glossary of the language of american style & design


ACACIA   [uh-key-shuh]  (also acacia tree)

a tree or shrub of warm climates that bears spikes or clusters of yellow or white flowers and is frequently thorny.  A popular wood for furniture today providing an informal or uneven grain and suitable for casual furniture applications.

the thorns turn to markings within the wood grain when used in solid wood tops and often has an uneven grain structure.

accanthus leaf (2).jpg

ACANTHUS  [uh-kan-thus]  

ornamental motif based upon the conventionalized leaf of Acanthus spinosus, a plant native to Asia Minor with large, prickly leaves. 

ORIGIN:   used in ancient Greek architecture to decorate the capitals of the columns of the Corinthian order, it has been used on most furniture in most succeeding traditional styles since the Renaissance.


ACORN   [ey-kawrn]

turned knob, ornament, pendant or foot resembling an acorn, particularly common in Jacobean furniture.


ADAM, THE BROTHERS   [an-ti-muh-kas-er]

Robert (1728-1792) and James (1730-1794).  Robert, the elder son of a Scottish architect, began practicing in London in 1758 following four years of study in Italy where he became fascinated with the excavations at Herculaneum, so much so that through his influence, the classical style became the basis of English decoration for half a century.  The Adams practiced as architects, employing cabinetmakers (including Thomas Chippendale) to execute their designs.  Characteristics of the style are a liberal use of classical motifs drawn from classical architecture, such as fluted columns, swags and festoons,  and straight lines and square outlines.

THE ADELPHI   [uh-del-fahy]

The trade name or signature of the Adam brothers.

ANTIMACASSAR   [an-ti-muh-kas-er]
noun     historical

  1. a piece of cloth put over the back of a chair to protect it from grease and dirt or as an ornament.
  2. in Southern U.S., antimacassars were also called chair doilies.

ORIGIN: American, mid 19th cent: from anti + macassar, the name came from of a man’s hair cream product named Macassar, after the man who invented the oily, creamy hair grooming aid when applied to the hair and then the man put his head back on a high back chair often left a grease spot.

APPLIQUE   [ap-li-key]

Any decorative ornament that is shaped or turned and applied to a piece of furniture.


ARMOIRE   [ahrm-wahr, ahrm-wahr]

a wardrobe or movable cabinet, typically one that is ornate or antique.

ORIGIN: late 16th cent. from French, from Old French armarie (see ambry) chair’), from Latin cathedra ‘seat,’ from Greek kathedra. Compare with cathedral.


APRON  [ey-pruh-n] (also skirt)

horizontal structural rail below and adjoining the seat of chair, base of cabinets and table tops, it is often ornamented by carving, decorative profile or pierced.


ARROW SPINDLE  [ar-oh]  [spin-dl] 

flattened spindle with one end resembling an arrow and found on some Sheraton chairs and on derivative forms in American chairs beginning during the Federal period and continuing in more rural forms of the 17th and 18th centuries



BANQUETTE   [bang-ket]

  1. an upholstered bench along a wall, esp. in a restaurant or bar.
  2. a raised step behind a rampart.

ORIGIN: early 17th cent. ( sense 2): from French, from Italian banchetta, diminutive of banca ‘bench’. Sense 1 dates from the mid 19th cent.


  1. a counter across which alcoholic drinks or refreshments are served.
  2. a room in a restaurant or hotel in which alcohol is served.
  3. an establishment where alcohol and sometimes other refreshments are served.
  4. [use with modifier] a small store or booth serving refreshments or providing a service: a dairy bar.



  1. a long seat for several people typically made of wood or stone.
  2. a long, sturdy worktable used by a carpenter, mechanic, scientist, or other worker.
  3. (the bench) the office of judge or magistrate: his appointment to the civil bench.
    a judge's seat in a court.

BESPOKE   [bih-spohk]
past of bespeak.adjective [attrib.] chiefly Brit.

  1. made to order: a bespoke sofa
  2. (of a trader) making such goods: bespoke upholster
  3. Made to order-a commonly used term in the UK, has now crossed the pond and is being used on a regular basis to replace the more commonly used term “customized” or custom made or commissioned work.

