The Language of Furniture

Over many generations, the furniture industry has produced a long list of furniture terms and jargon to differentiate one piece from another. While some terms make sense practically, other furniture terms have curious origins. We’re looking at 10 furniture terms to see if we’re in the know about their history, rhyme and reason. We hope to grow your furniture knowledge and maybe even help you win a few more games of Scrabble or impress your know-it-all friend (we all have one).

  1. Bonheur du jour

Also known as a writing desk, the Bonheur du jour became vastly popular in Paris around the late 1700s. Its perfect design for writing made it ideal for writing letters or recording events in one’s diary. This piece of furniture is the predecessor and a smaller version of what we would now call a secretary desk with drawers, cubbies and a folding desk.

  1. Etagere

You’ve probably seen an etagere. You might even own one without knowing what it’s called. Simply put, this furniture term refers to a tall structure with open shelves for books, ornaments, knick-knacks or other possessions. Etageres are sometimes called “whatnots,” but more than likely you’ve just referred to them as a bookshelf, even if you didn’t store books on the storage unit.

  1. Leather grain and character

When we talk about the grain or character of leather, we’re referring to the leather’s look — its scars and marks of all kinds. However, when we talk about leather’s hand, we’re discussing its texture and feel. For example, a leather’s hand can be soft to the touch or rough depending on the hide’s consistency and fullness.

  1. Fainting Couch

This strange name for a chaise became popular in the 19th Century during the time restricting corsets were considered high-fashion. This piece of furniture also has a technical name, “recamier.” It received this name from a famous portrait of Madame Recamier, who posed stretched out along the backless sofa.

  1. Vitrine

A French word meaning to showcase, this cabinet uses a pane of glass to enclose its shelves. It serves as a display case in many different rooms as a cupboard, bookcase or china cabinet.

  1. Sofa

Of course, you’ve no doubt heard of this piece of furniture. Although you may call it it’s more casual name — couch — it has many names and further defining categories including, Davenport, divan, settee, lounge, Chesterfield, etc. Its name is derived from an old English word referring to a bench with a high back and arms. Today, sofas are typically upholstered with a back, arms, cushions and springs.

  1. Bachelor’s Chest

If you own a bachelor’s chest, it does not mean you’re a bachelor necessarily, but that you have a need for more storage in your bedroom. Bachelor’s chests are small low chest of drawers, often used as bedside tables and miniature dressers. In the days of its English origins, a bachelor’s chest was a multipurpose piece of furniture perfect for the small spaces bachelors would have typically occupied.

  1. Chesterfield

Right at home in libraries or stately lounges, the classic Chesterfield sofa typically features button-tufted leather upholstery with a rounded back and arms that follow the same height from arm to arm. Named after the Earl of Chesterfield, this style of sofa is associated with mid-19th century Victorian styles, but it has made a modern-day resurgence with the rise of restoration vintage furniture designs.

  1. Eight-way hand tied

To understand what the term eight-way hand tied means, you’ll need to look inside a quality made sofa or chair. The springs inside this type of construction, are — you guessed it — tied by hand around each coil in eight different places in an octagon-like way. This spring construction, like structural architecture, distributes the weight across the entire seat so that your chair or sofa maintains its shape and comfortable feel over time.

10. Fauteuil
This open-arm dining chair originated in France in the early 17th century and mixed an exposed wooden frame with an upholstered seat, back or arms. Its arms make it a great seat for the ends of a rectangular or oval dining table, and the upholstery made it a much more comfortable and elegant dining option.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a few more furniture terms to help you understand the original and modern use of furnishings. If you learned something new, share it on social media with the hashtag, #furniturelanguage and tag us!

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