Explore the Furniture Guide to learn about the Archive’s terminology, from types of furniture to decorative elements.
The profile of the front or primary surface of an object.
Alternating raised and depressed surfaces on the front of a piece of case furniture. Raised surfaces may be curved or squared.
Also called block front, block-front, swell'd front, or swelled.elements-shape-blockfront.jpg
Convex, rounded or swollen surfaces on the front and sides of a piece of case furniture. Generally the swelling is located in the lower half of the case.
Also called kettle, swell'd, or swelled.elements-shape-bombe.jpg
Convex, curved surface on the front or top front edge of a piece of furniture. See also Demi-lune.
Also called bow front, bow-front, bowed front, round-front, or round front.
Raised or projecting center section on the front of a piece of case furniture.
Also called break-front or broken front.elements-shape-breakfront.jpg
Convex, curved surface including the front and sides, or top front and side edges, of a piece of furniture. The semicircular or crescent shape of a demi-lune includes multiple sides of the piece in contrast to the bowfront, which is restricted to the front of the piece. See also bowfront.
Also called demilune, semilunar, or semicircular.elements-shape-demi-lune.jpg
Concave center section flanked by convex outer sections on the front of a piece of case furniture. See serpentine-front for the opposite profile.
Also called oxbow front or reverse serpentine.
Convex center section flanked by concave outer sections on the front of a piece of case furniture. See oxbow for the opposite profile.elements-shape-serpentine_front.jpg
Flat surface on the front of a piece of furniture.
Also called flat-front.elements-shape-straight_front.jpg
The profile and arrangement of components that constitute the back of a chair or settee. Regardless of design, most seat backs have two key components: the horizontal crest rail that forms the top edge of the seat back and the vertical stiles that form the sides of the seat back and may be continuous with the legs.
Chair backs have turned banisters or straight, molded balusters mounted vertically in a row between the horizontal rail at the top of the back and either the seat or a horizontal rail at the bottom of the back.elements-backs-banister_back.jpg
The outline of the chair back forms a shield shape, with a horizontal top and two curved sides that meet at a point in the center bottom of the back. The interior of the back may contain a series of curved supports mounted between the lower point of the back and the crest rail.
Also called vase-back chairs or urn-back chairs.elements-backs-shield_back.jpg
Chair backs have a series of flat, horizontal rails mounted between the vertical stiles.
Also called ladder-back chairs, 2-back chairs, 3-back chairs, or 4-back chairs.elements-backs-slat_back.jpg
Chair backs have a flat, central, vertically-mounted support. The splat may be solid, pierced, carved, or composed of multiple pieces of wood in an openwork design.elements-backs-splat_back.jpg
The chair's stiles and crest rail meet at right angles, forming a square or rectangular outline. The interior of the back may contain supports mounted in a grid or other pattern.elements-backs-square_back.jpg
Chair backs are solid, paneled, and frequently decorated with shallow carving.
Also called panel-back chairs.
Vertical supports beneath a piece of furniture that substantially raise the height of an object for access or ease of use. In seating furniture, the legs may be continuous with the outer, vertical components of the seat back; in this case, they may be called stiles. See also feet.
Lathe-turned or carved legs with decorative profiles. Vase, urn, spindle, and ring shapes are common.
Also called turned legs.elements-legs-baluster_legs.jpg
Lathe-turned legs with cone-shaped profiles that resemble upright trumpets.
Also called turned legs.
S-curved, tapering legs, usually with a pronounced convex shape above a less pronounced concave shape. The cabriole shape was popularized by William Hogarth in 1753 as the "line of beauty" and is associated with the Queen Anne style.
Also called bandy legs, bowed legs, or cabrioles.elements-legs-cabriole_legs.jpg
Curved, x-shaped supports mounted side to side or front to back. The legs are shaped to appear as a convex curve mounted directly on top of a concave curve. Curule legs are associated with Empire and other classically inspired styles.
Also called cross legs or Grecian cross legs.
Squared, straight legs. The inside edge of the leg may be chamfered, or cut away to produce a narrow, flat surface instead of a sharp edge. See also therm legs.
