Design Dictionary

This page is your guide to design lingo! Have you ever been left of of the joke because you didn’t understand the terminology? I don’t want that to happen to any of you here! If you see a word in one of our posts that you don’t understand, check this out! It is an alphabetically organized database of design lingo. If there is a word you want defined that you don’t find here, shoot me an email asking me to define it for you! I are more than happy to help.

Accent color: Accent colors are colors that are used for emphasis in a color scheme. These colors can often be bold or vivid and are used sparingly, to emphasize, contrast or create rhythm. More toned down colors such as neutrals or darker shades can also be used depending on the surroundings. Definition from: The
In my own words an accent color is a pop of a color that is not used in the base color pallet.

Accessories: A non-essential item of decor, usually small, that enhances a design for the purpose of achieving a specific style or feel.

Area Rug: A rug that covers only part of a room.

Armoir: a wardrobe or movable cabinet, typically one that is ornate or antique:


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Art Deco: “The predominant decorative art style of the 1920s and 1930s, characterized by precise and boldly delineated geometric shapes and strong colors, and used most notably in household objects and in architecture.” (google definitions) Here are some visual examples of this style:

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Artisan: a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.

Banquette: “an upholstered bench along a wall, especially in a restaurant or bar.” Google Definitions

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Bohemian: Or “boho” decor is similar to global decor in that is represents textiles inspired by an ethnic pattern but usually with fewer bright colors. It attempts to bridge the gap between indoors and outdoors in a textured, layered, approach.


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Credenza/buffet/dresser/sideboard: There is no definable difference between these pieces of furniture. It centers more around where they are used. Generally in the dining room it is called a buffet, in a bedroom we call it a dresser, and in the living room and other we call it a credenza. Miscellaneous locations are dependent on what the owner typically calls it. For instance I would call the furniture in my entry a credenza, but someone else might call the same piece of furniture in the same place, a sideboard.  


Contemporary: “…any current style that doesn’t reference the past is contemporary, but conventionally this style is sleek and casual, with nothing that feels too over the top. Skip anything too decorative and feminine. But most of all free yourself of any clutter.” (definition from “Styled” by Emily Henderson) 



Couch v.s. Sofa: The difference between a couch and a sofa used to be much more drastic. Simply put: A couch is casual, a sofa is formal. Nowadays we use the two words interchangeably because people don’t want to tiptoe around their own homes anymore so there is less call for a very formal sofa. Still the term “sofa” is the industry term for a nicer, more designed couch. To help you visualize the difference, here are two extreme versions of the same piece of furniture:

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Top left is closer to a couch, top right is a traditional sofa. But again, this difference doesn’t really matter!! Its all a sofa!


Chic: Stylish, fashionable, or current.

Eclectic: deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources. In my own words Eclectic means incorporating a lot of different styles into a design rather than JUST farmhouse or JUST MCM. Today Eclectic is morphing into the default. It is considered short sighted to limit the style in a home to one style.



Floor Plan: an outline of the way floor space is utilized.

Farmhouse/French country: The farmhouse and french country styles are so similar that it is difficult to tell the two apart. They feature vintage distressed traditional furniture, shiplap walls, soft and dusty colors, and raw stone finishes. The farming motif is primary.



Focal Point: The area to which the eye is drawn. The focal point is the first thing you want someone to notice when they walk into the room.

Global: A design style meant to reflect the handmade textiles, shapes, and energy of ethnic regions. Typically very colorful, rustic and highly patterned with plenty of plants. See oriental, and bohemian.


Geometric: “Characterized by or decorated with regular lines and shapes.” Google Definitions. 


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Herringbone: “An arrangement or design consisting of columns of short parallel lines, with all the lines in one column sloping one way and all the lines in the next column sloping the other way so as to resemble the bones in a fish, used especially in the weave of cloth or the placing of bricks” (google definitions) 


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It is my dream to one day have herringbone floors.

Hutch: A free standing cabinet, typically with open or glassed shelving on top and closed storage below.


Lacquer: A hard, protective varnish that is applied as a topcoat to furniture or walls.


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Lattice: “A structure consisting of strips of wood or metal crossed and fastened together with square or diamond-shaped spaces left between, used typically as a screen or fence or as a support for climbing plants.” (google definitions) 


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Layered: layered is a styling term that is difficult to give a specific definition to. Generally it means collected or full. Layering is comfortable and interesting. Gives a feeling of “discovering” different elements in the room. Typically not a quality found in minimalistic design.

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Matte Finish: A finish that’s more flat and chalky than shiny.


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Mid-Century Modern: A design style meant to reflect styles between 1933-1965. This style has very clean, simple lines, a geometric motif, and usually bright colors although the modern representation has more monochromatic colors. This style is a staple in interior design, meant to be mixed with lots of different styles.   


Modern: Modern decor often has elements of mid-century motifs. It is clean lined and simple. Open floor plans and big windows. Usually cool colors and metal finishes. Because modern decor is often a melting pot of a lot of different styles, modern decor is defined more by finishes, textiles, and placement of furniture rather than the style of the furniture/decor itself.


