Furniture Guide

Explore the Furniture Guide to learn about the Archive’s terminology, from types of furniture to decorative elements.

Elements

Overall Shape

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The profile of the front or primary surface of an object.

Blockfront

Alternating raised and depressed surfaces on the front of a piece of case furniture. Raised surfaces may be curved or squared.

Also called block front, block-front, swell'd front, or swelled.

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Bombé

Convex, rounded or swollen surfaces on the front and sides of a piece of case furniture. Generally the swelling is located in the lower half of the case.

Also called kettle, swell'd, or swelled.

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Bowfront

Convex, curved surface on the front or top front edge of a piece of furniture. See also Demi-lune.

Also called bow front, bow-front, bowed front, round-front, or round front.

Breakfront

Raised or projecting center section on the front of a piece of case furniture.

Also called break-front or broken front.

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Demi-lune

Convex, curved surface including the front and sides, or top front and side edges, of a piece of furniture. The semicircular or crescent shape of a demi-lune includes multiple sides of the piece in contrast to the bowfront, which is restricted to the front of the piece. See also bowfront.

Also called demilune, semilunar, or semicircular.

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Oxbow

Concave center section flanked by convex outer sections on the front of a piece of case furniture. See serpentine-front for the opposite profile.

Also called oxbow front or reverse serpentine.

Serpentine-front

Convex center section flanked by concave outer sections on the front of a piece of case furniture. See oxbow for the opposite profile.

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Straight-front

Flat surface on the front of a piece of furniture.

Also called flat-front.

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Chair Backs

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The profile and arrangement of components that constitute the back of a chair or settee. Regardless of design, most seat backs have two key components: the horizontal crest rail that forms the top edge of the seat back and the vertical stiles that form the sides of the seat back and may be continuous with the legs.

Banister-back chairs

Chair backs have turned banisters or straight, molded balusters mounted vertically in a row between the horizontal rail at the top of the back and either the seat or a horizontal rail at the bottom of the back.

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Shield-back chairs

The outline of the chair back forms a shield shape, with a horizontal top and two curved sides that meet at a point in the center bottom of the back. The interior of the back may contain a series of curved supports mounted between the lower point of the back and the crest rail.

Also called vase-back chairs or urn-back chairs.

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Slat-back chairs

Chair backs have a series of flat, horizontal rails mounted between the vertical stiles.

Also called ladder-back chairs, 2-back chairs, 3-back chairs, or 4-back chairs.

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Splat-back chairs

Chair backs have a flat, central, vertically-mounted support. The splat may be solid, pierced, carved, or composed of multiple pieces of wood in an openwork design.

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Square-back chairs

The chair's stiles and crest rail meet at right angles, forming a square or rectangular outline. The interior of the back may contain supports mounted in a grid or other pattern.

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Wainscot chairs

Chair backs are solid, paneled, and frequently decorated with shallow carving.

Also called panel-back chairs.

Legs

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Vertical supports beneath a piece of furniture that substantially raise the height of an object for access or ease of use. In seating furniture, the legs may be continuous with the outer, vertical components of the seat back; in this case, they may be called stiles. See also feet.

Baluster legs

Lathe-turned or carved legs with decorative profiles. Vase, urn, spindle, and ring shapes are common.

Also called turned legs.

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Trumpet legs

Lathe-turned legs with cone-shaped profiles that resemble upright trumpets.

Also called turned legs.

Cabriole legs

S-curved, tapering legs, usually with a pronounced convex shape above a less pronounced concave shape. The cabriole shape was popularized by William Hogarth in 1753 as the "line of beauty" and is associated with the Queen Anne style.

Also called bandy legs, bowed legs, or cabrioles.

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Curule legs

Curved, x-shaped supports mounted side to side or front to back. The legs are shaped to appear as a convex curve mounted directly on top of a concave curve. Curule legs are associated with Empire and other classically inspired styles.

Also called cross legs or Grecian cross legs.

Marlborough legs

Squared, straight legs. The inside edge of the leg may be chamfered, or cut away to produce a narrow, flat surface instead of a sharp edge. See also therm legs.

Also called rectangular legs, square legs, or straight legs.

