What Is a Credenza, and How Is it Different from a Buffet or Sideboard?

published Aug 1, 2023
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corner of living room with long white credenza/cabinets, framed artwork, brown leather and wood chair, light wood dining table and rattan chairs

There are a lot of different words to describe a freestanding storage cabinet — sideboard, credenza, buffet table, console table, media console, and so on. But are these all just different words for the same thing? Well, yes and no. Each of these categories of furniture has slight variations, and knowing what sets them apart can help you determine the best piece for your own home and storage needs — especially if you’re looking for a lower-profile accent. Below, you’ll learn exactly what a credenza is, how to style one, and how it differs from similar furniture designs that go by different names. 

Quick Overview

What Is a Credenza?

A credenza is a short, wide piece of furniture with doors, designed for extra storage. These are commonly found in dining rooms, but they can also function as TV stands or a bedroom accent. The term credenza is often used interchangeably with buffet tables and sideboards; the main differences among the three being their sizes and functionalities.

What to Know About Credenzas

The word “credenza” is of Italian origin, closely translating to “belief” or “confidence.” Interior designer Bruce Fox of Chicago-based Bruce Fox Designs adds that “the credenza dates back to Renaissance Italy … originally [as] a place to taste food to check for poison before it was served to the nobles.” Of course, the credenza’s purpose has since changed, although you’ll still find them in dining rooms alongside other areas of the home, depending on individual storage and showcasing needs of things like plates, linens, collectibles, and decorative objects. “The credenza has evolved into a multipurpose piece, often used for storage and display,” adds Fox. 

How to Use and Style a Credenza

Although credenzas used to be primarily for dining rooms, today they can double as living room media consoles or be placed in hallways, entryways, bedrooms, and even home offices.

In terms of styling, Fox suggests using the credenza’s tabletop to showcase your personality and design preferences. “You can add a lamp, a stack of art books, or a cluster of vases to create visual interest,” he says. “Consider a statement piece of artwork or a mirror above it to create an illusion of height and space.” 

It’s easy to mix and match different decorative elements on the credenza’s top seasonally. When choosing something to anchor a large piece like this in space relative to the wall, though, you’ll want to shop for a design that complements the other elements you are showcasing atop the credenza and the look of the credenza itself.  

Credit: Erin Derby

How Is a Credenza Different from a Sideboard or Buffet Table?

A credenza and a buffet are both a kind of sideboard, but details in their design and functionality help determine which word — or piece of furniture — to use in practice. A sideboard, when placed in the dining room, is called a buffet. It’s intended to hold plates, cutlery, table linens, or anything else used exclusively for eating. Buffets typically have tall legs to hit at a standard table height, as they often provide a surface for serving additional food. 

A sideboard in a hallway or living space is once again called a sideboard, although credenza is often used here interchangeably. Essentially, all three words — credenza, sideboard, and buffet — are thrown around for the same kind of accent furniture, and even Googling the word “credenza” pulls up a shopping list of buffets and sideboards, too.

One main distinction, though, is that credenzas typically skew shorter and wider in shape, according to Fox, while buffets run taller and narrower. And media consoles, which also live in this furniture family, tend to be lower to the ground so that TVs sit at a comfortable eye level for watching from a sofa or chairs. 

Where to Buy Credenzas

You can find credenzas at almost any furniture retailer, but they’re also prevalent at antique stores, flea markets, and estate sales. When looking for a credenza, ask yourself what kind of design features you’d like. How many shelves are inside? What kind of doors do you prefer: sliding or pull front? Do you want a glass display, or do you prefer everything enclosed and out of sight? 

These pieces of furniture come in all sizes, too, so you’ll have the most success by searching for your desired dimensions. Below, I rounded up a few credenzas from modern home brands for inspiration.

1 / 4
Article
$899.00

This leg-less, low-profile credenza sits directly on the floor and works well as a minimalist media storage unit in a living or office space.

2 / 4
Wayfair
$459.99
was $979.99

For a slightly taller piece, this Wayfair credenza features one interior level of shelving and three swing-front doors. Choose from a black or walnut finish to complement the stylish rattan arched detailing.

3 / 4
Anthropologie
$2998.00

This mid-century style buffet credenza gives any living room a plush feel. Although an investment piece, its green velvet looks incredibly luxe. Plus, it includes a built-in cord escape for TVs and other tech.

4 / 4
Home Depot
$508.68

You can’t beat the price of this spacious, four-door piece from The Home Depot, which introduces a subdued pop of texture wherever it’s styled. The neutral coloring pairs well with any existing design scheme, too.