Nesting tables such as these are great for maximizing space. Photo courtesy of C.R. Laine.
This ottoman features button tufting and acts as both a cocktail table and extra seating.
A sofa featuring nailhead trim and a self welt. Image courtesy of Thibaut Wallpaper and Fabrics.
Coils, like the ones shown here in this Sealy mattress, are one of the primary components of traditional mattresses.
An armoire like this one from Stanley Furniture can be used for storing clothing or a TV and multimedia components.
You Say Tomato…
When it comes to couches, there’s no shortage of acceptable terms. You may hear couch, sofa, davenport, chesterfield, settee or lawson—and then there are their cousins: loveseat, futon, sectional and daybed. And while they differ slightly, they’re all acceptable names for your favorite place to relax.
Everything you need to know about furniture, from A-Z.
- by Sam Gaines
Accent furniture: Furniture pieces designed primarily for decoration, although they can be functional too.
Accessory: Non-furniture items that decorate and enhance a room. Typical examples include vases, art, books, sculptures, florals and planters.
Alcove: A recessed area of a wall, often designed to accommodate a furniture piece.
Aniline: A type of dye derived from coal tar, frequently used to color leather and fabric.
Antiquing: The use of finishes and other techniques to create the appearance of age.
Apothecary chest: A low-profile chest with small drawers originally used in a pharmacy to store herbs and other compounds.
Apron: A wooden panel that connects surfaces and legs of tables and chairs.
Area rug: A small rug or carpet that covers only part of a floor.
Armchair: Seating with arm and back rests.
Armoire: A tall, broad chest with shelving and/or an open area for hanging clothes or TV components. Also known as a wardrobe, linen-press, etc.
Aubusson: Style of scenic tapestry showing a scene named for the French community where it originated.
Bachelor’s chest: Low-profile chest-of-drawers that often features a sliding wooden writing panel. Sometimes used as a nightstand.
Bakelite: Trade name for a type of brown or black plastic that was among the first to be used in modern-style furniture.
Baker’s rack: Storage unit with shelves, open sides and slatted back that is commonly used in kitchens.
Ball foot: A basic, historic style seen on chairs, tables or other casegoods, which appears like a carved ball sitting at the end of the chair leg. Also called a bun foot.
Banding: Veneer cut into narrow strips of contrasting color for decorative effect, typical of marquetry or inlay. Often used around the edges of furniture, drawers, etc.
Banquette: A bench seat (often with a seat cushion) that is often used in a kitchen, sometimes built into the wall.
Barrel chair: Semicircular upholstered chair with loose seat cushion. Originally made from wine barrel halves.
Beading: Small, convex moldings used for ornamentation.
Bentwood: Technique for steaming, then bending wood into a curvilinear shape.
Bergère: Enclosed armchair with exposed frame, upholstered side panels and back rest, and loose seat cushion.
Bistro table: Short, round table commonly found in small spaces, including dining nooks. Also known as a pub table.
Blanket chest: Low chest designed to store blankets. Also known as cedar chest or hope chest.
Blockfront chest: Large, 18th century American style of chest with two outer convex sections, one middle concave section.
Bombe: Low chest from French baroque design period with bulging outer surfaces.
Boulle: Inlay technique in which sheets of metal, brass, wood or tortoiseshell are glued together then cut into design. Named for its originator, cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle.
Bowfront chest: A chest-of-drawers with a convex front.
Bracket foot: A right-angled, squared foot typical of 18th century wood furniture.
Breakfront: A china cabinet with three sections, the center of which projects forward.
Buffet: A sideboard with drawers and cabinets for dining room storage, and a counter for serving. Sometimes serves as a foundation for a china cabinet.
Bun foot: A flattened ball foot.
Bureau: Large chest-of-drawers used in the bedroom. Also known as a dresser.
Burl: A variation (or “knot”) in wood grain that creates a pattern when cut thin; often used for veneer or inlay.
Butler’s table: Oval wooden tray with legs and four hinged sides that fold out.
Butterfly table: Small table with drop leaves, swinging support.
Cabinet: Any storage space with a door.
Cabriole: A furniture leg with an “S” curve, common to Queen Anne and Chippendale styles.
Camelback: A sofa back with a protruding central “hump.” Typical of the Hepplewhite style.