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Sabre legs

Tapering legs shaped in a slight convex curve, similar to that of a cavalry sabre. The edges of the legs may be rounded or squared.

Also called klismos legs, scimitar legs or Waterloo legs.

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Stump legs

Squared, somewhat thick rear legs on a piece with more decorative front legs. Stump legs do not have distinct feet, but the bottom of the leg may have a slight outward flare or cant.

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Therm legs

Squared legs that taper from top to bottom. The inside edge of the leg may be chamfered, or cut away to produce a narrow, flat surface instead of a sharp edge. See also Marlborough legs.

Also called tapered legs.

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Feet

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Supports at the base of a piece of furniture that raise the piece slightly off the ground. Feet may be continuous with the legs, distinct from the legs, or found on objects that lack legs. See also legs.

Ball feet

Spherical or ovoid feet, especially common on seventeenth-century style furniture. See also bun feet and turned feet.

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Bends

Curved supports that join pairs of legs of an object, allowing it to rock or swing.

Also called rockers.

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Block feet

Square or rectangular feet, usually continuous with squared legs. See also therm feet.

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Bracket feet

L-shaped feet with one horizontal element mounted beneath the object, flush with the plane of the piece, and one vertical element extending down from the corner of the object. Generally, bracket feet have a flat front plane, squared outer vertical edge, and decoratively cut edge along the interior of the foot.

Also called bracket braces, Chinese feet, or Goddard feet.

French feet

Bracket feet with a slight outward flare or cant at the base and a smooth, concave interior edge.

Also called French bracket feet, French scroll feet, flared feet, flaring bracket feet, or common bracket feet.

Ogee bracket feet

Bracket feet with an S-curve along the outer vertical sides and edge and an elaborately cut, concave interior edge.

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Bun feet

Flattened spherical feet, especially common on seventeenth-century style furniture. See also ball feet and turned feet.

Also called bulbous feet, onion feet, or pieds o'oignon.

Castors

Swiveling wheels mounted on the undersides of legs to allow easy movement.

Also called casters or wheels.

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Claw-and-ball feet

Feet carved to resemble the claw of a bird grasping a sphere or ball. Frequently continuous with cabriole legs.

Also called ball-and-claw feet, claw feet, eagles' feet, or talon and ball feet.

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Club feet

Flattened, circular feet frequently continuous with cabriole legs.

Pad feet

Club feet shaped with a thin disc on the underside of the foot; the disc is of smaller diameter than the foot.

Also called disc feet, Dutch feet, or round feet.

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Paw feet

Feet carved to resemble the foot of a mammal such as a lion or bear.

Scroll feet

Feet carved to resemble tightly coiled scrolls, the ends of which extend up and are continuous with the leg.

Also called Flemish scroll feet, French feet, French scroll feet, scrolled toe feet, knulled feet, knurl feet, knurl toe feet, tern feet, or whorl feet.

Slipper feet

Pointed and elongated feet, sometimes with a carved central ridge running across the top of the foot to the leg.

Snake feet

Elongated, S-curved feet that broaden at the end to resemble a snake's head.

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Spanish feet

Feet carved with vertical ribs that turn inward at the bottom of the foot to form small scrolls.

Also called paintbrush feet, Portuguese feet, tassel feet, and Spanish scroll feet.

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Therm feet

Tapering, squared feet, usually continuous with squared, tapering legs. Therm feet are frequently used with therm legs; the legs and feet taper at different rates, creating a double-tapered profile. See also block feet.

Also called arrow feet, Connelly feet, haines feet, plinth feet, term feet, or thimble toes.

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Spade feet

Tapering, squared feet that are wider than the leg at the point where they meet.

Trifid feet

Feet carved with three or four ribs that widen from top to bottom, ending in a serpentine front edge.

Also called drake feet.

Turned feet

Feet with a decorative profile created by lathe-turning. See also ball feet and bun feet for feet turned into specific shapes.

Decorative Elements

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Ornament applied to or cut into the piece of furniture for decorative or aesthetic reasons. Decorative elements include wood, stone, or metal applied to surfaces as inlay, marquetry, or veneer. See surface finish for coatings applied as liquids or pastes, such as paint.

