Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms relating to English furniture

By Christopher Claxton Stevens

All words in bold font have their own entry


A Classical fleshy leaf decoration of the acanthus mollis, used for example on capitals of the Corinthian order.


The finials or pedestals flanking a pediment and at its apex. Used for statues, urns etc. and sometimes for Regency bracket feet.


A narrow flat band or collar encircling a Gothic column.


A Classical stylised honeysuckle ornament, the petals curving inwards (see also palmette).


A shaped and often decorated length of wood applied beneath the bottom framing of a drawer, table top, chair seat etc.


A decoration of flowers, fruit, trophies and figures in symmetrical foliate scrolls or strapwork, derived from the Middle East. When human figures are incorporated it is properly known as ‘Grotesque work’.


A series of arches, generally supported on columns. 

Arc en arbalète:

(Fr. = crossbow) A complex cusped serpentine edge shaping of a table, tray or panel in the form of a bow.


The lowest part of an entablature, the moulding beneath the frieze; also used of mouldings round a doorway, window, mirror or picture frame, sometimes shouldered or eared with projections at the corners.


A narrow moulding of semi-circular form, sometimes carved, used particularly for glazing bars and the closing edges of doors (see also beading).

Back post:

The vertical uprights of a chair frame.

Bail handle:

An iron or brass loop handle suspended from a pommel at either end.

Ball and claw:

A common carved decoration of the feet of cabriole legged furniture from the early 18th century, inspired by the oriental ‘Pearl of Wisdom’ gripped in a dragon's or eagle's talons.


A turned column in a balustrade or a table support, shaped to swell out in the lower half. Known as an ‘inverted baluster’ when the swelling is in the upper half.


An ornamental inlay, generally in contrasting wood, laid cross-grain or diagonally, or in other materials such as ivory or brass. ‘Herringbone’ banding of mitred form was used on walnut furniture from the early 18th century.


An architectural and decorative style originating in Italy and spreading through Europe on the 17th century; characterised by its exuberant grandeur and bold curvaceous forms, sometimes tending towards heaviness and pomposity.


See Astragal. Also used of a moulding of small repeated roundels (i.e. beads). Properly called ‘pearling’.


A horizontal member used in construction to support another part, e.g. the leaves of a dining table.


A Classical motif of bell-shaped flower heads similar to husk, generally used in chains or swags.


The angled cutting of an edge, particularly of a panel or mirror plate (see also chamfer).


A device usually on four columns used to mount a table top on to a tripod base, allowing a circular movement.

Block foot:

A cube-shaped foot, generally used with a square untapered leg.


Repeated spool-shaped turning, much used on 17th century legs and stretchers.


A clay of varying colour according to fashion, which was mixed with glue size and applied over gesso to prepare a ground for gilding.

Bolection moulding:

A bold convex moulding, often used to cover a joint between two surfaces.


(Fr.) The vertical swelling shape of concave and convex curves found on the front or sides of commodes or other cabinet furniture of Rococo period (see also serpentine).


An ornament, generally carved and often circular, applied over joints or decoratively at the top of the legs etc.


Foliate or figural marquetry of turtle (‘tortoise’) shell and brass (and sometimes pewter, mother-of-pearl and ivory) made fashionable in France by André Charles Boulle (1642-1732). The term Première-partie is used when the ground is brass and Contra-partie when it is turtle-shell.


The shaping of the front of a table or chest of slightly convex or segmental shape, often called ‘sweep-front’ in the 18th century.

Bracket foot:

A flat two-piece symmetrical foot, set at a corner and shaped like a bracket on the outer edges.


The front of a cabinet or chest etc. whose ends are recessed. A recessed centre is known as a reverse breakfront. The term ‘wing’ bookcase is also used.

Bun foot:

A 17th century type of depressed ball shape, attached with a dowel.

Butt joint:

A simple glue joint between two surfaces.


(Fr.) An ornament, generally carved on the knees of cabriole legs and popular in the mid- 18th century, based on a round or oval convex polished stone, usually with rocaille (see rococo) or foliate surround.

Cabriole leg:

An elegant leg, most popular in the first half of the 18th century, formed of a convex curve above a concave one and resembling an animal's leg (It. capro = goat).

Camel back:

A settee with a serpentine-shaped top rail to the back. Also known as ‘hump’ back.


