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Furniture Glossary from House Beautiful

Ever wonder what all of those decorating terms and period styles mean? Here is a wonderful list compiled by House Beautiful that gives insight into these terms and styles:


ARMCHAIR - Seating that has both a backrest and armrests (see bergère and fauteuil).

ARMOIRE - Tall, upright cupboard or wardrobe that does not contain drawers and may or may not contain shelves. It closes with a door or doors at the front.

ART DECO - Derived from an historic Paris exposition in 1925 that celebrated the marriage of art and industry in denunciation of Art Nouveau. It introduced simple, streamlined forms that were majestically interpreted in exotic woods and materials. American designers of the 1930s took this look further, using asymmetry, arcs, sleek lines, and geometric shapes not only in furniture, but also in architecture and a wide range of household objects.

ART NOUVEAU - Style based, literally, on the "new art" of Europe in about 1875. Flowing, nearly freeform shapes from nature were carved and painted on furniture. An elongated, slightly curved line that ends in a more abrupt, nearly whiplike second curve is its most characteristic design.

ARTS AND CRAFTS - Both a furniture style and a movement that emerged in England toward the end of the 19th century in reaction to the excesses of the Victorian era and the Gay Nineties. It glorified craftsmanship in deliberately simple shapes with exposed joinery and spare ornamentation. William Morris and John Ruskin were among its proponents in England. Based on their beliefs and designs, Gustav Stickley pioneered a similar movement in America, before it waned with the onset of World War I.

BALL-AND-CLAW FOOT - Carved-foot motif that depicts a crane's claw gripping a ball or an egg. While it is most associated with 18th-century English and American furniture, it originated in China as a dragon's claw clutching either a crystal ball or a pearl or other jewel.

BALUSTER - Small turned, square, or flat column that supports a rail; also used to form chair backs.

BAROQUE - Name given to the 17th-century exaggerated style that originated in Rome. Massive and heavily decorated, it is an extension of ornamental Renaissance style and is characterized by a lack of restraint manifested in large, irregular, even fantastic curves, twisted columns, elaborate scrolls, and oversize moldings.

BASSINET - Bed for a baby, originally basket shaped.

BLOCK FOOT - The square end of an untapered leg.

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

BUFFET - Sideboard or "dresser" for the dining room, designed to hold platters and serving dishes.

CAMEL BACK - Triple-curved chairback frame with a raised central curve. A pierced-shield design, such as honeysuckle or anthemion, spans the back from the seat to the high curve.

CHAISE LONGUE - Literally, "long chair," a sofa or daybed with an upholstered back, designed for reclining. Today it is usually a single piece, but early versions encompassed a bergère with a large stool or two armchairs and a center stool.

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

CHIPPENDALE - English rococo style of the mid-18th century, named after Thomas Chippendale. The graceful proportions and delicate decoration of this furniture were refined adaptations from late Baroque, rococo, Louis XV, and Georgian periods. Two variations, Chippendale Gothic and Chinese Chippendale, attest to the famous cabinetmaker's influence and ability to borrow styles.

COLONIAL - In America this style dominated from the earliest settlements to the Revolution of 1776. Here as elsewhere it represents styles that are rooted in mother countries but adapted to the materials and uses of the colonies, primarily Africa, India, the Americas, and the Caribbean.

CONSOLE - Term originally applied to a bracket that supported cornices or shelves and later used to describe tables that were affixed to a wall and supported with legs only at the front. Today it describes all types of tables used along a wall.

CREDENZA - Serving table with a cupboard below the surface. It originated in the 15th century; in the 16th century, an upper, recessed tier was added.

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

DROP LEAF - Hinged flap or panel that can be raised, then supported in order to increase the surface area of a table. The term now applies to such a table.

ELIZABETHAN - Large furniture of severe form and style that emerged initially during the reign of Elizabeth I in England from 1558 to 1603. It was revived in the 1820s and is characterized by heavy carving as well as massive size.

EMPIRE - Neoclassical style dictated by Napoleon in France between 1804 and 1815. It is based on imperial forms from Greece, Rome, and Egypt and was designed to draw parallels between Napoleon's realm and the great ancient empires. Furniture was consciously majestic, made of rich woods and metals, and decorated with emblems, including bees, crowns, laurel leaves, mythological figures, and the letter N.

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

FEDERAL - American furniture style from 1780, following the Revolution, to 1830. It began by echoing and often amalgamating the neoclassical styles of such English masters as Adam, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton, and later took on influences from France. Duncan Phyfe is among its most notable craftsmen. It is refined and rectilinear, often with veneering and inlay. Brass feet and casters and brass-ring drawer and door pulls are common on casegoods.

