Questions?    Call Us: +1 (212) 758-1970

GLOSSARY OF DECORATIVE ARTS

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 

A

AcanthusA stylized leaf first used in classic Greek and Roman architecture and decoration. A characteristic of the Corinthian capital.
Adam BrothersRobert 1728-1792 and James 1730-1794 were English architects, influenced by the excavations at Pompeii in the 18th century.Characteristics of their style are straight lines, mythological figures, delicate ornaments, classical symmetry, satinwood, marquetry, and inlay.
AlabasterA fine-grained stone with a smooth milk-white surface. Slightly translucent.
AmboynaAn imported hardwood from the Dutch East Indies possessing a yellow-red color. Used chiefly as an inlay.
AmphoraA large, two-handled earthenware vessel with a narrow neck and usually an ovoid body, originally used in Greece for the storage of grain. Later adopted as a Neoclassical decorative motif
AndironsFunctional supports of cast iron or brass used in open fireplaces to hold logs.
AnthemionDecorative motif of Greek origin, the radiating pattern resembles the honeysuckle flower or palm leaf.
AntiqueA work of art, a piece of furniture, or any other decorative object which, according to United States law, must be at least 100 years old. The value of an antique depends upon its authenticity, beauty, age, rarity and condition.
Apothecary jarsCylindrical or oval shaped covered jars of either glass or china, designed for the storage of medicinal herbs. Some are presently converted to lamp bases or used as ornaments. Also called pharmacy jars.
ApronA board placed at right angles to the underside of a shelf, chair seat, or table top.
ArabesqueAn ornamentation consisting of an interlacing design of foliage, usually designed for a vertical panel, with the sides resembling each other.
ArcadingCarved architectural ornament suggesting arches. Often used on chair-backs and applied on panels.
ArmoireA movable wardrobe, usually with one or two doors, originating in late 16th century France.
Art DecoPeriod from 1925 to about 1935 when designers were influenced by simple geometric patterns.
Art NouveauPeriod from 1889 to 1925 associated with a curvilinear swing design. Inspired by plant and animal forms in nature and frequently incorporating the figure of women.
AshA highly figured hardwood having a variety of shades from a grayish hue to deep brown. Used chiefly in structural concealed portions of furniture.
AubussonA type of tapestry originally woven at Aubusson, France. It also refers to a rug woven with a flat weave like a tapestry with no pile.

B

Ball-and-Claw FootA furniture foot cut to imitate a talon or claw grasping a ball. Of Chinese origin, the motif was greatly used in English 18th-century furniture.
BalusterTurned vase-shaped vertical post supporting the rail of a staircase or the splat of a chair.
BandingStrip of veneer used as a border for table tops, drawer fronts, etc.
Banister-back chairA late 17th-century American chair with the back consisting of perpendicular turned spindles.
Banjo clockA type of wooden wall case in the shape of a banjo originated in 1800 by Simon Willard at Roxbury, Mass. The lower glass panel of the early models was left plain to show the swinging brass pendulum until around 1825 when they were painted with battle scenes, landscapes, eagles, flags, etc.
BaroqueA style of architecture, art and decoration which originated in Italy during the late 16th century and spread throughout Europe. It is characterized by overscaled, bold details and sweeping curves.
BasaltDark, opaque porcelain invented by Josiah Wedgwood.
BeauvaisA type of tapestry originally made at Beauvais, France. Subjects depicted are usually flowers, fruit, landscapes, and pastorals.
BeechA hardwood which lacks a pronounced grain.
Belle EpoqueCurvilinear high style of the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century, combining Victorian eclecticism and the flowing, sinuous forms of Art Nouveau.
Bell turningA type of turning used for furniture legs and pedestal supports shaped like a conventional bell. Common in the William and Mary style.
BergèreArmchair with filled-in sides from French designs of c.1725. Early models were caned, later ones upholstered.
BevelThe edge of any flat surface that has been cut at a slant to the main area.
BiedermeierA style of furniture produced in Austria and Germany during the first half of the 19th century. Inspired by French Empire and German painted peasant work. The name was borrowed from an imaginary cartoon character called Papa Biedermeier, an uneducated country gentlemen who considered himself a connoisseur of fine and industrial arts. Simple marquetry patterns were used with pressed brass ornaments of Greek inspiration as well as painted motifs of wreaths, urns, and floral, animal and human forms. Woods used were mainly fruitwoods, maple, mahogany and birch.
BirchA hardwood with a close grain and a deep tan hue. One of the strongest cabinet woods grown in America.
Bird's-eye veneerA thin sheet of wood with small circular markings similar to a burl, usually found in maple.
Biscuit or BisquePottery that has been fired once and has no glaze, ranging in color from a pinky beige to terra-cotta.
BlackamoorNegro figure usually dressed in a colorful costume, used as a support or as decoration during the Italian Renaissance and revived in the Victorian period.
Black Forest Furniture carved in and around Bern, Switzerland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commonly identified by its use of carved bears and other creatures of the forest, such as deer and birds. Bear furniture originally began as a hobby for the Swiss family of cabinetmakers and wood-carvers named Trauffer. The linden tree was preferred for most furniture as it is easy to carve, but walnut was also widely used.
Block-front Construction technique associated with American 18th-century case furniture originally made in Newport, Rhode Island. Usually consists of three vertical panels in front, the center being concave and the two side panels convex.
Boiserie Richly carved woodwork used as panels, especially in 17th and 18th century French decoration.
Bombé A French term, literally meaning "blown out", describing a large outward swelling curve on the front of a piece of furniture.
Bonheur-du-jour A small, light lady's writing desk first made in France in the 1760s. It has a central drawer in front, tiered shelves and cupboards in back, and sometimes a shelf between the legs.
Bonnet topIn cabinet work, a top with a broken pediment or arch, or a curved or scroll top with a central finial motif in the shape of a flame, urn, etc.
Boulle workType of marquetry using tortoiseshell and metal, usually brass, introduced by André Charles Boulle in 18th-century France.
Boston rockerA rocking chair dating from 19th-century America, with a form-fitting wood seat, spindles and a shaped top rail. Often painted with fine decorative detail.
Bracket footA stunted cabriole form, with a straight corner edge and curved inner edges.
BreakfrontCabinet piece the front of which has one or more projecting portions.
BrocadeA jacquard weave fabric, with pattern in low relief, usually on a satin background. It may be in one or more colors and has an embroidered effect.
Bronze doré Ornamental coating of gold leaf or gold dust. Also known as gilding.
Bun foot A furniture support that resembles a slightly flattened ball or sphere. Commonly used in William and Mary case furniture.
Bureau Desk popular in late 17th-century England and France distinguished by its sloping fall-front. The flap is hinged at the base and rests on lopers when open, folding up at an angle when closed. In America, used to describe a bedroom chest-of-drawers.
BurlA curly-grained wood surface or veneer cut from irregular growths of the tree, such as the roots or crotches. Very common in walnut.
Butterfly tableA small drop-leaf table popular in the American Colonial period. The support for the raised leaf is cut to resemble the outline of a butterfly wing.

