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Furniture Glossary

  • Armoire: Also known as wardrobes. A large movable cupboard with doors and shelves for storing clothing or is used commonly as an entertainment cabinet.
  • Ball Foot: End of a turned leg, shaped round and with a hooded effect.
  • Barrel Chair: A chair shaped like rustic chairs which were originally made from half of a wine barrel.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.
  • Beau Brummel: Georgian dressing table for men, named after an English fashion arbiter.
  • Bedside Chest: A small bed-high chest with drawers. Also known as a nightstand or commode.
  • Blanket Chest: Colonial storage chest often used as a bench.
  • Bombe: A French term for commodes, bureaus, armoires.
  • Boston Rocker: A 19th century American rocker with a curved seat, spindle back and wide top rail.
  • Buffet: French definition is a "sideboard, a place for keeping dishes." More often today it is the base that supports a china hutch.
  • Bun Foot: A flattened ball, or bun shape, with a slender ankle above.
  • 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: A glass fronted cabinet intended for the display of objects and art.
  • Camelback: A sofa back that is irregular in the shape of a large central hump.
  • Canterbury: A small portable magazine rack.
  • Case Goods: Furniture that is made of wood and has storage capacity.
  • Cedar Chest: A rectangular storage chest made of sold cedar or cedar veneers to prevent moth damage on woolens. A bride's hope chest in the 20th century.
  • Chaise Lounge: The French term is "long chair." Also has been referred to as a "fainting couch." Often used in bedrooms.
  • China Cabinet: A cabinet that has a glass front and typically sits on a buffet or shallow cupboard.
  • Claw and Ball: Foot of carved animal or bird claw clutching a ball, generally terminating a cabriole leg.
  • Coffee Table: Long, low table used in front of a sofa.
  • Commode: A chest with drawers.
  • Cornice: The top or finishing molding of a column or piece of furniture.
  • Couch: A 17th and 18th century term for a daybed. Not used as a term for a sofa until recent times.
  • Credenza: A sideboard or buffet with drawers or doors.
  • Dowel: Headless pin usually made of wood, used in the construction of furniture.
  • Dowry Chest: Made to store the trousseau of a prospective bride. An American example is the Lane Company cedar chest.
  • 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 Leaf: Table built with hinged extension leaves which lower when not in use.
  • Dumb Waiter: A dining room stand with normally three circular trays increasing in size toward the bottom. Also, a pulley type elevator that brought food up from the basement kitchen to the first floor dining room.
  • Fiddle-Back: A chair splat shaped in manner of the violin's contour.
  • 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.
  • Highboy: A high chest of drawers, deriving its name from haut bois, which is French for "high wood."
  • Hope Chest: Synonymous with cedar chest and dowry chest.
  • Hutch: Enclosed structure, often raised on uprights or an enclosed structure of more than one tier.
  • Inlay: A design of contrasting woods, ivory, or other materials, set into a surface.
  • Ladder-Back: A chair-back in which horizontal cross-rails, used instead of a splat, give a ladder effect.
  • Lattice: An openwork wood decoration in a crisscross diagonal or square pattern.
  • Lazy Susan: A revolving tray or stand of wood or metal.

The AFMA created the following list of Common Furniture Terms

The American Furniture Manufacturers Association (AHFA) offers this list of basic furniture terms to make shopping for your next home furnishings purchase easy and uncomplicated.

Construction Terms for Wood Furniture

  • All wood – All components in the piece are wood. May include some combination of solid wood and engineered wood.
  • Artificial laminate – A surface of plastic, foil or paper printed with a wood grain pattern and bonded to a composite such as particleboard or medium density fiberboard.
  • Bird's-eye – Markings of small spots that resemble birds' eyes. Often found in the wood of the sugar maple. Prized as a decorative feature in veneer.
  • Burl – A tree knot or protruding growth that shows up as a pattern in the grain when sliced. Used for inlays and veneers.
  • Dovetail – A wedge-shaped tenon that fits into a corresponding cut-out space to form an interlocking joint.
  • Dowel – A wooden peg that fits into a corresponding hole to reinforce a joint.
  • Dust panel – Horizontal panel placed between drawers to keep dust out of the drawers.
  • Engineered wood – Wood made from slices of lumber (plywood) or the chips and fibers that remain after a tree is milled into lumber (particleboard or fiberboard).
  • Hardwoods – Trees that lose their leaves in winter, including oak, ash, cherry, maple, walnut and poplar.
  • Inlay – A design of contrasting wood.
  • KD – "Knocked down." Furniture sold unassembled or partially assembled. More commonly called "RTA."
  • Kiln-dried – Wood that has been dried to resist warping, splitting and cracking.
  • Medium density fiberboard – Made by breaking down wood chips into fibers, mixing the fibers with glue, and fusing the resulting mixture under heat and pressure to produce a board.
  • Particleboard – Chips of wood coated with glue and pressed into a board.
  • Plywood – Three to five thin slices of wood glued together like a sandwich under high pressure.
  • RTA – "Ready to assemble." Furniture sold unassembled or partially assembled. Sometimes called "KD" furniture.
  • Softwoods – Trees that remain green in winter, including pine, cedar, redwood, and spruce.
  • Solid wood – Can mean one single board or plank of wood or also several wood boards or blocks that are glued together.
  • Tropical hardwood – Hardwood from a tropical forest, the most common of which is mahogany.
  • Veneer – Thin sheets of wood applied to a core, which could be solid wood or engineered wood, for decorative effect.

Construction Terms for Upholstered Furniture

  • Corner blocks – Used to strengthen the corners of seat frames. Can be glued, screwed or both.
  • Down – Soft, fluffy feathers. Used by itself, down creates a luxurious, soft seat cushion. Down-covered foam is less expensive and offers more support.
  • Eight-way, hand-tied springs – Each coil spring is placed in the seat by hand and tied into place with twine using a series of interlocking knots.
  • Flexible polyurethane foam – (FPF) A synthetic foam used in almost all upholstered furniture. Generally, the higher the density FPF the more durable and more expensive the cushion.
  • Natural fiber – Natural fibers used to create upholstery fabric include cotton, linen, silk and wool.
  • Synthetic fiber – Synthetic fibers used to create upholstery fabric include acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon, and polypropylene.
  • UFAC – The Upholstered Furniture Action Council. A voluntary industry organization that created manufacturing standards to reduce the likelihood of upholstered furniture catching fire from a smoldering cigarette.

Fabric Terms

  • Brocade – Originally heavy silk with an elaborate pattern in silver or gold threads. Has an embossed appearance.
  • Chenille – From the French word for "caterpillar." A plush, fuzzy yarn used to create upholstery fabric, which is also known as chenille.
  • Chintz – Originally any printed, cotton fabric. Now refers to fabric with a glazed or "polished" surface.
  • Damask – Named for the ancient city of Damascus, where elaborate floral designs were woven in silk. Flatter than brocade and reversible, though the pattern changes color on the reverse side.
  • Jacquard – Damasks, tapestries, brocades, matelasse and all upholstery fabrics with elaborate figures woven on a Jacquard loom.
  • Matelasse – French, meaning to cushion or pad. Refers to fabric with a quilted surface produced on a loom.
  • Moire – A fabric, particularly silk, with a watered or wavy pattern.
  • Toile de Jouy – A fabric of cotton or linen printed in a single color with scenes of landscapes and people, especially from 18th century French prints.
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