A thin slide to support a candle stick, extending from a slot and found particularly beneath the mirrored doors of 18th century cabinets where reflection would enhance the light; or a circular support swivelling from beneath a drawing-table etc.


The top of a column or pilaster, frequently carved following a Classical order.


An ornately-edged tablet, properly in the form of a scroll unrolled to bear an heraldic coat of arms.


A Classical female figure supporting an entablature. The male equivalent is called an Atlantis (see also term).

Cavetto moulding:

A moulding of concave or ‘hollow’ quarter-circular section, used on cornices etc.


A pendant of flowers and fruit suspended vertically from one end (see also festoon).


A bevelled edge, usually at 45° and applied to solid members such as legs. Sometimes ‘stopped’ with another bevel.

Chequered inlay:

Lines of inlay with alternating light and dark squares set in parallel.


Oriental motifs used in decoration, often in fret or in conjunction with japanning or lacquer.               


Properly, a nautical wedge, but used of the framing joint across the ends of a tabletop to secure and stabilise the boards.

Club foot:

A foot popular in early to mid-18th century and generally used on a cabriole or turned tapered leg which swells to a depressed circular pad, often resting on a wooden disc, when properly termed ‘pad foot’.


A small half-round moulding often applied to the edges of drawer fronts and doors.


A thin banding or moulding applied round a leg etc.


A mixture of resin, whiting and glue size, used to make mouldings for mirrors or picture frames.


(Fr.) A scrolled bracket or truss; or a table attached to a wall, the top supported by such a bracket.

Corinthian order:

An elaborate Classical order with a moulded base, fluted column, carved acanthus capital with volute scrolls and a decorated frieze.


A projecting moulded ledge finishing off the top of a piece of case furniture, sometimes embellished with dentils etc. See also entablature.

Coved top:

A flat top, generally on a lid or cornice with a cavetto moulded edge.


A repeated geometric decoration based on the battlements of a fortified building (in heraldry called ‘embattled’).


An ornamental decoration set in the centre of the top of a mirror, cabinet or chair back etc.


A slither of wood let in along the grain to join two pieces of wood together, often used as a mitre joint. The slither may be dovetailed or a spline.


Originating from Gothic window tracery, shaping which is marked by continuous flowing lines.


From Gothic window tracery, a re-entrant meeting point of two arcs or foils.


A small rectangular block used in an equidistant series along a cornice. Taken from the Ionic and Corinthian orders.


Repeated geometric decoration of diamond shapes, sometimes as a pierced trellis or lattice.


A turned depression in the top of a table, candle stand etc.  to save objects from slipping off; or the concave shaping of the wooden seat of a Windsor chair for comfort.

Domed top:

Properly a three-dimensional vault, but also used of the arched or cylindrical top of a cabinet or box etc.

Doric order:

The earliest of the Greek orders of architecture, initially the columns without bases, with fluting, plain moulded capitals and decorated frieze.


In jointing two pieces of wood together at right angles, one of a series of wedge-shaped projections on one piece which fit into corresponding slots on the other. A half-dovetail has one side angled and the other straight; a lapped-dovetail does not extend all the way through on one surface.


A small wooden peg used in joinery for securing a mortice and tenon or other joint.


A hinged extension flap to a table, dropping vertically when not in use, which can be supported horizontally by a swing leg, a fly bracket or a loper.


A thin board, generally of softwood, fixed to the rails between the drawers of a chest.

Egg and dart:

A Classical decorative carving repeating these motifs, usually applied to an ovolo moulding.  Also known as ‘echinus’.

Engaged column:

A column which is partially attached along its length rather than free-standing.


In Classical architecture, the beam supported on top of columns which is further divided up into the architrave, frieze and cornice. Used at the top of cabinet furniture, mirrors etc., where different elements were adapted by furniture makers.


A heraldic shield for a coat of arms, also used because of its shape of a chair-back and of the pivoting metal guard over a keyhole, and the keyhole surround itself. A metal-edged keyhole surround is known as a ‘thread escutcheon’.


The vertical or sloped front or flap of a cabinet or bureau, hinged at the bottom edge to form a horizontal surface when lowered, generally as a writing surface.


A garland or swag of flowers and foliage suspended from both ends (see also chain).

Fielded panel:

A wooden panel with a raised central area and bevelled or moulded surround.


A narrow flat band or moulding between two larger mouldings or fluting.