Campaign furniture: Foldable or collapsable furniture pieces with flat surfaces that are readily assembled. Typical of the European (especially English) colonial periods.
Canapé: French style of settee with open arms, padded back and seat, decorated frame.
Canopy bed: A bed frame with a canopy posted or hanging above. Originally used for protection against insects; today mostly decorative.
Can light: Overhead lighting housed in a cylindrical enclosure, often installed within a ceiling or along tracks; AKA canister light.
Casegoods: Term often used to describe non-upholstered furniture typically used for storage, such as chests, desks, bureaus, cabinets, etc. Also called case pieces.
Cassone: An Italian chest that often features decorative accents such as carving and inlay.
Cedar chest: A blanket chest made of cedar solids or veneers to prevent moth damage to wool items.
Center match: An upholstery term used to describe matching the pattern in a fabric so that the same part of the pattern appears uniformly in the same place on the back and on all cushions.
Chaise lounge: An upholstered armchair with extended back and seat for reclining.
Chenille: A fuzzy yarn that creates a velvet feel when woven tightly; often used for upholstery.
Cheval mirror: A mirror that stands freely in its own frame; also known as a dressing mirror.
Chiffonier: A tall, narrow chest with open shelving above, traditionally used for storing undergarmets and lingerie.
Chifforobe: A large piece combining wardrobe and chest-of-drawers.
China cabinet: A large storage piece for displaying fine china, often with glass panels and door.
Chinoiserie: The use of Chinese artistic influences as lacquered or painted motifs in furniture or upholstery.
Chintz: Printed cotton fabric with a glazed or polished sheen.
Claw-and-ball foot: Carved motif in furniture footing, featuring an animal’s clawed foot grasping a sphere.
Club sofa: A large upholstered seating piece with low arms and higher, level back.
Cocktail table: A short-legged table typically positioned near a sofa or chair grouping, sometimes used for serving. Also known as a coffee table.
Coil: Term used in the construction of traditional mattresses; manufacturers often differentiate models by the gauge of the wire and the number of coils found inside.
Commode: A small, low-profile chest with short legs; can have drawers or doors.
Console: Traditionally, a table fixed to a wall, with front legs for support. Today, any table designed to position against a wall.
Cornice: The top of a piece of furniture, which lays horizontally across the vertical supporting panels.
Corner blocks: Small pieces of wood, typically triangular in shape, that are used to reinforce the joints in the frames of wood furnishings.
Credenza: Traditionally, a sideboard or buffet; in the home office, a filing cabinet positioned behind a desk.
Curio: A casegood with shelves, glass panels and doors, designed for displaying collectibles, etc.
Damask: A reversible fabric (silk, wool, linen, cotton, or synthetic fibers) with elaborately woven pattern featuring contrasting hues.
Davenport: May refer to a sofa or a desk. It is a historic but rarely used name for a sofa, and is also a British term for a small antique writing desk.
Daybed: Part sofa, part couch, a daybed is a seating piece that can be used for bedding.
Director’s chair: Foldable wooden chair with canvas sling seat and back, traditionally used on film sets.
Distressed finish: The intentional marking or denting of wood to give an antique appearance.
Divan: A sofa without arms or a back, typically placed against a wall with loose cushions; originally from Turkey.
Dovetail: A type of joinery using interlocking wedge shapes, often used in drawer construction.
Dowel: A headless pin, often wooden, used to connect pieces in furniture construction.
Down: Pillow or cushion stuffing made of goose or duck breast feathers.
Dresser: A low, broad chest-of-drawers, often used in bedrooms to store clothes.
Drop-leaf table: A dining or occasional table with hinged leaves that can be lowered.
Dry sink: A cupboard with two doors and an embedded sink, or with zinc- or copper-lined open top; typical of American colonial period.
Dumb waiter: Small wooden piece with center spindle and three or more round surfaces that rotate, enabling easy self-service.
Duvet: A down-filled comforter.
Ebony: Hard, durable wood, sometimes deep black in color, used in heavy furniture construction; originated in India and Sri Lanka.
Eight-way, hand-tied: Historically considered the ultimate sign of quality construction, this refers to coil springs in a sofa which are actually hand-tied so they stay in place. Today, most sofas feature metal clips and wires that keep coils in position.
Embossing: Technique for stamping design into wood, typically to resemble carving.
End table: Small accent table, typically placed at the end of a sofa or beside a chair.
