From Appliqué to Zitan: The A to Z of Furniture Lingo

By Calypso


You know exactly what you’re looking for.

You’ve daydreamed, you’ve doodled sketches, you’ve looked up inspirational photos of masterfully decorated interiors for your home to aspire to, you’ve flipped through catalogs and paused movies just to ogle the gorgeous backgrounds, you’ve organized your imaginary home makeover so many times the furniture is practically already there!

But it isn’t. Not yet. That’s why you’re here, finally ready to make  that dream a reality. Whether you’re online or at the threshold of a physical store, you’re going to get the pieces that will come together to complete your ideal home! The website and your sales consultant see you’re prepared. Now comes the question:

            “What are you looking for?”

            For some of us, the answer comes in the form of those aforementioned doodles and photos. Stuff that looks like this. See? With the fancy curly legs? Oh, and the stuff that looks old, but really isn’t. And this kind of wood art where it all goes together, but it makes a pattern, see? And, uh…

            Just like that, the words run out.

            To be fair, visual references are bound to help your sales consultant connect the dots and lead the way to displays that match the style you’re thinking of. It’s even quicker if you’re going off furniture you spotted on the website with an item number at the ready. But there’s almost always a moment in a transaction, be it at the search engine or face-to-face, when it would make things a lot smoother if you knew the name for what you’re picturing in your head.

            What are those fancy curly legs on furniture called?

            What’s the name for furniture that’s designed to look cozily lived-in?

            What do you call the patterns in wooden tabletops and doors?

            These and other terms are handy to know when looking for new furnishings. It streamlines the process, lets people know exactly what kind of pieces you’re after, and gives you a stronger vocabulary to work with if you decide to expand the search. So, let’s break out the furniture dictionary and take some notes!


Acanthus Leaf: A leaf with pretty curled fronds, taking its shape from the leaves of the acanthus plant. It’s one of the most common artistic details in carved furniture. You can see these fantastic floral details on the Hillsboro 13-Drawer Chest.

Appliqué: A decorative detail applied to a larger material. In furniture, this may refer to designs that are raised rather than carved.

Art Deco: A popular style that had its height in the 1920s and 1930s with heavy use of sharp geometric designs like zigzags and chevrons.

Art Nouveau: A style born in the late 19th century that displayed graceful curving lines and floral details.

Beveled: An angle that’s cut in anything besides a right angle. Seen most often with mirrors, drawer fronts, doors, and frames.

Burl: A growth in trees that sometimes forms like a wart, cut to make unique veneers. In furniture, you’ll see something described as ‘burled’ when the wood shows swirls and eddies in the surface that look like it’s been stirred.

Cabriole Leg: A curved leg on a piece of furniture, usually forming an S shape. May or may not have a foot curled in on itself.

Cantilever: Literally, a cantilever is a bracket-shaped support or one of two support beams reaching to each other to form a bridge. In furniture, being ‘cantilevered’ means the piece has the appearance of hovering due to this form of support, as seen here with the Veneto Dining Chair

Caster: Small wheels or balls at the bottom of desk chairs, rolling trays, and storage pieces that let them be rearranged easily.

Contemporary: What’s in fashion here and now. Crisp lines, updated conveniences, and a look that’s sleeker than recognizably older furniture styles.

Credenza: A legless sideboard, buffet, or bookcase used for storage in dining rooms and home offices.

Damask: Elaborate woven design for upholstery and linen with the pattern visible on both sides.

Distressed: Also called weathered, this refers to furniture with artificially aged, faded, or flaked surfaces to make an appealing lived-in look. It’s seen most often with old-fashioned furniture to pair with the antiquated style.

Filigree: Elegant ornamental details usually in gold, silver, or copper. Very popular with furniture inspired by the extravagant French Rococo period that flaunted itself between 1723 and 1759.

Fluting: Borrowed from the same term as it applies to architectural pillars, this refers to the grooves that go along the edges of furniture and their supports. You can see an example framing either side of the classic Gossamer Fireplace.

Footboard: The raised panel at the end of a bed.

Etagere: A furniture piece made of open shelves.

Gilding: The application of gold or gold-like accents to a piece.

Glam: A style that celebrates extravagantly dazzling beauty and luxury. Crystals, fur, gold, silver, and pearly finishes all over.

