Glossary of Antique Terms

A

 Alabaster

A fine-grained, semi-translucent form of crystalline gypsum, usually off-white in color


 Apron

Decorative wood crosspiece found at the bottom of a table, drawer or the end of a piece of furniture that is usually shapely and decorative

 Armoire

A wardrobe or cupboard with at least one full-length door

 Art Deco

A decorative style of the 1920s and 1930s featuring bold, precise geometric shapes and strong colors

Art Nouveau

A style of decorative art, architecture, and design prominent in Western Europe and the USA from about 1890 until World War I and characterized by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms

B

Barley Twist

The spiral effect, resembling screw threads, on a piece of furniture that is usually found on the leg of table or desk but also as a columnar architectural accent on the facade

Baroque

A style that originated in Italy and was later refined during the reign of Louis XIV in France, commonly equated with naturalistic form combined with a complex opulence with influences rooted in classic architecture and design

Bergere

An upholstered or caned armchair with closed sides

Bevel

A slope from the horizontal or vertical in glasswork and stonework (see chamfer)

Bibliotheque

An armoire or cabinet with shelves designed to be used as a bookcase

Bonnetiere

A small armoire originally used to store women’s bonnets (see homme debout)

Bronze dore

Cast bronze used for furniture ornamentation and clock production that has been layered or plated with gold (see ormolu)

Buffet

French word for cupboard or sideboard with one or more doors or drawers, an adaptation of the coffre (trunk) with legs to raise it up to provide a serving surface

Buffet a deux corps

A cupboard or sideboard with two distinct cabinet areas, the bottom being equivalent to a buffet and the top frequently fitted with shelves and many times with glass doors for dishes and fine china (see china buffet)

Bureau

French for writing table or desk (also office)

C

Cabriole leg

An “S” curved leg with tapered form, frequently carved on the shoulder above and the foot below

Cache pot

Ornamental holder for potpourri or aromatic infusion, also suitable as a flower pot (see jardinière)

Canapé

French word for settee or a sofa that seats around two people, usually caned or upholstered with open arms

Candelabra

Large candlestick with arms or holders for several candles or light bulbs

Case piece

Furniture, usually large in size, that provides interior space for storage.

Casters

Wheels on the bottom of furniture pieces that allow them to be easily moved across the floor.

Chaise lounge

A long chair-form seat or daybed

Chamfer

A slope from the horizontal or vertical in woodwork (see bevel)

Chinoiserie

French name for furniture or decorative items that have Chinese origin or style

Commode

French chest of drawers, sometimes with drawers concealed by cabinet doors

Confit Pot

Glazed green or yellow earthenware pot originally used to store goose meat in fat or jam but is commonly used as a decorative pot or flower pot now

Confiturier

Small buffet, usually with one door and sometimes a drawer originally intended to hold confit pots

Console

A table with as few as one leg and as many as six legs that is either self-supported and placed against the wall or uses wall brackets to support itself against the wall. Originally an architectural extension of the window sill.

Credenza

A buffet or side cabinet used in the office or as an alternative to the console, usually containing cabinets and/or drawers

Crown molding

Elegant top molding

D

Day Bed

An upholstered couch or canapé that can serve as a bed during the evening hours

Directoire

Neoclassical decorative style intermediate between the more ornate Louis XVI style and the Empire style, prevalent during the French Directoire (1795–99)

Dovetail

Type of carpentry joint where adjoining boards are fastened by interlocking fan-shaped cutouts

Dowel

Cylindrical peg of wood, metal, or plastic used for holding together components of a structure

Dresser

Chest of drawers or commode with an attached mirror, usually with a marble surface

Drop-finial

Hanging architectural element that was sometimes used on 17th-century furniture such as tables and court cupboards, also called a pendant finial

Drop leaf

A table leaf hinged parallel to the table top that can be raised and supported by brackets or swing-out legs as needed

E

Embossing

Three-dimensional engraving in leather, wood or plaster

Empire

Early 19th-century design movement in architecture, furniture, other decorative arts originally propounded by Napoleon and Josephine & influenced by the ancient architecture of Egypt, Greece & Rome

Encoignure

Small armoire, commode, cabinet or cupboard made to fit a corner

Engraving

Print made from an engraved plate, block, or other surface

F

Farm table

A country table, usually rectangular, with no drop leaves

Fauteuil

French word for armchair with open space between the arm and seat

Finial

Ornament at the top, end, or corner of an object

Fleur-de-lis (also fleur de lys)

Stylized lily composed of three petals bound together near their bases. It is especially known from the former royal arms of France but originated in Florence, Italy

Fluting

Shallow grooves running along a surface

French Provincial

Also known as Country French, the style that originated in the somewhat rural provinces of France, with those from Provence itself correctly referred to as “Provencal

G

Gilding

Applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold

 

Glazing

Glass, either plate or hand-rolled. Can be silvered to create a mirror

Gothic

Relating to an architectural style derived from medieval style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period

Guéridon

A small round table

H

Henri II

Artistic movement of the sixteenth century in France, part of Northern Mannerism. It came immediately after the High Renaissance and was largely the product of Italian influences; revived during the second half of the 19th century

Homme Debout

A derivation of the small armoire adapted for masculine use, usually characterized by an upper and lower cabinet separated by a drawer (see bonnetiere)