C

Cabriole legA furniture leg with a double curve. A stylized form of animal hind leg with elongated "S" shape. Popular in late 18th-century and 19th-century Europe.
Cache potA French term used to identify a decorative china or metal jardiniere designed to hold a small potted plant or cut flowers.
Camel backChair or sofa back of late Chippendale or Hepplewhite style. The top rail is in the form of a serpentine curve with two humps downward and three humps upward.
CameoA small semi-precious stone or a shell carved in relief, used as ornament.
CandelabraA branched candlestick or lamp stand.
CaningA woody stem of rattan or sugar cane used for wickerwork, seats of chairs, summer furniture, etc.
CanopyA draped covering of fabric suspended over a piece of furniture and supported by four posts.
CanterburyOrnamental stand having compartments and divisions for papers, portfolios, envelopes, magazines, etc.
CapitalThe decorative crowning motif atop a column or pilaster shaft, usually composed of moldings and ornament. The most characteristic feature of each classical architectural order.
CartoucheA shield or ovoid form with curved or rolled edges suggesting a scroll shape. Often used as a surround for crests and inscriptions.
Carver chairA type of Early American chair.
CaryatidDecorative support in the form of a female figure. Derived from Greek architecture, it has been popular since the Renaissance and was often used in the Rococo and Neoclassical periods. Male caryatids are less common and are called telamones.
Case furnitureFurniture which provides storage space.
CassapancaA long, wooden seat with wooden back and arms, the lower portion used as a chest with hinged lid.
CassoneItalian dowry chest, often enhanced with carved, gilt, inlaid or painted decoration.
CastersSmall wheels fastened to supporting legs of heavy furniture to facilitate movement. First used in early 19th century.
CellaretA portable chest, case, or cabinet for storing bottles, decanters, and glasses, dating from the 18th century.
Chair railThe highest molding of a dado, placed on a wall at the height of a chairback to prevent soiling or scratching of the plaster.
Chaise longueA long chair designed for relaxing and semi-reclining, usually upholstered. Adapted from the French 18th-century style, it was often made in two parts: a deep bergère and large stool, which when put together, formed a daytime sofa. Also called a recamier.
ChasingOrnamentation of any metal surface by embossing or cutting away parts.
Chest-on-chestA chest of drawers consisting of two parts, one mounted on top of the other. Similar to a tallboy.
ChesterfieldAn overstuffed sofa of large size with a continuous straight back and upholstered ends.
Cheval mirrorA large full-length mirror, usually standing on the floor.
ChevronZigzag pattern of Anglo-Saxon derivation often used on medieval, Gothic revival, and Art Deco pieces.
ChinoiserieEuropean adaptation of Oriental designs popular during late 17th century French, Rococo and Regency periods. Motifs used include pagodas, fretwork, landscapes, and rivers.
ChippendaleThomas Chippendale 1718-1779 was one of the great cabinet makers of 18th-century England. His work shows a refinement of Georgian styles, influenced by the Gothic, Chinese, and French rococo. First of his era to extensively use mahogany rather than walnut, the prevailing wood in the Early Georgian period. In 1754 he published "The Gentlemen's and Cabinetmaker's Directory," illustrating the styles of the day.
ClavichordA 17th-century stringed instrument, ancestor of the piano. Known in the William and Mary and Queen Anne styles.
Claw-and-Ball footA furniture foot cut to imitate a talon or claw grasping a ball. Of Chinese origin, the motif was greatly used in English 18th-century furniture.
CloissonéA type of enamelware in which the various colors are separated and held by delicate metal partition filaments. Used most frequently for lamp bases, cigarette boxes, and ash trays.
Cockfight chairChair for reading and writing or viewing sports events used by straddling the seat and facing the back. The back has a small shelf. Popular from Queen Anne to Chippendale periods.
Comb backWindsor chair back, with a central group of spindles that extend above the back and are crowned with an additional rail.
CommodeFrench form of low chest-of-drawers, originally intended for the drawing room, dating from the mid 17th-century and very popular in the 18th century. Became a term for bedroom cupboards in the 19th century.
Console tableA small table that can be attached to the wall in the back having two legs in front or can be free-standing against the wall.
Conversation chairS-shaped chair meant to seat two people facing in opposite directions. Used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Also referred to as a tête à tête, a French term meaning "head-to-head."
Corner cupboardLate 17th-century cupboard designed to fit into the corner of a room. Can be either hanging or free-standing.
CorniceThe projecting, crowning portion of a classical entablature. Also horizontal molding at the top of case pieces, such as bookcases and cabinets.
CornucopiaClassical motif in the shape of a goat's horn out of which spills fruit, vegetables, and flowers. A symbol of fertility and abundance popular during the Baroque and Rococo periods. Also called horn-of-plenty.
CoromandelAn Eastern wood, used for furniture and often treated with a lacquered pattern.
CredenzaSideboard with doors surmounted by drawers, used for storage.
CrossbandingThin strips of decorative cross-grained veneer.
Crotch veneerA thin sheet of wood cut from the intersection of the main trunk and branch of a tree, showing an irregular effect of graining.
Crown moldingThe highest molding on a door, window, or cabinet.