Hardware: The drawer pulls, the hinges, the drawer guides—anything with metal that keeps furniture together and functioning.

Headboard: The raised panel at the head of the bed, sometimes padded. Upscale ones may come with USB ports.

Industrial: A rugged and architectural style. Always involves plenty of metalwork.

Inset: A piece that is inserted to complete a furniture piece, usually of a different material. Glass, marble, and stone are common choices. The stately Hillsboro 3-Drawer Nightstand flaunts a gorgeous example with its marble inset. NOTE: Maybe include a standard full shot and the detail image of the corner.

Jacquard: Fabric with elaborate patterning made from several basic weaves with a Jacquard loom.

Knockdown Furniture: Another term for ‘ready-to-assemble’ furniture. Also referred to as flatpack or kit furniture.  

Lacquer: A varnish used to coat wooden furniture for protection, often leaving a glossy finish.

Ladderback: Used to refer to chairs with backs resembling the rungs of a ladder.

Marquetry: Intricate decorative patterns made with multiple materials such as wood, stone, shell, glass, et cetera set into a wood veneer.

Modern: A style that embraces a generally hyper-polished and futuristic appeal. Chrome, smooth surfaces, and crisp silhouettes.

Nesting Tables: A small collection of occasional tables that can stack inside each other. Also referred to as a nest of tables. The versatile duo of the Boswell Round Nesting End Tables provide a great example.

Ornate: A beautifully complex pattern or detail, often curled or sporting floral features.

Paisley: Feather-shaped, curved teardrop patterning on fabric.

Parquetry: Intricate decorative patterns made with contrasting wood.

Queen Anne: A style of furniture that sports trademark curved legs and outlines, seashell carvings, curled details, and cushioned seats. Put literally, furniture built in or inspired by the style made popular in the reign of Queen Anne (1702—1714).

Rustic: A style based in warm rural appeal with a focus on naturally-finished wood, leather, nail head accents, and copper. Designed to give off the feel of a cabin or ranch house.

Scroll: A furniture detail based on frames, arms, and legs with curling outlines, usually in an S shape.

Slat Back: Used to refer to chairs with flat vertical slats forming the back.

Tapered: A piece of the furniture with a broad end that narrows to a small point. The Eclipse Side Chair illustrates the look with its dainty legs.

Traditional: Resembling classic forms of furniture design, covering a wide range of older styles. It can apply to antiquated looks that bring royalty to mind as much as to original American styles ala farmhouse and cottage appeal.

Transitional: A style that can blend in with any interior look. Sometimes refers to pieces that combine features of more than one style to strike a balance.

Trundle: A broad drawer set in the underside of a bed. Possibly used to store an extra side-bed, otherwise used strictly for general storage.

Tufting: Depressions made in cushioned furniture via needlework. Button tufting involves sewing a button or crystal stud in to make the surrounding upholstery puff up. Channel tufting creates vertical and horizontal columns in the upholstery.

Tuxedo Arm: The curved arms of chairs, loveseats, and sofas that are level with the piece’s back.

Upholstery: The padded textile applied to furniture meant to be sat or laid on. This can refer to leather and multiple types of fabric.

Veneer: The thin covering of finer wood to a coarse foundational wood.

Vintage Restoration: A style devoted to worn beauty. Faded colors, used antiques, and anything that qualifies as weathered and beloved old relics. The Magnolia Manor 3-Pc Office Set celebrates this cozy style with lovingly-aged charm.

Welt: A fabric-covered cord that lines the edges of cushions for a more complete look on upholstered furniture.

Wicker: Plaited and woven twigs shaped to make furniture and baskets.

Windsor Chair: A solid wooden chair with a dipped seat for comfort and a back made of spokes set in drilled holes.

X-Stretcher: A crossing X shape formed by supports that connect the legs of a furniture piece.

Yarn-Dyed: As the name implies, this refers to yarn-based fabric that’s been dyed before weaving into a textile.

Zitan: A rare blackish-red and/or blackish-purple wood that first became prized in China during the Qing Dynasty. It’s often used only for the most intricately designed and expensive furniture.

And there we have it! A quick A to Z of furniture lingo that might help you narrow your search for just the right addition to your home—and look like quite the furnishing connoisseur while you’re at it.