Carving

Three-dimensional surface or structure created by cutting material out of a solid such as wood or stone using a tool such as a chisel. In furniture, carving may be done on the structural components of the piece or made separately and applied to the piece. See moldings for continuous, linear cut ornament. See also turning.

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Fluting

A parallel series of concave grooves, such as on a column. See reeding for the opposite profile.

Gadrooning

A parallel series of curved, lobed, convex ridges. See gadroon molding for gadrooning used as narrow edging.

Also called knulled decoration, lobed decoration, lobing, nulled decoration, lobing, nulling.

Reeding

A parallel series of convex, usually semicircular ridges. See fluting for the opposite profile.

Also called ribbing.

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Engraving

Marks or characters cut into a metal surface, such as a clock face. In contrast to carving, engraving does not remove material.

Finials

Shaped ornaments applied to and extending upward from points along the top edge of a piece, such as at the front corners or center of an arch. Finials may be attached directly to the top of a piece or mounted on a plinth, a small cube of wood that serves as a base. Finials may be made of wood or metal; brass finials are commonly found on tall case clocks.

Ball finials

Spherical or ovoid finials. See also flaming ball finials.

Flaming ball finials

Spherical or ovoid finials carved with curved lines to resemble flames. See also ball finials and flame finials.

Eagle finials

Carved eagles, sometimes mounted on top of an urn or other plinth.

Flame finials

Teardrop-shaped finials carved with curved lines to resemble flames. See also flaming ball finials and flame and fluted urn finials.

Also called corkscrew finials.

Flame and urn finials

Teardrop-shaped finials carved with curved lines to resemble flames mounted on top of urn- or vase-shaped plinths. See also flame finials and urn finials.

Also called corkscrew finials.

Plume finials

Columnar finials carved with vertical ribs that flare outward around the top edge.

Spike finials

Narrow finials that taper to a point at the top.

Urn finials

Urn- or vase-shaped finials, sometimes with additional carved decoration. See also flame and urn finials.

Galleries

Narrow, raised structures of wood or metal that extend vertically around the top edge of a piece to form a decorative border. Galleries may be applied to the front; front and sides; or front, sides, and back edges of an object's top surface. Galleries are frequently cut or pierced with geometric patterns.

Inlay

One type or finish of wood set into or adjacent to a contrasting wood. Inlay patterns may be geometric or figural, depicting stylized motifs such as flowers, shells, and fans. See also marquetry and veneer.

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Banding

Strip of inlaid wood that creates a border through the visual contrast of the inlaid wood with the wood that surrounds it. Banding may be plain or patterned. See also stringing for a narrower type of inlaid border.

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Stringing

Very narrow strip of inlaid wood that creates a line of contrasting color. See also banding for a wider type of inlaid border.

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Marquetry

Small pieces of wood or other material set into or applied to an entire surface to form a geometric or figural pattern. See also inlay.

Moldings

Continuous, linear ornament with a decorative cut profile. Moldings may be cut directly into the surface of an object or applied. Frequently used as decorative elements around the top or base of a piece of case furniture.

Bead molding (two definitions)

1. Molding cut into a very narrow, semicircular, convex profile. See also cock-bead molding.
2. Molding carved with a series of tiny, closely spaced half-spheres.

Also called beading or roundel molding.

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Bevel

Molding cut with a narrow, flat, angled profile.

Also called chamfered molding or chamfering.

Cock-bead molding

Molding cut into a very narrow, semicircular, convex profile around the edges of drawer fronts. Used primarily during the eighteenth century.

Also called cock-beading.

Cove molding

Molding cut with the concave profile of a quarter circle. See quarter-round molding for the opposite profile.

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Gadroon molding

Molding cut with a parallel series of curved, lobed, convex ridges. See also gadrooning for larger-scale examples of this design.

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Half-round molding

Molding cut with the convex profile of a semicircle. See bead molding for a smaller-scale version of the same profile. See scotia molding for the opposite profile.

Ogee molding

Molding cut with an S-shaped or serpentine profile.

Quarter-round molding

Molding cut with the convex profile of a quarter circle. See cove molding for the opposite profile.

Also called ovolo molding or thumbnail molding.

