How do you shop for furniture like a true insider? The first step is to talk like one. Show the manufacturers and salespeople that you mean business with the lingo used by the furniture professionals.
As it turns out, you don’t need to be a furniture insider to talk like one. You just need to know the terms.
In this glossary, we’ll tackle
- The different styles and qualities of leather
- The nuts-and-bolts of frames, materials, and manufacturing terms
- The differences between similar or semi-interchangeable terms
Many times, the mark of an insider is knowing the right terminology. Go into your next furniture negotiation sounding like a pro and get the deal you deserve.
The Insider’s Furniture Term Glossary
Acrylic: Synthetic polymer fiber made from natural materials, such as coal, air water, petroleum and limestone. Fibers are strong, durable and resistant to strong sunlight. They make soft, bulky, wool-like fabrics and carpets.
Apron: Decorative panel that connects the surface or legs of a table or chairs.
Armchair: Chair with side structures to support arms or elbows.
Armoire: Large movable cupboard with doors and shelves that is typically used to store clothing or used as an entertainment center.
Arm Pad: Upholstered part of wooden arms of chair, serving as armrests.
Arm Rail: Curved horizontal part of a chair, continuous across back and arms.
Attached Back: In upholstered furniture, a back cushion that cannot be removed.
Back Rail: The wood frame section which supports the back springs and/or cushioning material.
Backing: A coating material used on the reverse side of the upholstery fabric or cover to give it more strength.
Baker’s Rack: Tiered open, slatted back shelving unit used for storing utensils or other kitchen amenities.
Ball and Claw: A furniture foot resembling a bird or animal claw grasping a ball.
Barrel Back: Upholstered chair or sofa with arms and back forming a continuous curve.
Barrel Chair: Chair type that is named after chairs that were originally made from half a wine barrel.
Base Rail: Wood trim at bottom edge and above legs of chair or sofa. Also wood trim at bottom edge of dresser, chest, or other piece, directly above legs or flush to floor.
Baseball Stitching: A double row of sewing which runs along both sides of a seam. It is used for a decorative effect but also strengthens the seam.
Basket-Weave: A simple plain flat fabric which gives the appearance of a woven basket.
Batting: Padding used to wrap springs or foam slabs before stuffing them into cushions. Quilted polyester often is used.
Bentwood: Wood steamed and bent to form structural members of chairs, etc. First developed in the early 19th century and popularized in the 20th century.
Bias-cut: Cut from one corner of a fabric to the opposite, diagonal corner. Checks are often bias-cut to tweak their personality. Some fabrics will drape differently when cut on the bias, and this treatment can require substantially more yardage.
Block-front: Technical method of constructing the fronts of case furniture, such as chests or cabinets. Featuring three flattened curves, the concave flanked by convex. Developed in America, especially in New England in the 18th century.
Bombe: Marked by convex or bulging lines, descriptive particularly of Rococo case furniture with outward-swelling front and sides.
Bonded Leather: Pieces of leather combined with non-leather material to create a cost-efficient upholstery option. Steer clear.
Box-edged: Square seat front with welting or sewn seam on top and bottom.
Box-Pleat: In upholstery, a fold of fabric to the left, followed by a fold to the right, stitched in place.
Boxspring: Foundation for a mattress.
Brace Block: Piece of wood or metal fitted into an angle of a piece of furniture to add strength or rigidity, as at corners under a table top or between a leg and a seat of a chair.
Brocade: Rich jacquard-woven fabric with interwoven design of raised patterns. It has an embossed appearance, sometimes with contrasting surfaces, colors, gold or silver threads.
Buffet: The base of a China Cabinet that supports the hutch and is often used as a place for storing dishes.
Bun Feet: Bottom of leg with rounded feet.
Burl: Knot in wood grain surface. Sometimes creates a decorative pattern or swirl.
Burnishing: Wood that has been singed or burned in certain areas and then stained over the burned part.
Butt Joint: Type of joint where wood ends meet perpendicularly at right angles without overlapping or notching.
Butterfly Leaf: The leaf of a table with a center section folds and stacks to slide under the table. It’s named for appearing to have wings like a butterfly when it opens.
Button-Tufting: The use of buttons to decorate or accentuate tufting.
Cabriole: A double-curved furniture leg that flares outward at the top (knee), inward near the foot (ankle), and swings out again at the foot.
Camelback: An eighteenth-century style distinguished by a curve along its back resembling a hump.
