Excuse my French! 10 decorating terms you’ll be very happy to know


Of course you know what an office is. And the wardrobe is also easy. But other French furniture terms that are used might leave you regret paying more attention in high school.

Don’t worry, this is not a test, nor is it a cocky comment on your decorating choices. Instead, this is a short refresher course on some words that may be vaguely familiar.

“Many people are surprised to learn that French and Latin words represent 58% of our vocabulary today, and French alone is responsible for 29% of the English we speak,” explains Darla DeMorrow, an interior design expert at HeartWork Organizing.

And of course, French fashion and art have dominated history for centuries, so it’s no surprise that a little French has made its way into interior design and furniture names, he adds. -she.

For a quick introduction to the old country, here are 10 English terms and their examples so that the next time you’re shopping for one very stylish piece, you can just point and say There!

1. Shelf

Photo of Lourdes Gabriela Interiors

This term refers to a backless library designed to display pretty trinkets.

“Due to its construction, a bookshelf is generally lighter and seems to take up less space than a bookcase of a similar size,” explains Anna shiwlall, owner of the interior design firm 27 Diamonds.

Stage is French for “shelf,” and this one is useful in a home office, master bathroom, or living room, especially if you’re trying to showcase the wallpaper behind, she adds.

2. Writer

Photo by English Traditions Inc.

Yes, it’s just an office whose name comes from the French word “write”. This place to write letters and pay bills was once a portable room and often included flaps to hold small compartments.

“Today we would call her a secretary,” DeMorrow says.

3. Shepherdess

Photo by lorielledesign

Bergère actually means shepherdess, but the piece of furniture is a comfortable upholstered chair that was popular in the 18th century.

“It has a thick seat cushion, exposed wooden frames and closed-sided armrests,” says DeMorrow.

A bergere chair finds its place in a bedroom or living room and fits perfectly into a traditional and formal decor.

4. Half moon

Photo by B Fein Interiors LLC

Curved and compact, a half-moon or half-moon table is a common sight in hallways and foyers. And this piece is great in tight spaces because it fits close to the wall and has no corners to hang your sweater or bang your thigh as you walk past.

5. Sofa

Photo by Sims Hilditch

Divan, which has both French and Turkish roots, is what your grandmother probably called her sofa, DeMorrow says. Today, however, that often means a long, low-slung sofa without a backrest.

“You’ll see this room placed against a wall or a bed with rolled arms or curved cushions at one or both ends, and it looks great in front of a fireplace, as it provides additional seating without completely obstructing the view,” adds DeMorrow.

6. Lounge chair

Photo by tuthill architecture

If you squint you can probably guess the translation here (“long sofa”), but is it a chair long Where salon?

“Americans kind of twist this pronunciation, but most agree that this is a chair with an elongated seat,” DeMorrow says.

This slender piece can have a raised side and a partial backrest and is sometimes referred to as a “fainting sofa”. Look for lounge chairs in walk-in closets and feminine bedrooms.

7. Campaign office

Photo by Calico

“This one sounds English, but it’s really from the French word the countryside, which means ‘the country or the field’, ”says DeMorrow.

This square piece with drawers was portable at the time, as it was often moved from inside the house to the actual battlefield, where it was then placed on easels or other legs to be detached, in order to that an officer can comfortably plan his next attack. The hallmarks of a campaign office are the brass or metal corners that protect it when it is moved, and the handles at each end for easy transport.

8. Convertible

Photo of the craftsmen of Salisbury

Ballet fans know that a convertible is a kind of jump, but in the decorating world this term refers to table or chair legs with two curves: one that protrudes like knees in the middle, and a second which curves down like feet. (convertible in French means “caper.”) Many antiques and reproductions in the style of Chippendale and Queen Anne feature this S-shaped leg.

9. Trompe-l’oeil

Photo for The Mural Works, Inc.

This one is slightly different in that it is not a piece of furniture. Instead, it’s a technique that can be applied to furniture, walls, ceilings, and various decorative items. The phrase means ‘fool the eye’, and it’s a way of painting an object to make it look like the real deal.

This ancient art was popular in Greek and Roman times, although it really gained ground in the early 19th century. Examples can include a surface painted to look like marble or wood panels, or a mural that appears to be a bookcase wall.

10. Canvas

Photo of Kristie Barnett, the decorologist

Bucolic life on the farm, couple’s picnic, wild flowers. If you spy on any of these detailed designs on wallpaper, curtains, upholstery, or table linens, you are looking at the canvas. (The term means “linen cloth” or “canvas” in French.) Canvas may seem old-fashioned at home, but it’s a classic that has endured since the 18th century and will probably never go out of style.


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