BUFFET   [buh-fey]
noun   Scottish & N. English

  1. a low stool or hassock. ORIGIN: late Middle English: from Old French bufet, of unknown origin.
  2. a meal consisting of several dishes from which guests serve themselves: [as modifier]: a cold buffet lunch.
  3. a counter in a station, hotel, or other public building selling light meals or snacks.
    Cabinet with shelves and drawers for keeping dinnerware and table linens.

ORIGIN: early 18th cent. from French, from Old French bufet ‘stool,’ of unknown origin.  




    A colloquial term used as a catch all phase to describe any furniture made on a production line   in the shape of a box with doors, doors or used alone.

    ORIGIN: 1920–25

    CASSONE   [kuh-soh-nee]
    noun (pl. cassones) 

    (in Italy) a large chest, especially one used to hold a bride's trousseau.

    Also know today as a storage chest considered the forerunner to our modern day cedar chests (in American in the late 19th century). Also known as a “hope” chest, filled with many items for the daughter of the family’s future home in “hopes that she some day marry.

    Often ornate in nature, the Northern European versions of this basic storage piece were more modest in design than the Italian or French versions and often had chip carvings designs or hand painted floral patterns or the bride’s family name painted on the piece or “hope chest” (17th to 19th centuries in the Baltic regions such as Sweden, Germany, Norway etc.)

    ORIGIN: late 19th cent. Italian, ‘large chest’.

    CELLARETTE   [sel-uh-ret(also cellaret)
    noun  historical

    a cabinet for keeping bottles of wine and liquor.

    a separate seat for one person, typically with a back and four legs.

    ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French chaiere (modern chaire ‘bishop's throne, etc.,’ chaise ‘

    CHAISE   [sheyz]

    1. chiefly historical a horse-drawn carriage for one or two people, typically one with an open top and two wheels.
    2. another term for post-chaise.
    3. short for chaise longue.

    ORIGIN: mid 17th cent. from French, variant of chaire.

    CHAISE LONGUE   [sheyz lawng]
    noun (pl. chaises longues)

    a reclining chair with a lengthened seat forming a leg rest.

    ORIGIN: early 19th cent. French, literally ‘long chair.’


    a storage box, typically constructed of wood or metal, usually with a top and sometimes with handles mounted to the sides to facilitate ease of moving from one location or another. Often used to store clothing or house hold goods, longer chests became a commonly used container to move or store corpses before a funeral and then for burial, commonly referred to as coffin.

    CHIFFONIER   [shif-uh-neer]

    1. a tall chest of drawers, often with a mirror on top.
    2. Brit. a low cupboard, sometimes with a raised bookshelf on top.

    ORIGIN: mid 18th cent. from French chiffonnier, chiffonnière, literally ‘ragpicker,’ also denoting a chest of drawers for odds and ends.

    CHIFFROBE   [shif-uh-rohb]

    1. a piece of furniture having both drawers and space for hanging clothes
    2. a 20th century, American colloquial derivative of the French word, Chiffonniere

    COUCH  [kouch]

    a piece of furniture for seating from two to four people, typically in the form of a bench with a back, sometimes having an armrest at one or each end, and partly or wholly upholstered and often fitted with springs, tailored cushions, skirts, etc.; sofa.

    COFFIN  [kaw-fin]

    a long, narrow box, typically of wood, in which a corpse is buried or cremated.

    ORIGIN: Middle English (in the general sense ‘box, chest, casket’): from Old French cofin ‘little basket or case,’ from Latin cophinus (see coffer).




    1. a piece of furniture with a flat or sloped surface and typically with drawers, at which one can read, write, or do other work.
    2. a counter in a hotel, bank, or airport at which a customer may check in or obtain information: the reception desk.

    ORIGIN: late Middle English: from medieval Latin desca, probably based on Provençal desca ‘basket’ or Italian desco ‘table, butcher's block,’ both based on Latin discus (see discus).