D

DadoThe lower portion of a wall, when treated differently from the surface above it. It is often paneled or ornamented. A low wainscot.
DamaskA linen, cotton, rayon, or silk fabric with a reversible jacquard weave and a lustrous surface.
Dante chairType of chair popular in the Italian Renaissance period with heavy curved arms and legs, usually having a leather or cloth back and seat.
Davenport tableA long narrow table which may be placed behind a sofa.
Day bedA long chair or bed which, in French design, has one arm. In America, a footboard of the same height is sometimes added, and the piece is placed lengthwise along the wall.
DecalcomaniaThe process of transferring paper cut-outs to the surface of wood, glass, or porcelain for decorative interest.
DelftEarthenware made in The Netherlands, known for its heavy glaze. A blue underglaze decoration of conventional patterns with town and landscape scenes on a white background.
DioramaA life-size exhibit of a wildlife specimen or scene with realistic natural surroundings and a painted background.
DirectoireA period of design in France after the Revolution, from 1795 to 1804. Characterized by Roman motifs and named for the Directory, the government at the time.
DovetailA term in carpentry used to designate a method of joinery. A tenon or tongue that flares outward in the shape of a dove's tail that interlocks with alternating similar grooves or projections from another piece of wood. Frequently used to join corners of drawers and cabinets.
DowelHeadless pin of metal or wood which fits into a corresponding hole on another piece, forming a joint fastening them together.
Drop-frontA top or front of a desk hinged at the bottom that drops to a horizontal position, forming a surface for writing. Also called a drop-lid.
Drop-leafA leaf, hinged to the side of a table, which drops at the side when not in use.
Drum tableA round table with a deep apron resembling a drum.
Dumbwaiter tableA serving table, consisting of three or four circular trays on a central shaft with the smallest being at the top and the largest at the bottom. Also known as a tier table.

E

Early AmericanA period in the design of American furniture during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The designs were simple and rugged generally made of solid wood, especially pine, maple, birch, and oak. The furniture was copied largely from English Jacobean and William and Mary styles.
EarthenwarePottery made from simple clay mixtures, fired or baked under relatively low heat. It is quite porous, non-translucent and soft.
ÉbénisteFrench term to designate a high-grade cabinetmaker specializing in the art of veneering.
Egg-and-dartA decorative motif of classical origin consisting of ovoid or egg shapes alternating with dart-like points.
ElmA uniform and fine textured wood with a light brownish-red color tinged with darker brown ring marks.
EmbossingA process of stamping, hammering or molding a material so that a design protrudes beyond the surface.
EmbroideryDecorative needlework, worked on fabric by hand or machine with a silk, cotton, wool, rayon, or metal thread.
EmpireA period of Neo-classic design during the reign of Napoleon 1804-14. Greek, Roman, and Egyptian motifs were widely used. The style spread throughout Europe and appeared in America in some of Duncan Phyfe's work.
EnamelA colored glaze used to decorate metal and ceramic surfaces. It becomes hard and permanent after firing.
EpergneAn ornamental centerpiece usually of glass or silver or a combination of both. Two or more vase-shaped holders are branched upward from a decorative base to hold flowers or fruits.
EscutcheonMetal plate fitted around a keyhole for protection and decoration or to which a handle or knob can be attached.
ÉtagèreSet of free-standing or wall shelves used to display objects, sometimes with drawers or doors.
EtchingsPrints from a copper plate upon which a drawing or design has been made by a metal tool.

F

FaïenceRichly decorated and colorful pottery produced first in Faenza, Italy and at Rouen, France about 1644. Small flowers, cornucopias and arrows are typical motifs done in blue, green, and yellow on a cream-white background.
Fantasy furnitureUnusual and exotic furnishings produced throughout Europe, America, and the Far East during the 19th and 20th centuries. Furniture and objects are whimsical, fantastical creations, transformed far beyond mere practicality and decorated to please the eccentric tastes of their designers and commissioners.
FauteuilFrench open-armed chair with upholstered seat and back.
FederalAn American period 1780-1830 influenced by English Adam, Sheraton, Regency, Hepplewhite, French Directoire, and Empire. Mahogany was used extensively but cherry, pine, and maple were also used. The most common ornament on this period of furniture was the eagle.
FestoonRenaissance and Neoclassical motif in the shape of a suspended loop of drapery or a garland of flowers and fruit.
Fiddle backAn American Colonial rush-seated chair of the Queen Anne style, with the back splat in a form of a violin or fiddle.
FiligreeLace-like ornament made from delicately curled and twisted gold or silver wire. Also can be used as decorative carving motif on furniture.
FinialAn ornament used as a terminating motif usually in the form of a ball, flame, flower, acorn, pineapple, or vase.
Fleur-de-lisThe conventionalized iris flower used by the former kings of France as a decorative motif symbolizing royalty.
Flip-topA table having two leaves, one on top of the other.
FlutingDecoration formed by making parallel, concave grooves. In classical architecture they are commonly seen on column shafts and run in a vertical direction.
French ProvincialFurniture style created by craftsmen in the French provinces. Local woods were generally used for pieces that were practical for the home. Tended to be simpler versions of the Louis XV style.
FrescoA painting done on plaster before it dries, generally in mural decoration.
FretworkInterlocking geometrical designs cut from the piece's own wood and used ornamentally.