I

Inlay

Decoration made by fitting pieces of wood into prepared slots in a surface

Intaglio

Carved decoration that is inset into the wood’s surface, rather than revealed above it as in bas relief or relief carving

J

Jacobean

Style prevalent during the reign of James I, also referring to a particularly dark stain color used on oak

Jardiniere

A decorative pot or stand designed to hold floral displays, many times made from metal but sometimes from carved wood or ceramics (see cache pot)

K

L

Louis-Philippe

Louis Philippe (1773 – 1850) was King of the French from 1830 to 1848 in what was known as the July Monarchy. He was the last king to rule France, although Napoleon III would serve as its last monarch. The style of furniture that came into favor during his reign was very austere of line and mostly devoid of carved or bronze ornamentation

Louis XIII

Louis XIII (1601–1643) was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1610 to 1643. The style associated with his reign represents a transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance

Louis XIV

Louis XIV (1638–1715), known as the Sun King, was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre. He holds the distinction of being the longest-reigning king in European history, reigning for 72 years and 110 days from 1643 to 1715. During his reign the baroque style reached its peak resulting in opulence such as Versailles

Louis XV

Louis XV (1710–1774) was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1715-1774. The style adopted during his reign was a delicate interpretation of the Italian baroque with emphasis on shell motifs, hence the moniker rococo from the French rocaille. (see rococo)

Louis XVI

Louis XVI (1754-1793) was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792. During his reign the classic style from ancient Greece and Rome was revitalized and interpreted by the French in a wide variety of iterations

M

Mahogany

A rain-forest wood of straight grain and highly desirable qualities of workability, durability and finish acceptance, imported to Europe in great quantities since the 18th century for furniture production

Majolica

Highly decorated earthenware with a glaze primarily of tin oxide

Mantel

Shelf and supports that project from the wall surrounding a fireplace

Marquetry

Wooden inlays of patterned designs such as curved lines or floral carvings utilizing different species of wood to create contrast and an artistic effect

Mother-of-Pearl

Iridescent internal layer of a mollusk shell used to line small vessels or to decorate the exterior of finely crafted furniture

N

Napoleon III

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1808 – 1873) was the President of the French Second Republic and as Napoleon III, the emperor of the Second French Empire (1852-1870). During his reign all of the past great French styles were revived during what many consider the golden years for French furniture manufacturing. His empress Eugenie also helped create a style named after the emperor that was a blend of the Henri II and Louis XVI styles.

Neo-classical

Style that coincided with the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the present that is based upon ancient Greek, Roman and to a small degree, Egyptian architecture and style, also known as Louis XVI style

Nesting Tables

A set of tables of various sizes, typically stored by “nesting” the smaller tables within the legs of the larger.

O

Oak

An indigenous European wood frequently used for entire furniture in the northern latitudes and as a base & case wood behind more exotic indigenous and imported woods from more southern latitudes.

Ormolu

Gold-colored bronze, cast into desired shapes and often gilded (see bronze dore), used especially in the 18th century for decorating furniture and making ornamentation

Ottoman

A low upholstered and padded seat, or footstool, without a back or arms that can sometimes serve as a box, with the seat hinged to form a lid

P

Panetière

Originating in Provence, a large, usually finely carved bread box with intricate turned spindles and resembling a birdcage

Partner's desk

An antique desk form designed for two users working while facing each other

Patina

A gloss or sheen on wooden antique furniture or antique metal objects resulting from the aging process combined with polishing and waxing

Period

Describes something created at the time its style first originated

Porcelain

White vitrified translucent ceramic

Q

R

Regence

The period between the reign of Louis XIV and his grandson, Louis XV during which a regency was in power, hand-picked by Louis XIV to rule during his grandson’s ascendancy. The style attributed to this period is a blend of the baroque and rococo styles

Regency

Denoting British architecture, clothing, and furniture of the Regency or, more widely, of the late 18th and early 19th centuries

Renaissance

Revival of art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 15th-16th centuries

Rococo

Characterized by an elaborately ornamental late baroque style of decoration prevalent in 18th-century Continental Europe, with asymmetrical, naturalistic patterns involving shell, foliate & floral motifs and scrollwork (see Louis XV)

S

Samovar

Decorative tea serving urn originating from Russia

Sconce

Candle holder, or a holder of another light source, that is attached to a wall with an ornamental bracket, also refers to a wall bracket serving as a miniature console.

Secretaire

Desk with a drop-front panel that creates a writing surface when open, usually concealing drawers; in English~ secretary

Sideboard

A flat-topped piece of furniture with cupboards and drawers, placed along a wall and primarily used for serving and storing dishes, glasses, and table linens (see buffet)

T

Tilt-top Table

Pedestal table whose top is hinged so that it can be tilted to a vertical position

Trompe l’oeil

French for “deceive the eye”, an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions

Trumeau

A mirror with an ornamental panel typically displaying a painting or carvings above or below the glass mirror

U

V

Vaisselier

French buffet with open shelving on top used for displaying dishes and china

Veneer

A thin decorative covering of fine wood applied to a coarser base wood or other material

Vitrine

A glass-paneled display cabinet or case primarily used to display china or collectibles also called a curio cabinet

W

Walnut

A buttery brown decorative hardwood primarily from Europe, with French walnut considered the premier variety

X

Y

Z

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