used for furniture handles, knobs, hinges and fasteners; also used to construct headboards and footboards.

Breakfront- A cabinet with the front center section that protrudes forward or outward from the end sections.

Buffet- A sideboard used in the dining area for serving food or the storage of silverware and dishes.

Bun Foot- A flattened ball foot which resembles the shape of a bun.

Bureau- A chest of drawers typically used in a bedroom.

Burl- An abnormal growth on trees usually near the base of the trunk or crotch which is usually cut for veneer because of it's figured pattern.

Butler's Table- An oval table with four sides hinged upwards that fold out flat when in use.

Butt Joint- A simple but weak joint used to join two boards together at right angles.


Cabinet- A cupboard with doors, shelves and or drawers used for storage or display.

Cabriole- Furniture leg which curves outward from where it's attached descending in a reverse curve into an ornamental foot.

Camel Back- The broad curve and rise of the center section of a sofa back.

Cane Webbing- Pre-woven cane machine made from individual strands of chair cane available in various widths and patterns. Held in place using a tapered reed spline pressed into a groove.

Caning- Weaving or interlacing of narrow strips of the skin of the rattan palm to form chair seats, backs or sides.

Captain's Chair- A short backed, rounded arm chair with spindles.

Case Goods- Storage pieces typically made of wood such as dressers, bookcases, hutches, chests and desks.

Caster- Small wheel designed to allow furniture to be moved; used on chairs and antique case goods.

Catalyzed Lacquer- A highly durable reactive film finish; a lacquer with an added catalyst to accelerate a chemical reaction during evaporation.

Chaise Lounge- Long chair; sofa with one or two arm in the shape of an elongated chair for reclining.

Cherry- Hardwood obtained from the cherry tree used in furniture construction.

Chest on Chest- Tall chest consisting of two stacked chest of drawers with the upper chest being narrower than the base chest.

Cheval Mirror- Freestanding full length mirror supported by uprights on each side allowing the mirror to pivot.

China Cabinet- Display cabinet placed upon a buffet used to display or store dishes.

Chintz- Brightly colored and polished fabric.

Chippendale- Ornate, carved style of furniture from the 18th century.

Claw Foot- Carved furniture foot resembling an animal's claw.

Club Chair- Low back upholstered chair with arms.

Coffee Table- Long, low table placed in front of seating.

Coil Spring- A conical coiled spring used in rows for seating support.

Commode- Low chest of drawers or cupboard; originally referred to a nightstand that concealed a chamber pot.

Console Table- Small or narrow table designed to be placed against or fixed to a wall.

Contemporary- Modern look or style of furniture.

Corner Blocks- Small blocks of wood glued in place to reinforce or strengthen adjoining pieces of wood.

Corner Cabinet- Triangular shaped cabinet designed for use in a corner.

Credenza- Sideboard or buffet with doors used for storage; commonly found in an office behind a desk.

Cross Banding- Veneer applied to the edge of table tops or drawer fronts at a right angle to the face veneer.

Curio Cabinet- Tall, slender, sometimes lighted cabinet with glass doors and panels used to display collectibles.


Damask- A reversible fabric with design.

Davenport- Compact writing desk features a sloped top above drawers.

Daybed- Seating unit that can double as a bed.

Deck- The foundation of a chair or sofa where the loose cushions are placed.

Dentil Molding- Decorative molding utilizing evenly spaced blocks.

Dining Chair- Chair used at a dining table; available with or without arms.

Dining Table- A table where meals are served and eaten.

Distressing- A finishing technique to make the wood appear aged or old by adding rub marks, small holes and indentations.

Dovetail Joint- Common interlocking joint noted for it's resistance to pulling apart; typically used on drawer sides.

Dowel- Round wooden pin; usually spiral fluted or reeded used to join pieces of wood together and strengthen the joint.

Dowry Chest- See Wedding Chest.

Drawer- An open top box or compartmentfor storagethat slides in and out in a cabinet.

Dresser- A chest with drawers for the storage of clothing.

Drop Leaf- A table having hinged extension leaves that are supported by a bracket when in use and hang vertically against the table when not in use.

Dust Cover- The material or fabric used to cover the bottom of a sofa or chair; also called cambric.


Ebonized- Wood stained dark and polished to simulate ebony.

Embossed- A low relief raised design such as an ornamental piece made through pressure rather than carving.

Entertainment Center- Cabinet or shelving unit used to store a television, video and audio components.

Epoxy- A high strengthtwo partadhesive consisting of a resin and hardener.

Escutcheon- A decorative or plain plate that protects the area around a keyhole.

Etagere’- An open shelving unit used for display purposes.


Fabric- Cloth produced by weaving natural or synthetic textile fibers together.

Fall Front- A hinged door of a secretary desk that drops down to create a writing surface.

Faux Finish- Decorative finish used to imitate the look of a natural material.

Feather Banding- Narrow bands of veneer inlaid in opposing diagonal directions.

