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Interior Design Glossary

Interior Design & Decorating
By on Jun 5, 2014
Interior Design Glossary

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Decorating a home is no easy task and when your interior decorator is throwing around terms like ballast, chair rail and gate-leg table, it can become quite confusing. That is why I am here to present our glossary of interior design.

All the terms below may or may not be used when discussing your interior design plans with a professional or manufacturer. By knowing, or simply keeping record of all the terms below, you can negotiate and design with the best of them.

Did we miss a term? Add your own in the comments section below.

Ambient: The environmental conditions in the room.

Ambient Lighting: General lighting diffused within an entire room.

Accessories: Small objects such as vases, books, lamps, plants, florals and sculptures used to personalize a room.

Ballast: A device that controls the current in a fluorescent lamp.

Base Cabinets: Cabinetry used on the floor to provide countertop support and is typically 34 ½ inches tall and 24 inches deep.

Base Cabinets

Beveled Glass: Clear or mirrored glass in which the edge perimeter (usually 1” wide) has been cut at an angle to achieve a contrasting visual effect. On clear glass, it creates a distorted prism effect, and on mirrored glass, it adds a reflective “sparkle”.

Boilerplate: The standard terms and conditions on a purchase order or other document.

Bolster: A long pillow or cushion usually placed on a chair, sofa or bed.

Case-Goods: Furniture made of hard materials such as wood, metal, glass or plastic. Examples of case-goods are chests, tables, dressers, bookshelves and cabinets.

Chair Rail: A piece of decorative molding placed approximately 30” off the floor to protect walls from being scraped by chair backs.

Chaise Longue or Lounge: A long, low upholstered couch in the shape of a chair that is long enough to support the legs.

Chaise Lounge

Classic Crown Molding: Type of crown molding usually used to conjunction with additional moldings. Classic crown is larger and has more decorative profiles.

Claw Foot Tub: A tub mounted off of the floor on four legs. The base of each leg is shaped like a claw foot.

Clear Floor Space: An area that is free of obstruction. The term is typically used in kitchens in reference to the recommendations for clearances at an appliances or work center.

Color Rendition: An index of how light makes objects appear.

Console Sink: A sink basin supported by legs, which can be metal or wooden.

Console Table: A long narrow table used for displaying decorative objects, lighting, florals, etc. It’s often placed in a foyer or behind a sofa.

Contemporary: The style inherent to the present time. Often confused with “modern.”

Contrast: The difference in brightness between surfaces in the field of view.

Credenza: A large low cabinet, usually 30”-36” high with a flat top used for serving and storage.

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Eco-Friendly: Having little or no impact on the native ecosystem.

Egress: A path or opening for exiting a room or building.

Faux-Finish: A decorative technique in which paint or stain is applied to a surface to simulate another material such as wood, marble or granite.

Feng Shui: Literally translated as wind and water. An ancient Chinese scientific practice based on selecting the optimal placement, arrangement and selection of objects and surfaces to encourage positive energy or chi.

Fluorescent Lighting: A type of lighting in which an electrical charge is passed through mercury vapor to create a chemical reaction that produces light. It uses far less energy and creates less heat than incandescent or halogen lighting, but the light quality and color rendering capabilities are diminished.

Focal Point: A visual center of interest or point of emphasis in a room. 

Gate-Leg Table: A style of drop-leaf table with leaves that are supported by extra legs that swing out like gates.

Green Design: A design, also referred to as a sustainable design or eco-design, which conforms to environmentally sound principles of building, material and energy use.

Halogen Lighting: A type of lighting in which a tungsten filament is sealed into a compact transparent vessel and filled with a small amount of iodine or bromine to create a chemical reaction that produces light. The light from a halogen bulb is better at displaying colors than traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.

Incandescent Lighting: A type of lighting in which an electric current is passed through a thin filament, heating it to a temperature that produces light. The enclosing glass bulb contains either a vacuum or an inert gas to prevent oxidation of the filament. Incandescent bulbs are inexpensive and create good natural light and color renderings, but use more energy and generate more heat than fluorescent bulbs.

