There’s nothing worse than talking with friends about something you’re passionate about and realizing that you’ve been using a word wrong your whole life. This is particularly common with decoration aficionados and beginners, because of the enormous history and variety of the vocabulary related to interior design. Well, never again! This pocket-sized glossary will make you sound like an expert in no time.
Armoire: A tall cupboard or wardrobe.
Apothecary chest: A low, wide chest with many small drawers on its sides. Originally used to store medicines and other items that apothecaries deemed necessary. Commonly used today as an accent piece in a rustic-styled room.
California king: A large bed size of 74”x86”. Popular in the United States, particularly the West Coast. Differs from the regular king size in that California king is rectangular (where the additional length is), while the former is square in shape.
Coverlet: A cover for the bed that reaches the bottom of the box spring or base of the bed on all three sides (right, left, and bottom).
Ottoman: A stool or hassock design to support the feet of someone sitting in a chair. Many types of ottomans can double as storage space, and their size varies.
Wrap group: A set of bedroom furniture, usually destined for children’s bedrooms, that is designed to wrap around the room and leave the central space free. Good for places with limited space.
Vanity: Name of the countertop and its accompanying cabinets that support a bathroom sink. There are, however, many bathroom styles that completely forgo the vanity.
Backsplash: The panel behind a sink, stove, or counter that helps protect the wall from getting dirty.
Bistro table: A tall, round table designed for small spaces that are intended to bring intimacy to dinner. Commonly known in bistros, pubs, and other eateries with little space.
Island: A built-in piece of furniture that adds extra storage and surface space to a kitchen, placed in the middle of the room so that it can be accessed from all sides.
Peninsula: Similar to the island, but peninsulas are affixed to a wall and the storage space can only be accessed from three sides.
Chaise or chaise lounge: A low reclining couch that usually seats one and is long enough to support the legs.
Credenza: A wide, low cupboard that is used both for storage in its drawers or cabinets and to display objects on its flat top.
Foyer: A small area immediately next to the main door that serves as an entrance or lobby to a building. Commonly next to the living room in regular houses.
Wainscoting: Applying wood molding or paneling to the middle-to-lower part of a wall.
Americana: A style that favors decorative items that represent American history, culture, and motifs.
Chinoiserie: An artistic decoration that reflects Chinese motifs or brings a similar feeling to it.
Contemporary: Often used erroneously as a synonym for “modern”, contemporary is the style that is inherent to the present time. Styles that are considered contemporary may be known by a different name in the future.
Early American: A still-popular style of furniture design emulating that of the late 1600s to early 1700s American decoration. Characterized by sober, straight lines and little to no decoration. The Colonial-style takes several elements from Early American.
Eclectic: A working combination, usually in a single space, of several styles, aesthetics, periods, textures, colors, and other design concepts.
Timeless: Not a style per se, but it is said of a decoration effort that, due to a variety of reasons, will not age as quickly as another, more easily dated design.
Accent lighting: A light source that is controlled and focused on a specific area or object in a room to bring attention to it.
Accent colors: The use of colors that creates a contrast with the elements around it to enhance a room’s overall color scheme.
Ambient lighting: General lighting for a room that is diffused or softened from a few sources.
Bench-made: A piece of furniture that has been made by a single artisan from start to finish. Tend to be more expensive and rare than regular furniture.
Butt joint: The junction of two pieces of wood that forms the end of a sill or a piece of furniture.
Feng shui: In non-spiritual terms, feng shui is utilized in the West to describe the “mindfulness” of a place, particularly with the arrangement of furniture and other elements in a room and how well they “flow.” The presence or absence of certain elements can lead to “bad feng shui.”
Hygge: (Pronounced HEW-ga or HOO-ga) A Danish and Norwegian term used to describe a mood or essence that permeates a house or space and is closely related to coziness, comfortability, being “lived in”, conviviality, and general contentment.
Patina: Name given to an object (or the surface of an object) that became aesthetically pleasing thanks to the passage of time.
Veneer: In woodworking, the thin slices of wood that are applied to core panels to create a decorative inlay pattern.
We left out some of interior design’s basic terms because we wanted to focus on those that are usually confused with others or just plain used erroneously all the time. We hope that our little glossary will help you out of a pinch, communicate more effectively with your interior designer, or at least win a discussion at your next meeting with friends!