Interior Design Terms A to Z: the Most Common Design Jargon

Every profession has their own lingo and Interior Design is no exemption from having its own glossary of terms. When it comes to talking with clients, some terms will raise eyebrows. It's important that the designer and client both have a clear understanding of the most common design terms to be able to communicate better. Knowing what certain design terms mean can actually help make it easier for the Interior Designer to create a visualization for the client.

Acoustical Tile or Panel – a finishing material with sound-absorbing properties usually made of fiberglass and minerals; commonly used for media rooms and office spaces.

Addendum – supplementary documents that serve as support, clarification, and modification of the information in the original document. This will then be part of the contract documents once the construction phase begins.

Antiques – are pieces of furniture or accessories that are at least 50 – 100 years old. Antiques are collected for their uniqueness, rarity and because it doesn't exist anymore. These are considered investments as the value rises over time.

Antiquing – is the process of making something look like an antique through an artificial process.

As-built Plans or Drawing – 2D floor plan that shows the actual and current condition of the space after it was constructed.

Awning Window – are windows where the hinges are at the top of the frames and open either inward or outward.

Bay Window – a window protruding from the walls of a structure, creating an angled space inside

Beni Ourain – are hand-woven shaggy carpets by the people from the Beni Ourain tribe who originate from the Moroccan Atlas mountains. Their carpets are almost always ivory in color with geometric patterns, usually diamond patterns.

Bespoke – a term usually used for furniture means custom-made. Bespoke furniture is usually more expensive as it's tailored to the client's specifications.

Beveled – a term usually used for glass and mirrors wherein the edges are cut in an angle to give off a distorted effect.

Bidding phase – the phase in the Interior Designer's scope of services wherein bidding for the position of contractor takes place.

Bolster – a long, cylindrical pillow placed on beds and sofas.

Bullnose – trim with a smooth, rounded edge that is often used on tiles and kitchen counters

Boucherouite – similar to Beni, these are produced by a nomadic tribe from North Africa, called the Berbers. These colorful rugs are made of a mixture of wool, recycled textiles and even plastic.

Box Pleats – a type of curtain heading wherein the pleats look like boxes or small rectangles.

Brocade – a type of elegant and fancy fabric with a raised pattern.

By Owner – work or item specified in the contract that is not part of the agreement with the contractor. It simply means that an item or work is going to be supplied or done by the owner.

CafĂ© Curtains – are curtains that are short and cover the lower or upper portion of a door or window. Usually comes in pairs wherein it covers both the lower and upper portion of a window and leave the middle of the window exposed to provide both privacy and partial view.

Cantilever – in architecture, it's a structural element supported vertically on one end. In furniture, a cantilevered chair is a type of chair wherein it isn't supported by 4 legs but is instead supported by a single leg from the seat's front edge and bends into an L-shape. Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair is an example of a Cantilevered chair.

Casement Window – a type of window wherein the window frames are hinged to the left or right side. Modern casements typically consist of two doors hinged on both the left and right sides and open outward.

Case-goods – is furniture made from hard materials like closets, bookshelves, and cabinets

Change Order – a written agreement between the owner and the contractor/designer/architect authorizing changes in work that will affect contract costs and timeframe.

Chesterfield Sofa – a large sofa with rolled armrests which are of the same height as the back. Traditional Chesterfields are tightly stuffed, tufted and come in leather upholstery. Modern Chesterfields are non-tufted and come in a wide array of upholstery.

Concealed Hinges – are what its name implies. It's hidden when the doors are closed and used in cabinetry.

Console Table – narrow tables that are either fixed to the wall or stand-alone used in hallways or to break a room and act as a divider. It's used as a focal point and used to display small accessories or pictures.

Construction Document Phase – the third phase of the Interior Designer's scope of services. This comes after Schematic Design Phase and the Design Development Phase. It's the phase where the documents and final plans are prepared and where the designer helps in awarding the bidding to a potential contractor.

Construction Phase – the final phase in the Interior Designer's scope of services wherein the construction of all the drawings and plans are executed.

Cordovan – a deep shade of brown, associated with leather and comes from the name of a place in Spain, Cordova, which is known for manufacturing leather.

Cove Lighting – is a form of indirect lighting that's usually concealed in recesses of walls or ceilings. It's commonly used as accent lighting to general lighting.

Design Development Phase – the second phase in the Interior Designer's scope of services. It's the phase where the sketches from the Schematic phase are further developed to suit the taste and needs of the client.

Dhurrie – is a rug that originates from India where it's used as tablecloths or floor coverings. It's made of cotton, silk, and wool or sometimes a combination of those three.

Direct Lighting – lighting which is directly cast from the fixture to the 
area that is intended to be lit.

Drop-leaf Table – a popular space-saving table wherein the table has flaps or “leaves” on either side hinged to a central section or built onto a wall where the leaves can be folded when not in use.

Drywall – a panel used for interior partitions which uses gypsum panels.

Eclectic – a type of Interior Design style that combines different periods and styles from historical, classical and up to modern and contemporary.

