Reference guides like this one are available to help design enthusiasts learn the lingo of the trade. (Barnes & Noble)
I’ve had a love for language and interiors since early childhood. Whenever the two subjects converge, they have my full attention.
It’s undeniable that the design industry is chock full of unique terms. In fact, I remember watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee one year when the only word I recognized and could actually spell was étagère. Even my daughter was impressed that I knew this information.
During my time as an interior decorator and through the numerous interviews I’ve done with other professionals because of my writing career, I’ve added quite a bit to my design vocabulary.
I find that certain words simply have a nice ring to them, like folly and cartouche (terms I learned from Paul Feiten, owner of Bloomfield Hills-based Paul Feiten Design, who is a walking encyclopedia), while others have interesting tidbits to go along with them, like the fact that a tile backsplash is called a splashback in other parts of the world.
The word bathroom sounds boring when compared to other options, such as water closet, loo and lavatory. Let’s not forget what you might find inside, like a bidet, which is more common in the States these days.
Pick any home component and you are bound to find endless descriptions for anything from window treatments (valance, cornice, balloon shades) to countertops and floors.
There are resources available for those who want to know more, like “The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Interior Design” by Mark Hinchman. This guide includes more than 700 illustrations and is available through Barnes & Noble. It also covers more recent industry trends, such as technology and universal design.
I’ve found that some terms are used interchangeably even when they don’t necessarily share the same meaning, like antique and vintage or modern and contemporary.
Many design vocabulary words are French in origin, from Aubusson (rugs) to bergere (chairs) to bibliotheque (bookcase). While I often know the definition, I’m not always as skilled at pronouncing these terms.
From chiseled to chinoiserie, I just appreciate the fact that there’s never a dull moment when it comes to descriptive words for decorating.
As usual, there are overly used adjectives for which I believe “eclectic” takes the top prize.
Other words seem to lose their momentum over time like “couch,” which is more commonly known now as “sofa.”
Even my husband likes to point out specific terms when reading my articles, from paisley to patina. That’s the allure of the lingo. Why would you refer to a long seat when you can call it a settee instead?
Sometimes it’s a matter of pedigree that deserves a special mention, such as Louis (insert Roman numeral here) furniture.
Although some descriptions might seem intimidating at first, there’s no reason why you can’t take it all in stride.
While professionals are expected to know everything from padding to parquet, the average design enthusiast can enjoy the language while learning the ropes.
Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at email@example.com.