BASIC DECOR TERMS (GLOSSARY) - Home and Decor Collection Sets



Antique:  applies to an object or piece of furniture at least 100 years old. Its rarity, condition, utility, or other unique features play a big part in whether it is desirable as a collectors’ item. Well looked after antique pieces often appreciate in value over time and are seen as an investment, unlike the mass-produced contemporary furniture pieces of today.

Armoire:  is the French term for a large loose-standing two-door cabinet, usually containing shelves, hanging space, and sometimes drawers below. Generally used for storing clothing or household items, interestingly enough it was originally used for storing arms. Made popular in the late 17th century by Louis XIV, the period pieces are often extremely ornate and imposing whereas contemporary armoires are less ostentatious.

Art Deco:  is a highly decorative design style that originated in Paris in the early 1920s and flourished internationally, tapering off in popularity towards the 1940s. Considered to be a lavish, eclectic form of elegant and stylish Modernism, it was also said to be influenced by Cubism and Futurism and various other design styles. Art Deco design made use of symmetrical geometric shapes – faceted forms, trapezoidal, chevron patterns, ziggurat-shapes, sunburst motifs, and jumbled shapes. Vivid, bold colours were often used but later subdued into a white, black, and metallic colour palette that is often identified with Art Deco today. Furniture and interiors combined sleek curves with angular forms often reminiscent of simplified earlier decorative styles.

Banquette: (English pronunciation: “bang-ket”) is a long bench with an upholstered seat. Often associated with dining areas, kitchen nooks, and restaurants – banquettes are usually built-in or fixed to either floor or wall. It has however become increasingly popular to use loose standing settee-type benches in a banquette context.

Bespoke: is the British word for “custom” – it is also a term you will often hear in relation to furniture.  This means to order a furniture piece individual and specific to your requirements and taste. Custom-made furniture usually takes a handful of weeks to manufacture.

Bolster:  is a long narrow pillow or cushion. Most often cylindrical, bolsters can be added to a bed or sofa as a decorative element. They can also function as head or back support and are often used as bumpers in cribs or act as barriers in the beds of small children.

Cabriole Leg: (pronounced: cab-ri-ole) refers to a tapering furniture leg with an outwards curving (convex) “knee” and an inwards curving (concave) “ankle” ending in an ornamental foot. It is most commonly associated with the English Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture styles of the 18th century as well as the French furniture of the Louis XV period. The name derives from the French term cabrioler, meaning “to leap like a goat” – so named for its likeness to the leg of a leaping animal.

Decorating Dictionary | Define: Cabriole Leg | The Design Tabloid

Chaise Longue: (French for “long chair”) is a low upholstered sofa in the shape of a chair that is long enough to support outstretched legs when reclining. This blend of chair and daybed originated in Egypt and is almost as old as the Egyptian empire itself.

Chinoiserie:   is a French term (meaning “Chinese-esque”) referring to a style of art and decoration reflecting Chinese designs or motifs. A popular style of decoration in Europe since the mid-to-late 1600s, Chinese influences were often mixed in with the more European Rococo style. The Style often features decorative Chinese latticework, lacquer and gold, bamboo, and wallpaper & ceramics featuring orient-inspired toiles, Chinese landscapes and foliage.

Console:   is a narrow wall table generally used for the display of decorative objects and often found in foyers, hallways and antechambers. Traditionally, console tables were fixed to the wall and therefore only needed two, typically very ornate, front legs. Today, console tables are also often used at the back of sofas as sofa tables.

Contemporary Style:   basically means “of this moment.” It is a new current style of design and interiors that exist in the here-and-now. Today, we often relate Contemporary Style to the simplistic, minimal, clean and uncluttered look – think linear lines, neutral colour schemes, stainless, glass, and sleek timbers. However, Contemporary as a style is ever-changing and dynamic – what we view as contemporary today might will not be contemporary tomorrow. For example: In the 80s the Biggie Best country cottage style was BIG in South Africa – it was the contemporary style of the time (i.e. the 80s), yet today it is outdated and vintage.

Demilune:   (or demi-lune) is a French term (meaning “half-moon”) referring to a semi-circular wall table in the console family. A typical demilune table has three to four legs. Some traditional demilune tables have a drop-leaf top and pull out legs that open the tabletop into a full circle – these are often used as card tables.

Distressing: is the process of intentionally blemishing or damaging a piece of furniture in order to give it an aged, weathered, or rustic appearance. During this refinishing technique, items are often sanded, scraped, dimpled, bleached and stained, or treated with crackling paints and coats. Distressed furniture is a popular element of the Shabby Chic interior style.

Drop-Leaf Table: a table with a fixed centre section and a hinged flap, or “leaf”, on either side that can be raised to increase the table size. When not in use, the leaves can be folded down, or “dropped”, to make the table more compact.