Also called rectangular legs, square legs, or straight legs.elements-legs-marlborough_legs.jpg
Tapering legs shaped in a slight convex curve, similar to that of a cavalry sabre. The edges of the legs may be rounded or squared.
Also called klismos legs, scimitar legs or Waterloo legs.elements-legs-sabre_legs.jpg
Squared, somewhat thick rear legs on a piece with more decorative front legs. Stump legs do not have distinct feet, but the bottom of the leg may have a slight outward flare or cant.elements-legs-stump_legs.jpg
Squared legs that taper from top to bottom. The inside edge of the leg may be chamfered, or cut away to produce a narrow, flat surface instead of a sharp edge. See also Marlborough legs.
Also called tapered legs.elements-legs-therm_legs.jpg
Supports at the base of a piece of furniture that raise the piece slightly off the ground. Feet may be continuous with the legs, distinct from the legs, or found on objects that lack legs. See also legs.
Spherical or ovoid feet, especially common on seventeenth-century style furniture. See also bun feet and turned feet.elements-feet-ball_feet.jpg
Curved supports that join pairs of legs of an object, allowing it to rock or swing.
Also called rockers.elements-feet-bends.jpg
Square or rectangular feet, usually continuous with squared legs. See also therm feet.elements-feet-block_feet.jpg
L-shaped feet with one horizontal element mounted beneath the object, flush with the plane of the piece, and one vertical element extending down from the corner of the object. Generally, bracket feet have a flat front plane, squared outer vertical edge, and decoratively cut edge along the interior of the foot.
Also called bracket braces, Chinese feet, or Goddard feet.
Bracket feet with a slight outward flare or cant at the base and a smooth, concave interior edge.
Also called French bracket feet, French scroll feet, flared feet, flaring bracket feet, or common bracket feet.
Bracket feet with an S-curve along the outer vertical sides and edge and an elaborately cut, concave interior edge.elements-feet-bracket_feet-ogee_bracket_feet.jpg
Flattened spherical feet, especially common on seventeenth-century style furniture. See also ball feet and turned feet.
Also called bulbous feet, onion feet, or pieds o'oignon.
Swiveling wheels mounted on the undersides of legs to allow easy movement.
Also called casters or wheels.elements-feet-castors.jpg
Feet carved to resemble the claw of a bird grasping a sphere or ball. Frequently continuous with cabriole legs.
Also called ball-and-claw feet, claw feet, eagles' feet, or talon and ball feet.elements-feet-claw_and_ball_feet.jpg
Flattened, circular feet frequently continuous with cabriole legs.
Club feet shaped with a thin disc on the underside of the foot; the disc is of smaller diameter than the foot.
Also called disc feet, Dutch feet, or round feet.elements-feet-club_feet-pad_feet.jpg
Feet carved to resemble the foot of a mammal such as a lion or bear.
Feet carved to resemble tightly coiled scrolls, the ends of which extend up and are continuous with the leg.
Also called Flemish scroll feet, French feet, French scroll feet, scrolled toe feet, knulled feet, knurl feet, knurl toe feet, tern feet, or whorl feet.
Pointed and elongated feet, sometimes with a carved central ridge running across the top of the foot to the leg.
Elongated, S-curved feet that broaden at the end to resemble a snake's head.elements-feet-snake_feet.jpg
Feet carved with vertical ribs that turn inward at the bottom of the foot to form small scrolls.
Also called paintbrush feet, Portuguese feet, tassel feet, and Spanish scroll feet.elements-feet-spanish_feet.jpg
Tapering, squared feet, usually continuous with squared, tapering legs. Therm feet are frequently used with therm legs; the legs and feet taper at different rates, creating a double-tapered profile. See also block feet.
Also called arrow feet, Connelly feet, haines feet, plinth feet, term feet, or thimble toes.elements-feet-therm_feet.jpg
Tapering, squared feet that are wider than the leg at the point where they meet.
Feet carved with three or four ribs that widen from top to bottom, ending in a serpentine front edge.
Also called drake feet.
