Glossary of Furniture Terms

Posted on Sep 13, 2011

Armoire A free standing wardrobe that often has drawers, cabinet doors, shelves & hanging rods. Armoire, a French word, translates to closet or wardrobe in English and originated from an era when built in closets were not customary.

Arts & Crafts Style – A design style that originated from the Arts & Crafts Movement and focuses on handcrafted goods made by artisans using natural, high quality materials and craftsmanship.  The Arts & Crafts Movement was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and advocated a return to the high quality handmade goods as opposed to cheap, mass-produced, machine made products.  The Arts & Crafts Movement made an enormous & lasting impact on furniture design, style and production.

Benchcraft – A process by which each piece of furniture is built by hand on one master craftsman’s work bench rather than being machine made or handed from one worker to another. Tools are used but they are operated by a human who is using his or her expertise and judgment to create a piece that cannot be duplicated by machinery.

Chifferobe – Freestanding closet with drawers on one side and a door with shelves or a hanging rod on the other side.

Cottage Furniture A style of furniture & decorating that is suited for easy coastal living.  Charming, simple and cozy, cottage furniture is often made of pine wood and painted bright crisp colors of the seascape.

Credenza – Often a dining room cupboard, also known as a buffet or sideboard.

Dovetail Joints – An interlocking joint that is formed by protruding, dovetail shaped tenons that fit tightly into the same shape cutouts (mortises) on the other board. This joint has two different styles: English & French.  It is often used in drawer construction because of its extreme strength and is one of the hallmarks of finely crafted furniture.  Dovetails joints should be used in all four corners of drawer boxes.

Heirloom Quality – A level of quality that is achieved when only the finest techniques and materials are implemented to build furniture that will last generations and thereby become treasured heirlooms.

Jewelry Drawer –
A drawer that is designed to store jewelry, and is often not very tall, but rather wide, and may be lined with some sort of soft cloth. Jewelry drawers are often toward the top of the dresser or chest and are sometimes “hidden” by being very inconspicuously set in the crown moulding.

Kiln Dried Wood Wood that has been slowly dried in a climate controlled atmosphere, as opposed to air drying. Once a log has been cut, it is placed in a kiln where temperature, humidity and air circulation are all monitored & manipulated to optimally draw out the wood’s moisture to the desired level. Kiln drying is preferable because it allows the most control of the environment in which the wood is drying and can be changed according to needs at different stages. Another major advantage to kiln dried wood is that it results in lower moisture content than air dried wood and therefore is more resistant to swelling & shrinkage caused by humidity changes.

MDF – Medium Density Fiberboard is an engineered wood product made from wood fibers that are glued together under high heat & pressure.  The resin binders most often used to fuse the wood fibers together contain formaldehyde which gets emitted into the air over time, along with other volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).  Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and is particularly damaging to the respiratory system.  Low emission MDF does exist and is often called SDF (Sustainable Design Fiberboard).

Mission Style – A design style that emphasizes simplicity, sturdy construction, and craftsmanship. Mission style furniture has clean, simple lines that define its elegant, angular structure.

Mortise & Tenon Joinery – One of the strongest methods of joining two pieces of wood, and is formed by inserting a tongue-like extension of one board, the tenon, into a precisely cut opening in the joining board, the mortise.

Mule Chest – Large, upright chest which often consists of two sections: the base, which has drawers as would a chest, and the top which has cabinets that may house drawers of varying sizes, shelves and/or handing rods.

Particle Board – An engineered wood product that is made from wood chips, sawdust and other waste wood.  It is often pressed together using heat & chemical adhesives, usually containing formaldehyde or melamine, which in turn get released into the air we breathe.  Particle board is lighter, weaker and cheaper than most fiberboards and is extensively used in mass-produced furniture where the focus is on price, not safety & quality.  Low emission particle board does exist.

Platform Bed – A bed frame with a flat, solid mattress support that makes the use of a box spring unnecessary.

Plywood – An engineered wood that is made of a number of thin layers of wood glued together to make one board. The layers of wood are laid in alternating grain direction to increase strength.  Plywood is glued together using adhesives that have traditionally been formaldehyde based.  Some plywood manufacturers have become savvy to consumer demands for better air quality &  low emission plywood, such as PureBond by Columbia Forest Products, a formaldehyde free plywood used on drawer bottoms and the backs of American Eco Furniture’s case goods.

Floating Panels (aka, rails & stiles)Rails & Stiles Also known as Floating Panels, this frame construction ensures that panels will not warp or bend with changing climate conditions. Rather than gluing, screwing or nailing panels and frames together, a groove is cut into the frame that allows the panel to “float” as temperature and humidity change. If the panel is nailed to the frame, the panel will bend and warp over time because its movements are restricted.

Raised Panels – A panel with beveled, contoured or shaped edges that create a raised, three-dimensional effect.

Reclaimed Wood – Wood that has been previously used to make a structure, pallet, wine/whiskey barrel etc., and is salvaged to reuse in building another structure, furniture, art, floors among many other uses.

Sleigh Bed – A bed with a headboard & footboard that roll outward at the top and bear a resemblance to sleighs.

Solid Wood – Wood that is the result of cutting logs into planks and is 100% free of composite or engineered products, which are pressed together using toxic chemicals and adhesives.

Sustainably Harvested Wood – Lumber that has been harvested from forests in a manner that ensures:

– the trees are not over-harvested into endangerment of the species
– the trees being harvested are not endangered species or illegal to harvest, but rather plentiful & legal
– peoples living in the vicinity of the harvesting are not displaced as a result
– natural resources such as water & soil are not abused
– the ecosystems of the forests are not damaged
– no GMO trees are used

Table Leaf – An extension to a table that can be added or removed as necessary.  Some tables have the option of more than one leaf, and some tables self-store the leaves when not in use.

Trestle Table – A style of table that has a horizontal beam running between the legs of the table so as to provide extra support and unique aesthetic appeal.

Veneer A thin layer of either fine quality or exotic wood applied to the surface of a lesser quality material, often plywood or MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard).

Wardrobe – An upright cabinet meant for clothing storage and usually has doors & drawers.  It is often used interchangeably with Armoire.

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