The A-to-Z Glossary of Furniture Terms You Need to Know

published Apr 25, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Emma Fiala

Are you eyeing your first-ever furniture flip project, but feeling intimidated about the process and wondering where to start? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

If you’ve purchased living room furniture, attempted an appraisal on an old rocking chair, or researched DIY ideas for a secondhand dresser, then you’ve certainly come across words and phrases that may be unfamiliar. And if you’re looking to break into the furniture flipping business — either full-time or as a side hustle — then one of the first things you need to do is learn the lingo.

This furniture glossary has a mix of widely used descriptors, like mid-century modern, and a few obscure terms from interior design history, like the Kazam! Machine, to get you in the know. Read on to familiarize yourself with these terms, and soon you’ll be talking like a pro at thrift stores, antique shops, and estate sales.

Credit: Anna Spaller

Antique

An “antique” describes a piece from a bygone era — anywhere from 25 years ago or more. Amber Von Zwehl, who runs a furniture-flipping business called Gingie Makes, loves the challenge of thoughtfully caring for an antique. “Antiques should be handled with respect to pay homage to the maker, as well as to honor the history of the piece itself,” she says.

Back Splat

The vertical piece in the center of a chair’s back, connecting its seat with its top rail. Splats are most commonly found on dining chairs and can have a range of styles, including the fiddle splat (shaped a little like a violin) and the pierced splat (carved to feature decorative lace-like designs).

Credit: Yurii Usenko/Getty Images

Caning

A method of weaving, typically used for the backs of wooden chairs. Caned furniture was originally made of material from the outer skins of a rattan stalk.

Credit: FotoHelin/Shutterstock

Danish Oil

A polymerized linseed oil, it provides an ideal finish for stained or natural wood because the oil cures into a solid coat. It functions as a primer or a final varnish.

Étagère

A set of open shelves for displaying small decorative objects. Sometimes these have enclosed cabinets at their base, too.

Credit: Carina Romano

Fluting

A type of concave, ornamental carving set on the surface of a piece.

Gilding

The process of applying gold leaf or gold paint to furniture and other decor. Historically, this was often used as an accent to highlight intricate wood carvings.

Credit: Julia Steele

Highboy

This is a double chest of drawers where the narrower chest sits on top of the wide-base chest. It’s also called chest-on-chest. Its counterpart is a lowboy, which is a chest of drawers at table height.

Inlay

Different types of wood, metal, or other materials inserted into the piece to lay flush against the surface, forming a decorative pattern.

Credit: robcocquyt/Shutterstock

Joinery

General term for joining pieces of wood together to create durable furniture. Joints like “box” or “dovetail” can be held together through interlocking wood cuts. Intricate joinery indicates the piece is made of solid wood.

Kazam! Machine

An invention by Ray and Charles Eames that molds the plywood used for their eponymous and iconic lounge chair.

Credit: timltv/Getty Images

Laminate

Laminate is simply a term used to describe surfaces with layers fixed together to form a hard, flat, or flexible surface,” explains refinishing expert Selina Warembourg. “In the furniture world, the word can mean a Formica or plastic material laminated over wood, imitation wood, or wood veneer.” 

Credit: Sandra Rojo

Mid-Century Modern

Mid-century modern is an American design movement that lasted from roughly the 1940s to the 1970s and encompassed architecture, graphic arts, and consumer products. “Simple, clean lines and functionality make this style so loved and timeless,” says Mark Gresham of Gresham Kavran Furniture

Nesting Table

A set of space-saving stackable tables that are ideal for rooms with small footprints. Furniture refinisher Rosio Fagundes says it’s one of her favorite pieces to make over, since the tables can be cohesive in their design but don’t have to match.

Credit: otophoto/Shutterstock

Oak

This is one of the most durable types of wood for constructing furniture due to its durability and beautiful grain.

Credit: Amber Kelly

Pedestal Table

A table with a single support at its center, rather than multiple legs.

Quality

Are you refurbishing secondhand furniture? Check the piece for quality, or you might be in for more work than it’s worth. “There are some very cheap treasures that can be found on the side of the road for free,” professional flipper Meesha Malcolm says. “Just look at how it’s made before deciding if you really want it.”

Credit: Amilia James

Reeding

This describes convex ornamental carving — the opposite of fluting! Note that this is sometimes misidentified as fluting, so you might see the two used interchangeably.

Credit: Minette Hand

Sideboard

A table-height piece of furniture with drawers or cabinets. They’re often used in entryways as catchalls, or in dining rooms to hold extra dishes.

Credit: Sandra Regalado

Telephone Table

Also called gossip benches, these vintage pieces were made for the days when telephones were stationary. Here, you could store a phone on the table part and use the connected seat as a resting spot while you gabbed.

Upholstery

Use this term whenever you’re referring to the soft, padded textiles covering parts of chairs, sofas, and headboards.

Credit: Trisha Sprouse

Veneer

A veneer is a thin piece of wood that’s glued onto a flat panel. “Although people think of veneer furniture as not being of a good quality, it increases the lifespan of the piece because it’s not prone to warping and splitting,” explains Gresham.

Wicker

Originally made from rattan, reed, or bamboo, most wicker furniture is now made from synthetic materials.

Credit: Trisha Sprouse

X-Acto Knife

The brand name of a handheld — and very sharp — knife tool that’s used to make precise cuts in DIY projects.

Credit: sirtravelalot/Shutterstock

Yard

Similar to the way recipes measure ingredients by “cups,” fabrics are always measured by the yard or the subdivision of a yard. And a quick reminder that each yard is equivalent to 36 inches, or 3 feet.

Credit: MIGUEL G. SAAVEDRA/Shutterstock

Zebrawood

Striations in this wood look like the hide of its namesake animal, and it’s a popular choice for dining room tables, cabinetry, and even paneling for car interiors.