G

GadroonRelief pattern consisting of a series of parallel, convex lobes projecting beyond the surface, or inverted fluting. Popular in late 17th-century England and 18th-century America.
GalleryThe ornamental metal or wood railing around the edge of a table or desk.
Gateleg tableA table with two drop leaves, one on either side. When raised they are supported by legs which swing out like gates from the center.
GeorgianA period of design in English furniture from 1714 to 1795. Among the best known designers were Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Chippendale, and the Adams Brothers. Mahogany and walnut were the chief woods used.
GessoA prepared plaster of chalk and white lead which may be cast to make repeating ornamental forms in relief to be applied to wood panels, plaster surfaces, etc.
GildingOrnamental coating of gold leaf or gold dust. Also known as bronze doré.
GirandoleElaborate candelabra associated with Rococo and Neoclassical design. Also refers to heavily carved or gilded sconces or wall brackets with mirrored backplates to reflect the candlelight.
Grotesque & MythologicalFanciful decoration emphasizing the supernatural and comical elements in furniture, designed with demons, dragons, griffins, nymphs, dwarfs, and other mythical creatures.
GrottoFurniture designed in the late 19th and early 20th century in Venice. Comprised of four basic components: scalloped shells, sea horses, dolphins, and triton horses.
GuéridonA small table or pedestal with a circular top dating from the 17th and early 18th centuries. Originally used to support candelabras.

H

Hadley chestA type of Early American New England-made chest which stood on four feet and usually had only one drawer, and was decorated with crude incised carving.
HallmarkThe mark or marks designating that a piece of metalwork has received an official approval of quality. Usually given by Goldsmith's Hall, London.
HassockA tightly stuffed, upholstered cushion used as a footstool or seat.
HepplewhiteAn English designer in the 18th century who frequently co-operated with the Adams Brothers. He wrote "The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Guide."
HighboyTall chest of drawers supported by cabriole legs and usually crowned with cornice moldings or a pediment. Popular in 18th-century America.
HitchcockA small chair of American design made during the period of 1820 to 1850, named after Lambert Hitchcock. It has an oval top rail and cane or rush seat and is usually decorated with a stencil of fruit and flowers.
Horn & AntlerFurniture made in England, Germany and Austria for the European trade. Also made in Texas in the 19th century with horns from the Texas longhorn steer. Horns and antlers were retained as trophies of the chase and were eventually used in the 15th and 16th centuries to decorate chandeliers. In the 18th century they became components of chairs, tables, and other pieces of furniture.
HorsehairStiff, long hairs from the horse's mane and tail, woven into a fabric used principally for stiffening in drapery and upholstery work. Formerly used as a furniture covering on Victorian chairs and sofas.
HutchAnother name for a chest, sometimes seen with shelves mounted on top. Common in the Gothic household.

I

IconPortrait or image. In the Greek and Russian church it refers to the panels containing portraits or figures of sacred personages, as the Virgin, and the various saints.
IncisedA pattern or carving produced by cutting into a stone, wood, or other hard surface. The reverse of relief carving.
InlayForm of decoration which involves cutting small pieces of ivory, precious metals, mother-of-pearl, or wood which are then fitted into carved-out recesses of the same shape on a solid piece of furniture to create a picture or geometric design. Differs from marquetry which uses applied veneers.
IntaglioIncised or sunk decoration.
IntarsiaElaborate pictorial marquetry or inlaid paneling, used in Renaissance Italy and also 16th-century Germany.

J

JacobeanPeriod in English design from 1603 to 1688, characterized by practicality and a tendency toward Baroque. Early American furniture is based on this period. Box-like and architectural in style.
Jacquard Type of weave done on a loom invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801, making possible a variety of intricate patterns. Damasks, brocades, and tapestries can be woven on jacquard looms.
JapanningA process much used in the 18th century by which furniture and metalwork were enameled with colored shellac and the decoration raised and painted with gold and other colors.
JardinereA French term used to identify a decorative china or metal cache pot designed to hold a small potted plant or cut flowers.
Jasper wareA name given by Wedgwood to a type of dull, white biscuit that can be colored and decorated. Introduced in the late 18th century.
JoineryThe craft of assembling woodwork by means of mortise and tenon, dovetail, tongue and groove, dowels, etc.

K

KingwoodA Brazilian wood, also called violet wood from the color of its markings, used in fine cabinetwork.
KlismosClassical Greek chair with sabre legs, the front ones curving forwards and the back ones backwards. The chair-back has a concave top-rail attached to verticals.
Kneehole deskDesk with a solid lower portion but with an opening for the knees of a person seated at it.