Finger joint or knuckle joint:

A wooden hinge with a metal pintle used to support the fly-bracket of a drop-leaf table or the swing leg of a card table.


A knob or ornamental projection at the top of an upright member or on a pediment (see also acroteria). A downward-pointing finial is called a pendant.


The outward concave curve of a leg etc. ‘Swept’ can also be used. The general term for a flared rim is ‘everted’ (see also splay).


A shaped vertical bracket hinged with a finger joint to support a flap on a table etc.


Repeated half-round concave channels used on Classical orders and found particularly on columns, pilasters, friezes and legs. Where part of each channel is filled with reeding of wood or brass, it is known as ‘counter or stop-fluting’.


The fine powdery refuse or fragile perforated wood produced by the activity of boring insects.


Pierced or applied (‘blind fret’) repeated decoration, often used in bands, of Chinoiserie, Gothic or Greek key designs.


A horizontal band, flat or convex (‘pulvinated’) and often decorated, properly between an architrave and cornice but also used of the framing beneath a refectory or side table etc.


(Fr. godron = ruffle) A carved decorative edge moulding of repeated convex tapered ribs generally diverging obliquely either side of a central point. When set square to the edge it may be differentiated by the term nulling.


(It. = chalk) A mixture of whiting and glue size applied to wood to provide a smooth or low-relief carved surface before painting, gilding or lacquering.


Decoration of a surface, especially on oak, with repeated small semi-circular depressions, usually done with a chisel or gouge.

Greek key:

A Classical interlocking geometric decoration repeated in bands.


(Fr.) Monochrome painting, generally in shades of stone colours, to give a trompe I'oeil effect of relief.


(Fr.) A Classical decoration of repeated interlaced circles, properly formed of plaited ribbons. Sometimes in the form of overlapping discs.


Architecturally a roof with sloping instead of gable ends, used of some lids (see pitched); also an extension at the top of a cabriole leg which clasps the rail above; also used of the protuberance at the top of flared legs on 19th century centre tables.

Ho-ho bird:

A carved and gilded Chinoiserie bird based on a crane, often found on rococo mirrors and crestings.


A Classical motif, properly the catkin of the garrya eliptica, but often similar in appearance to the bellflower.


A decorative carved motif resembling overlapping fish scales.


Decorative patterns or figural designs made up of pieces of different coloured wood etc. set into cut-out sections of the ground wood (see also marquetry, parquetry), as opposed to veneer which is laid on the surface.

Inscrolled foot:

A carved foot (especially of the late 17th/early 18th century) which curls over and inwards (also know more fancifully as a Braganza, Spanish or knurled foot), as opposed to the later and more elegant (out-) scrolled (or ‘French’) foot.

Ionic order:

A Greek order with a moulded base, fluted column, volute capital and plain frieze.


The European imitation of oriental lacquer, using spirit and oil varnishes, from the late 17th century onwards.


The sharp edge found especially on the corner of some cabriole legs, having the profile of the keel of a boat.


The cutting of one side of a piece of wood with a number of deep close-set parallel slits so as to aid in bending it.


A strip or block of wood fixed on the carcass either side just above a drawer (generally a top drawer) to prevent it from tipping downwards when open.


A Chinese or Japanese finish consisting of a shiny surface built up with the sap of the lac tree in black or more rarely in other colours and burnished, to which a decorative finish of gilded figures in landscapes etc. was generally added.


In clothing, a rounded flap, the shape of which was copied in decorative carving, especially in the early 18th century.  Similar to a lambrequin (Fr. = pelmet).


A relief-carved motif popular on panelling from the 16th century, depicting vertical folds of cloth.


A strip of superior timber added to the edge a board, such as a dustboard, of inferior timber where it is most visible.


A bar extending out of a slot to support a table leaf or bureau fall etc.


A decorative motif of a stylised water-lily flower, originally Egyptian but popular circa 1810-1840.


A decorative semicircle, especially found in carving on oak furniture, used in repeated, often intersecting bands.


Architectural, figural or foliate surface decoration made of veneers of different coloured woods laid on to a wooden ground (see also inlay and parquetry). Arabesque or seaweed marquetry was a type depicting feathery fronds, popular circa 1700.


The oblique bisecting line at the joint of two pieces of wood, generally set at right angles.

Mortice and tenon:

A joint of two pieces of wood where a square or rectangular projection cut on the end grain of one (tenon) fits into a socket of identical size cut into the other (mortice). Through-tenon: where the mortice is cut right through a piece of wood.