Feet with a decorative profile created by lathe-turning. See also ball feet and bun feet for feet turned into specific shapes.
Ornament applied to or cut into the piece of furniture for decorative or aesthetic reasons. Decorative elements include wood, stone, or metal applied to surfaces as inlay, marquetry, or veneer. See surface finish for coatings applied as liquids or pastes, such as paint.
Three-dimensional surface or structure created by cutting material out of a solid such as wood or stone using a tool such as a chisel. In furniture, carving may be done on the structural components of the piece or made separately and applied to the piece. See moldings for continuous, linear cut ornament. See also turning.elements-decorative-carving.jpg
A parallel series of concave grooves, such as on a column. See reeding for the opposite profile.
A parallel series of curved, lobed, convex ridges. See gadroon molding for gadrooning used as narrow edging.
Also called knulled decoration, lobed decoration, lobing, nulled decoration, lobing, nulling.
A parallel series of convex, usually semicircular ridges. See fluting for the opposite profile.
Also called ribbing.elements-decorative-carving-reeding.jpg
Marks or characters cut into a metal surface, such as a clock face. In contrast to carving, engraving does not remove material.
Shaped ornaments applied to and extending upward from points along the top edge of a piece, such as at the front corners or center of an arch. Finials may be attached directly to the top of a piece or mounted on a plinth, a small cube of wood that serves as a base. Finials may be made of wood or metal; brass finials are commonly found on tall case clocks.
Spherical or ovoid finials. See also flaming ball finials.
Spherical or ovoid finials carved with curved lines to resemble flames. See also ball finials and flame finials.
Carved eagles, sometimes mounted on top of an urn or other plinth.
Teardrop-shaped finials carved with curved lines to resemble flames. See also flaming ball finials and flame and fluted urn finials.
Also called corkscrew finials.
Teardrop-shaped finials carved with curved lines to resemble flames mounted on top of urn- or vase-shaped plinths. See also flame finials and urn finials.
Also called corkscrew finials.
Columnar finials carved with vertical ribs that flare outward around the top edge.
Narrow finials that taper to a point at the top.
Urn- or vase-shaped finials, sometimes with additional carved decoration. See also flame and urn finials.
Narrow, raised structures of wood or metal that extend vertically around the top edge of a piece to form a decorative border. Galleries may be applied to the front; front and sides; or front, sides, and back edges of an object's top surface. Galleries are frequently cut or pierced with geometric patterns.
One type or finish of wood set into or adjacent to a contrasting wood. Inlay patterns may be geometric or figural, depicting stylized motifs such as flowers, shells, and fans. See also marquetry and veneer.elements-decorative-inlay.jpg
Strip of inlaid wood that creates a border through the visual contrast of the inlaid wood with the wood that surrounds it. Banding may be plain or patterned. See also stringing for a narrower type of inlaid border.elements-decorative-inlay-banding.jpg
Very narrow strip of inlaid wood that creates a line of contrasting color. See also banding for a wider type of inlaid border.elements-decorative-inlay-stringing.jpg
Small pieces of wood or other material set into or applied to an entire surface to form a geometric or figural pattern. See also inlay.
Continuous, linear ornament with a decorative cut profile. Moldings may be cut directly into the surface of an object or applied. Frequently used as decorative elements around the top or base of a piece of case furniture.
1. Molding cut into a very narrow, semicircular, convex profile. See also cock-bead molding.
2. Molding carved with a series of tiny, closely spaced half-spheres.
Also called beading or roundel molding.elements-decorative-moldings-bead_molding.jpg
Molding cut with a narrow, flat, angled profile.
Also called chamfered molding or chamfering.
Molding cut into a very narrow, semicircular, convex profile around the edges of drawer fronts. Used primarily during the eighteenth century.
Also called cock-beading.
Molding cut with the concave profile of a quarter circle. See quarter-round molding for the opposite profile.elements-decorative-moldings-cove_molding.jpg
Molding cut with a parallel series of curved, lobed, convex ridges. See also gadrooning for larger-scale examples of this design.elements-decorative-moldings-gadroon_molding.jpg
Molding cut with the convex profile of a semicircle. See bead molding for a smaller-scale version of the same profile. See scotia molding for the opposite profile.