Knock-Down: Furniture that is sold unassembled or partially assembled.

Lazy Susan: A corner cabinet in which the shelves are mounted on a vertical axle such that items may be retrieved by pushing on the shelves. This type is usually found in kitchens. When pushed on the cabinet, "doors" reveal the shelves, which are circular except for the ninety-degree cutout where the doors are mounted.

Lumbar Pillow: A small rectangular pillow designed to support the lower back. You see these with armchairs and sofas.

Mid-Century Modern: A decorative style first popularized in the late 1940s characterized by clean lines, the use of modern materials such as plastic and aluminum, and a sleek minimal profile.

Monochromatic: A color scheme built around one hue, with several of its shades and tints.

Mullion: The wood or metal dividers used between the different panes of glass on multi-paned windows. Modern windows often feature faux decorative mullions.

Ottoman: An upholstered stool or hassock, designed to go at the foot of a chair.


Pendant: A lighting fixture hung from the ceiling containing one or more lamps.

Peninsula: An area of cabinets or counter fastened to the kitchen that can be accessed via one to three sides. 

Picture Plane: The plane on which the picture is viewed.

Picture Rail: A horizontal trim piece installed high up on a wall as a means of hanging pictures without puncturing the wall with nails.

Pocket Door: A door that slides horizontally on a track and is typically moved inside a wall for storage.

Primary Colors: The three basic colors of which all other colors are comprised of: red, yellow and blue.

R&R: Remove and Replace. It's a term describing a simple remodeling project that involves removing and replacing cabinetry, fixtures and appliances without structural or mechanical changes.

Reclaim: To use a product again after its initial use.

Replacement Factor: The percentage of time that an item will require replacement.

Runner: A long narrow area rug designed to go in a hallway or foyer.


Scope: The sum of the products and services to be provided as a project.

Service Entry: A second, informal entrance to the home, used for bringing in groceries and supplies. It’s often close to the kitchen, garage or carport.

Settee: A long wooden or upholstered bench with a back, designed to seat two or more people.

Slipcover: A removable fabric cover for a chair, sofa or loveseat.

Soffit: A lowered portion of a ceiling.

Sub-Flooring: The flooring applied directly to the floor joist on top of which the finished floor rests.

Task Lighting: A lighting source directed to a specific purpose within a room. Reading lights in a living room or under-counter lighting in a kitchen are examples of task lighting.

Tint: Any color mixed with white (i.e. all pastel colors are tints).

Tone: Any color mixed with gray (most warm-looking colors are tones).

Torchere: A floor lamp that directs light upward to provide ambient room lighting. 

Tufting: The upholstery process of tightly gathering fabric over a padded base and securing the gathered portion to a fixed backing using stitching or buttons. This process creates small quilts of fabric, known as “tufts”.

Universal Design: The design of products and environments to be useable by all people to the greatest extent possible.

Valance: A decorative window treatment mounted across the top of a window (outside the casing). They are usually combined with blinds, curtain panels, or sheers.

Vanity: Bathroom cabinet with the lavatory on the type.

Veneer: A thin layer of wood created by peeling the trunk of a tree on a roller to produce long sheets with a consistent grain pattern. This layer is then applied to a solid or fiberboard backing to create a more uniform appearance.

Vintage: Furniture and decorative elements that are between 10 and 100 years old. Elements are often found at flea markets, garage sales and specialty “vintage” retailers.

Wainscoting: Paneling on the lower half of a wall that differs from the upper half. A chair rail usually separates it.

Work Aisle: Space needed to work at the kitchen work centers.

For more terms, please check out Decorate It Online and NKBA.


By knowing or having a rough idea of these interior design glossary of terms, homeowners will not only be able to shorten the remodeling process, but also complete it for less. Rather than memorizing each and every term, be sure to bookmark this page so you can reference it the next time you want to remodel or redesign a room in your home.

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