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An Essential Glossary of 40 Interior Design Terms

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Becoming an interior decorator or designer requires a sophisticated design style and a thorough understanding of both interior design terminology and the basic principles of design. If you’re embarking on a career as a designer, understanding interior design vocabulary is a necessary first step. Knowing how to clearly communicate with other interior designers and decorators will help you execute your creative vision and streamline your design process.

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An Essential Glossary of 40 Interior Design Terms

Many interior design terms sound complicated, and often they are borrowed from a language other than English. You’ll be surprised how quickly you become acclimated to interior design vocabulary once you start using it with your colleagues and incorporating it into your design plans. Here are some basic interior design and decoration terms that all designers should be familiar with:

  1. Art Deco: A modernist style of visual arts that first emerged in France in the leadup to World War I. Art Deco influence can be seen in all sorts of modern design, from structural architecture to household appliance design.
  2. Bauhaus: A style of design that takes its name from an influential German art school that operated from 1919 to 1933. Bauhaus style is defined by simplistic modernism and the concept of “form following function.”
  3. Bouclé: A heavy textile containing nubby, looped yarn—often in two different shades—that creates texture.
  4. Cabriole leg: An ornamented furniture leg with a double curve structure.
  5. Case goods: Types of cabinetry and furniture that are designed to provide storage.
  6. Chair rail: Horizontal molding that is generally placed towards the middle of a wall, close to the height of a standard dining room chair.
  7. Chaise: An upholstered piece of furniture similar to a sofa that is shaped like a lounge chair.
  8. Chinoiserie: A European style of design that is meant to mimic elements of East Asian art.
  9. Clerestory: A window or series of windows that are placed above eye-level.
  10. Console table: A freestanding table, often found in the entryway of homes, that typically serves as a space for decorative elements.
  11. Countertop: A horizontal surface generally found in kitchens and used for cooking and eating.
  12. Dimmable: When a lightbulb’s brightness is adjustable.
  13. Dining room: A designated room in a house used for formal dining that is separate from the kitchen. It is generally furnished with a long dining table and enough chairs to accommodate larger parties.
  14. Elevation: A two-dimensional drawing of a wall (or series of walls) with varying degrees of detail.
  15. Enfilade: A series of rooms that are connected via doorways that align with one another (commonplace in grand castles, like the Palace of Versailles, or even museums).
  16. Etagere: A freestanding or hanging set of open shelves, designed to display trinkets or other decorative objects.
  17. Faux: A design element that is artificially constructed to mimic another type of material or piece.
  18. Feng shui: A traditional method of Chinese design based around energy forces. Feng shui is meant to bring the individual in harmony with their surroundings.
  19. Focal point: The point in a room or design that the eye is drawn to. The decorative center of a room from which all other design elements take their cue.
  20. Hue: The color or shade of an interior design element.
  21. Interior wall: A wall found on the inside of a house designed either to bear structural weight or divide sections of a building’s interior.
  22. Jacquard: Named after a type of loom, jacquard textiles are woven, highly textured fabrics in which the design is incorporated into the weave rather than being stamped or printed on the material. Learn more about jacquard in our guide to the fabric here.
  23. J-box: An abbreviation for “junction box.” J-boxes are wall-mounted units that house electrical wires. They’re meeting points for many different types of wires and can be placed in a stud above heavy light fixtures.
  24. Kelvin: Units of measurement that relate to the color of a light source. The higher the Kelvin number, the closer it is to replicating bright sunlight.
  25. Laminate: A layered synthetic type of flooring that is made using lamination.
  26. Light fixture: A device that houses an electrical lamp meant to provide illumination.
  27. Mid-century modern: A modern style of architectural design that emerged in the aftermath of World War II, defined by open floor plans and large windows.
  28. Monochromatic: A color scheme that is centered around a single color.
  29. Niche: A recessed area within a wall or room.
  30. Patina: A light layer of gloss or film which appears on a surface as a result of age or artificial distressing.
  31. Proportion: An understanding of the scale of specific elements on the same object.
  32. Retro: A design that harkens back to older design styles and sensibilities.
  33. Scale: An understanding of how the size of one object in a space relates to the size of the other objects in the space.
  34. Sconces: A type of light fixture that is fastened to a wall for support.
  35. Settee: An upholstered piece of furniture that is long enough to accommodate two people.
  36. Trompe l’oeil: A technique used to trick the eye into thinking that something flat, like a wall, is actually three-dimensional. This is often achieved through photorealistic painting.
  37. Upholstery: The cushioning and padding found on furniture pieces.
  38. Victorian: An architectural style defined by highly ornamented design and grand, sweeping facades.
  39. Wainscoting: A type of interior wall paneling that covers the lower portion of a wall.
  40. Window treatments: Window coverings that are used for aesthetic design purposes as well as to provide privacy and insulation.

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