Molding cut with an S-shaped or serpentine profile.
Molding cut with the convex profile of a quarter circle. See cove molding for the opposite profile.
Also called ovolo molding or thumbnail molding.
Molding cut with the convex profile of three-quarters of a circle.
Molding cut with angled, curved grooves to resemble the twisted strands of a length of rope.
Also called cable molding.
Molding cut with the concave profile of a semicircle. See half-round molding for the opposite profile.
An arched, ogee, or triangular projection from the top of a piece of furniture, usually flush with the front plane of the piece. Pediments may extend the depth of the object or be applied only along the front edge. The profile of a pediment can be characterized by its overall shape and whether it extends across the entire width of the piece of furniture. Pediments may have lavish ornamentation, including carving, moldings, and finials. Pediments are frequently mounted on a cornice, or series of horizontal moldings around the top edges of a piece of case furniture.elements-decorative-pediments.jpg
A pediment that extends without interruption from side to side across the top of a piece of furniture.elements-decorative-pediments-continuous_pediment.jpg
A pediment with a gap at the center.
A pediment with a symmetrical curved profile.
A pediment, usually broken, with a geometric pierced or cut front surface.
Also called fretted pediment.
A broken pediment with a curved center gap flanked by ogee or S-shaped projections.
Also called broken-scroll pediment, scroll top, bonnet scroll, swan's neck, or swan-neck pediment.elements-decorative-pediments-scroll_pediment.jpg
A pediment with the profile of an isosceles triangle.
Three-dimensional surface or structure created by cutting material out of a solid such as wood or stone as it rotates on a lathe. In furniture, turned pieces may be used as structural components or decoration. See also carving.
Thinly cut pieces of wood or other material applied to large, flat surfaces of another type of wood. Veneers are usually cut from expensive or highly decorative woods and applied to woods that are cheaper or less decorative. See inlay for the application of contrasting materials to small sections of a surface.elements-decorative-veneer.jpg
Coatings applied as liquids or paste to ornament or protect the surface of a piece of furniture. See decorative elements for solid materials applied to surfaces.
Gold or another metal applied to a surface as thin sheets or powder in order to simulate solid metal.
Also called gilt or gilded.
Simulation of a particular material or texture by selectively drawing a comb, brush, or other tool through a surface coating such as paint before it has hardened.
A simulation of urushi, or Asian lacquer, created through the application of a series of layers of varnish and pigment. Surfaces may be further decorated with raised ornament or painted and/or gilded Asian-inspired motifs. Two colors are typical of American japanning: black and tortoiseshell, or mottled black and red. See also urushi.elements-surface-japanning.jpg
1. Opaque surface coating, frequently tinted with a pigment or other colorant. See also varnishing.
2. Figural or geometric decoration applied free-hand to a surface with an opaque, tinted medium. See also stenciling.
Figural or geometric decoration applied to a surface with an opaque, tinted medium through the cut-out openings of a pattern or stencil. Stenciling allows the efficient application of identical design motifs to multiple objects. See also painting.
A hard, shiny surface finish created through the application of many layers of a resinous compound derived from the sap of a type of flowering tree native to Asia. True urushi, or Asian lacquer, is only produced in Asia, especially China and Japan. Urushi objects exported from Asia may be incorporated into American-made furniture. See also japanning.
Also called Asian lacquer, urushi lacquer, or true lacquer.
Translucent or transparent surface coating. See also painting.
Applied, visible components, usually made of metal, that facilitate use of an object by allowing its parts to move, be secured, or attached to one another.
Horizontal structures made of wood or metal that project from a vertical component. Brackets may support weight applied from above, such as a shelf; support suspended weight, such as a hanging object; or be purely decorative.
Large, usually flat plates that surround openings such as keyholes or projections such as door knobs. See also keyhole surrounds.
Also called brasses.elements-finish_hardware-escutcheons.jpg
Small, usually flat plates that surround keyholes. See also escutcheons.