L

LacquerOriental varnish obtained from the sap of the lacquer tree. Gave a high-gloss finish to furniture in Europe in the 17th century. Mother-of-pearl, coral, and metals were often inlaid in the lacquer to create a decorative effect.
Ladder backAn arm or side chair having a back composed of several horizontal slats in a ladder-like fashion. Common in early American furniture.
LaliqueA luminous, transparent glass introduced in the early 20th century by René Lalique of France. Most of his designs have a sculptural quality achieved by pressing and alternating a dull with a polished surface.
LatticeAn openwork criss-cross pattern.
LavaboA washstand or washbowl, often with a fountain or water supply.
LecternA pedestal support for a large book.
LinenfoldForm of carving which imitated vertical folds of drapery. Probably Flemish in origin, it was widely used in the 15th and 16th centuries to decorate furniture and wall paneling.
LithographA print made by putting writing or designs on stone with a greasy material, and producing printed impressions from this process. Invented by Senefelder about 1796.
LopersPoles, normally rectangular, which could be pulled out from the sides of a cabinet to support the flap-top of desks.
Louis XIVReigned in France between 1643 and 1715. Influenced the Baroque style in furniture during the earlier part of the reign which later developed into the Regence style. Mahogany and oak were widely used. Baroque was large, masculine, and symmetrical. Regence was characterized by its use of curves and introduction of Chinoiserie. Ornamentation was usually done with rocks, shells, and flowers.
Louis XVKnown as the Sun King, he reigned in France between 1715 and 1774. The style of furniture was essentially Rococo with soft, flowing lines, shell and flower ornamentation, rich upholstery, inlaying and painted furniture.
Louis XVIReigned in France between 1774 and 1793. Characteristics of this style were rectangular lines, architectural ornamentation, classic symmetry, marquetry, and the predominant use of mahogany.
LowboyChest of drawers mounted on short legs. Usually about three feet high.
LowestoftPorcelain ware originally made in China during the period of the East India Trading Co. Also known as Chinese export porcelain. Enriched with motifs such as coats-of-arms, American eagles, hunting scenes, nautical emblems, mythological scenes, etc. reflecting the Dutch, French, English and American markets it was designed for.
LusterA thin metallic glaze used on pottery to produce a rich, iridescent color.
Lyre backDesign commonly used by Duncan Phyfe on the backs of chairs. A representation of lyre figures carved from wood with brass wires used to represent the strings.

M

MahoganyStraight-grained hard wood with silky texture, ranging in color from salmon-pink through bright red and when newly cut, changes to a golden or deep brown red.
MajolicaItalian and Spanish pottery coated with a tin enamel and painted with bright colors.
MantelThe projecting shelf surmounting a fireplace.
MapleLight reddish-brown wood with uniform texture. Grain is usually straight except when different veneers are used.
Marlborough legA heavy, straight-grooved furniture leg used in later work by Chippendale and in mid 18th-century American mahogany furniture.
MarquetryA flush pattern produced by inserting contrasting materials in a veneered surface. Rare, grained, and colored woods are usually used, but thin layers of tortoiseshell, ivory, mother-of-pearl, and metals are also seen. If the pattern is of a geometric nature, it is called parquetry.
MedallionA circular or oval frame having within it an ornamental motif.
MeridienneSofa with one arm higher than the other.
Ming PeriodEra in the making of Chinese porcelain during the Ming dynasty 1368-1644, which had a great influence on English porcelain. Both monochrome and polychrome were developed by Chinese potters for painted decoration in color, rather than the colored glazes which had been previously used.
Mission styleFurniture made mostly from oak and marked by simplicity and durability. Design was usually rectangular. Produced in the early 1900s by such well-known designers as Gustav Stickley and the craftsmen of the Roycroft community in East Aurora, New York. Style combined floral forms of Art Nouveau with the materials and methods of the British Arts and Crafts movement.
Mortise-and-tenonA hole cut in a piece of wood and intended to receive a tenon projecting from another piece of wood.
MosaicSmall squares of colored stone or glass set in cement and arranged in a picture or pattern. A popular form of mural decoration in Early Christian and Byzantine art.
Mother-of-pearlIridescent white inlay composed of the highly polished pearly lining of certain sea shells.

N

Neo-classicRefers to the second revival of classic design for interior decoration in the 18th century.
Nesting tablesGroup of tables, usually three, constructed so that one fits under the other.
Newel postA heavy post placed at the end of the handrail at the bottom of a stairway.
NicheA recessed or hollow space in a wall, intended to hold a statue or ornament.

O

OakWood varies from light tan to deep leathery brown with black spots. Variations due to differences in climate and soil.
ObeliskTall, square stone monumental shaft with pyramidal top used in ancient Egypt. The form, on a small scale in alabaster, is used as a decorative ornament in Directoire, Empire, and contemporary interiors.
Occasional tableGeneric term for decorative, small tables such as end tables, coffee tables, lamp tables, etc.
OrmoluFrench term for a type of cast bronze ornament, finished by hand-chasing and surfaced with gold. Also known as gilt-bronze or bronze doré. Often used to refer to bronze furniture mounts enhanced by gilding.
OttomanA low, upholstered seat without back or arms. Sometimes used as a foot-rest.

