Education

Know Your Antique Terms

You already love the world of history and design, and we want antiques to be just as approachable for you.  Antiques are meant to be everyday items in your home that are usable, approachable and comfortable. Knowing a few basic terms can help you identify what you love and communicate that in your own shopping or designing process.  

At Fireside Antiques, we exclusively sell European Antiques.  Our French, English, Italian and Dutch antiques span the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, which means you will find terminology from many periods, styles and languages.  We will cover these antique terms for you here today so you can shop with confidence.  Our Antique Terminology Glossary is a list of terms commonly used in our shop but is just a starting place in a vast world of antiques.

Abattant: a term used to describe a drop-down flap often seen in the French style of the antique secretary desk, secrétaire à abattant, concealing drawers and shelves within.

Appliqué Light: a term for a category of light which can be affixed to a wall. Also called an antique sconce.

Apron: a decorative element joining the surface of an antique chair or antique table with the legs.

Barometer: an antique instrument measuring atmospheric pressure, used especially in forecasting the weather and determining altitude.

Bas Relief: a form of carving or antique moulding where the design projects out from the flat surface of the background.

Bentwood: a kind of vintage or antique wood that has been heated and shaped to become curved.

Bergère: a kind of upholstered antique armchair with closed sides that first became popular in 18th century France.

Bibliothèque: the French word for antique library or antique bookcase.

Bow Front: an antique chest with a convex (or curved) front.

Boiserie: an antique panel or antique paneling of carved wood or wainscoting, particularly in 18th-century French antique architecture.

Bureau Plat: a French antique writing table which has a series of drawers directly under the surface of the table, to contain writing implements, so that it may serve as an antique desk.

Casters: wheels on a rotating mount, that is fixed to the bottom, usually of the leg, of a piece of antique furniture so that it can be moved easily.

Commode: an antique chest of drawers. Also refers to a piece of  antique furniture containing a concealed chamber pot.

 

Daybed: a long antique sofa, similar to a chaise longue, which can double up as an antique bed, often with a small headboard at each end. Usually meant for taking an afternoon nap without disrupting the bed you sleep in.

 

Draper’s table: also called an antique “drapery table,” a very long, tall table with a stretcher shelf below. This type of antique table was used by a retail merchant or a dealer in cloth or drapery. The lower shelf was used for extra long lengths of fabric so as to keep it off of the floor and remaining clean.

 

Ebonizing: the process by which antique wood is stained dark to resemble ebony.

 

Enfilade: a long antique cabinet, usually with four doors, often used in dining rooms for serving food and as storage for dinnerware and serving pieces. An antique buffet with more that two doors.

 

Escutcheon: the term for the plate of metal that surrounds an antique keyhole, often decorative. From scutum, the Latin for shield.

 

Etagère: a piece of antique furniture with open shelves used for the display of ornaments.

 

Fauteuil: an antique armchair with open sides, usually upholstered on the seat and the back, leaving the wooden frame exposed.

 

Gallery: an ornamental wood or metal rail around a piece of antique furniture, especially antique occasional tables.

 

Giltwood: antique wood that has gold leaf or gold paint applied to it, a process known as gilding. Some of the best examples of giltwood are the antique frames that surround antique paintings and antique mirrors.

 

Girandoles: a branched support for candles or other lights, commonly made of antique brass. Typically stands on a surface or projects from a wall. Also known as antique “table chandeliers.”

 

Gueridon: the French term used for a small antique pedestal table, usually ornately carved and embellished.

 

Inlay: a technique of using a contrasting material to create a decorative pattern on the surface of a piece of antique furniture.

 

Intaglio: a design incised or engraved into an antique material.

 

Jardinière: an antique pot for holding plants, often large and ceramic for outdoor use, but can also be a more elongated shape for indoor use.

 

Lithograph: translates to “stone print.” Antique lithography is the process of printing from a flat surface treated so as to repel the ink except where it is required for printing.

 

Marquetry: a style of antique inlay which uses different types of veneered wood or other materials placed together to form a pictorial pattern. Antique marquetry can be contrasted with parquetry, which forms a geometric pattern.

 

Mercury Mirror: an antique glass mirror originally created by Mercury Silvering. This process was banned after 1940 because of the toxicity of the mercury resulting in highly coveted antiques. Today, mirrors are backed with aluminum.

 

Ormolu: a generic term for antique gilt metal, often adorning wooden antique furniture.

 

Paraclose Mirror:  antique mirrors that are surrounded by a panel of additional mirror plates, often at an angle for a beveled effect, and separated from the central mirror by antique molding which is integral with the frame. 

 

Pickling jars: an antique glass jar with a wide mouth and vary in size and coloration due to their one-of-a-kind nature.

 

Stretcher: a wooden support often between the legs of an antique table or antique chair to reinforce the structure.  Typically forming an H, X or Y shape.

 

UL Wired for US: UL Listing means that the product meets electrical requirements after specific testing based on UL’s Standards for Safety in the U.S. A desirable coding on antique lighting.