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Glossary: Antique & vintage furniture terms explained

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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W XYZ

 A

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.

Antique - An item according to U.S. law that is at least 100 years old but is often a term applied to anything old in an older style

Antiquities -  Commonly refers to the remains of ancient art and everyday items from antiquity, which themselves are often archaeological artifacts.

Applique' – Literally “applied”. Describes ornamental piece ( wood or metal ) attached to decorate an item.

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

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.

English Arts and Crafts  - A design movement from the early 20th Century focussed on simple clean lines 

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

Arts & Crafts solid oak bureau 1920's  

English Arts & Crafts

 B

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

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

Baize - A woolen fabric similar to felt; commonly used on gaming tables e.g., Card, Snooker, Pool.

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

Baker's Rack - Open, slat back kitchen shelves with or without a cabinet below

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.

Bergere – ( See Cane Webbing )

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

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

Blanket Chest - Storage chest with hinged lid. Often for storing linen at the end of a bed. Some have small subdivisions inside to hold candles(USA- hope chest -used during Colonial times)

Blockfront - A three section chest with the center section set back from the end sections. ( see Bowfront & Breakfront)

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 desk over drawers. Often with a foldaway working surface, internal drawers & dividers. (USA -A chest of drawers typically used in a bedroom) See Fall Front.

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.

Ball & claw foot

Ball and Claw, mahogany dining table foot.

 C

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.

Carnauba Wax - Wax obtained from the leaves of the carnauba palm used in waxes and polishes

Caster - Small wheel designed to allow furniture to be moved; used on chairs and antique case goods. Often a good way of telling age of items. Can be ceramic, metal or plastic.

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

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.

Chiffonier - ?? USA ??- Tall. narrow chest of drawers commonly used to store lingerie.

China Cabinet - Display cabinet used to display or store object d’art. Sp?

Chippendale – Items made by Thomas Chippendale(uk) The gold standard manufacturer of 18th century style furniture.

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.

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

Corner Cupboard - Triangular shaped cabinet designed for use in a corner. Can stand on the floor or hang on the wall. Can have a flat or a curved front.

Couch - Modern adaptation of a daybed; provides seating for more than one individual.

Credenza - Sideboard or buffet with doors used for storage; commonly found in an dining room or 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 illuminated cabinet with glass doors and panels used to display collectibles.

Cane webbing planter

Cane webbing ( Bergere ) planter 

 D

Damask - A reversible fabric with design.

Davenport – Small writing desk features a sloped top above cupboard /drawers. Often with small drawers or compartments above the writing slope.

Daybed - Seating unit that can double as a bed.

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

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

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

Dowel - Round wooden pin; used to join pieces of wood together and strengthen joints.

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

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. 

Walnut Davenport

Victorian Walnut davenport 

 E

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.

Engineered Wood - Man made sheet goods made from wood chips and glue under pressure; commonly referred to as particle board or chipboard.

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

Etagere - An open shelving unit used for display purposes.

Brass escutcheon

Brass escutcheon on oak bureau, 250 years old

 F

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

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, wax, French Polish, Shellac, lacquer and varnish.

Flat pack furniture - Unassembled furniture that a consumer assembles after purchase; (USA) Known as RTA (Ready to Assemble) or Knock Down Furniture 

Fleur De Lis - A French floral emblem or carving in the shape of an Iris or Lily, the symbol of the Prince of Wales in the UK

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

Formica - Registered brand name of plastic laminate material. Used since the 1940’s to act as a hardwearing top to tables, cupboards etc

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

Front Rail The 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. aka. Princess beds 

Fall front mahogany bureau

Fall front bureau

 G

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.

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.

oak grain

Oak grain

 H

Hardwood – Heavy and densely grained wood which is strong and resistant to dents etc. e.g. Mahogany, Oak. The wood from deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves during winter).

Harvest Table – (USA) 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 – (USA) A hinged top chest for the storage of items in anticipation of marriage. See also Blanket Chest & Coffer

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.

Early 17th Century oak coffer or hope chest

Hope chest ( aka, Coffer or Blanket chest

 I

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

Intarsia - A form of inlay similar to marquetry; decorative inlaid panel or dimensional image.

Image
 J

Japanning - A finish imitating oriental lacquer work.

 K

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

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

Partner kneehole desk
 L

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 – A Composite (plastic) used on flooring, counter or table tops; provides a heat resistant, wipe clean surface.

Leather - Tanned animal hides, used for upholstery & desktops.

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.

Leather topped small mahogany chest

Leather topped small mahogany chest

 M

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 sawdust and adhesive exposed to heat and pressure.

Mission Style - USA 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 joints or used for ornamentation around the top or base of pieces.

Morris Chair - An early to mid 19th century version of a reclining chair with an adjustable back.

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.

Motion Furniture - Mechanized furniture allowing for the adjustment of seating position such as a recliner or rocker.

Mule Chest - A chest with drawers in the base with cabinet /cupboard doors above.

Marquetry banding in oak

 N

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. 

 O

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.

Ottoman - An upholstered low stool or footrest.

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

Mahogany tilt top occasional table
 P

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

Particle Board - Engineered wood product manufactured by bonding small wood particles with an adhesive and machine pressed into sheets.

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

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

Pembroke Table - A rectangular table with small (1/3rd height) 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.

Plywood - Manufactured wood made from a series of alternating layers of wood veneer with the grain perpendicular to each other for strength. 

 

Pie crust rim Victorian Mahogany dining tablePie crust mahogany dining table top

 Q

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

Quarter Sheet - Similar to above but referring to a veneer where the 4 panels match and join e.g. On a table top 

 R

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.

Retro - It generally implies a vintage of at least fifteen or twenty years.

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.

Oak drop leaf coffee table

Rule Joint, oak drop leaf table

 S


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 which looks like a cupboard before it’s opened. Often with shelves or drawers below; may also have a bookcase above.

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. S shaped.

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. Comes from shellac beetles who suck sap from trees in their native tropical forests.

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.

Sofa - Also known as a couch; an upholstered long seat with back and arms.

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

Softwood - Wood or lumber from conifers or evergreen trees such as pine or fir. Softer than Hardwood so easier to work but more easily damaged.

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 vertical turnings or spindles stretching between the seat and top rail.

Splat Back - The flat, upright central support of a chair back. A splat is generally shaped, pierced or otherwise decorated and is an important ornamental element.

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.

Oak table stretchers

Stretchers, Oak side table

 T

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.

Tempered Glass – aka, Safety 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. 

 U

Unfinished - Furniture that has not been stained, painted or had a finish applied to it.

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

Upholstery in progress
 V

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.

Vintage – No fixed definition but an old item, between 20 & 80 years old

Veneer replacement
 W

Wardrobe – See Armoire

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

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.

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

 

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