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Antique Furniture Glossary

 

Acanthus

A leaf motif used in carved and inlaid decoration.  

Apron

The shaped skirt of wood that runs beneath the legs of a table or feet of a chest.

Armoire

The Continental term for a large tall cupboard originally used for storing armour.

Astragal

A small semi-circular moulding in architecture and in furniture, a term often applied to the glazing bars of cabinets and bookcases. Astragals are sometimes in brass.

Anthemion

Floral motif resembling honeysuckle.

Bachelor's Chest

Chest of drawers with slide or hinged top supported on lopers when opened.

Backboard

The unpolished back of wall furniture.

Balloon-back Chair

A chair with a rounded back, the best-known type of Victorian dining or salon chair.

Baluster

The shaped turning, or slender pillar with a bulbous base, used on the legs and pedestals of tables.

Banding

Decorative veneer used around the edges of tables and drawers.

Barley Twist

The spiral shape much favoured for turned legs of the second half of the 17th C.

Bergère

The term for a French armchair, applied in England to chairs with caned backs and sides.

Bevel

The decorative angled edge of a mirror.

Bird-cage support

The mechanism, located at the top of the pedestal, that enables some 18th C tripod tables to swivel.

Blind fret carving

A solid background with fretwork carving in front.

Bobbin

A type of turning fund on the legs of 17th C furniture.

Bombé

The double-curved or swollen shape found in commodes and bureaux in Continental Europe and occasionally in 18th C English Furniture.

Bonheur-du-jour

A small ladies writing table of the late 18th C.

Boulle or buhl work

A form of marquetry work using brass and tortoiseshell, developed in the 18th C.

Bow Front

The outward curved front found on chests of drawers from the late 18th C.

Boxwood

Close grained hardwood from Europe used for banding, inlay and marquetry.

Bracket Foot

A squared foot, the most commonly found foot on 18th C cabinet furniture.

Breakfront

The term for a piece of furniture with a protruding central section.

Broken pediment

A symmetric break in the centre of a pediment, often in filled with an urn or eagle motif.

Brushing Slide

The pull-out slide found above the top drawer of some small 18th C chests.

Bun Foot

A flattened version of the ball foot, often found on case furniture of the second half of the 17th C.

Bureau

A writing desk with a fall front that encloses a fitted interior, with drawers below.

Bureau Bookcase

A bureau with a bookcase above.

Burr (or burl in the USA)

The tightly knotted grain from the base of a tree, used to decorative effect in veneers.

Cabriole Leg

A gently curving S-shaped leg found on tables and chairs of the late 17th C and 18th C.

Campaign  Furniture

Portable furniture used when travelling in the 19th and 19th C.

Candle Slide

Small retractable wooden support for a candlestick on the front of cased furniture.

Canted corner

A decorative angled corner, found in case furniture of the 18th C.

Canterbury

A container for sheet music, from the 19th C.

Carcass

The main body of a piece of furniture.

"Carved up"

A term describing furniture that has been carved, at a later date than its construction, usually in the Victorian period.

Carver or Elbow Chair

A dining or salon chair with open arms.

Case Furniture

Items intended primarily as receptacles -  for example, chests or drawers.

Casters

Small pivoted wheels, usually in brass, attached to the ends of some legs or feet.

Cellaret

18th C term for wine coolers and containers, and for the drawer in some sideboards designed for storing wine.

Chaise Longue

An elongated 18th C, upholstered chair or daybed, popular in England during the Regency period.

Chamfer

An angled corner.

Chesterfield

A late 19th C deep-buttoned upholstered settee with no wood showing.

Chest on Stand

A two-part tall chest of drawers, popularly known as a tallboy or highboy.

Cheval Mirror

A tall dressing mirror supported by two uprights.

Chiffonier

A side cabinet with or without a drawer and with one or more shelves above.

Chinoiserie

Oriental-style decoration, on lacquered or painted furniture.

Claw-and-ball foot

A foot modelled as a ball gripped by a claw, used with a cabriole leg.