Ergonomic: Furniture that is designed to support and enhance healthy posture of the human form; typically used to describe modern office furniture.
Escritoire: A small cabinet with a front panel that can be lowered to serve as a writing surface.
Étagère: A small, freestanding piece with shelves for displaying accessories or food service.
Fabric protection: An additional service most retailers offer that helps extend the life of your upholstered furniture by making it more resistant to soils and stains.
Fauteuil: A fully upholstered French armchair with open arms.
Fiddleback: Chair back support with violin-shaped splat.
Finger joint: Connector consisting of interlocking projections, used in furniture construction.
Finial: A decorative knob that caps the top of a bed post or lamp.
Fluting: A technique for carving parallel channels in wood; typically used in columns or legs.
French bed: A posterless bed that has ends that roll outward.
Fretwork: Carved ornamental detail that is open, often interlaced and incorporates Oriental themes; typical of Chippendale style.
Futon: A sofa with a thin mattress/cushion that can also be laid out flat as a bed. Originally Japanese, futons are typically inexpensive solutions for dorms and small spaces.
Gallery: Ornamental border surrounding the top edge of a casegood; usually wooden or metal.
Gilding: The use of gold leaf or gold dust to add ornamental flourish to furniture.
Glaze: A finishing technique used to add high gloss to leather or wood.
Grain: The fiber pattern of a cross-section of wood, often enhanced to give marked appearance.
Grandfather clock: A pendulum clock (usually measuring 6-7 feet), smaller ones are called grandmother clocks.
Gueridon: A small table or stand, usually elaborately carved with round top, three legs.
Hand: The “feel” of a furniture surface to the human hand; sometimes refers specifically to resilience, flexibility and drapability of a fabric.
Hardwood: Any wood created from broad-leafed trees, such as walnut, beech, mahogany, maple or oak. Note that some hardwoods are “softer” than some softwoods.
Harvest table: A narrow, rectangular dining table with drop leaves, designed to take up very little space when leaves are lowered.
Headboard: A vertical structure that rises above the head of a bed.
Highboy: A tall chest-of-drawers, typically composed of a lower table on high legs supporting a chest; name is a corruption of haut bois, French for “high wood.”
Hoop back: An armchair with a curved wooden rail running into both arms; typical of Hepplewhite and Queen Anne designs.
Huntboard: Small, light sideboard originally designed for portable service of food and drinks outdoors.
Hutch: A low cupboard, usually raised on upright panels, with central doors surrounded by shelves. Often used above a buffet.
Inlay: A cut ornamental setting of a contrasting material (such as marble) in wood.
Japanning: The use of multiple coats of heat-hardened paint and lacquer to create Oriental motifs.
Joinery: The physical connection between two pieces in furniture construction.
Kilim: A reversible patterned rug with no pile; originated in Turkey, Iran and south central Asia.
Kiln drying: A technique for controlling the heat and humidity while drying wood in order to reduce the amount of moisture.
Knock down (KD): furniture that you buy unassembled and assemble yourself at home; also called ready-to-assemble (RTA).
Lacquer: A smooth coating added as the last step in finishing furniture that adds a hard layer of protection.
Ladderback: A chair with a series of horizontal cross-rails connecting the backing posts.
Laminate: A light wood compound made of glued layers of wood grain; or a layer of wood grain glued to the outside of a piece of furniture.
Lawson sofa: A style of seating with a short back; squared, overstuffed back and seat cushions; and rolled or squared arms. Typical of transitional style.
Leaf: A single panel in a tabletop, sometimes removable or droppable, depending on construction. Also, a finish made from metal.
Linen-press: A tall cupboard with open shelves for storing linens.
Loft bed: A raised bed with a casegood, such as a desk or bureau, underneath.
Loveseat: A small sofa that seats two; originated with the Queen Anne style.
Mahogany: A reddish-brown tropical hardwood often used in furniture construction.
Manchette: A small upholstered cushion on an armchair.
Marquetry: A decorative pattern made of inlays in veneered surfaces.
Matte: A finish that has very little or no reflective characteristic.
Miter joint: A diagonal joint formed where two pieces of wood meet.
Mortise-and-tenon: A joint formed of a cut slot in one piece of wood and a cut “tongue” in another. Dovetailing is one type of mortise-and-tenon joint.