A main vertical framing member in joinery (see also stile).


An architectural and decorative style deriving from a new interest in the Classical world which spread through Europe in the second half of the 18th century. Made popular in Britain particularly by Robert Adam (1728-1792).

Nulling: See Gadrooning.


An elongated octagonal shape, similar to a rectangle with chamfered corners.


A double-curved Gothic moulding consisting of a concave above a convex arc. Also used of bracket feet of this three-dimensional profile on mid-18th century cabinet furniture and clock cases.


Cast brass or bronze ornaments or mounts with a fire (mercury) gilt surface.

Outset corner:

A circular or square projection beyond the line of the sides of a table top etc. Often used on card tables for candlesticks. See also architrave.

Ovolo moulding:

A sunk convex moulding of quadrant profile, used especially at the corners of panels etc.


Veneers cut across the contrasting grain of small branches of trees such as walnut, olive and laburnum, laid decoratively. Popular circa 1700.


A Classical ornament based on a stylised palm leaf with out-curved fronds (see also anthemion).

Papier mâché:

(Fr.) A durable and malleable material made from paper or cardboard and glue-size, popular in the 18th and 19th centuries for architectural mouldings, boxes, trays and smaller items of furniture. Also known as carton pierre (Fr.).


A surface, usually carved, which is partially gilded to highlight features.


(Fr.) A relief-carved motif on panelling from the 16th century, based on two addorsed ogee-shaped mouldings.


Geometric rather than figurative veneered surface decoration of various coloured woods (see also marquetry).


(Lat. = shallow dish) A circular or oval Classical disc ornament, sometimes containing a flower head or fan motif.


A tall block, sometimes with a stepped base, used to support a statue or vase (see also plinth). Also used for the cupboards flanking a serving table in a dining room.


A Classical gable of low pitch, used as a cresting on mirrors or cabinets (triangular, segmental, open, broken, scrolled or swan neck).

Peg foot:

A slender turned foot used on cabinet furniture in the late 18th/early 19th century. Also known as toupie (Fr. = spinning top).

Pendant or drop-finial:

See Finial. Repeated pendants beneath a rail may form an apron. Also another term for a chain.


The usual term for the shaped moulded edge of a circular tripod table top or tray from the mid-18th century, with alternating serpentine, curved and incurved sections, copying the shape of earlier silver salvers.

Pietra Dura/Pietre dure:

(It. = hard stone) An inlay technique of 16th century Italian origin using cut and fitted highly polished coloured stones to create images. Both spellings are used, the latter being the plural.


A flat column, usually of a Classical order, used decoratively in low relief.


A pin, generally of metal, on which a hinge or joint turns.

Pitched top:

Generally of a lid, where four sloping or hipped sides rise to a ridge or flat centre. Called ‘pyramidal’ where the slopes meet at a point.


Properly the low square block supporting a classical column, but also used of the platform on which some case furniture rests instead of feet (see also pedestal).


A bolt with a rounded or decorative head which passes through a drawer front etc. and secures a bail handle etc.


A low shelf under a dresser or buffet on which flagons and pots were kept.


A granular or sanded ground found on early 18th century gilded gesso furniture and mirrors, in contrast to a punched or pitted ground also used for texture at the time.


(It.) A winged cherub (pl. putti).  Amorino (It.) is also used.

Quadrant stay:

A sliding piece of metal of quarter circle circumference, used to support a fall-front or secretaire drawer.

Quadrant Hinge:

A hinge with two arms rotating on a short pintle, often used at the top and bottom of a cabinet door, or in similar form on a card table flap or a fall-front.


Four matching figured sheets of veneer laid to produce a symmetrical design. Found particularly on early 18th century walnut furniture.


The cutting of a log radially to achieve maximum figure and stability.


A horizontal framing member in joinery, such a seat rail, back rail etc.


The inclination or slope from vertical, for example of a chair back or legs (see also splay).


A right-angled recess cut in the edge of a piece of wood, or formed by two pieces, to house another piece such as a panel or drop-in seat.


Repeated half-round convex mouldings used especially on pillars or legs and sometimes in fluting.


A revival of Classical architecture and decoration in 15th century Italy which spread to Northern Europe during the 16th century and brought a new naturalism.