Cane: Rattan and other reed-like plants split into thin strips and woven for chair seats, backs and side panels; elastic and comfortable. Also used for decorative insets.
Case Goods: A furniture industry term for pieces made of wood (not upholstered), especially those used in the dining room and bedroom.
Chaise: A chaise lounge is an extra long chair that is long enough to support the legs. A chaise sofa is a sofa that includes at least one chaise seat, often seen in L-shaped sofas.
Channel Back: A style distinguished by vertical channels stitched into a seat’s back, creating individual compartments.
Chenille: A yarn with short, cut fibers protruding from it, giving a “fuzzy” appearance.
Chesser: A combination of a dresser and a chest.
Chesterfield: Large, overstuffed sofa with closed, upholstered arms that are usually rollover arms of same height as back.
Chevron: A repeating line or stripe in the shape of a V or an inverted V. Often called zig zag.
Chintz: Plain-weave cotton fabric with glaze finish giving a soft, lustrous appearance. Usually has printed design.
Club Chair: Low-slung lounge or easy chair with squared back and arm, loose seat cushion. May or may not be skirted. Type of arm may vary with period or style.
Cocktail Ottoman: A multipurpose furniture piece that can be used as a footrest or extra table space. Often referred to as a coffee table ottoman.
Coffee Table: Long table most often used in front of a sofa.
Coil Springs: Tapering, cone-shaped, resilient wire springs used in quality construction of upholstered furniture, mattresses and boxsprings (also called cone springs).
Colorway: The range of colors or color combinations available for a specific fabric. The style of a print can change dramatically in different colorways.
Console: Table that is intended to be placed against a wall.
Corner Block: In furniture making, a triangular wood block used for added strength, in concealed structure under table tops, inside cases and at points of stress on upholstered furniture frames.
Cotton: Popular natural fiber that is versatile and makes good upholstery cover. Blends well and lends durability, absorbency, abrasion-resistance and excellent pilling-resistance to other fibers in the mixture. Often blended with rayon, Dacron, or wool.
Credenza: A buffet, sideboard, or bookcase, especially one without legs.
Crowning: Building center of a mound of stuffing higher than its perimeter.
Cushioned Back: A style that uses separate or semi-attached cushions. Often have the same number of back and seat cushions, allowing for fabric matching of stripes and plaids.
Dacron: Trademark name for a polyester fiber manufactured by DuPont. A crisp, strong, resilient fiber that combines well with cotton, linen and wool.
Damask: Firm, glossy, patterned fabric with jacquard weave in one or two-color design. Similar to brocade, but fatter.
Daybed: A dual purpose piece of furniture that can serve as a seating piece or can be used as a bed.
Deck: The flat platform under an upholstered chair’s seat cushion, usually covered in plain fabric. The deck should be firmly resilient, and you should not be able to feel the springs.
Decking: Fabric used as substitute for expensive covering under cushions or other platforms hidden from view.
Dentil Molding: Ornamental cornice molding consisting of rectangular blocks spaced at regular intervals resembling teeth.
Distressing: Wood finish that gives furniture the appearance that it has aged and looks like an antique. Also applies to leather, see antiqued.
Divided Back: The back of a sofa is given the look of detachable pillows or cushions.
Double Welt: Two parallel cords wrapped in fabric and used to trim upholstery seams and places where fabric meets exposed wood.
Dovetail: Woodworking joint in which fan-shaped tongues projecting from one member fit into corresponding fan-shaped slots cut in second member.
Dowel: Round wooden pin, peg or rod fitted into holes in two pieces of wood to strengthen joints.
Down: Soft, fluffy feathers from very young birds, or from under ordinary feathers of older birds or fowl. Used for stuffing pillows, cushions and upholstered chair backs.
Down-Blend: A mixture of waterfowl feathers, down and polyester fibers. Waterfowl (goose, duck) feathers are used because the quills are curved and provide a springy, buoyant feel. Polyester fibers are mixed with the feathers to give extra resiliency.
Drop-In Machine-Tied Springs: A pre-assembled, machine-made coil system designed to simulate the hand-tied version. It drops into the frame and is typically fastened at the corners.
Drop Leaf Table: Extension leaves that are built with hinges which can be lowered when not in use.
Edge Roll: Thick jute cord wrapped in burlap. Used to soften frame and spring edges.
Edge Wire: Spring-based decks are surrounded by this single, stiff wire, to which outer springs are attached.