P

Pad footClub foot resting on an integral disc.
PagodaIn China and Japan, a tower, usually having several stories, built in connection with a temple or monastery.
PalmetteFan-shaped pattern derived from the shape of a palm-tree leaf. Neo-classical motif.
Papier-mâchéTechnique using sand, chalk, and paper pulp molded while wet into decorative forms and furniture. Popular in 19th-century Europe and America.
ParquetryInlay of geometric design, used for decorative flooring.
Partner's deskDesk large enough to seat two people facing each other with working drawers on both sides.
PateraRound or oval medallion motif frequently incorporating fluting, leaves or flower petals in its design. Often carved, but also painted or inlaid into Neo-classical furniture.
Pâte-sur-pâteLiterally paste-on-paste. French phrase for a special type of decoration on pottery by which layers of white slip are painted on a colored body and the design chiseled out.
PatinaTerm used to designate a mellow sheen formed on the surface of furniture, due to wear, age, exposure, and hand-rubbing. Also a film, usually greenish, formed on copper or bronze after long exposure.
PedestalTall, narrow base which supports a statue, lamp, vase or any decorative object. Usually treated with moldings at the top and a base block on the bottom. Without moldings it is called a plinth.
PedimentBroad triangular or curved space above a portico, doorway, window or cabinet. Can have segmental, scroll, and broken forms.
Pembroke tableA drop-leaf table.
Petit-pointSmall-stitch embroidery which is worked on a single thread net, covering the entire surface. Term usually applies when there are more than 256 stitches to the square inch.
PewterAlloy of tin and lead which has a dull gray appearance and is used for the making of tableware and ornaments. Originally it was intended as a substitute for silver but its value diminished in the 17th century with the advent of chinaware for everyday use.
Phyfe, DuncanAmerica's most famous cabinetmaker 1768-1854. His work was greatly influenced by Sheraton, Directoire, and Empire design. He used mostly mahogany with finely carved ornaments. Known for Federal design.
Pie-crust tableA small, round table having a top with its edge carved or molded in scallops. Common in 18th-century English furniture.
Pier glassTall, narrow framed mirror originally placed between two windows to enhance light coming into a room. Often an accompaniment to a low table or console.
Pietre dureForm of decorative work using a variety of semi-precious stones perfected in Italy c.1600. This method proved costly so a cheaper imitation, scagliola, was often used.
PilasterArchitectural term for a flattened column attached to a facade for decoration rather than structural support.
PineWood that is uniform in texture but sometimes strongly marked with annual rings. It dries easily and does not shrink or swell greatly with changes in moisture content.
Pole screenAdjustable panel mounted on a vertical pole.
PolychromeOrnament or pattern in several colors.
PoplarEven-textured and straight-grained wood, it is available in lumber as well as in thin stock suitable for cross-banding and face veneers.
PorcelainA hard, non-porous pottery. True porcelain is made of kaolin or china clay.
PorphyryRock substance composed of crystals of quartz, used during the reign of Louis XIV for table tops.
PoudreusePiece of occasional furniture, introduced at the end of Louis XIV period, in the form of a small table with a mirrored lid in the center that lifts up to reveal a compartment for toiletries.
Powder hornA flask for carrying gunpowder, made of the horn of an ox or cow.
Prie dieuA late 18th-century low-seated armless chair with a high back and wide top-rail on which to rest a prayer book. Often upholstered with Berlin woolwork.
ProvincialPeasant-like and naïve in style.
PuttiA young boy, commonly seen in Italian painting and sculpture.

Q

Queen AnneA period in English furniture design from 1702-1714, characterized by an adaptation of Baroque and the extensive use of the cabriole leg. Walnut was the dominant wood.

R

RattanA climbing palm, remarkable for the great length attained by its stems. Commonly used for wickerwork, seats of chairs, walking sticks, etc.
RecamierA long chair designed for relaxing and semi-reclining, usually upholstered. Adapted from the French 18th-century style, it is also called a chaise longue.
Refectory tableA long and narrow table having stretchers close to the floor.
Regence FrenchTransitional period in French furniture design between Louis XIV and the Rococo style developed by Louis XV. Named for the time frame in France from 1715-1728 when Philip, Duke of Orleans, reigned. Characteristics are graceful curves, the cabriole leg, and ornamentation copied from nature rather than mythology. Bright veneers of rosewood and satinwood were widely used.
Regency EnglishPeriod of severe neoclassicism from 1810-1820 influenced by the French Empire.
ReliefForms of molded, carved or stamped decoration raised from the surface of a piece of furniture forming a pattern.
RenaissanceRevival of interest in classical design, beginning in Italy during the 14th century and continuing to spread throughout Europe until the 17th century. Design is simple in structure with a generous use of classical ornament, such as the acanthus leaf, animal forms, and pilasters.
RepousséOrnamental relief work on sheet metal. The design is pushed out by hammering from the reverse side, similar to embossing. Used extensively in Spanish art.
Ribband backChair back designed with pattern of interlacing ribbons. Characteristic of Chippendale style.
RococoPeriod in French design originating in the 18th century after Baroque. It was asymetrical and tended to be over-ornamented. Name is derived from the French words rocaille and coquille rock and shell, prominent motifs in this decoration.
RosewoodA wood of a dark-red or purplish color and variegated with black, obtained from various tropical trees. The most important commercial sources are Brazilian rosewood and Honduras rosewood.
Roundabout chairA type of chair designed to fit into a corner. It has a low back on two adjoining sides of a square seat.
Rush seatChair seat made of rush stalks which were plaited together in order to form an even surface. Popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and particularly used on slat-back chairs.
Rustic furnitureOf or pertaining to the country, with plain, simple, and sturdy designs. First gained popularity in America during the late Victorian and turn-of-the-century periods. It is usually found in resort and vacation areas, such as the Adirondacks. Motifs include bent twigs, root designs, and huge tree stumps formed into furniture. Woods used were white and yellow birch, red cedar, cherry twigs, etc. The Old Hickory Chair Company, started in Indiana in 1892, was one of the largest firms to produce rustic pieces.