Elevation – 2D plans of the front, sides or rear of a room or space

Edge Banding – narrow strips of material used in cabinetry to cover exposed sidings of wood. These are made of PVC, real wood or melamine and are adhered to the wood using an edge banding machine.

Ergonomics – the process of designing a space, furniture, and systems to fit the people who will use them.

Faux – means fake or false in French. It's used in a variety of terms. Faux column, faux door, faux leather are just a few examples.

FF&E – an abbreviation for Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment

Finial – sometimes referred to as end caps, are the decorative end of a curtain rod when either ends are not bored into walls.

Flokati – a shag wool rug originating from the people living in the mountains of Greece.

Focal Point – the main point of interest in a room. A room can have more than one focal point.

Format – in tile terms, this refers to the shape and size of a tile.

French Pleat Curtains – are curtains with triple pinch pleat headings spaced evenly to create a full plush look.

Futon – a traditional Japanese quilted mattress placed on the floor.

Gallery Wall – a wall, typically in a Hallway, filled with an assorted arrangement of pictures, paintings, and framed souvenirs.

Gantt Chart – a chart which indicates the start and end of each scope of work, critical and non-critical items during project construction.

Gate-leg Table – a type of leg used in conjunction with a drop leaf panel. These legs swing out to support the drop leaf table top when in use.

Gingham – is a lightweight cloth made of cotton and is checked in white and a variety of other colors. While mostly limited to a child's bedroom, Gingham can be upgraded to use in a modern room when the right colors are chosen.

Glaze – in tiles, glazed tiles are tiles with a glassy, opaque finish that come in matte, glossy or satin finish.

Grommet – eyelet in curtains where the curtain rod is passed through; desk grommets are plastic or rubber eyelets that line table holes intended for passing wires, to prevent the chafing of wires.

Grout – a mixture of water, cement, and sand used to fill the gaps between tiles. Comes in an assortment of colors to match the tile color.

Gypsum Board – a prefabricated sheet used in drywall partitions.

Hardwood – woods that come from deciduous trees and are used for doors, panels, and furniture.

HeadRoom – the space between the top of the floor from the ground or first floor and the lowest part of the second floor or any floor above.

Highboy – a tall chest of drawers. In period furniture, the highboy has a wider lower portion as opposed to the upper portion of the chest.

Honed Finish – is a type of finish for tiles or stone where the surface is matte or unpolished but consistent in smoothness.

Houndstooth – is a type of two-tone pattern characterized by broken checks. It usually comes in black and white but is also available in other colors. Large Houndstooth patterns can be used in contemporary styles.

Indirect Lighting – a form of lighting where the source of light is hidden but still spread light via reflection on walls, ceilings, and floors creating a play on shades and shadows. Examples are cove light and wall sconces.

Inset Cabinet Doors or Drawers – are doors or drawers which are fitted into the opening of the cabinet leaving the cabinet frames exposed.

Jabot – like the dressmaker's term for ruffles attached to the front of a man or woman's shirt, also has the same meaning in curtains. Some designers choose a slightly different color from the main curtain to make the Jabot stand out.

Kilim – is a flat weave rug that has many origins, possibly from Central Asia, North Africa, some parts of South Asia and even China. Its patterns are usually geometric. Though mostly used as rugs, it can also be hung on walls, used as pillow covers or as furniture covers.

Kiln-dried – wood placed in kilns or ovens and dried using controlled heat. Wood drying prevents warping, shrinkage and cracking of wood making it ideal for construction.

Knock-down Furniture – are furniture that is unassembled. Other terms for it would be ready-to-assemble furniture. Furniture from Ikea is an example of knock-down furniture.

Laminates – man-made product usually made of plastic which is meant to adhere to wood to produce decorative surfaces. It comes in different designs and colors including wood-like designs. Formica is an example.

Lippage – refers to differences in the elevation of tiles. This occurs when the surface prior to tiling is uneven.

Load-bearing Wall – a wall that bears or supports the weight of a structure.

Loft – space below the roof of a house. Usually implemented in spaces with higher ceilings.

Louver – angled slats hung at evenly spaced intervals to allow for ventilation. Usually seen in toilet doors, cabinet doors and window shutters.

Lump Sum – a one-time payment for a variety of unspecified scope of works.

MDF – abbreviation for Medium Density Fiberboard. It is composed of wood fibers glued together and is costlier than particle board but cheaper than plywood.

Mezzanine – a secondary floor that does not extend over the whole floor space.

Monochromatic – is a color scheme that uses only one base color. Layered monochromatic colors in different shades are one way of using the scheme in a room.

Mullion – the vertical bars that divide a window pane.

Muntin – the horizontal bars that divide a window pane.

Ombre – French for shading or shaded wherein colors gradate from light to dark. This can be applied to furniture, walls or textiles.

Overlay Cabinets Doors or Drawers – are doors or drawers that cover both the opening and the frame of the cabinet. This can either be full overlay where the whole opening and frame is covered or partial overlay where a bit of the frame is still exposed.