Eclectic Style:   is a rather avant-garde style of interior design that encompasses a diverse variety of periods, styles and tastes brought together by utilizing colour, texture, form and finish. This matching of various styles, periods and elements result in a multi-layered and highly individual interior loaded with interest. A basic example: take a Persian rug; add a Louis XVI chair coupled with a contemporary geometric scatter cushion; then add a rather industrial-looking floor lamp and maybe even a mid-century side table, et voilà!

Faux: (French for “false”) a term used to describe objects, materials or finishes which are made to imitate or resemble the genuine article. Faux products can include embossed vinyl made to look like leather, synthetic fur, man-made stone, vinyl or printed wood flooring and decorative paint techniques that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone.

Feng Shui:  pronounced ‘Fung Shway’ – literally translated means ‘wind-water’. It is the applied art of achieving balance and harmony in an environment. Space is planned and objects are placed in such a way as to facilitate the free flow of good energy. Hence the name ‘wind-water’.

Finial: a decorative element marking the top or end of some object. This crowning fixture can often be seen on top of a piece of furniture, such as the end of a bedpost or curtain rod. In architecture, a finial is the ornamental termination of a roof pinnacle or gable.

Graphic Art:   is a broad term encompassing mainly two-dimensional artwork created on a computer. Graphic artists or designers typically use design software to create this graphic art. Graphic artworks regularly feature abstract shapes, typography and illustrations manipulated by the artist. The artwork is generally reproduced through litho, digital or screen printing onto textiles like paper, fabric and vinyl. Because graphic art is easily reproduced it is more affordable and therefore accessible to new art collectors. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” print is an example of a popular graphic artwork. (As defined by Bianca from The Tailored Life)

Hollywood Regency Style:   originated in the golden age of Hollywood – the 1930s. Film sets at that time were created with highly theatrical accents which were often brightly coloured. William Haines, Hollywood actor turned interior designer, combined the elaborate film set styles of the time with Neo-Classical elements, Art Deco, Modernism and Chinoiserie. Dorothy Draper, considered the first real Hollywood interior decorator, was simultaneously decorating over scaled and brightly coloured interiors. Both of these designers created the foundation for Hollywood Regency style which has since had various revivals. (As defined by Kim from In A State Of Luxe) 

Hygge: (pronounced “hoo-ga”) is a Danish term, or rather philosophy, that refers to a sense of coziness, comfort, hospitality, and a general feeling of contentment, happiness, and well-being. Hygge, which can be used as both a noun and a verb, is a cultural ideal and can be closely linked to social togetherness.  The term is also widely used in Norwegian and is fast becoming a global expression. In view of its unique and relateable meaning, the interiors industry has latched onto Hygge as it personifies the subtle comfort and coziness of certain spaces.

Ikat:   is essentially a dyeing technique, similar to the tie-dying process, known for its use of bright, bold colours. It was originally produced in several pre-Columbian Central and South American cultures, however, the technique has been adopted by many eastern countries. Ikat weaving styles and pattern vary widely and many design motifs may have ethnic or symbolic meaning.

Lacquer: is a clear or coloured hard-wearing furniture coating with an intense high-gloss finish. The word “lacquer” borrows its name from the lac insect whose shellac-rich resinous secretions (think nail polish) were often used as a wood finish in ancient India. Lacquerwork is also synonymous with the ancient East Asians who used the sap of the Chinese lacquer tree to achieve a durable, shiny glaze. Today lac-based finishes are likely to be referred to as shellac, while lacquer is comprised of more synthetic substances.

Lime Wash: (or whitewash) is a traditional treatment for wood or masonry made from a slaked lime mixture. In recent years the traditional lime has been replaced by semi-transparent stains or diluted white paint as the favoured method of whitewashing. Matured lime wash gives wood an aged look – the finish is translucent, allowing the wood grain to show through. Furniture with a washed effect is often associated with French Cottage, Shabby Chic, and Coastal styles.

Mid-Century Modern Style:   is a mid-20th-century style of architecture, furniture – and product design that originated in the early 1930s and continued into the mid-1960s. Often referred to as simply “modern”, the style is characterized by simplicity, clean lines, organic forms, and the use of moulded plywood, metal, and plastic. Mid-Century Modern design was greatly influenced by the uncomplicated and practical Scandinavian designs of that time. It was also a golden period of furniture design – gorgeous and innovative designs by masters such as Charles & Ray Eames, Verner Panton, Eero Saarinen and Arne Jacobsen – but to name a few.

Modern:   See Mid-Century Modern Style

Ombre:  is a French term meaning “shaded” or “shading” and refers to a dyed, printed, painted, or woven design of which the colour graduates from light to dark. Said to be an extension of the 60′s hippie tie-dye trend, Ombre can either be applied in a gradual saturation (the “dip-dye” effect) or in stepped, stripe-like shades (the “colour chart” effect).