Roll molding

Molding cut with the convex profile of three-quarters of a circle.

Rope molding

Molding cut with angled, curved grooves to resemble the twisted strands of a length of rope.

Also called cable molding.

Scotia molding

Molding cut with the concave profile of a semicircle. See half-round molding for the opposite profile.

Pediments

An arched, ogee, or triangular projection from the top of a piece of furniture, usually flush with the front plane of the piece. Pediments may extend the depth of the object or be applied only along the front edge. The profile of a pediment can be characterized by its overall shape and whether it extends across the entire width of the piece of furniture. Pediments may have lavish ornamentation, including carving, moldings, and finials. Pediments are frequently mounted on a cornice, or series of horizontal moldings around the top edges of a piece of case furniture.

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Continuous pediment

A pediment that extends without interruption from side to side across the top of a piece of furniture.

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Broken pediment

A pediment with a gap at the center.

Arched pediment

A pediment with a symmetrical curved profile.

Lattice pediment

A pediment, usually broken, with a geometric pierced or cut front surface.

Also called fretted pediment.

Scroll pediment

A broken pediment with a curved center gap flanked by ogee or S-shaped projections.

Also called broken-scroll pediment, scroll top, bonnet scroll, swan's neck, or swan-neck pediment.

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Triangular pediment

A pediment with the profile of an isosceles triangle.

Turning

Three-dimensional surface or structure created by cutting material out of a solid such as wood or stone as it rotates on a lathe. In furniture, turned pieces may be used as structural components or decoration. See also carving.

Veneer

Thinly cut pieces of wood or other material applied to large, flat surfaces of another type of wood. Veneers are usually cut from expensive or highly decorative woods and applied to woods that are cheaper or less decorative. See inlay for the application of contrasting materials to small sections of a surface.

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Surface Finish

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Coatings applied as liquids or paste to ornament or protect the surface of a piece of furniture. See decorative elements for solid materials applied to surfaces.

Gilding

Gold or another metal applied to a surface as thin sheets or powder in order to simulate solid metal.

Also called gilt or gilded.

Graining

Simulation of a particular material or texture by selectively drawing a comb, brush, or other tool through a surface coating such as paint before it has hardened.

Japanning

A simulation of urushi, or Asian lacquer, created through the application of a series of layers of varnish and pigment. Surfaces may be further decorated with raised ornament or painted and/or gilded Asian-inspired motifs. Two colors are typical of American japanning: black and tortoiseshell, or mottled black and red. See also urushi.

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Painting (two definitions)

1. Opaque surface coating, frequently tinted with a pigment or other colorant. See also varnishing.
2. Figural or geometric decoration applied free-hand to a surface with an opaque, tinted medium. See also stenciling.

Stenciling

Figural or geometric decoration applied to a surface with an opaque, tinted medium through the cut-out openings of a pattern or stencil. Stenciling allows the efficient application of identical design motifs to multiple objects. See also painting.

Urushi

A hard, shiny surface finish created through the application of many layers of a resinous compound derived from the sap of a type of flowering tree native to Asia. True urushi, or Asian lacquer, is only produced in Asia, especially China and Japan. Urushi objects exported from Asia may be incorporated into American-made furniture. See also japanning.

Also called Asian lacquer, urushi lacquer, or true lacquer.

Varnishing

Translucent or transparent surface coating. See also painting.

Finish Hardware

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Applied, visible components, usually made of metal, that facilitate use of an object by allowing its parts to move, be secured, or attached to one another.

Brackets

Horizontal structures made of wood or metal that project from a vertical component. Brackets may support weight applied from above, such as a shelf; support suspended weight, such as a hanging object; or be purely decorative.

Escutcheons

Large, usually flat plates that surround openings such as keyholes or projections such as door knobs. See also keyhole surrounds.

Also called brasses.

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Keyhole surrounds

Small, usually flat plates that surround keyholes. See also escutcheons.

Also called brasses.

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Hinges

Hardware that attaches two adjacent components and allows one component to move in one plane. Frequently made of two interlocking plates joined with a pin that acts as a pivot point.

Cotter pin hinges

Hinges made of two interlocking bent iron rods. Frequently used on seventeenth-century style furniture to attach lids.