    Most common variations of the basic desk include:
    Davenport Desk - named for Capt. Davenport, sea captain a box like desk with drawers opening on one side and a writing slopped lift top, designed as a space saving design for use on board ship. Variations include hidden compartments, turned legs and kneehole, a recessed space backed by a hidden cupboard.
    Executive Desk - designed to be placed facing the entry of a room or office and finished on all sides, often with a slight recessed panel on the “visitor’s or guest side of the desk enabling the person to pull in and place legs slightly under the top to help facilitate the signing of documents.  Variations include a thin pull out surface for the guest to use to write or sign documents.
    Knee Hole Desk - features a recessed center section for the legs, a pair of pedestal drawers as the base supporting a writing surface often with additional narrow drawers within the bridge.
    Partner’s Desk - similar to the pedestal but fitted with drawers on two sides meant to be used in the middle of room instead of against a wall and shared by two partners with two sets of pedestal columns.
    Pedestal Desk - features two t-columns of drawers stacked to a finished height of 30” supporting a tabletop. Modern day versions feature bottom drawers deep enough for file and top drawers fitted out with an assortment of functions for today’s technology with electric cord management for laptops, cell phone, etc.

    DUMBWAITER   [duhm-wey-ter]
    noun   colloquial contemporary term

    a trolley or three tier table for use when servants were not in attendance. designed to stand within easy reach of the dining table to hold condiments, plates, and other dining accessories; a serving cart.


    on furniture, leather, having simulated marks of age and wear: a distressed leather sofa

    DRAWER   [drawr]

    1. a boxlike storage compartment without a lid, made to slide horizontally in and out of a desk, chest, or other piece of furniture.
    2. (drawers) dated or humorous underpants.


    used to describe upholstery that replica find sewing details found in ladies apparel.

    DRESSER   [dres-er]

    a chest of drawers.
    Historical: a sideboard with shelves above for storing and displaying plates and kitchen utensils dressed out the dinner.
    Modern use: a chest to store clothing in a bedroom

    ORIGIN: late Middle English (denoting a kitchen sideboard or table on which food was prepared); from Old French, dresseur, from dresser ‘prepare’.



    ECLECTIC   [ih-klek-tik]

    deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources: her decorating tastes are eclectic.
    philosophy of, denoting, or belonging to a class of ancient philosophers who did not belong to or found any recognized school of thought but selected such doctrines as they wished from various schools.

    a person who derives ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.

    • derivatives
      eclectically   adverb  
      eclecticism  [ih-klek-tuh-siz-uhm]   noun

    ORIGIN: late 17th cent. (as a term in philosophy): from Greek eklektikos, from eklegein ‘pick out,’ from ek ‘out’ + legein ‘choose.’

    ETAGERE    [ey-tah-zhair]  (also étagère)
    noun (pl. etageres [ey-tah-zhairz] )

    a piece of furniture with a number of open shelves for displaying ornaments.

    ORIGIN: French étagère, from étage ‘shelf.



    FAUX   [foh]

    false as in  “faux finish “, a finish that imitates a real material like wood, stone, goat skin

    ORIGIN: 1670–80; French; Old French fals,  Latin falsus false



    HASSOCK   [has-uhk]

    1. a thick, firmly padded cushion, in particular, a footstool.
    2. chiefly Brit.a cushion for kneeling on in church.

    ORIGIN Old English hassuc of unknown origin.

    colloquial expression

    a once trade marked name for a sofa with a fold –away mattress stored under the seat cushions



    MARQUETRY   [mahr-ki-tree]  (also marqueterie or marquetery)

    inlaid work made from small pieces of variously colored wood or other materials, used chiefly for the decoration of furniture.

    ORIGIN: mid 16th cent. from French marqueterie, from marqueter ‘to variegate.’



    OTTOMAN   [ot-uh-muhn]
    noun (pl. ottomans)

    1. a low upholstered seat, or footstool, without a back or arms first inspired by low seating from the early Turkish dynasty of Osman I (Othman I). a Turk, esp. of the period of the Ottoman Empire.
    2. a modern day version of an upholstered seating unit with out arms or backs that typically serves a box with the seat hinged to form a lid.
    3. a heavy ribbed fabric made from silk and either cotton or wool, typically used for coats.

    ORIGIN: early 19th cent. from French ottomane, feminine of ottoman ‘Ottoman.’ ORIGIN based on Arabic ῾uṯmānī (adjective), from ῾Uṯmān ‘Othman.’



    PARQUETRY   [pahr-ki-tree]

    inlaid work of blocks of various woods arranged in a geometric pattern, esp. for flooring or furniture.

