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25 Fabulous Words to Describe Your Furniture
Are you ready to talk furniture? Whether yours is beautifully antique, handily thrifted, desperately-purchased-when-you-realized-you-had-nothing-to-sit-on, or of any other furniture variety, you have it. And if you're a word lover, you can class up the joint and maybe even impress a few guests with some detailed knowledge about your stuff! Or the stuff at that fancy hotel you try to stay in once a year. To help you get started, here's a list of 23 fabulous terms to describe furniture, and many other items of decor you might have.
curvilinear
[kur-vuh-lin-ee-er]
Curvilinear is a great catch-all word for describing any piece of decor or furniture that has bold, beautiful curves. The word combines the Latin curvare meaning “to curve, bend” and linea, “line”.
trestle
[tres-uhl]
While the word trestle might conjure up images of medieval beer halls, the base of this row of airport seats shows that the ole’ trestle base is alive and well. The word trestle comes from the French word trestel, meaning “cross beam,” and the trestle can be recognized by side supports on furniture that use a cross beam to form an upside down T.
baluster
[bal-uh-ster]
You may not have heard of the baluster, but you’ve seen it in any kitchen or dining room with old timey spindle-backed chairs. A baluster is typically a bar or column with a bulbous bottom and an inwardly curving top. It gets its name from the Greek word for the pomegranate flower, balaústion, which has a similar shape. A row of balusters is called a balustrade.
pierced
[peerst]
We'll give you not one, but three terms here, as pierced furniture may also be called perforated or openwork. Any furniture or decor object can nonironically be called pierced when it has one or more decorative openings purposely carved through it. (Sorry, those unintentional holes in your sofa don’t count.) Sometimes furniture will have one piercing, as in these chairs. When a piece has many piercings that form a complex design, it's often described as having an openwork design. A piece with lots of small pierced holes can be described as perforated.
cantilever
[kan-tl-ee-ver, -ev-er]
Cantilever furniture appears to defy gravity with their one-sided supports, but they're designed with such perfect balance and strong, supple materials that they can simultaneously hold up a person and look dang cool at the same time! A cantilever is “any rigid construction extending horizontally well beyond its vertical support,” which is definitely true of the seats of these chairs.
scalloped-serpentine-arabesque
[ar-uh-besk]

Spend a bit of time looking at antique furniture and you'll likely notice many flowing elements that look like confetti. The same flowing lines are seen in the classic logo for Coca-Cola. These flowing lines are called arabesques, and they are seen in furniture and many other decor items.

But the line fun doesn't end here. One sort of flowing line often seen on furniture is the S or serpentine (“snake-like”) shape. The top rails and aprons of tables, chairs, mirrors, and sideboards often have this shape. Another common curve in furniture is a sharp C shape, known as the scallop. Scalloped surfaces can either have inward facing scallops that look like someone took a bite out of them, or outward facing scallops like the edges of an apple pie.

columnar
[kuh-luhm-ner]
Whenever a design element resembles the form and majesty of a classical column, it may be described as columnar. And just as a table top can have inward or outwardly projecting scallops, so too can a column have inward or outward facing ridges. When you're ready to get specific, inward ridges on a column are called fluting, while outward facing ridges are called reeding.
beveled-chamfered

It’s easy to overlook the finishing touches, the fine details, the trim. But just as a good belt completes a classy outfit, a piece of furniture is made all the more swank when it has edges that are beveled or chamfered.

A bevel is “a surface that does not form a right angle with adjacent surfaces”—because a world with only right angles would be boring, no? The word chamfer, while seemingly just a fancy word that means the same thing, more typically refers to a sort of vertical bevel, i.e. the cut off corners of a chair or table leg.

floral-foliate

If you’ve ever been inside a luxurious living or dining room, no doubt you’ve noticed the abundance of nature-oriented details—flowers, plants, even bunches of grapes and pinecones. These elaborate nature decorations are part of a long tradition stretching back to ancient civilization, but if you learn just two words to describe them, they should be floral and foliate.

Floral describes decorations that include flowers, and foliate describes those that include leaves; both floral and foliate designs can be impressively complicated.

But why stop there? Another useful word is acanthus, a very leafy (or foliate) plant which was depicted in all sorts of ancient Greek design patterns, and which remains a basic design element in a wide range of classic furniture and decor.

louver-tambour

Do you love origami? Do you like cutting up paper to make fun designs? Then you may enjoy these next two terms for furniture, which describe two different sorts of folds that are applied to surfaces like a door or window panel, or the headboard of a bed.

A louver panel has strips of its surface that are cut and folded back, allowing you to see through one side of it but not the other (which is why it is commonly used for window shades.) A tambour panel consists of wooden strips that fold together like an accordion. Sometimes a tambour door will open to one side on a cabinet or sideboard. Sometimes it will roll up, like in a fancy roll-top desk.

veneer
[vuh-neer]

Being a furniture connoisseur means having opinions about wood. But the rarer and more desireable a wood is, the more expensive it will be to get a whole set of furniture made from it.

Enter veneering. Ancient Roman woodworkers figured out that you could simply cut thin strips of a more fancy wood and glue them to the surfaces of furniture made of cheaper woods. Furniture buyers could get the look of luxury for a lower price tag. Furniture makers could sell more furniture. Everyone was happy!

In the 1700s and 1800s, furniture makers began use veneering in a more artful way to create fancy surfaces in different patterns, like book-matched, a symmetrical pattern where alternating pieces of veneer are flipped over so they face each other like pages in a book, or pie-matched, which often looks like a sunburst of wood.

recessed
[ri-ses, ree-ses]
While classic style furniture will often have fancy ball or ring pulls to allow you to open the drawers, modern style furniture of the 20th century usually strives for a more simplified design. For example, this dresser has recessed pulls. The word recessed comes from the Latin recessus, meaning “a withdrawal, receding part,” and by being recessed into the drawers rather than sticking out, these pulls make a minimalist statement.
cabriole
[kab-ree-ohl]
We wrap up this list with a classic: the cabriole leg. Immensely popular as a chair or table leg from the early 1700s onward, the cabriole leg gets its name from a French word meaning, “to leap gracefully” like a roe deer or a goat, two animals whose French names have a similar root. These legs often end in paw feet or a dragon’s claw-and-ball, further emphasizing their animal roots. And if one mark of a classic is how well it has withstood the test of time, both classic and modern-style cabriole legs show that the cabriole legs will keep strutting gracefully for a long time to come.