Also called brasses.elements-finish_hardware-escutcheons-keyhole_surrounds.jpg
Hardware that attaches two adjacent components and allows one component to move in one plane. Frequently made of two interlocking plates joined with a pin that acts as a pivot point.
Hinges made of two interlocking bent iron rods. Frequently used on seventeenth-century style furniture to attach lids.
Also called snipe hinges or snipe-bill hinges.
Hinges in which both plates are attached to exterior surfaces of a piece of furniture. Frequently ornamental.
Surface hinges in which two trapezoidal plates are interlocked along their short sides, forming a butterfly shape. See also surface hinges.
Surface hinges in which the center section of the long edge of a rectangular plate is interlocked with the center section of one arm of an L-shaped plate. See also surface hinges.
Surface hinges in which the center sections of the long edges of two rectangular plates are interlocked, forming an H-shape. See also surface hinges.
Surface hinges with long, narrow plates that extend perpendicular to the pivot point. See also surface hinges.
Also called flap hinges.elements-finish_hardware-hinges-strap_hinges.jpg
Surface hinges in which the center section of the long edge of a rectangular plate is interlocked with the short edge of a rectangular plate, forming a T-shape. See also surface hinges.
Hinges in which one plate is surface-mounted to a fixed component and one plate is mortised into the edge of a moving component, such as a door. See half-surface hinges for the opposite installation.
Hinges in which one plate is mortised into the edge of a fixed component and one plate is surface-mounted to a moving component, such as a door. See half-mortise hinges for the opposite installation.
Hinges in which one plate is mortised into the edge of a fixed component and one plate is mortised into a moving component, such as a door.
Hardware in which a moving horizontal component, such as a bolt, holds in place part of an object.
Hardware that relies on a key to secure part of an object.
Shaped metal ornaments applied for decoration and to protect the corners or edges of surfaces, especially veneered surfaces.
Slender metal fasteners used to join materials or components. Nails with large, decorative heads may be applied solely for purposes of decoration, as in some over-the-rail upholstery.
Also called brads or tacks.
Handles or hand-holds that facilitate opening a door or drawer by providing something to pull.
Also called brasses.elements-finish_hardware-pulls.jpg
Hinged, U-shaped or arched handles. The hinges may be mounted on a single flat plate or two smaller plates.
Also called bail handles or brasses.elements-finish_hardware-pulls-bail_pulls.jpg
Hinged, rod- or teardrop-shaped handles frequently mounted on a flat plate.
Also called brasses, drop handles, or drops.
Small, fixed projections. Frequently spherical or rounded.elements-finish_hardware-pulls-knobs.jpg
Pliable or padded structures that are attached or associated with a piece of seating or reclining furniture to provide support and comfort to a user.
Different layers and elements that may constitute stuffed or padded upholstery.
Soft material, such as dried grasses, curled hair, or wool or cotton batting, that create a cushioned surface.
Also called stuffing.elements-upholstery-components-padding.jpg
Coils, typically of iron or steel wire, mounted upright within an upholstered surface to provide resilient support.
The outermost fixed layers of upholstered surfaces. May be decorative.
Also called cover fabric, final fabric, finish fabric, show covers, or top covers.
Strips of linen, cotton, or jute woven together and tacked to the wooden frame of the seat or other surface to be upholstered.
Also called girt web, girt webbing, or girth web.elements-upholstery-components-webbing.jpg
The general form of upholstery, including whether and how it is attached to a piece of furniture.
Cylindrical cushions sometimes intended for use with nineteenth-century sofas. See also cushions.elements-upholstery-type-bolsters.jpg
Portable, pliable containers filled with padding to produce a soft surface for sitting or reclining. See also bolsters.
Upholstery that is permanently fixed to the frame of a piece of furniture by stretching layers of upholstery over the sides of the frame and attaching them underneath the frame. Some examples of this upholstery are trimmed with lines or bands of decorative nails.elements-upholstery-type-over_the_rail.jpg
Upholstered seat frames made to fit into chair frames. The upholstery is attached only to the seat frame, rather than to the chair itself.
Also called drop-in seats, false seats, loose seats, or pin-cushion seats.
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