Eight-Way Hand-Tied Springs: A series of coil springs. Each is tied eight times. This is the most comfortable (and expensive) seat foundation available.
Embossing: Creating a 3-dimensional design or pattern on paper or on a surface of wood.
Engineered Wood: A man-made substitute for hardwoods. Also known as medium density fiberboard (MDF).
Etagere: A decorative piece of storage furniture with open shelves.
Fiberfill: Soft, synthetic material used as cushioning in upholstered furniture, bedding and comforters. Usually wrapped around foam for upholstery.
Finial: Knob, often vase-shaped, used as crowning ornament on furniture. Also found at the intersection of stretchers joining legs of chairs, tables, etc.
Finish: Any enhancing effect applied to leather after it has been tanned. Examples are dyeing, embossing, buffing, antiquing, waxing, waterproofing, and so on.
Flare: The outward curving or slant on a furniture leg or arm.
Fleur De Lis: A design that consists of three leaves or petals and the middle petal stands taller than the other two.
Fluted: Grooves in a post or leg of furniture that typically is carved to the foot.
Footrest: The lower bracket on a bar stool that acts as a resting spot for feet and is often covered with metal or brass for extra reinforcement.
Frame: Basic structure or skeleton of an upholstered sofa or chair. Kiln-dried hardwood is best for durability in wooden frames.
Futon: A piece of furniture that has dual purpose; can be a couch or transform into a bed.
Game Table: One side of the table is used for dining while the other side is used as a surface for playing games.
Gimp: Ornamental braid used to cover upholstery tacks that attach the fabric to the exposed wood.
Glides: Buttons of plastic or metal applied to bottom of legs to make furniture easier to move around.
Grain: The natural pattern or design of the wood. All woods have unique grains that can be artistic. Also, a word used to describe the natural characteristics of an unprocessed hide, such as its pores, wrinkles, markings, and texture.
Hand: Touch or feel of a fabric to the hand; its tactile qualities including softness, resilience, firmness and delicacy.
Hand-Rub: Process of using cloth, pad or felt with rottenstone or pumice and oil to smooth top coat wood finish by hand.
Hand-Tied: In upholstery construction, the process by which single-coil springs are hand-tied to each other and the frame to control seat elasticity. The more ways the spring is tied, the higher construction quality. 8 way hand-tie has been a staple of high quality upholstery construction for 150 years.
Hand Distressing: A technique that is hand applied to make furniture appear as though it is worn or aged.
Hardwoods: Wood that comes from deciduous trees. Furniture created with hardwoods are higher in density and therefore are usually more durable.
Hutch: The upper enclosed part of a multiple tiered structure. Typically this area has glass doors and is used for displaying china.
Inlay: When two different types of wood are laid to form a two-dimensional effect.
Intarsia: Italian term describing inlay or marquetry.
Interlining: The fabric sewn between the inner foundation covering and the outer upholstery. It stabilizes lighter-weight upholstery fabrics and improves wear.
Klik Klak: Similar to a futon, a klik klak converts from a sofa to a bed – perfect for small spaces.
Knockoff: Expression used within the furniture industry to refer to an obvious copy of a popular design that has been reproduced for sale at a lower price than the quality original.
Lacquer: A protective, clear top coat of finish applied to furniture.
Ladder-Back: Back of chair that has horizontal cross bars that connect the two vertical posts thus forming a ladder effect.
Laminated: Process of taking two or more sheets of wood and gluing them together with the grains going in the opposite direction. This produces a material that is lighter and thinner than solid wood.
Lawson: Simple, straight-back seating piece with rollover arms usually positioned midway between seat and top. Usually skirted.
Loose-Pillow-Back: A pillow treatment that can be removed and not sewn into the furniture.
Loveseat: Smaller version of a sofa typically with two cushions.
Marble: Marble is a very durable stone derived from Limestone and is often used as an accent on bars and tables.
Marquetry: Decorative veneer of wood or other materials, cut into delicate patterns and applied to furniture for decorative effect.
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF): A type of hardboard that consists of wood fibers that have been glued under heat and pressure.
Microfiber: A very thin man-made fiber (less than one denier.) It is lightweight but very strong and highly stain resistant. One drawback is that it can be used for solid color and plain fabrics only.
Modular Seating: Upholstered seating units that can be rearranged to form different types of seating configurations.
Miter-Joint: Corner joint of moldings framing a panel; each edge of the joint at a 45 degree angle.