S

Sabre legShaped like a sabre, either round or square-sectioned, and gently tapering to the ground. Used on the Greek klismos and revived on 18th and 19th-century seat furniture.
Salon setComplete set of matched furniture for a specific room. Also called a suite.
SamovarAn urn with a spigot at its base used especially in Russia to boil water for tea.
SamplerA piece of needlework intended to show a beginner's skill. Alphabets and naïve patterns were worked in cross-stitch on a net canvas or cloth background. Popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and America.
SarcophagusA rectangular, coffin-shaped box tapering to a smaller size at the bottom. Can be used as a cellaret or tea caddy.
SatinwoodA bright, rich golden-yellow wood, hard in texture. Imported from Brazil or grown in southern India and Ceylon.
Savanarola chairType of chair popular in the Italian Renaissance period composed of interlacing curved slats on the sides, usually having a carved wooden back and arms.
SavonnerieHand-knotted carpet made of fine quality selected yarns. Woven in France, the patterns are usually 18th-century French in design. The pile is soft and deep.
Scallop shellA semi-circular shell with ridges radiating from a point at the bottom. This ornamental motif was common in furniture design during the Queen Anne and Georgian periods in England and America. It was also extensively used in the early Spanish Renaissance.
SconceA bracketed wall-light comprising a decorative backplate and candleholders. Very fashionable from the late 17th century. Rococo versions are often called girandoles.
Scroll pedimentBroken pediment with each half shaped in the form of a reverse curve, and ending in an ornamental scroll. Usually a finial is placed in the center between the two halves.
Secretary deskAn 18th-century tall piece of furniture with drawers at the bottom, a bookcase on top, and a desk with a drop-lid in the center.
Sedan chairEnclosed chair, carried by four men, used for transportation in the 18th century.
Serpentine curveWinding and curving design often used in furniture legs or on the front of cabinets or desks.
Sgabello chairA small wooden Renaissance chair, usually having a carved splat back, an octagonal seat, and carved trestle supports.
Shaker furnitureA type of furniture made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by the Shakers, a religious sect in New York State and later in New England. The designs were functional and plain. Built-ins were characteristic.
Sheraton, ThomasSheraton 1750-1806, an English cabinetmaker whose name has been given to a school of design in English furniture. Using mahogany as his dominant wood, he followed the classic, simple design in the wake of Adam and Hepplewhite.
Shield backA chair back fashioned in the shape of a shield. Common in Hepplewhite designs.
SideboardA long, large piece of dining-room furniture with a flat top, and sometimes a superstructure for displaying china and glass. The body is a storage unit, composed of drawers, sometimes flanked on each side by cabinets with doors.
SilhouetteThe outline of an object. Also a representation of such an outline, filled in with black or color, used as a picture.
SingerieDecoration depicting monkeys in human costumes and often comical situations. Associated with Chinoiserie, it was popular during the Rococo period.
Slat-back chairAn Early American chair design. The back was made up of several parallel horizontal rails attached to the back uprights.
Slip seatAn upholstered wood frame that slips into the framework of a chair seat. It can easily be removed to change the covering.
Slipper chairAny short-legged chair with its seat close to the floor.
Spade footA square, tapering foot, designed in the shape of a spade, separated from the rest of the leg by a slight projection. Used in Hepplewhite design.
SplatCentral flat support between a chair's seat and the top-rail.
Spool turnedType of ornamentation which employed a series of round turnings, giving the effect of a line of spools. Very popular in 19th-century America and was used on chair legs, table legs, etc.
Staffordshire potteryPottery made in Staffordshire County, England. Provincial in shape, ornamentation and coloring. The better grades are usually known by the individual names of their makers.
SterlingA term used in connection with silverware, indicating that the silver is 92.5 percent pure.
StrapworkOriginating in the 16th century in The Netherlands, this pattern of interlaced strap-like bands was extensively used in Northern European furniture in the 16th and 17th centuries. It enjoyed a revival in the 19th century.
StretcherStrengthening or stabilizing rail which runs horizontally between furniture legs, often forming X, H, or Y shapes.
StuccoPlaster or cement used as a coating for walls.
Student lampDesk lamp of metal, usually brass, having a tubular shaft and either one or two arms. Shades are of opaque glass usually in dark green or white.

T

TallboyCalled a chest-on-chest until the 18th century, this high chest-of-drawers has more drawers below than on top.
Tambour deskType of desk design introduced during the Louis XV period having a low secretary top with sliding door panels made of thin strips of wood.
TeakwoodWood from Burma, Java, the East Indies, Siam, French Indochina, and has been planted successfully in the Philippines. A strong, tough wood, it ranges in color from light tawny yellow to dark brown. Slightly oily.
Terra cottaHard-baked pottery used in decorative arts and as a building material, usually of a red-brown clay, but may be colored with paint or baked glaze.
TesterWooden or fabric canopy which projects over the top of a four-poster bed.
Tête-à-têteA French term literally meaning "head-to-head," it is an S-shaped chair meant to seat two people facing in opposite directions. Used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Also referred to as a conversation seat.
Tie-backsBands of decorative fabric to hold back curtains or draperies to each side of a window. Also ornamental bands or knobs of metal, wood, glass, or plastic used for the same purpose.
TigerwoodWest African wood. Varies greatly in character and color from a dull grayish-brown walnut with black streaks to a bright satinwood gold. Ribbon stripes are pronounced as in a tiger's coat of fur, and the veneer is particularly effective when sliced.
Tilt-top tableTable with whole top hinged to a pedestal base so that it can be tipped from a horizontal to a vertical position when not in use.
ToleA French word for tin, it is usually decorated by means of japanning.
Tongue-and-grooveStraight or right-angled joint made by cutting a groove into one piece of wood into which fits the projecting groove from another. Used from the 19th century onwards.
Top-railThe uppermost horizontal rail on a chair-back.
TorchiereType of floor lamp equipped with a decorative glass or metal reflector bowl designed to throw light upward.
TortoiseshellFragments of the shell of the sea turtle used for furniture inlays.
Tray tableFolding stand with canvas cross-straps to support a tray. Similar to a luggage rack.
Trestle tableTable composed of a long, oblong board, originally supported by a trestle or saw horse, but now supported by posts and feet.
Trompe l'oeilIdiomatic French term meaning literally "fool the eye." A type of decoration borrowed by the French from the Greeks during the 17th century. Objects painted in perspective to suggest their reality by an optical illusion.
TrumeauThe decorative treatment of the space over a mantel, door, or window, consisting of a mirror or painting. Specifically, the overmantel panel treatment of the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods.
Trumpet legA conical leg turned with a flared end and shaped like a trumpet.
TudorPeriod of English furniture design during the reign of the House of Tudor 1485-1603. Essentially Gothic in character, heavy, massive, and richly carved, with oak being the predominant wood. Such ornamentation as Tudor roses, strapwork, inlaying and caryatids were used.
TurningDecoration produced by rotating or turning wood on a lathe and cutting it to form twisted or bulbous designs. All periods have employed turning, especially on the legs of tables. The design of the turning is often the key to the period to which the furniture belongs.