Fiddle Back- The back splat of a chair that resembles the shape of a fiddle or violin.

Figuring- The natural grain patterns of woods such as curly maple.

Finger Joint- Used to join short pieces of wood at the ends to make a longer one; provides strength through increased glue surface area.

Finish- The protective coating applied to furniture to protect the substrate; common finishes include paint, lacquer and polyurethane.

Fleur De Lis- A French floral emblem or carving in the shape of an Iris or Lily.

Footrest- The brace or bar at the front of a stool for your feet.

Frame- The basic structure of an upholstered chair or sofa; usually made from a hardwood.

Front RailThe front cross piece of wood between the legs of a piece of furniture such as a chair.

Four Poster Bed- A bed with posts at each corner; may vary in height.


Gallery Rail- Small or low railing used around a shelf or table top.

Gateleg table- Drop leaf table with leaves supported by legs that swing out from the side like a gate.

Gilding- Decorative effect of applying gold leaf or powder to a surface.

Gimp- A fabric fold used to hide upholstery fasteners or tacks.

Glazing- Finishing step of applying and wiping off stain used to highlight wood grain and features such as carvings.

Glide- Applied to the bottom of furniture legs to protect the floor surface and make the piece easier to move around; commonly made from metal, nylon or felt.

Glue Block- A small block of wood used to reinforce a joint.

Gold Leaf- Thin leaves of gold used in gilding.

Grain- The natural patterns in wood created by the direction of fibers.


Hand Rubbed Finish- An oil finish applied to a piece of furniture by hand.

Hardwood- The wood from deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves during winter).

Harvest Table- A narrow, rectangular drop leaf table

Headboard- The upright structure attached to the head of the bed frame.

Hepplewhite- An 18th century furniture design.

Highboy- A tall or high chest of drawers upon a lowboy (base) raised on long legs; a two part case piece.

Hope Chest- A hinged top chest for the storage of items in anticipation of marriage.

Huntboard- Originally used to serve food and refreshments after a hunt; light or portable sideboard.

Hutch- An upper cabinet consisting of shelves; with or without doors placed upon a chest, desk or buffet.


Inlay- Decorative technique of inserting contrasting wood veneers or materials to create a feature or design.


Jacquard- Woven fabric with intricate patterns created on a loom.

Japan Drier- A drying agent or solvent used to speed up the drying time of oil based finishes.

Japanning- A finish imitating oriental lacquer work.


Kiln Dried- Lumber dried in a kiln to a specified uniform moisture content.

Kitchen Cabinet- is a piece of furniture designed to store pies and other food items.

Kneehole Desk- Desk with a recessed central area for a person's knees.

Knock Down Furniture- Unassembled furniture that a consumer assembles after purchase; also known as RTA (Ready to Assemble).

Knot- A hard cross grained piece in a board generally from a branch protrusion; may loosen over time and fall out of the board.


Lacquer- A synthetic, durable fast drying coating used to finish and protect wood.

Ladderback- A style of chair back with horizontal cross rails resembling a ladder.

Laminate- Composite material used on counter or table tops; provides a heat resistant, wipe clean surface.

Linen Press- A cabinet with shelves or shallow drawers behind doors designed to store sheets, tablecloths, napkins, textiles and clothing.

Lingerie Chest- Tall narrow chest designed to store women's undergarments.

Loper- A pullout arm or slide that provides support for a fall front desk or hinged table leaf.

Loveseat- A small version of a couch designed to seat two persons.

Lowboy- A low table or chest with cabriole legs; often used alone or as the base of a Highboy.


Maple- Hardwood with a tight grain and blond color popular in furniture construction.

Marble- A crystalline rock used on various surfaces of furniture such as table tops or desk tops.

Marquetry- Decorative technique of inlaying veneers to create a pattern or picture in furniture.

MDF- Medium Density Fiberboard; engineered wood panel made from wood fibers and adhesive exposed to heat and pressure.

Mission Style- American version of English Arts and Crafts which emphasizes simplicity.

Miter Joint- A joint that forms a corner with both pieces usually cut at a 45 degree angle when forming a 90 degree corner.

Modular- Interchangeable upholstered sectional seating units used to create different seating arrangements.

Molding- Decorative strip covering transitions or used for ornamentation.

Money Chest- A Small Chest that can fit in a lap with a felt lining used to keep valuables concealed.

Mortise and Tenon- Furniture joint utilizing a projection (tenon) on one piece of wood inserted into a cavity (mortise) on another to join the pieces together.


Nesting Tables- Multiple tables graduating in height allowing one to be stored under another; usually in sets of three.

Night Stand- A low bedside table or small cabinet for use next to a bed.


Occasional Tables- Generally refers to small tables such as an end table, coffee table, console or side table.

Ogee- A double curve or S shaped molding or edge detail.

Opium Bed- A tester bed with side panels, used for relaxing with a cushion on top of the frame for support. Highly Decorative with ordinate cravings.

Ottoman- An upholstered low stool or footrest.

