A term used to describe a decorative feature frequently carved
on furniture and representing the leaf of the Acanthus spinosus,
a motif which was used as far back as Greek and Roman times
Robert Adam was the second son of William Adam, the foremost Scottish
architect of his time, who worked from Edinburgh in the Palladian
style, and after his father's death he was taken into partnership
by his elder brother John. In 1754 he left for a tour of Europe
with a young nobleman, returning in 1758 to London with his head
full of details of Roman antiquities. His younger brother James
joined him during 1763, and together they developed the 'Adam
Style' marked by a new lightness and freedom in the use of the
classical elements of architecture. "Works in Architecture
of Robert and James Adam, Esquires" was published 1773.
Regarding furniture the Adam brothers
played a leading role, as in an Adam interior everything was to
be part of the unified scheme. The style is typified by an elegance
and sense of proportion; extensive use is made of paterae, anthemion,
delicate flutings, and wreaths of flowers festooned between rams'
By the late 18th C. however Robert
Adam's popularity was beginning to decline, and Horace Walpole,
after visiting the new Carlton House, wrote, "How sick one
shall be, after this chaste palace, of Mr. Adam's gingerbread
and sippets of embroidery."
A rare wood of a mellow golden brown colour with intricate bird's
eye figuring, used for veneering. Originally a native tree of
the West Indies
Classical ornamentation based on the blossom of the honeysuckle
A small moulding; now normally a term used when describing the
division between panes in a glazed cabinet. From the Greek word
for moulding - astragalus.
Roughly it translates from the German as Honest John - a solid
dependable style for the citizenry. The style was first in vogue
during the early part of the 19th C., contemporary with our Regency
Boulle(Sometimes seen spelt
Andre Charles Boulle (1642-1732) was a famous French cabinet maker
who perfected a marquetry of tortoiseshell and brass as a veneer
for furniture; the design is of scroll, flower and arabesque motifs
often inlaid into ebony. Little Boulle furniture was made in England
in this early period, though it enjoyed a revival of popularity
in the 19th Century.
From the Box tree, Buxus sempervirens, a pale yellowish-white
wood, very hard and smooth and much used for banding and inlay.
It is cut across the grain and sometimes stained green.
A foot extending each way from the corner of the base of a piece
of furniture. A bracket foot can be of fairly simple construction,
or may be splayed outwards at the toes, or of ogee construction
A pull out slide at a convenient height on a chest of drawers,
or similar piece which forms a temporary work surface on which
to brush clothes. (Remember roads were muddy, most people travelled
by foot or on horseback, and outer clothing was often of woollen
fabric and not easily washable).
A foot somewhat in the shape of a bun, most often used on chests
of drawers and bureaux etc. Popular in the 17th and early 18th
Bureau (the plural being Bureaux
though often spelt Bureaus nowadays)
These evolved from portable writing boxes with sloping lids, which
were later fitted with stands. By the late 17th C. they began
to have further drawers fitted beneath. The term is now normally
applied to a writing desk with an angled fall to the front concealing
drawers and/or pigeon holes, and fitted with further drawers below
the angled fall.
A veneer cut from transverse slices of the knarled roots or branch
junctions of trees, notably the walnut, oak, elm, and thuja.
This type of leg first became popular in England and France in
the late 17th C., although it was known in the ancient world.
Based on the legs of four footed animals, and often with realistic
modelling of the hoof and sometimes hair of the creature, the
simplified later form is of two elongated curves - the upper one
convex, the lower one concave, forming a long slow ‘S’
sometimes joined by stretchers. The knees often have carved decoration,
and the legs may terminate in a scroll, slipper, pad, hoof, or
A term now applied to a stand with divisions for holding sheet
music (though more often used for magazines) it was originally
said to have been a type of dumb waiter invented by an Archbishop
of Canterbury - Sheraton describes it as ‘made to stand
by a table at supper, with a circular end, and three partitions
crosswise to hold knives, forks and plates at that end which is
made circular on purpose’.
Carlton Desk or Carlton
A writing table on legs with a raised back and sides fitted with
pigeonholes and small drawers etc. Apparently named in compliment
to the then Prince of Wales, (afterwards George IV) who lived
at Carlton House.
Columns or pilasters with the top half in the form of woman. Those
featuring the male form are normally called Atlantes.
A type of low chair or couch with only one end and sometimes a
partial back and a seat long enough to support the legs usually
made for a lady to recline on. From the French for long chair.
Ornamentation of metal by means of a hard metal burin, used to
form raised and indented sections and lines
Sometimes mis-spelt as Cheffonier, it is normally a small sideboard
with one or two shelves at the back and two doors enclosing shelving
to the base, and often fitted with a concealed drawer above the
cupboards. The word literally means a gatherer up of small articles
(in France a chiffonnier was a rag-and-bone man! - Not that we
have these in France or England these days!)
Thomas Chippendale, was christened in 1718 at Otley, Yorkshire.
His early life is sketchy but it is thought he moved to Worcester
with his father who worked there as a cabinet-maker, and that
they later moved to London. By 1753 he moved to 60 St. Martin's
Lane where he had a showroom and workshop employing some twenty
workmen, and this remained his home for the rest of his life.