GEORGIAN - Refers to furniture styles that evolved during the long reign of England's three Georges, I, II, and III, from 1714 to 1795. At first it retained earlier Queen Anne forms, with an increasing use of decoration and diverse ornamentation. Popular motifs were eagles' heads and claws, leaves, satyrs' masks, and lions' heads and claws.

GOTHIC - Late medieval furniture forms derived from the cathedrals of Europe. Heavy, large pieces were generously carved in architectural motifs. Chests banded with decorative wrought iron, large trestle tables, and such symbols of status as "beds of estate" and X-framed chairs are characteristic.

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

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

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

LOWBOY - English low chest or table with drawers.

MISSION - Simple, rectilinear furniture, primarily of oak, in which the construction techniques are often exposed. It represents America's version of the English Arts and Crafts movement and is principally associated with Gustav Stickley and the Roycroft Community of upstate New York in the early 20th century, from which it spread to other regions.

MODERNE - American style of furniture in the 1930's that derived from Europe's Art Deco and International Style. It is characterized by polished surfaces, sleek shapes, curves that contrast with straight lines, and asymmetry, and utilized new materials and manufacturing processes adapted from industrial design. The architecture of skyscrapers was also influential.

NEOCLASSICAL STYLE - Revivals of interest in ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian themes, which occurred during the Renaissance, Adam, and Empire eras, and especially in the late 18th century, when appetites for it were whetted by archeological discoveries.

NEO-GOTHIC - Revivals of aspects of Gothic detailing, which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the former, circa 1745, references to Gothic arches and tracery were applied to rococo furniture. Later, Gothic ornamentation was added to neoclassical forms.

PROVINCIAL - Furniture from the hinterlands that is inspired by designs from the major centers of a country but adapted to local materials, tastes, and ways of living. Location not only influenced alterations in design and materials, but also spawned useful pieces, such as the cobbler's bench, that were not needed by the cities' royals or nobles.

QUEEN ANNE - Style that arose in England during the reign of Queen Anne, from 1702 to 1714, in a break from French influences. Veneering in walnut was popular, and gentle, subtle curves added grace. This period marked the development of secretaries and china cupboards and a maturing of the cabriole leg, serpentine arms, and soft, rounded frames and shapes.

REGENCY - Neoclassical style of British furniture that was popular during the first four decades of the 19th century. It is named for the Prince of Wales, who, as regent, stepped in to rule from 1811 to 1820 because his father, King George III, went insane. It spawned adaptations and faithful reproductions of Greek and Roman furniture, such as the saber-legged Klismos chair, and coincided with Directoire and Empire styles in France.

ROCOCO - Style of 18th-century European furniture made of rich woods with elaborate scrollwork and curved forms. Its origins are from the Régence style of France, and its influence was widespread. It is considered a daintier, more refined version of earlier Baroque style.

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

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

SHAKER - Furniture designed and made by Shakers, an American religious, communal sect founded in the 19th century, that believed beauty derived from usefulness and impractical objects were sinful. The unadorned furniture features clean, spare, elegant lines, exemplified in the slim, tall, Shaker ladder-back chair.

SIDEBOARD - Table with a wide drawer at the center flanked by drawers or cupboards on the sides and made to be used against a dining room wall for storing and serving food.

SIDE CHAIR - Small-scale, armless chair, designed to stand against a wall when not in use.

SLEIGH BED - Bed with a high headboard and slightly lower footboard. It resembles the shape of a horse-drawn sleigh, and it was developed in America in the early 19th century.

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

VENEER - Thin sheet of fine wood or other material attached on top of and flush with an underlying layer that is usually of lesser quality, for decoration. As a verb: the act of adding this type of decoration. (See inlay, marquetry, and parquetry).

VICTORIAN - Style named for England's Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, applied to English and American furniture of that time, particularly in the mid-years of her reign. That furniture takes its cue from and elaborates on rococo and Louis XV style, with exaggerated curves and size, lush upholstery (often in complicated curves and shapes), ellipses, spools, and carvings. Among its hallmarks is horsehair cushioning.

WILLIAM & MARY - Named for the joint reign of England's King William III and Queen Mary II in the late 17th century, this style carried William's Dutch influence, particularly in floral marquetry and oyster veneer. It was elegant in scale and shape. In America, it represented a provincial or country American Baroque style.

WING CHAIR - High-back easy chair with upholstered "wings" or panels that project from both sides of the back and curve down to upholstered arms.

For the complete glossary, check out HouseBeautiful.com.