Mortise: Opening into which projecting tenon is fitted to join two pieces of wood (mortise-and-tenon joint).
Nail Head Trim: Decorative head nails or a simulated nail head strip used to accentuate a style, usually used on arms and rails.
Nap: Describes the soft, “fuzzy” effect achieved in leather by buffing or brushing.
Natural Grain: A leather that displays its original grain.
Nesting Tables: A set of occasional tables that can slide one under the other to “nest” into one spot.
Nylon: Generic name for a very strong synthetic fiber. One of the most durable fibers used for furniture fabrics.
Occasional Furniture: Industry term applied to small furniture items such as cocktail tables, end tables, night stands and pull-up chairs.
Ogee Molding: Molding of double curvature, concave below and convex above.
Open Stock: Furniture regularly kept in stock and often available for quick delivery. Does not include custom-made or specially finished furniture.
Olefin: Synthetic fiber (also known as polypropylene) found in high performance fabrics. Olefin has a high natural stain resistance and is bleach cleanable.
Ottoman: Footstool or the footrest attached to a reclining chair.
Ormolu: Term used to describe decorative objects and furniture mounts of cast and gilt bronze or brass.
Parquetry: A form of veneer creating a geometric pattern.
Parsons Chair: Usually refers to a chair or stool that is skirted.
Particle Board: Engineered wood product that consists of chips of wood coated with glue and pressed together under heat.
Patina: The aura or luster that develops in a quality piece of leather with age.
Pattern Match: The layout of fabric pieces so that pattern flows unbroken across seams and cushions. Done well, seams will be nearly invisible. Large-scale patterns may require substantially more yardage.
Pedestal Table: A type of table that is supported by a single, central pedestal with legs that extend to support its weight.
Pillow Top: Refers to a mattress, chair or bar stool that has an extra layer of cushion for added comfort.
Plaid: A pattern of crossed horizontal and vertical lines that form squares.
Polyester: Versatile synthetic fiber used in a wide range of fabrics that can mimic the look and feel of cotton, linen, wool, silk and other materials. 100% polyesters and polyester blends are available in a wide range of prices.
Polyfoam: Synthetic resin simulating latex foam rubber. Used for upholstered furniture, pillows and mattresses. Also called polyurethane foam.
Polyurethane: Man-made synthetic foam used for filling and for cushions. Rigid polyurethane can also reproduce wood trim or make entire frames. The most common material currently used for cushion cores.
Pub Table: Table top that typically measures higher than 36″ and is taller than a dining table.
Rail: Horizontal slats in the back of chairs or bar stools.
Railroaded: Fabric that runs horizontally along the width of a piece of furniture and from front to back along the arms.
Rattan: A type of furniture that is constructed with natural climbing palms that come from tropical Asia.
Rayon: A man-made cellulose fiber. Dyes well with high luster. Works well in dense pile or closely woven fabrics. Usually used in a blend with other fibers. Also known as Viscose.
Repeat: One complete cycle of a pattern in a fabric or wallpaper. A textile with a large repeat will require substantially more yardage to upholster a piece than a solid fabric, particularly when applied to a sofa.
Rolled Arms: Arms that flare out, then down, returning to meet sides of chair or sofa, appearing to have been rolled.
RTA: Ready to Assemble.
Saddle Seat: A style of wood seat that is carved and contoured.
Satin: A tightly woven, high luster flat-weave fabric.
Scalloped: This refers to a decorative edge on a dining or pub table.
Scatter Back: Also known as multi-pillow back. This style has more back pillows than seat pillows. The randomly tossed pillows across the back create a more casual look. These sofas tend to sit softly and are often deeper than other designs.
Sectional: A sofa with several separate seat units. Usually it will have one or more corner units.
Self-Decking: In upholstered furniture, using cover fabric to cover area under loose cushions. Also called self-covered deck.
Selvage: Tightly woven edges that prevent fabric from fraying on the roll. The selvage must be cut away for many fabrics to drape smoothly.
Serpentine: Profile made up of convex curve flanked by two concave curves.
Settee: A large bench or seat with back and arms that seats two or more people.
Side Chair: A chair without arms.
Sinuous Wire: Also known as “no-sag.” A spring system that uses S-shaped steel components fastened from front to back on the frame.
Skirt: A strip of fabric which carries the sofa or chair design down to the floor and hides legs or casters. A skirt is sometimes also called a flounce. It can be gathered or pleated.