In 1754 he published his celebrated book ‘The Gentleman
and Cabinet-Maker's Director’ this work was one of the most
important collection of furniture designs published in England,
illustrating almost every type of mid-18th C. domestic furniture,
and containing 160 plates. In 1755 he published a second edition,
and the third edition containing 200 plates was published in weekly
parts from 1759-62. The designs were largely Chippendale's improvements
on the fashionable furniture styles of the time.
Rococo, Chinese and Gothic influences
show strongly in Chippendale's designs, particularly in chair
backs, and case-furniture. From the 1760s onward, he was influenced
by the great English architect Robert Adam, and adopted the new
Neo-classical style. This final phase is notable for mahogany
and marquetried satinwood furniture. The superb satinwood and
inlaid commodes (possibly designed by his son - also called Thomas
Chippendale) and other furniture at Harewood House are masterpieces
of the cabinetmaker's craft.
Claw and Ball Foot
Beloved of Chippendale, it is probably of Chinese origin and believed
to represent the three clawed foot of the dragon (in mythology
a very lucky beast) clutching the sacred pearl, and was introduced
by the Dutch late in the 17th C.
A small rounded projecting moulding used around the edges of drawers.
Probably used in the sense of something which is raised or standing
proud. i.e.. hay cock.
A console is a bracket often in the form of an S-Scroll or curve.
A console table is a side table normally fixed to the wall, sometimes
with receding legs, giving a bracket like effect. Introduced from
France in 18th C. they are also known as pier tables, as they
were often sited on the pier wall between tall windows.
A cupboard with a smaller cupboard over it, often richly carved,
and used by the family for wine etc, as distinguished from a livery
cupboard which would have been used by retainers for more mundane
Short sections of veneer laid at right angles to the longest grain
of the main surface, originally used as a protective edging, it
rapidly gained favour for its decorative qualities, and can often
form part of a decorative inlaid banding.
This word refers back to the original design, which was a board,
or table, on which cups, drinking vessels and other necessaries
for meals were placed. There were several shelves- the number
of which bore relation to the rank of the owner - surmounted by
a canopy; eventually doors were added, and it became a Court Cupboard
(see above) gradually metamorphosising into the cupboard as we
know it today.
A small writing desk with a lift up writing slope, and a range
of drawers at the side. Popular in the 19th C., it was named after
a Captain Davenport, who apparently commissioned one to take with
him on campaign.
A side table of the farmhouse type, used for dressing food before
serving, and with drawers to the front and either cupboards beneath,
or a pot-board shelf. There may be a narrow range of shelves,
sometimes added at a later date, on which plates etc. were displayed.
It seems to have become a recognized piece of furniture from the
17th C. onwards: often called a Welsh Dresser there is no necessary
geographical connection with Wales, although many do come from
this area of the country.
An inlaid edging or banding named because of the similarity of
its pattern to the flight veins of a feather. It was introduced
during the latter part of the 17th C. and is most often seen on
the walnut case furniture of this period.
In heraldic language ‘field’ means the general surface
of a shield. In furniture the word is used in a similar sense
to describe a panel, the surface of which is on the same plane
as the surrounding woodwork, but which is defined by a sunken
section often with mouldings.
Flutings are vertical channels or grooves separated by a sharp
edge or arris. When the mouldings are convex rather than concave
they are called reedings.
Gadroon (From the French
godron - a plait or ruffle.)
Gadrooning is used as an embellishment to the edges of items.
In wooden items it is normally carved, though in metalwork it
would be cast.
A type of table with drop leaves, normally oval in shape, which
are supported on hingedlegs resembling a gate in construction.
Originally a branched candlestick or chandelier for use on the
table, or fixed as a bracket to a wall frequently with a mirror
attached, it is a term now normally applied only to the latter
A green grey coloured veneer usually of stained sycamore, and
most often used as a contrasting inlay.
George Hepplewhite (sometimes wrongly spelt Heppelwhite - occasionally
even by himself!) was probably apprenticed to the well-known cabinet
maker Gillow of Lancaster. He went into business on his own account,
and by the time of his death in 1786 was the proprietor of a considerable
business in Cripplegate. His widow, Alice, continued the business
under the name of A. Hepplewhite & Co, and in 1788 it was
she who published the influential "The Cabinet-Maker and
Upholsterers' Guide", with further editions in 1789 and 1794.
Hepplewhite style is characterized by the perfection of workmanship,
lightness of construction, and elegance of form. These characteristics
are particularly noticeable in his chair designs with shield and
heart-shaped backs, often carved with wheat-ears, honeysuckle
(anthemion), swags of drapery, and Prince of Wales Feathers
Herring Bone Inlay
An inlaid banding named because of the similarity of its pattern
to that of the main bones in a herring. It was introduced during
the latter part of the 17th C. and is most often seen on the walnut
case furniture of this period.
A cabriole leg with a broken curve to the inside of the knee,
echoing the shape of a quadruped’s hock.