U

UnderglazeA term used to define a pattern applied to pottery before the final glazing is applied.

V

ValenceA horizontal feature used as the heading of overdraperies and made of textile, wood, metal, or other material.
VarguenoSpanish writing and storage desk dating from the 16th century, consisting of a square or rectangular top, the flap-front of which conceals drawers. When opened, the flap-top rests on lopers to form a writing surface. The whole piece is supported by an open or cupboard-like stand.
VeneerFurniture-making technique which consists of affixing a thin layer or strips of fine wood to the surface of a piece of furniture, usually of a coarser material. First used in ancient Egypt, and then in Classical Greece and Rome, but not again until the 17th century in The Netherlands.
Venetian furnitureName applied to the extravagantly curved and ornamented furniture of Baroque and Rococo influence, produced in Italy during the late Renaissance.
Vernis MartinA sophisticated japanning technique developed by the Martin brothers in France c.1730. This form of reproducing the effect of Oriental lacquer reached the height of its popularity in mid 18th-century France.
Verre églomiséTechnique widely used at the turn of the 18th century to produce highly decorative mirrors. Gold or silver was applied to the mirror back and engraved with a needle before placing black or another contrasting color behind the foil. This was then enclosed with a second layer of glass or a coating of varnish.
VictorianPeriod in English furniture during the reign of Queen Victoria 1837-1901. Consists of a resurrection of many previous periods: Gothic, Turkish, and Louis XV.
Vitruvian scrollRepeating pattern resembling a series of C-scrolls or waves. Of classical origin, it was commonly used on 18th-century furniture.

W

Wainscot chairJacobean or Early American chair made completely of wood, usually oak, with a high, carved panel-design back.
WalnutWood is of a chocolate-brown color, firm and even-textured. A popular cabinet wood for both lumber and veneer.
WedgwoodEnglish pottery ware with a hard texture, first produced by Josiah Wedgwood 1730-1795. He used antique pottery as his model and is famous for cream-colored earthenware, decorative objects of a black composition known as Egyptian or jasper ware, and terra cotta.
What-notPiece of furniture with several shelves for bric-a-brac, figurines, etc. Introduced during the Victorian period in America.
WickerA small, pliant twig or rod for plaiting basketwork.
William and MaryPeriod of English furniture from 1688 to 1702. The Dutch Baroque influence is present in the designs and the predominant wood is walnut. Such ornamentations as the cabriole leg, the cup and bun turning, and seaweed marquetry are widely used.
Windsor chairType of chair, usually of walnut or birch, originating in England in the 18th century. May have a variety of back designs, such as a fan back, a hoop back, a comb back. Usually with a scooped or shaped wood seat. The legs are pegged into the sides rather than covered with an apron.
Wing chairChair with side pieces shaped like wings, which jut from each side of the top of the armchair back. Originally used to block drafts.

X

X-frame chairAn X-shaped, often folding, structure was used to support this type of chair or stool. Known to have existed in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, this chair enjoyed a medieval revival and was a popular prototype during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Y

YewWood ranging in color from bright tan to red-brown but usually a uniformly warm brown upon exposure. The grain is rarely straight.
YokeA cross-bar in the form of two S-curves used for the top rail of chair backs. Typical of Georgian furniture.
Yorkshire chairA popular name for a type of Jacobean chair of provincial origin.

Z

Zsolnay potteryFirst produced in Hungary in 1853 at a factory in Pecs, this type of pottery reached its height during the Art Nouveau period. It is identified by its iridescent glaze and frost-resistant building decorations.


Sources:
Kylloe, Ralph. Rustic Traditions. Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1993.
Newman, Bruce M. Fantasy Furniture. New York: Rizzoli, 1989.
Payne, Christopher. Sotheby's Concise Encyclopedia of Furniture.
United Kingdom: Conran Octopus Limited, 1989.
Whiton, Sherrill. Interior Design and Decoration. New York: HarperCollins, 1974.
 

MY NEWEL

my newel
Create: Projects, memos, lists

News & Events

Carole Gratale has collaborated with Newel in designing a most spectacular and stunning collection of bespoke items. These pieces are all on view here at the gallery- all a must see!!

Newel Antiques News and Events
The world's premier art and antiques dealer. Shop the premier global luxury art and dealer for antiques, mid-century modern furniture and lighting, and fine ...
425 East 53rd Street
New York
NY
10022
USA