Moody: In design it is usually a dark or dim motif. Black walls, dramatic art, melancholy. I usually associate this with a sultry, smoky bar with lots of modern art, slits up to HERE, and jazz. Black is the fastest way to moody in any style.


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Moroccan rug: Moroccan rugs are the weaves, carpets, and textiles that have been traditionally hand-woven in Morocco. Rugs have been woven by the indigenous people of Morocco since the Paleolithic Era. Traditionally,Moroccan rugs have been woven by tribal peoples for their utility rather than for decorative purposes. Visual Examples:


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Neutral: In design “neutral” usually refers to color. “Gender neutral” is a term normally used in nurseries meaning that it could be for a girl or a boy. Neutral colors include but are not exclusive to: brown, black, gray, beige, tan, white and cream.neutralinspo.jpgneutral inspo2.jpg

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Oriental: “of, from, or characteristic of East Asia.” (google definitions) That’s a pretty open-ended category! For me it means anything that reminds me of Asia. Anything bamboo, Ginger pots, intricate rugs, and fancy tile. Oriental patterns and shapes are popular in global design. 


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Ottoman: Usually upholstered, an ottoman is a seat or footstool without a back or arms.


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Patina: Patina means that something has a natural aged look or sheen. You can give something artificial patina with colored waxes and chippy paint but the general consensus is that it is better to let it get there on its own.


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Pendant: A hanging ornament, usually in a matched or parallel series. Usually one light bulb.


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Pop Art: art based on modern popular culture and the mass media, especially as a critical or ironic comment on traditional fine art values.


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Pouf: “a cushioned footstool or low seat with no back.”(google definitions)


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Rattan: A type of climbing palm with very long and tough stems that are often used in wickerwork. Commonly used in boho design.


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Refinish: To apply a new finish to something. To repaint, re-stain, or cover in fabric a piece of furniture, flooring, or any other object.

Rustic: the style of something made in simple, practical fashion. Usually associated with rough wood finishes and farmhouse decor. It adds warmth and contrast to more modern pieces.


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Roman Shade: Roman shades are a type of window covering used to block out the sun. Roman shades are different from standard window shade in that they stack up evenly when being opened; however, when they are open they are visibly smooth, not bumpy or ribbed like typical vertical shades or blinds. 


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Saturated/unsaturated:“of maximum chroma or purity; of the highest intensity of hue; free from admixture of white.” ( The first picture below has a very saturated ceiling, the second is more muted. 


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Sconce: a candle holder, or a holder of another light source, that is attached to a wall with an ornamental bracket. In my own words this is a light source attached to a wall


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Sideboard/buffet/dresser/credenza: See: credenza

Sisal rug: Sisal rugs are made out of the sisal plant whose sword like leaves are woven together to make rugs. They are usually tan but sometimes dyed and the natural fibers are easily seen. This type of rug is great for layering more colorful rugs on top as well as adding a great dose of texture. They are fairly low maintenance but preferably are kept away from a high-spill environment.


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Sofa v.s. Couch: (see Couch)

Styled/Styling: When something is styled it has small elements that make it seem personal. For example, an un-styled coffee table is a coffee table. A styled coffee table is a coffee table with an open novel casually laid, a cup of coffee, and some fresh flowers to admire while you sip your freshly ground, french press, light roast. Styling makes you want to be the person who lives there, or uses that bathroom, or cooks in that kitchen. 

Suede: A leather that’s produced from a fresh split hide, which has a velvet like nap.


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Thrifting: Thrifting refers to the act of shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, or a shop of a charitable organization, usually with the intent of finding interesting items at a cheap price.

Traditional: A design style that ranges many centuries of classics. Typically more stately than other styles. More ornate and decorative. Some might associate this style with “stiffness” but it can be very soft and stylish.


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Tufting: “To make depressions at regular intervals in (a mattress or cushion) by passing a thread through it.” (google definitions) It is very often associated with a traditional style and looks best when done in a heavy fabric, my personal favorite is velvet.


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Tulip Table: The tulip table is a mid-century modern style table that usually has a white base and a top with varying textures. The original design is called a Saarinen table, designed by Eero Saarinen however, knock offs have been dubbed the ‘tulip’ table. It can come in many varying sizes including dining table, coffee table, and side table.

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Vintage: “Denoting something of high quality, especially something from the past or characteristic of the best period of a person’s work.” (google definitions)

Vignette: in her book “Styled” Emily Henderson defines a vingette as “A smallish arrangement of objects or furniture, usually including pieces that reflect the personality of the person who lives there.” Given how vague this is, my own definition is something like “A collection of objects arranged in an artistic manner” Pretty much anything can be a vignette 


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Zen: In her book “Styled” Emily Henderson describes the zen style, “Zen is an Eastern Approach to decorating (or ‘undecorating’) that focuses on the warmth of materials in a minimalist style. These rooms achieve balance, harmony, and relaxation by softening the starkness of minimalism with natural materials, wood accents, and sculptural greenery.”



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