Foot of a piece of furniture which is carved to resemble that
of a quadruped, either solid or cloven. Known in the ancient world
in was introduced to England from France in the 17th C.
Often used as a carved motif it represents the stylized form of
the Garrya eliptica.
Thin decorative lines worked so as to be below the general surrounding
plane of the main surface.
Decoration to a surface formed by the removal some of the surface,
which is then replaced with a contrasting material.
A table designed for the game of Loo, a six-handed card game popular
in the 19th C. Usually having an oval or round top, and with a
hinged and snap mechanism fitted to a pedestal base, so that the
table could be stored when not in use. For rules of the game of
Loo follow this link.
A small table fitted with drawers, first made in the early 17th
C. and used as a writing or dressing table. When there are further
drawers above it is termed a High-Boy, though this seems to be
a mainly American terminology, and in England such a piece would
be called a chest on stand.
Prismatic cut glass pendants, largely used in candelabra and chandeliers,
or items designed to reflect light; also used to describe those
light reflecting metallic glazes made from platinum, silver or
copper etc., which are used in the decoration of pottery and china.
Elaborate veneered or inlaid designs in various coloured woods,
sometimes including ivory, or metals such as silver; usually floral
or natural in design; as opposed to parquetry which is based on
A design where one part is concave and the other is convex, giving
an s-shape outline, normally used to describe the mouldings or
the feet of pieces.
A type of brass composed of around 75 parts of copper to 25 zinc,
resulting in a colour more similar to gold than that of ordinary
brass. Normally ornately cast and chased, it was usually then
mercury gilded to prevent tarnishing.
Shaped like an egg.
Where decorative pieces of wood have been cut transversely from
smaller branches or saplings, the resulting ring-like grain of
the wood being reminiscent of the markings on an oyster shell.
A decorative pattern formed from different types of wood but applied
in a geometric design as compared to marquetry.
Only selected portions of the surface are gilded - normally the
areas with carved detail - the remainder of the surface being
polished. This was a style popular around the late 17th to early
18th century, though there was a resurgence in the Regency period.
Originally a shallow dish or saucer of foliate design used for
drinking purposes by the Romans. The name was also applied to
architectural ornaments of similar form during the classical period.
Now used for round or oval shapes applied to furniture either
to cover holes or joints, or simply as a decorative motif, sometimes
they are carved with a rose motif and are then termed rosettes.
A table with two hinged flaps on the longest sides, supported
by folding brackets; mostly fitted with a drawer at one end of
the shorter side, and often with a matching dummy drawer at the
opposing end, though sometimes with a drawer at each end. Said
to have been named after the Countess of Pembroke.
Pie Crust Edge
An edge moulding of C-scrolls and S-scrolls and ogees which somewhat
resembles the edge of a pastry pie-crust.
Small compartments in a bureau or secretaire reminiscent of the
entrances to a dove-cot .
A flat column or pier, with a base and capital, and very slightly
proud of the surface.
A small, often shaped, screen supported on a tall slender pole
normally with a tripod base, and adjustable so that a lady's complexion
might be protected from the heat of a strong fire.
A set of four tables of light construction and small size, but
normal table height, being of diminishing size and designed to
nest one within another. Sheraton is thought to have been the
first to devise them, and they are usually in this style.
Where the central splat of a chair is carved to represent puckered
ribbons tied in bows. The style was introduced from France in
the mid-18th Century and was much favoured by Chippendale, who
refers to it in his Director (q.v.) as a "Ribband-Back Chair".
Traditionally a table of long oblong form, with a drop leaf on
each of the shorter sides supported by brackets, and normally
with two drawers and two dummy drawers along the long sides. Now
often used to refer to any long table which will stand behind
a sofa and take a lamp.
Thomas Sheraton, who seems to have invented the form, describes
it thus in his Cabinet Dictionary (London, 1803) pages 305-306,
as "…used before a sofa, and are generally made between
5 and 6 feet long; ...the frame is divided into two drawers…The
ladies chiefly occupy them to draw, write or read upon."
Spindle (From the Latin
spina, a thorn, indicating anything slender)
A slender turned rod used in furniture construction from the earliest
times, and still in use today. Seen particularly in chairs, but
also in screens, and in openings of early cupboards. Spindle is
also used to denote the small bar, shaped at both ends and used
for hand spinning before the invention of the spinning wheel in
Brunswick in 1530.
The central upright portion of a chair back contained within the
side uprights, the top rail and the seat.
The shaping of a high back chair to fit the shape of the spine,
also sometimes known as spooning.
A term for the thin, fine lines of contrasting wood inlay used
A table where the two drop leaves reach nearly to the floor, but
the central section is very narrow, so when it is folded down
it occupies little space, but gives a large usable surface when
open. First recorded around 1850, they are said to be named for
Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, who was a favourite lady in waiting
of Queen Victoria
Decorative veneer work, originally made at Tunbridge Wells, where
small rods of wood of different colours are glued together in
bundles and then cut across the grain, so that the ends form a
pattern which gives the appearance of minute mosaic work.