Cleated ends

On long tables, the end sections applied to narrow boards with the grain running in the opposite direction to prevent warping.

Cockbeading

A bead moulding applied to the edges of drawers.

Coffer

A joined and panelled low chest, usually of oak, with a lid.

Commode

A highly decorated chest of drawers or cabinet, often of bombé shape, with applied mounts.

Composition or compo

A putty-like material that can be moulded, applied to mirrors and fire surrounds and gilded or painted.

Console or pier table

A table intended to stand against a wall between windows. It usually has a matching mirror above it.

Conversation Chair

A Victorian chair with 2 seats sharing a central armrest but facing in opposite directions. Also known as a reading chair.

Corbel

A projecting moulding at the top of a tall cabinet furniture.

Corner Chair

A chair with back splats on two sides and a bowed top rail intended for the corner of a room.

Cornice

The projecting moulding at the top of tall furniture.

Coromandel

Type of wood from the Coromandel coast of India used for banding and inlay, popular during the Regency period.

Counter-well or guinea-well

The small dished oval found in early Georgian card tables.

Country/Provincial furniture

The functional furniture made away from the major cities and main centres of production.

Credence Table

Late 17th C oak or walnut half-round table with a folding top.

Credenza

A long side cabinet with glazed or blind (solid) doors, associated with the Victorian period.

Cricket Table

Small three-legged table, which could be used on uneven floors such as in taverns.

Crinoline Stretcher

A crescent shaped stretcher that unites the legs of some Windsor chairs.

Cross Banding

A veneered edge to table tops and drawer fronts, at right angles to the main veneer.

Cup and cover

A bulbous turning with a differentiated top, common on legs until the late 17th C.

Davenport

A compact writing desk with a sloped top above a case of drawers.

Dentils

Small rectangular blocks applied at regular intervals to the cornices of much 18th C furniture.

Dished table top

A hollowed-out solid top, associated with tripod tables with pie-crust edges.

Distressed

A term for a piece that has been artificially aged.

Dovetails

A series of interlocking joints, used in drawers.

Dowel

see Pegged furniture

Drop-in seat

An upholstered seat frame that sits in the main framework of a chair.

Drop Handle

Pear-shaped handle popular during the late 17th C/early 18th C.

Drop-leaf

Any table with a fixed central section and hinged flaps.

Drum Table

A circular writing table supported by a central pedestal with frieze drawers.

Dummy Drawer

A decorative false drawer, complete with handle.

Ebonized

Wood stained and polished black to simulate ebony.

End Support

A central support at the sides of a writing or sofa table.

Escritoire

A cabinet with a hinged front, which provides a writing surface, and a fitted interior.

Escutcheon

Brass plate surrounding and protecting the edges of a keyhole - sometimes with a cap or cover on a pivot.

Fall Front

The flap of a bureau or secretaire that pulls forward to provide a writing surface.

Fauteuil

An upholstered armchair.

Feather or Herringbone banding

Two narrow bands of veneer laid in opposite diagonals.

Fielded panel

A raised panel with a bevelled or chamfered edge that fits into a framework.

Figuring

The natural grain of wood seen in veneers.

Finial

A decorative turned knob applied to the top of fine bureau bookcases and the like.

Flamed Veneer

A veneer cut at an angle to enhance the figuring.

Fluting

Decorative concave, parallel grooves running down the legs of tables and chairs.

Foliate carving

Carved flower and leaf motifs.

Fretwork

Fine pierced decoration.

Frieze

The framework immediately below a table top.

Gadroon

A decorative border, carved or moulded, comprising a series of short flutes or reeds.

Gainsborough Chair

A deep armchair with an upholstered seat and back, padded open arms and usually carved decoration.

Galleried Table

A table with a wood or metal corner around the top edge.

Gateleg

A leg that pivots to support a drop leaf on a table.

Gesso

A plaster-like substance applied to carved furniture before gilding: also used as a substitute for carving when moulded and applied.

Gilt-tooled decoration

Impressed gold leaf on the edges of leather desk tops.