Motif: A decorative theme, typically carried repeatedly through a piece.
Motion furniture: Recliners or seating that features mechanical extension for reclining, pull-out bedding, etc.
Molding: Shaped strips of wood or other material that are added to a surface for ornamentation.
Nailhead trim: A traditional decorative trim that looks like metal tacks and is often found on the edge of leather and upholstered sofas, chairs and ottomans.
Nesting tables: Small occasional tables that are designed to store one under another, typically in sets of three.
Occasional furniture: Small pieces of furniture designed for specific uses, such as coffee and end tables.
Ormolu: A metal alloy, often containing bronze, meant to imitate gold; typically used in ornamental pieces and mounts.
Ottoman: A low, upholstered footstool or seat without arms.
Oval back: A bentwood back shaped into an oval, typical of Hepplewhite design.
Overlay: A piece of decorative trim applied to a flat surface.
Parquetry: A type of marquetry in which blocks of wood are placed at contrasting grain angles or colors to produce a designed effect, as with parquet floors.
Parsons table: A sturdy rectangular table with legs that are straight and the same thickness as the top of the table. Named after the Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Patina: A luster or shine that develops with use over time, characteristic of antique furnishings.
Pedestal desk: A flat, often leather-covered table surface, usually mounted on two banks of drawers.
Pedestal table: A table without legs, supported instead by a single central column with a broad base.
Pediment: A triangular or rounded top of a casegood.
Pembroke table: A small table with two large drop leaves and one or more drawers in the skirt.
Pergo: Trade name for a popular type of wood laminate flooring.
Piecrust table: A small occasional table with a three-legged pedestal and a border edge carved to resemble piecrust.
Plinth: A legless base upon which a piece of furniture (such as a chest) rests.
Polyurethane: A synthetic foam used for stuffing seat cushions; the high-density form is used for higher-end furniture.
Rail joints: The meeting points between upholstered frame pieces, usually glued, screwed, and double-dowelled for increased strength.
Rattan: The wood of a type of climbing palm tree; its slender form and flexibility makes it ideal for the construction of tropically themed indoor/outdoor furniture.
Recliner sofa: A sofa with one or more mechanisms for reclined seating. Loveseats are also available in this form and reclining furniture is also called motion furniture.
Reeding: Raised parallel strips added to a surface for ornamentation; the opposite of fluting.
Refectory table: A long, narrow dining table, typically with trestle supports and low stretchers for seating; originally used by medieval religious orders.
Rolled arms: The flared arms of a chair or sofa that “roll” back in to meet the sides.
Ready-to-assemble (RTA): Furniture that you buy unassembled and assemble yourself at home; also called knock down (KD) furniture.
Rule joint: A knuckle connector between a tabletop and a drop leaf that leaves no space exposed when the leaf is lowered.
Runner: The curved rocker at the base of a rocking chair; or a strip of wood that serves as the base for a sliding door; or a long, narrow, rectangular rug, typically used in a hallway.
Scrolling: The use of curl or “scroll” shapes for ornamentation and sometimes support in bed frames and other furniture.
Secretary: A cabinet with a drop-front for a writing surface, shelves and drawers above, and cabinets below; also known by its French name, secrétaire.
Sectional: A sofa composed of separate sections typically arranged together to form a larger piece,
Serving table: A dining room table, long and narrow, with drawers for storing silverware and linens.
Settee: Another term for couch, originally referring to a bench with back and arms for seating two or more people.
Sheaf back: A dining chair with back spindles that gather in the middle to a connecting plank and flare at either end, resembling a sheaf of wheat.
Side chair: A dining chair without arms, designed for placement against a wall when not in use.
Side table: A narrow table designed to position against a wall.
Sideboard: A cabinet piece with a long, flat top for service and drawers or shelves for storage and display.
Sisal: A strong, durable natural fiber that’s often used in weaving rugs.
Skirt: A piece of fabric that hangs near the bottom of a sofa or chair; or a panel of wood connecting the legs of a piece of furniture.
Slat back: A chair with horizontal slats connecting its back posts; typical of early American style.
Sleigh bed: A style of bedframe featuring high, scrolled headboard and footboard; an American adaptation of a French Empire design.
Slipcover: A removable fabric cover often used to protect a sofa or give it an updated look.
