Furniture Terms and What They Mean

My wife and I have decided that we need a new kitchen table and chairs. We went to a local furniture store to begin the hunt and found a few sets that looked good.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that the sets of tables and chairs were less expensive than we thought, so we began looking at bedroom sets. We quickly became confused at all the strange names that the sales person began throwing at us. I have to admit to being rather embarrassed at my obvious lack of furniture lingo and am now going to try to save you from the same embarrassment.

Here's a list of furniture terms and what they mean:

  • Armoire: A large cabinet with two doors and shelves used for storing clothes. Or you could also put one in your family room/living room/media room to store electronic equipment.

  • Break front: A bookcase or china cabinet made of three vertical sections, the center one projects forward beyond the two end sections.

  • Buffet: A small cupboard. The French definition of the word is "a small sideboard, a place for keeping dishes".

  • Bureau: In America, a "bureau" is another name for a "dresser" or a bedroom storage piece. In France, the word was used to describe the red cloth covering for a writing desk, and, later, was used to refer to the desk itself.

  • Case goods: Specifically, storage pieces made primarily of wood. More generally, refers to entire collections of wood bedroom and dining room furniture, including some pieces that are not storage, such as headboards and dining tables.

  • Credenza: A sideboard or a buffet in my house.

  • Gate leg table: A table with a folding leaf held in place by a leg that swings out like a gate. It was a popular feature in Colonial American homes.

  • Highboy: A high chest of drawers. Yet another piece of furniture whose name has French origins. In this case: haut bois, which in French means "high wood".

  • Occasional tables: A term applied to small tables, such as coffee tables and lamp tables.

  • Secretary: No, not the person who types memos at an office. Rather, a drop front desk, with bookshelves above and drawers below.

  • Settee: A long seat or bench with arms and a high back.

  • Sideboard: A piece often found in dining rooms. It features a long flat top for serving and is usually equipped with drawers or cabinets for storing china.

  • Wing chair: An upholstered chair with a high back, stuffed arms and wing-shaped projectors at head level.


  • Batik: Any hand-printed material, which gets its color as a result of dipping the fabric into dye.

  • Brocade: Has an embossed appearance and is made of heavy silk with an elaborate pattern in silver or gold threads.

  • Chenille: Derived from the French word for "caterpillar," which is a good way to describe chenille yarn: plush and fuzzy.

  • Chintz: Was once defined as any printed, cotton fabric, but now it refers to fabric with a glazed or "polished" surface.

  • Damask: Gets its name from the ancient city of Damascus where elaborate floral designs were woven in silk. Damask is flatter than brocade and is reversible.

  • Ticking: You'll hear this term used a lot if you are shopping for a new mattress. Ticking is a strong cotton fabric used to cover mattresses.

Other Helpful Terms

  • Bow front: Term used to describe a cabinet front that curves outward to appear convex.

  • Camelback: A curved sofa back characterized by a large central hump.

  • KD: "Knocked down." Term applied to furniture sold unassembled or only partially assembled.

  • Motion upholstery: An upholstered piece with reclining or inclining seating features.

  • RTA: "Ready-to-assemble." Rather straightforward term, which is applied to furniture, sold unassembled or only partially assembled.


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