Parquet Flooring – small square patterns of the hardwood floor.

Parsons Table – a square or rectangular table of which all four legs are equal to the thickness of the table top. Variations have included a glass table top.

Particle Board - also known as chipboard, is a product made of wood chips, shavings and sawdust glued together. Most commonly used as the substrate for wood veneers and as floor underlays.

Platform Bed – a bed consisting of a box-type bed frame or a platform with a mattress placed on top. In modern designs, platform beds with drawers underneath are considered space-saving furniture.

Penny tile – as the name implies, it is a coin-shaped tile that comes in sheets and is usually made up of ceramic, glass and metal. They're popular finishes for niches and accent walls in toilets.

Preliminary Drawings – are drawings prepared in the early stages of design. These are usually developed in the Schematic and Design Development Phase.

Quarry Tile – extruded clay tile manufactured similarly to bricks. It is extremely non-porous and non-slip making it a great choice for bathrooms. Colors vary from browns and grays.

RCP – abbreviation for Reflected Ceiling Plan which is a 2D floor plan that shows the location of each light fixture, the ceiling design, and finishes and a legend of the types of light fixtures that will be used.

Rendering – or more commonly referred to as 3D renders is the process of turning the 2D plans into 3D images using a variety of design software. This software allows the creation of a room perspective which can help a client visualize the design of a room prior to its construction.

Resilient tile – the proper term for vinyl or rubber tiles

Riser – the vertical element of a stair step.

Runner – a long, narrow piece of cloth designed to be placed in the middle of a long dining table or a long piece of rug that can be placed in a hallway or stairs.

Sconce – a wall mounted lamp or light fixture.

Shabby Chic – is a design style that makes use of furnishing that is old and aged and further distressed to give off the antique effect.

Sleeper Sofas – sofas where seats and backrests can be unfolded and extended to function as a bed.

Slipcover – a removable fabric cover for chairs and sofas to protect the furniture from dirt and damages.

Slipper Chair – an armless upholstered chair with short legs making the seat closer to the ground.

Specifications – a detailed document describing materials, color selection and finishes. This is usually required as part of the construction documents.

Subcontractor – a person or company with a contract under the main contractor to provide partial requirements during construction.

Subway Tile – tiles that were originally used in subway stations hence the name. It is a rectangular tile that comes in smaller sizes and is usually laid out in a brick pattern.

Task Light – light source designed for a specific task, i.e. a reading lamp or under cabinet lights in a kitchen.

Toe Space or Toe Kick – a recessed space at the bottom of cabinets to get closer to the top surface.

Toile de Jouy – or simply Toile is a repeating single-colored pattern of landscapes.

Tongue and Groove – a method of joining two pieces of wood together edge to edge to create a flat surface. Used in wood flooring.

Trompe l'oeil – literally means “Fool the Eye,” is a technique that makes use of optical illusion creating the imagery of a realistic, three-dimensional object or scene on an otherwise flat surface.

Tufting – a process in upholstery where the fabric is bunched together on a padded base and secured through stitching or with a button.

Upcycle – is a method of repurposing an old or unwanted item into something new. Most designers get items from thrift stores or yard sales for the purpose of upcycling.

Valance – or pelmet is a window treatment used to conceal curtain hardware. It can also be covered in the same fabric as the curtain.

Veneer – thin slices of wood cut from a tree log which are then glued to a cheaper backing. The difference between veneer and laminate is that veneers use real wood, unlike laminate which is made of plastic and is only meant to simulate the effect of wood.

Vitrified Tile – ceramic tile with little porosity. This is often used outdoors because of its low porosity making it resistant to water.

Vignette – is a group of different objects, purposefully arranged to create a pleasing display for a table.

Vitrine – glass display case.

Wainscoting – is paneling on the lower half of a wall where the surface finish is different from the upper wall.

White Wash – also known as a lime wash (it's made of slaked lime or calcium hydroxide and chalk) is a low-cost method of paint used to give the wood a rustic, distressed look. It was popular as used in painting barns but eventually became widely used by designers for a shabby chic effect.

X-Base – a type of furniture base that forms an X

Zebrawood – wood that is characterized by dark stripes in different thicknesses, reminiscent of a zebra, hence the name. It's popularly used in more contemporary designs as wall accents, cabinet doors, and furniture.

While some of these terms are already common, surprisingly there are also people who are not aware of these terms. These terms are also used synonymously with architects, furniture designers and contractors so being aware of some of their jargon can definitely come in handy. After all, communication is one of the factors for a successful project.

- Boyce, Charles, and Charles Boyce. Dictionary of furniture. Facts on File, 1985.
- Pegler, Martin M. dictionary of interior design. Fairchild, 1983.
- Ching, Francis DK. A visual dictionary of architecture. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Related Article
- 6 Ways to Use Principles of Interior Design in Your Room

Last review and update: August 27, 2018

About the Author

Patty Benjabutr is an interior design enthusiast. She loves to write about actionable home decor knowledge because she believes interior design content is something much more than a collection of beautiful photos. You can contact Patty via e-mail.