Also called snipe hinges or snipe-bill hinges.

Surface hinges

Hinges in which both plates are attached to exterior surfaces of a piece of furniture. Frequently ornamental.

Butterfly hinges

Surface hinges in which two trapezoidal plates are interlocked along their short sides, forming a butterfly shape. See also surface hinges.

H and L hinges

Surface hinges in which the center section of the long edge of a rectangular plate is interlocked with the center section of one arm of an L-shaped plate. See also surface hinges.

H hinges

Surface hinges in which the center sections of the long edges of two rectangular plates are interlocked, forming an H-shape. See also surface hinges.

Strap hinges

Surface hinges with long, narrow plates that extend perpendicular to the pivot point. See also surface hinges.

Also called flap hinges.

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T hinges

Surface hinges in which the center section of the long edge of a rectangular plate is interlocked with the short edge of a rectangular plate, forming a T-shape. See also surface hinges.

Half-mortise hinges

Hinges in which one plate is surface-mounted to a fixed component and one plate is mortised into the edge of a moving component, such as a door. See half-surface hinges for the opposite installation.

Half-surface hinges

Hinges in which one plate is mortised into the edge of a fixed component and one plate is surface-mounted to a moving component, such as a door. See half-mortise hinges for the opposite installation.

Butt hinges

Hinges in which one plate is mortised into the edge of a fixed component and one plate is mortised into a moving component, such as a door.

Latches

Hardware in which a moving horizontal component, such as a bolt, holds in place part of an object.

Locks

Hardware that relies on a key to secure part of an object.

Mounts

Shaped metal ornaments applied for decoration and to protect the corners or edges of surfaces, especially veneered surfaces.

Nails

Slender metal fasteners used to join materials or components. Nails with large, decorative heads may be applied solely for purposes of decoration, as in some over-the-rail upholstery.

Also called brads or tacks.

Pulls

Handles or hand-holds that facilitate opening a door or drawer by providing something to pull.

Also called brasses.

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Bail pulls

Hinged, U-shaped or arched handles. The hinges may be mounted on a single flat plate or two smaller plates.

Also called bail handles or brasses.

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Drop pulls

Hinged, rod- or teardrop-shaped handles frequently mounted on a flat plate.

Also called brasses, drop handles, or drops.

Knobs

Small, fixed projections. Frequently spherical or rounded.

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Upholstery

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Pliable or padded structures that are attached or associated with a piece of seating or reclining furniture to provide support and comfort to a user.

Upholstery components

Different layers and elements that may constitute stuffed or padded upholstery.

Padding

Soft material, such as dried grasses, curled hair, or wool or cotton batting, that create a cushioned surface.

Also called stuffing.

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Springs

Coils, typically of iron or steel wire, mounted upright within an upholstered surface to provide resilient support.

Top covers

The outermost fixed layers of upholstered surfaces. May be decorative.

Also called cover fabric, final fabric, finish fabric, show covers, or top covers.

Webbing

Strips of linen, cotton, or jute woven together and tacked to the wooden frame of the seat or other surface to be upholstered.

Also called girt web, girt webbing, or girth web.

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Upholstery type

The general form of upholstery, including whether and how it is attached to a piece of furniture.

Bolsters

Cylindrical cushions sometimes intended for use with nineteenth-century sofas. See also cushions.

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Cushions

Portable, pliable containers filled with padding to produce a soft surface for sitting or reclining. See also bolsters.

Over-the-rail upholstery

Upholstery that is permanently fixed to the frame of a piece of furniture by stretching layers of upholstery over the sides of the frame and attaching them underneath the frame. Some examples of this upholstery are trimmed with lines or bands of decorative nails.

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Slip seats

Upholstered seat frames made to fit into chair frames. The upholstery is attached only to the seat frame, rather than to the chair itself.

Also called drop-in seats, false seats, loose seats, or pin-cushion seats.

What does it mean?

Look up a term to find its definition

Enter a term to find it in the Furniture Guide; for example gadrooning or finial.

Start typing the first letters of the word and matches will begin to appear. If there are no matches, try using an alternate term for the concept.

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