A repeated decoration of small-scale reeds. Often used in flat panels or banding.


(Fr.) A repeated Classical decoration composed of a band of acanthus scrolls, curling in opposing directions.


An architectural and decorative style developed in Europe (esp. France) in the early 18th century as a reaction against the heaviness and seriousness of Baroque. Its essence was frivolity, lightness and asymmetry. (Fr. rocaille = rockwork).


A circular applied or inlaid decorative motive (see also patera, boss).

Rule joint:

A stopped hinged joint used on table leaves, press doors etc. involving a long ovolo moulding which leaves no gap.


A strip of wood fixed to the carcass either side on which a drawer runs.


A cast brass or ormolu foot mount used on furniture in French taste (Fr. = hoof).


(It.) A coloured composition of plaster and marble chips etc. used to imitate marble. Sometimes used pictorially, especially on table tops in 17th century Italy.


The shape of a scallop shell, with a lobed or cusped edge.

Scrolled foot:

A carved foot curving outwards from the bottom, popular from the mid-18th century. Also known as a’ French’ foot (see also inscrolled foot).


A convex curve flanked by two concave curves: the sinuous shape used in a horizontal plane on better furniture of the Rococo period (see also bombé).

Shoe or shoe-piece:

A shaped horizontal bar used on many 18th century chairs, fitted round the bottom of the splat over upholstery and tacked through into the back rail.

Spade foot:

A square tapered or ‘thermed’ foot, generally used in the late 18th century on a tapered leg.


Architecturally the triangular space formed between the curve of an arch and its square framing, but also used of a 90ᵒ bracket as on a clock face.


A slender turned baluster, often decoratively used in rows.

Spiral twist:

The turning of a leg or column etc. in the form of a screw thread.


A vertical board, usually flat with shaped sides and often pierced or carved, used in the back of a chair between the top and seat rails.


Architecturally the angled taper of the sides of a window recess or reveal. When curved, this is termed flared or swept.


A thin strip of wood used to join two pieces of wood on a small scale, particularly at 90ᵒ.  See also cross-tongue.


A chair, particularly of the early 19th  century, whose back resembles the bowl of a spoon.

Stiff leaf:

A Gothic carved motif of curled acanthus leaves, used on capitals etc.


A subsidiary vertical framing member in joinery (see also muntin).


The front of a cabinet or chest that is flat and not recessed or shaped (see also breakfront).


A symmetrical ornament of flat interlaced bands or ribbons, of Northern Renaissance origin.


A horizontal member or rail which connects and braces legs, sometimes used decoratively such as cross-stretcher or arched stretcher.


A thin decorative inlaid line of brass or contrasting wood, generally in veneer.


An ornamental garland or festoon of flowers and foliage, or of drapery, suspended from both ends (see also chain).

Table clip: 

A two-pronged brass clip which slides into sockets to link two table leaves.    Also known as a ‘fork’.  Other similar methods were patented.


A pedestal or pilaster tapering to its base, the top formed as a human figure (see also caryatid).


A flat canopy of wood and/or fabric, especially over a bed. 

Tongue and groove:

A joint in the same plane formed by cutting a groove along the centre of the edge of a board, usually along the grain, to house a corresponding tongue rebated in another board.


Pierced or blind decoration, usually with Gothic detail derived particularly from windows (see also fret).


A Gothic motif of three cusped arcs or lobes.

Trifid foot:

A club foot generally found on a cabriole leg formed into three parts.  Often an Irish motif.


A Classical motif of superimposed thematic emblems such as military or musical.

Tunbridge ware:

A small-scale decorative mosaic of various coloured woods used geometrically or pictorially, popular in the 19th century and centred on Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Tuscan order:

A simple Classical order, similar to Doric but with plain, unfluted column, a moulded base and plain frieze.

Vernis Martin:

(Fr.) A form of translucent japanning developed in France in the first half of the 18th century by the Martin brothers.

Vitruvian scroll:

A repeated Classical scrolled wave decoration named after the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.


A scroll based on a ram's horn, as used on the capital of the Ionic order etc.


(Dutch = wagenschott) A type of fine straight-grained quarter-sawn oak imported from the Baltic and originally used for wagon shafts. Later synonymous with oak.


A decorative motif based on water-lily foliage, popularly carved on mouldings circa 1810-1840 (see also lotus).

Wave moulding:

A convex curve between two concave curves (see also serpentine).

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