    ORIGIN: French 17th century



    noun  historic

    a German version of the French Armoire, often with full-length doors but heavy crown moldings

    SOFA   [soh-fuh]
    a long upholstered seat with a back and arms, for two or more people.
    ORIGIN: early 17th cent. from French, based on Arabic

    Most common variations of the basic sofa include:
    Chesterfield - a sofa with padded arms and a back of the same height and curved outward at the top. ORIGIN:  mid 19th cent. (sense 2): named after a 19th-cent. Earl of Chesterfield.
    Convertible Sofa - colloquial name for  sleep or hide-a-way sofa.
    Love Seat - a small sofa for two people, in the past designed in an S-shape so that the couple could face each other.
    Modular Sofa - employing or involving a module or modules as the basis of design or construction: modular-seating units based on mathematics to create a uniform, individual fully upholster units usually offered in only three variations; armless seat unit, corner, and backless to form a sofa of multiple lengths and configurations when grouped together. First popularized as part of the re-building and re-tooling of Europe’s manufacturing base, destroyed during World War II, many upholstery company’s employed a standardized system using metric sized components to simplify and increase production efficiency providing speed to market.
    Tuxedo Sofa - a square back shape with lean arms and back, sometimes called a track arm because of straight nature and of the same height on sides and back.
    Sectional Sofa - an upholstered seat and back, either with one arm or armless used in combinations and grouped together with other similar pieces to from a longer seating configuration than a conventional or most commonly sized sofa. In addition, a sectional other distinguishing characteristics are the use of a square corner section, or pie shaped wedge, or a curved back and front rail used to form an L- shaped or U shaped configuration. Sectionals as opposed to a standard sofa, usually has multiple sized sections offered as a method of providing the consumer several lengths to fit the space requirements.  Additional optional features are also sometimes offered but are not standardized such as a unit without backs or arms to be used in front of an end unit, armed or armless, called an ottoman, placed in front of a section called a chaise longue.

    SETTEE   [set-tee]

    a long upholstered seat for more than one person, typically with a back and arms.

    ORIGIN early 18th cent. perhaps a fanciful variant of settle.


    1. a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed: the pillars are no exception to the general style.
    2. a particular design of furniture
    3. elegance and sophistication: a sophisticated nightspot with style and taste.

    Most common variations of the basic style include these adjectives placed before the word table to further define the specific type and function:
    Contemporary Style - belonging to or occurring in the present; following modern ideas or fashion in style or design.
    Transitional Style - adjective relating to or characteristic of a process or period of transition
    Transitional Style -  architecture of or denoting the last stage of Romanesque style, in which Gothic elements begin to appear, existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established.




    a piece of furniture with a flat top and one or more legs, providing a level surface on which objects may be placed, and that can be used for such purposes as eating, writing, working, playing games, or in the case of the medical profession, for examination or surgery.

    Tables with two or more legs can be extended in a variety of inventive ways. The most popular are with leaves inserted when the table is made to part in the middle and additional leaves or planks are laid upon bearers or supports. The expansion requires a complex system of gears and supports that when pulled apart support both the top and the new leaves.

    Additional methods using flaps attached to the table with hinges and supported by pivoting legs or drop leaf.