Girandole

A candle holder or sconce with a mirrored back, designed to hang on a a wall.

Greek Key

A fretwork design based on ancient Greek decoration.

Guilloche

Decorative motif of interlacing circles forming a continuous figure-of-eight pattern.

Hairy-paw foot

A paw foot, carved to give a furred appearance, first seen in the 18th C.

Harlequin

A term used to describe a set of chairs that are similar but do not match.

Herringbone Banding

See Feather Banding.

Husk

A decorative motif of formalized leaves.

Improved

An item that has been altered or added to at a later date to improve its style.

Inlay

Brass, Mother-of-Pearl or veneer set into the surface of solid or veneered furniture for decorative effect.

Intaglio

An incised design, as opposed to a design in relief.

Japanned

An item painted and varnished in imitation of Oriental lacquer work, popular in the early 18th C.

Joined

Method of furniture construction using mortice and tenon joints secured by pegs or dowels without glue. Became widespread in the 15th C until the end of the 17th C.

Joined Stool

A stool, usually in oak, of joined construction.

Kneehole Desk

A desk with a recessed central cupboard below the frieze drawer.

Lacquer

A gum-like substance, coloured and used as a ground for chinoiserie and gilding.

Ladder-back

A chair with  a series of horizontal back-rails.

Lappet

A carved flap at the top of a  leg with a pad foot.

Lion's paw foot

A foot carved as a lion's paw, popular in the 18th C and the Regency period; also found as brass castors during the early 19th C.

Loo Table

A large Victorian card or games table, usually circular.

Loper

A pull-out arm used to  support the hinged fall of a bureau.

Lowboy

A small side table on cabriole legs, from the first half of the 18th C.

Marquetry

A highly decorative form of inlay using veneers.

Married

The term used for an item that has been made up from two or more pieces of furniture, usually of the same period.

Mortice

See Pegged furniture.

Moulding

A shaped piece of wood applied to a piece of furniture, comprising a long strip or a small decorative motif.

Mule Chest

A coffer with a single row of drawers in the base.

Nest of tables

A set of three or four occasional tables that slot into each other when not in use.

Ogee

A double curve of slender S-shape.

Ormolu

A mount or article that is gilded or gold-coloured.

Overmantle Mirror

A mirror designed to hang over a mantlepiece.

Ovolo

A moulding comprising a quarter-segment of a sphere.

Oyster Veneer

A veneer formed by cutting branches of trees, such as laburnum, at right angles to the grain, producing small circles.

Pad or Club Feet

A rounded foot that sits on a circular base, used in conjunction with cabriole legs.

Padouk

Hard, heavy wood varying in colour from brown to crimson with dark figuring.

Papier Mâché

Pulped paper that is moulded or lacquered to make trays and small pieces of furniture.

Parcel Gilding

Partial gilding.

Parquetry

A geometrical pattern made up of small pieces of veneer, sometimes of different woods.

Patera

A small circular ornament made of wood, metal or composition.

Patina

The build-up of wax and dirt that gives old furniture a soft mellow look.

Pedestal desk

A flat desk, usually with a leathered top, that stands on two banks of drawers.

Pediment

The gabled structure that surmounts a cornice.

Pegged furniture

Early joined furniture constructed by a system of mortices (slots) and tenons (tongues), held together by dowels (pegs).

Pembroke Table

A small two flap table that stand on four legs or a pedestal.

Pie-crust top

The carved decorative edge of a dished-top tripod table.

Pier Glass

A tall, narrow mirror intended to hang against a pillar between the windows of a drawing room.

Pietra Dura

A composition of semi-precious stones applied to the panels of furniture.

Pilaster

Flattened column used in furniture, usually with a moulding at the top.

Platform base

Three or four cornered flat bases of tables supporting a central pedestal above a standing on scrolled or paw feet.

Plinth base

A solid base, not raised on feet.

Pole-screen

An adjustable fire screen.

Potboard

The bottom shelf of a dresser or court cupboard, often just above the floor.