Sofa table: A tall, long, narrow table typically placed behind a sofa or love seat; original 18th-century designs had drop leaves, drawers.
Spade foot: A furniture leg design that tapers to the floor; typical of Hepplewhite style.
Suite: A complete, matched set of furniture designed to furnish an entire room.
Swing leg: A hinged table leg without a stretcher that swings out to support a drop leaf.
Swivel chair: A chair with a rotating seat, typical of some office chairs.
Table pad: A foldable protective covering, typically with felt on one side and a durable vinyl on top, designed for tabletops, especially dining tables.
Tallboy (chest-on-chest): A tall chest made up of a broad chest-of-drawers as its base, and a slightly smaller chest-of-drawers as its top.
Tapered leg: A furniture leg that tapers (narrows) as it reaches down to the floor.
Tapestry: A decorative woven fabric that features a scenic display; traditionally, a heavy fabric panel that hangs from a wall.
Teak: A durable East Indian hardwood with a yellowish-brown hue used in furniture construction.
Tester: The canopy “top” of a four-poster bed; sometimes used to describe the entire frame, including the canopy.
Throw: A light, decorative fabric or blanket typically draped over the back of a sofa or the end of a bed.
Throw pillow: A loose, decorative pillow typically used with sofas, loveseats and large armchairs.
Throw rug: A small rug designed for specific placement before a chair, under a table, etc.; also known as a scatter rug.
Tiffany lamp: An intricate lamp that has a shade constructed of individual pieces of stained, shaped glass; named for its design studio; typical of the Art Nouveau design period.
Toile: A cotton fabric printed with a repeating scenic motif (typically one color) on a base of another color; traditionally, toile de jouy, named for the northern French community where it originated.
Torchiere: A floor lamp with a long stem and inverted shade for projecting light upward.
Track lighting: A system for lamp placement in which wiring is run to an installed conductive track on a ceiling or wall, and one or more lamps is inserted along the track.
Trestle table: A long, narrow dining table supported by two posts with feet and a stretcher connecting them.
Tripod table: A small, portable round table with a three-legged post for support.
Triptych: A tall, hinged, three-paneled mirror or screen; may also refer to a three-piece canvas painting.
Trompe l’oeil: A painting technique used to give the illusion of three dimensions in a scenic depiction; French for “fool the eye.”
Trundle bed: A low-profile bed, sometimes collapsible or with casters, that can be rolled or slid under another bed when not in use.
Tube frame: A furniture frame constructed of metal tubing; typical of modern and postmodern design.
Tufting and buttoning: A technique for securing stuffing to upholstery by pulling the material through the fabric at evenly spaced intervals, then fastening the pulls with upholstered buttons. Frequently used on sofas, chairs and headboards.
Turning: The use of a lathe for carving furniture legs.
Tuxedo arms: Furniture arms that flare slightly and are the same height as the back.
Ultrasuede: Trade name for a washable synthetic fabric with a suede-like feel.
Veneer: A thin sheet of wood applied to a surface to give the appearance of wood grain, or to create an inlay.
Verdigris: The blue-green patina that aging copper, bronze or brass sometimes displays; or a finish designed to create this effect.
Vitrine: A curio or china cabinet with a glass front for display.
Voile: A semi-sheer, plain-woven fabric often used to make bed linens, duvets, covers for canopy beds, etc.
Wainscot chair: A style of joined oak seating with open arms, a panel back, and a wood seat; originally a 17th-century design.
Wainscoting: A strip of molding that runs horizontally along a wall, no more than midway up the wall’s height.
Wardrobe: A large bedroom piece with a spacious cabinet for hanging clothes and drawers for clothing and jewelry storage; also called an armoire.
Wellington chest: A tall, narrow, simple chest for portable storage; prominent within the campaign furniture style, and named for Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington.
Welt: A material covered cord typically used to decorate the edge of a sofa arm; often made with contrasting fabric
Whatnot: A portable cart or stand with open shelves.
Windsor chair: A chair with a spindled back and legs, which are pegged into a saddle seat; originated in 17th century England and named for Windsor Castle.
Wingback chair: An often-overstuffed, fully upholstered chair, with “wings” arising from the back, above the arms on either side to protect the sitter from wind drafts.
X-chair: A simple chair in an “X” shape, with a loose seat cushion; the design dates back to ancient Rome; also known as a scissors, Savonarola, or Dante chair.