Ovolo- Convex molding referred to a quarter-round molding.


Pad Foot- Rounded foot with a thin circular base found on cabriole legs.

Pedestal Desk- A desk with the top supported by two pedestals or small cabinets with drawers.

Pedestal Table- A table featuring a central pedestal or column support instead of legs.

Pembroke Table- A rectangular table with small drop leaves or flaps on each of the longest sides and drawer in front of the short side.

Pie Crust Table Top- A round table with ornamental edging resembling the crimped edge of a pie crust.

Plinth- The squared base or pedestal that supports a cabinet or piece of furniture instead of legs.

Poplar- A softwood from the Birch family often used as a secondary wood in furniture construction.


Quarter Sawn- Wood cut from a log which has been quartered lengthwise sometimes exposing distinctive grain patterns such as tiger striped oak.


Rattan- The stem of a vine like climbing palm used in the manufacture of wicker and rattan furniture.

Reeding- Carved parallel convex or beaded lines used on bed posts, table and chair legs.

Reproduction- A replica of an original piece.

RTA- (Ready to Assemble) Finished furniture items which require assembly by the consumer.

Rule Joint- A joint used between a table top and drop leaf which leaves no open space between the top and leaf when open.

Runners- Strips of wood on which drawers slide.

Rush Seat- A woven chair seat using twisted stems of marsh grass known as rush.


Saddle Arm- Chair or sofa arm style which looks like a saddle profile.

Seat Rail- Horizontal support directly under the seat connecting the front legs with the back of a chair.

Secretaire- French term for a free standing writing desk with a drop down writing surface with shelves or drawers below; may also have a bookcase above.

Sectional- Modular seating units used in various combinations.

Semainier- A narrow but tall chest of drawers with seven drawers; one for each day of the week.

Serpentine Front- Horizontal compound curve used on the front of case pieces or drawers where there is a center convex section between two concave sections.

Settee- A long seat or bench with a back and arms at each end to accommodate two or more people.

Shellac- A natural resin refined and dissolved in alcohol and used as a wood finish or sealer.

Shoe Cabinet- A small chest no more than 30’’ high with 2 doors and a drawer on top to be used as storage or as an end-table.

Sideboard- Used in the dining area for serving food or the storage of silverware and dishes.

Side Chair- A traditional dining chair without arms used at the sides of a dining table.

Slat Back- The back of a chair which utilizes vertical slats for the back rest.

Sleeper Sofa- A sofa with a pull out mechanism converting the sofa into a bed.

Sofa Table- A slender high table placed against the back of a sofa.

Softwood- Wood or lumber from conifers or evergreen trees such as pine or fir.

Solid Wood- Generally refers to furniture that is constructed using solid wood and does not include the use of engineered wood products.

Spindle Back- A chair back consisting of multiple turnings or spindles stretching between the seat and top rail.

Steam Bent- Wood for furniture components that are bent using steam such as a chair back.

Stretchers- The horizontal braces which connect and reinforce the vertical elements together such as chair or table legs.

Swatch- A sample of upholstery fabric.

Swivel Rocker- A rocking chair that also revolves.


Tambour- Flexible sliding doors or pull down front for a roll top desk; constructed from narrow pieces of wood glued to a fabric such as canvas.

Tapestry- Fabric with a woven pattern or decorative pictorial design.

Teak- Tropical hardwood popular for ship building and outdoor furniture construction.

Tempered Glass- Glass treated with heat during manufacture which breaks into pebble like pieces instead of shards or sliverso often used for glass table tops.

Tenon- A projection at the end of a piece of wood which fits into a mortise to join the pieces together.

Trestle Table- Table supported by uprights at the ends with a stretcher between them.

Trundle Bed- A low pull out bed on wheels stored below another bed.

Trim- A decorative molding used on case goods.

Tweed- A medium to heavy woolen fabric which may feature a design such as herringbone or houndstooth.

Twill- A fabric woven with a diagonal pattern or ribs.


Upholstery- The covering including padding, springs, webbing, foam and fabric on furniture.


Vacuum Press- Use to apply pressure when veneering or gluing together uneven or odd shaped furniture parts.

Varnish- A solvent based transparent film finish used to coat furniture.

Veneer- A thin slice or slices of decorative or exotic wood glued to an inferior wood to create panels, doors and cabinet sides.


Walnut- A medium to dark hardwood used for furniture construction and veneering.

Webbing- Strips of elastic or woven fabric used to provide support for upholstered arms, backs and seats.

weddingchest-chestforstorage ofclothing(trousseau)and householdgoodsinanticipationof marriage

Wicker- Term given to furnishings woven from willow, reed and rattan.

Windsor Chair- A wooden chair with a bentwood curved top and spindle back pegged into a solid, shaped seat.

Wing Back- High back upholstered chair with wing like protrusions extending above the arms from the sides near the top of the chair.


Zig-Zag Spring- A sinuous or S shaped upholstery spring used in chair, ottoman and sofa seats.

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