Provincial Furniture

See Country Furniture.

Quartered Top

A flat surface covered with four pieces of matched veneer.

Quartetto tables

A nest of four tables.

Reeding

Parallel strips of convex flutes found on the legs of chairs and tables.

Re-entrant corner

A shaped indentation at each corner of a table.

Rule Joint

A type of hinge contrived in such a  way that, when open, no separation shows between the two joined parts - a sign of quality in 18th C furniture.

Runners

The strips of wood on which drawers slide.

Sabre legs

A curved chair leg in the shape of a sabre, strongly associated with the Regency period.

Scagliola

A composite material that resembles marble.

Scalloped or butterfly-wing leaf

The serpentine flap of some Pembroke tables.

Sconce

A cup-shaped candle holder.

Seat rail

The horizontal framework immediately below the chair seat that unites the tops of chair legs.

Secretaire

A writing cabinet with a mock drawer front that legs down to provide a writing surface, revealing recessed pigeon holes.

Secretaire Bookcase

A secretaire with a bookcase fitted above.

Serpentine

Undulating front for a case piece - convex in the centre  and concave at the ends. Used for cabinets, chests, sideboards and so on, in the second half of the 18th C.

Settle

The earliest form of chair to seat two or more people.

Sheraton Revival

Furniture produced in the style of Sheraton during the late Victorian and Edwardian period.

Shoe Piece

 Projecting piece rising from the back rail of a chair seat into which the base of the splat is fixed.

Side chair

A chair without arms, designed to stand against a wall.

Side table

Any table designed to stand against a wall.

Silhouette leg

A two-dimensional leg shaped from a flat piece of timber.

Sofa table

A rectangular  table with two hinged flaps at the ends designed to stand behind a sofa.

Spade foot

A tapering foot of square section.

Spandrel

A decorative corner bracket, usually pierced and found at the tops of legs.

Splat

The central upright in a chair back; loosely applied to all members in a chair back.

Squab

The loose flat cushion on the seat of a chair often protecting caned seats.

Stiff-leaf toe cap

A caster moulded with formalized leaves.

Stiles

The vertical parts of a framework, a term usually associated with early furniture.

Stretchers

The horizontal bars that unite and strengthen the legs of chairs and other furniture.

Stringing

Fine inlaid lines around a piece of furniture usually in boxwood, satinwood or ebony.

Stuff-over seat

A chair that is upholstered over the seat rails.

Swan-neck cresting

A type of broken pediment with two S-shaped curves.

Swan-neck handle

A curved handle, popular in the 18th C.

Tallboy

American term for a chest-on-chest.

Tambour

Flexible shutter on a roll-top desk or sliding doors for cupboards.

Teapoy

A small piece of furniture designed for holding tea leaves.

Tenons

See Pegged furniture.

Thumb moulding

Decorative convex moulding.

Toilet Mirror

Another term for a small dressing mirror with a box base, usually fitted with two or three drawers.

Tester

Wooden canopy over bedstead supported on either 2 or 3 posts. A full tester extends fully over the bed and a half tester extends only over the bedhead.

Trefoil

Shaped like a clover, with three lobes.

Tripod table

A small table with a round top supported by a three-legged pillar.

Turned

A solid member modelled by turning on a lathe.

Uprights

The vertical sides of the back of a chair.

Urn table

A small 18th C table designed to hold a silver kettle or water urn.

Veneer

A thin slice of timber cut from the solid, either hand cut or machine cut from mid 19th c.

Vitrine

French glazed display cabinet, often of bombé or serpentine form, ornately decorated with marquetry and ormolu.

Wainscot Chair

An early joined chair with a panelled back, open arms and a wooden seat.

Whatnot

A mobile stand with open shelves.

Wheel-back chair

A chair with a circular back with radiating spokes, associated with the late 18th C.

William IV

A transitional period (1830 to 1837) that lies between the Regency and Victorian eras. A term often used to describe furniture that incorporates features which are typical of both the earlier Regency and later Victorian styles.

 

 

 
 

 

 

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