Slat Back: A type of chair back that resembles a ladder with two or more horizontal slats.
Sleigh Bed: A style of bed that resembles the old sleigh front with large scroll-like footboard and headboard.
Spindle Back: Refers to a style of chair that has spindles placed vertically in the back to form both an artist design and provide support for the chair.
Splat Back: Vertical piece between the uprights of a chair back. Often shaped.
Suede: Split leather that has been buffed and brushed to create a fuzzy surface feel.
Swatch: A sample of upholstery fabric, often shown with other pieces, in what is called a Swatch Book.
Swivel Chair: A chair that is able to turn back and forth on its base in a 360° motion.
Tambour Front: Roll front or shutter made of narrow strips of wood glued to a flexible backing. Used on desks and cabinets.
Tapered Leg: A type of leg that decreases in diameter towards the bottom.
Tempered Glass: Very durable glass that shatters into small squares when broken.
Tight-Back: Having no loose or semi-attached back cushions. This style of upholstery looks tailored but can be less comfortable for lounging and is harder to clean than loose cushions.
Tight Seat: In upholstery, a fully upholstered seat or back designed not to have a cushion.
Top Grain: Leather whose top (outermost) layers have been left intact, in contrast to split leather.
Trim: A decorative design applied to the outside of furniture. It could appear on arms, back or base. It can be made of wood, metal or plastic.
Tufted Back: A style distinguished by upholstery that is tied down with a button, producing folds and patterns.
Tufting: The process of drawing a cord through a deep cushion giving high puffs of padding and small low valleys where the cord is drawn. Names are given to tufting describing the shape of the tuft such as “diamond,” “biscuit,” or “square.” Buttons are often attached to cords to highlight the tufting design.
Tuxedo: A style in which the arms are the same height as the back.
Two-Tone: An effect created by applying layers of similar or contrasting dyes to a piece of leather in order to create a mottled or aged appearance. Antiqued and Sauvaged leathers are examples of two-tone leathers.
Upholstery: The fixed, soft coverings for furniture, especially seating and reclining furniture.
Up the Roll: Applied to furniture with the pattern or pile running vertically and the fabric cut on the straight grain. The opposite is railroading, in which the fabric is run sideways.
Veneer: Thin layers of wood glued together to the surface of underlying wood solids or particleboard.
Vertically Run: Fabric that runs vertically, bottom to top, over furniture’s front, back and arms.
Viscose: A semi-synthetic fiber, also known as rayon, made from trees to manufacture upholstery, bedding and carpets.
Wall Recliner: A recliner that can sit closer to the wall because as it reclines, the chair moves forward away from the wall.
Wardrobe: Cupboard or large cabinet used for hanging clothes.
Warp: The threads that run vertically in a length of fabric. Looms are strung with warp threads that are interwoven with weft threads.
Weave: The manner in which cloth is woven both in terms of tightness and in terms of texture.
Webbing: Straps that are woven together and attached to a seat base and form the foundation & support for bottom of a chair.
Weft: The set of yarns running horizontally to and interlaced with the warp to produce a woven fabric. Also called filling.
Welting: A fabric-covered cord that is sewn into an upholstery seam. Welted edges define the silhouette of a piece of furniture and strengthen the seams. Patterned fabric is typically bias-cut for welting. Smooth welted seams are a sign of quality upholstery.
Welt Cording: A fabric covered cord that is used as a decorative trim piece.
Wing Chair: An upholstered chair that has wings at the sides.
X-Stretcher: Used to connect four legs of a chair or table and provide additional reinforcement to the piece of furniture.
Zig-Zag: Trade name for convoluted or S-shaped Sinuous wire springs. These are commonly used in upholstery furniture instead of coil springs.
Final Thoughts on Furniture Terms
The language a potential furniture buyer uses can be signals to the salesperson of how informed a buyer is.
To avoid falling for gimmicky sales or flashy advertising, go into buying your furniture with your own glossary of terms.
It’s important to know:
- The terms when buying different types of fabrics (from leather to cloth)
- How to ask about the structure and manufacturing of a piece
- What to say to talk like an insider
If you go into the buying process knowing what you want, then you can leave with exactly what you need. Take it from an expert.
Know someone who might benefit from this post? Please like and share it with them. If you have questions or comments about furniture terms and terminology, feel free to leave them below. Or, if you’d like personal help navigating the furniture market, check out our furniture consulting services.