Recycle:   This means that an object has been made redundant (it has no other use) and can be trashed or re-purposed. The item is then taken, broken down and reinvented to emerge as a brand new item. A clever South African designer by the name of Heath Nash has designed and produced many works of art from useless recycled objects & trash like plastic bottles.

Roman Blind:  is a window treatment consisting of a length of material which, when drawn up by eyelet-channelled cords, gathers into horizontal folds from the bottom. This form of window shade also provides an uncluttered appearance can be customed to fit either a contemporary or more traditional interior.

Scandinavian Design: is synonymous with simplicity and elegance. It is a style greatly influenced by the Modernist & Bauhaus movements and characterized by functionality and affordable mass production without sacrificing quality or eliminating grace and beauty (IKEA is an excellent example). It is said that long winters and few hours of sunlight inspired Scandinavian designers to create bright, light and practical environments with clean lines. Scandinavian Design makes use of a lot of form-pressed wood and light woods as indigenous timber is in abundance. Famous Scandinavian designers include: Verner Panton, Arne Jacobsen, Eero Aarnio, Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. (As suggested and defined by Ewelina)

Slipper Chair:  is an armless upholstered chair with short legs that sits closer to the ground. Popular in the early 18th century, this chair was used as seating in ladies’ boudoirs as it’s low-slung, armless features were perfect for accommodating the fashionable voluminous dress skirts of the time. Today, however, the slipper chair is often found in the living room. There are many different styles of slipper chairs – from traditional designs which are ornate and slightly rounded, to more contemporary rectangular chairs with clean lines.

Sofa Table: a high, long, narrow table positioned behind a sofa to display both decorative and functional items, such as lamps. Dating back to the late 18th century, sofa tables originally featured a drop leaf on either side and often contained one or more shallow drawers. Sofa tables have since evolved – gone are the drop leaves, although most modern sofa tables still have drawers.

Triptych: (pronounced “triptik”, from the Greek meaning “three-fold”) an artwork consisting of three panels – a typically larger middle panel, flanked by two smaller related works. There are however triptychs of equal-sized panels. Historically, triptych panels were hinged in order for the work to be folded for easy transport. A triptych may consist of three separate images of the same theme or maybe one larger work split into three.

Upcycle (or up-cycle): Upcycling is not a new trend, yet to many, it is now gaining visibility due to the fact that the current nostalgic trend is driving it forward. Upcycling involves taking an unwanted item (such as an old piece of furniture) and creating something new with it, thus increasing its value as a bespoke item, yet still retaining the items sense of origin. Vintage furniture is being given all sorts of treatment with paint and the like, changing it from undesirable to totally desirable and trendy, thus increasing its value. An excellent example of upcycling is the pieces created by Katie Thompson of Recreate. She (re)creates items made from old farm metal bathtubs, buckets and pails and old leather suitcases, which she converts into ottomans and seats.

Vignette: In decorating, a vignette or tablescape is a grouping or collection of bits and pieces purposefully arranged for display. A vignette uses a variety of heights, textures, colours and shapes to create depth and is usually tied together by a common theme. These table collections add interest and create a focal point to your space.

Vintage:   is defined as something that is 20 years or older. The term “vintage” is actually a wine-making term used to define a season’s harvest at a specific vineyard. Like wine, a furniture item described as “vintage” should also speak of the era in which it was produced. Vintage can mean an item is of a certain period of time, as in “vintage 1950′s” but it can also mean (and probably always should) that the item exhibits the best of a certain quality, or qualities, associated with or belonging to that specific era. 

Vitrine:   is a display cabinet with clear glass set into a carved panel door, sometimes with glass sides and top, which stood independently or on a stand. Derived from the French word “vitre,” meaning a glass pane. This glass display cabinet had shelves on which to display porcelain, figurines, china, silver, curios, etc; normally 18th and 19th century. (As defined by Galerie Versailles)

Voile:   is a soft, sheer, lightweight fabric, usually made of 100% cotton or cotton/synthetic blends. The term derives from French, meaning veil. Available in a range of patterns, colours and different thicknesses and textures, voiles are often used as curtaining. Sheer voiles are frequently paired with heavier curtains as it lets in natural light whilst retaining privacy but can also be used on its own for a lighter summery feel.

Window Treatment:   To “dress” or “cover” a window opening.  It is interchangeable with the term “Window Coverings”  (only difference is that it sounds posh and professional). Window coverings can be custom designed to specific measurements and styles.  It can be either functional or decorative or both. Window coverings/treatments include blinds, curtains, shutters, drapes, fabrics, hardware and tiebacks applied to the window opening and adjoining wall space.

Wingback Chair: is an upholstered high-back armchair with angled upholstered panels or “wings” attached to the back that curves down to join the arms. Originally, the wings were designed to protect the sitter from drafts. There are many wing “styles” – the most typical being the flat-wing and the scroll-wing. Other more flamboyant adaptations include the bat-wing and butterfly-wing chairs – and that is just naming a few.

White Wash:  (see Lime Wash)