    Most common variations of the basic table include these adjectives placed before the word table to further define the specific type and function:
    Bar Table - 42” high, often as small as 24 to 36 ‘in diameter but can be larger and used standing or with bar height stools or swivel chairs.
    Breakfast or Dining Table - 30 “ high and any shape, width, and length with one to four legs, often expandable with one or more leaves, made of durable materials, often top surface will have a Liquid resistant finish or materials.
    Bridge Table - often folding but can be permanent stationery table 36 “ to 42 round or square, often with a reversible felt top to wood.
    Bunching Tables - also sometimes confused with the term “Chow Tables” from the Chinese Modern style popularized in the ‘60’s, which got its name from the specific Chinese leg design. Bunching tables are usually used as a pair or more, grouped together providing multifunctional, flexible room placements. Design and size may very but usually a typical bunching will be in one of the three most common sizes. 15" x 15" x 15", 18" x 18" x 18", 24" x 24" x 122".  These small accent tables can be used as a single larger surface when pushed and  “bunched’ together, as separate, free standing personal individual snack or cocktail table.
    Coffee Table - a table usually 16 to 18 “ high used in front of a sofa for   informal service of most beverages already poured in a different location and often used to hold informal meals or snacks, storage of magazines, books, and other living room or family room items.
    Counter (height) Table - 36 “ high of any length and width, multifunctional   often doubling as an additional standing work surface or used as a higher dining height. Counter high tables require a higher counter chair, (see definition of counter high seating) often recommended for seniors or other persons who have arthritis of the knees or have other orthopedic related leg issues with standing up or sitting down using a standard seat height (18 to 19 inches off the floor to the top of the crown of the chair).
    Dressing Table - similar to a desk, but often fitted with small drawers used to store an assortment of toilette tries and a mirror, either attached or visible or fold–a-way.
    Drop Leave Table - an expandable leaf hinged on the side of a rectangular under structure, the table provides a more elegant solution than its predecessor, the gate leg table (see below), requiring no additional supports or stretchers.
    Game Table - usually round or square in shape of various sizes depending on the use but most commonly size at 30"h x 42" to 48" round or square, commonly used with chairs on coasters or wheels for easy movement, often made with a reversible table top of felt.
    Gate-leg Table - introduced in the 17th century when private dining away from the main hall or dining space became commonplace. Before 1800, all dining tables were stored against walls often outside the main room and brought into the main area, and there were made to expand to a larger size where ease of movement could be enjoyed. Great variations in size, majority have oval tops sometimes, circular, less common rectangular or even square when opened flaps supported by pivoting support legs which, when moved outward at right angles, support the flap extension pieces of wood to make a larger table. Gate legs require stretchers for additional support since the legs are usually slim and turned.
    Hunt Table - used in stables as a surface for holding food and grooming equipment for horses often higher than stand table height
    Martini Table - small single cocktail table, square or round, usually quite small and often placed chair side for a single drinking glass or ash try function, usually no more than 18" in diameter or square, also refereed to as a cigarette table.
    Metamorphic Table - often used in libraries, the table converts to a ladder or steps hidden within the table and unfolds like a butterfly, used to access higher shelves as in a tall bookcase.
    Nesting Table - a series of two or more tables, each sized so as to fit under the table above the next size smaller, creating a nesting effect to be used as side table with subsequent smaller tables fitted under in descending size  
    Refectory Table - rectangle, deeply over-hanging plank top, often with heavy turned or square legs – variation is the Draw Table, similar but with two leaves mounted on bearers which pull out to extend the table top
    Rent Table - round, octagon or hexagon top with multiple drawers, originally inscribed with the name or initials of the specific depositor.
    Stadium Table - counter high, usually placed in a family room or great room and placed parallel and behind a long sofa, providing additional viewing seats for TV and a dining table surface area, long enough to seat 6 to 10 people for casual family room parties or family.  
    Tea Table - 19" to 22" high, a table that is large enough for a tea tray and is lightly higher than the more modern sized coffee table because one needs a table height that easily provides a comfortable height to easily pour tea for oneself or guest from a hot tea pot and usually used in more traditionally styled formal decorating styles.

    TOILE   [twahl]

    1. an early version of a finished garment made up in cheap material so that the design can be tested and perfected.
    2. a translucent linen or cotton fabric, used for making clothes or used for upholstery.
      commonly thought of today as a hand blocked pattern-depicting scenes from the local countryside or other cultural influences. Typically featuring animals or houses, sometimes piece, short for toile de Jouy.

    ORIGIN: Late Middle English (denoting cloth or canvas for painting on): from French toile ‘cloth, web,’ from Latin tela ‘web.’

    TROMP L’OIEL    [French trawnp lœ-yuh; English trawmp ley, loi]

    “to fool the eye”- creating an optical illusion. Often used as a term to describe artwork applied to furniture that depict a three dimensional scene or an illusion or perspective. 


    UPHOLSTERY   [uhp-hohl-stuh-ree]

    1. a soft, padded textile covering that is fixed to furniture such as armchairs and sofas.
    2. the art or practice of fitting such a covering.

    industry terms related to upholstery:
    COM - Customer’s Own Material
    Shirring - a decorative gathering (as of cloth) made by drawing up the material along two or more parallel lines of stitching