The Essential Interior Design Dictionary for Homeowners
From beginning to end, building a new home is an exciting and educational experience, and all sorts of interior design terms get thrown around. While there are some you may know, others will have you Googling at the first opportunity. Save the search time by bookmarking our regularly-updated interior design dictionary below!
Art Deco (style): Though this distinct style makes us all think of the 1920s and 1930s, you can trace the roots of this style back to 1908 in Europe. Influencing art, architecture, and interiors, Art Deco is defined by geometric patterns, bold shapes, symmetry, and monochromatic color that together impart a sense of luxury and modernity.
Cathedral Ceiling: Drawing its name from whence this architectural element came (cathedrals, of course!), this ceiling type follows the actual pitch of the roof and has symmetrical, sloping sides.
Chandelier: This is one light fixture that has a lot of history – it’s been around since the 1300s! What makes a light source a chandelier is its arms, of which there are always three or more. Each arm must also have one light, and the fixture itself is always hanging. Though often associated with lots of sparkling crystals and a gold finish, chandeliers are a diverse lot. They can be modern, traditional, rustic, vintage, old world…you name it!
Coastal (style): Relaxed, simple, and nuanced, a Coastal interior reflects the ease and tranquility of being seaside. There’s an emphasis on natural materials, as well as colors inspired by the beach, ocean, and its various flora and fauna. Casual comfort is a big part of this style, so furnishings and accessories are loosely arranged, and textiles are durable.
Coffered Ceiling: Unsurprisingly, this ceiling type is defined by its coffers. Coffers are sunken panels in geometric shapes, such as rectangles, squares, and octagons. These panels are often bordered in painted or stained wood beams and are sometimes finished with molding. Placed in multiples, these panels create a coffered ceiling.
Contemporary (style): When you look up the term ‘contemporary’ in the dictionary, it’s defined as “belonging to or occurring in the present.” Essentially, that’s what is at the heart of contemporary interior design. It’s whatever is au courant. For example, in the 1930s, Art Deco was contemporary. Currently, open floor plans, mixing natural materials, and clean lines are prevalent, and thus the look is termed contemporary.
Drum Shade: Put simply, it’s a lampshade whose circumference at the top and bottom are the same. Though sometimes the diameters differ, they’re most commonly found in the shape for which they are named. Available in myriad widths, sizes, and fabrications, this shade’s clean lines make it a perfect fit for contemporary interiors.
Farmhouse (style): Farmhouse is a little vintage, a little rustic, and 100% warm…all filtered through a contemporary lens. Furnishings are comfortable, cozy and often incorporate wood or metal, and colors are often soft and neutral. Since a lived-in vibe featuring outdoor elements is essential, you’ll often see distressed elements and a mixture of plants, be they potted, fresh flowers, or wreaths of herbs.
Flush Mount Light Fixture: This type of light fixture mounts snugly to the ceiling. They’re fantastic in high-use areas, such as hallways and drop zones, and they’re also well suited for spaces with lower ceilings. Often finished with a drum shade in contemporary homes, these fixtures are traditionally paired with a dome.
Granite: This naturally-occurring stone has been used in homes for thousands of years and remains one of the most popular building materials. It’s composed mostly of quartz, mica, and feldspar, which are all quite crystalline and hard. Thus, granite is pretty resistant to scratching and staining (though it does still benefit from annual sealing). Because of that, it works great as countertops, flooring, bar tops, and many other areas within a home. In addition to being fairly durable, color and variation options are countless, which makes it adaptable to many styles.
Industrial (style): In essence, this look is a celebration of the raw, distressed and refined. The juxtaposition that it represents can be incorporated into any home via thoughtfully-exposed brick, pipes, and duct work. Touches of this look’s edgy vibe can also be brought in though furnishings and accessories, such as pipe and distressed wood bookshelves, copper fixtures, black windowpanes, and rough-hewn table tops.
Marble: One of the more elegant of stones, marble can be applied in many ways throughout a modern luxury home. It’s great for vanities, walls, fireplace surrounds, countertops and more. That said, it is softer and more porous than granite, so it’s better off used in areas of the home that are not quite so high-traffic.
Mid-Century Modern (style): Clean lines, organic forms, and use of wood, metal, and plastic are all signatures of this style, which appeared on the scene following World War II and continued through the 1960s. Though that time period was its heyday, this aesthetic’s simplicity and focus on shape contribute to its continuing popularity. Mid-century modern furnishings are particularly versatile and are a perfect fit in many contemporary homes.
Pendant: If it hangs suspended from the ceiling on a rod, chain, or multiple chains, the light fixture in question is a pendant. There’s a lot of design wiggle room within that loose definition – the lighting itself can be a lantern, globe, or even a bulb with a shade. There are large, statement pendant lights, smaller ones best installed in multiples, and everything in-between.
Powder Room: This bathroom’s charming, ladylike name derives from the 18th century when a little room was reserved for folks to go and have their wigs powdered! Later, Victorian women used the term as a euphemism for the facilities (such things were unmentionable then). Though times have changed, the charming name stuck. Today, a powder room is a small bathroom on the first floor of a home, equipped with only a sink and a toilet. It allows guests to use the amenities without entering the more private areas of a residence.
Quartzite: A naturally-occurring stone, quartzite is mined via quarries. Though it looks quite a lot like marble, quartzite is more durable, but it’s not indestructible! You’ll still need to wipe up spills straightaway, and sealing is a good idea. Additionally, not all quartzite is made equal – some are soft, some are hard – so be sure to check with your builder when choosing.
Quartz (engineered): Engineered from a mixture of natural quartz and polymer resins, this man-made stone has the strength and durability of granite but without the need for annual sealing. There is a wide and constantly growing palette of colors and patterns from which to choose, all of which can be matte or polished. For some, the uniformity in color and texture of quartz due to its man-made nature is a drawback, but to others it’s a bonus!
Sconce: You’ll find these light fixtures attached to walls throughout a home. They’re excellent as ancillary light sources, accents, and for brightening hallways, and can be mounted in myriad ways, including flush or via decorative arms. When it comes to design, the sky is the limit – these small but indispensable fixtures can be anything from basic to extraordinary.
Solid Surface: Synthetically manufactured from materials including acrylic, polyester resin, and marble dust, solid surface countertops are nonporous. They won’t stain and don’t need a whole lot of maintenance. One of this material’s benefits is that when scratched, that mark can be sanded right out. Solid surface is available in an array of different colors and is very easy on the budget.
Spanish (style): Mixing a sunny, Mediterranean look with solid, dark wood and a touch of rustic sensibility, this inviting yet refined aesthetic often includes wrought iron fixtures, wood ceiling beams and earthy tones punctuated by vibrant color.
Tongue & Groove: Most often employed in floorboards, wainscoting, and wall panels, T&G is a process that joins pieces together. Each plank or panel has both a tongue and a groove side, which fit into one another to create a larger whole.
Transitional (style): Transitional style blends traditional and contemporary together for a look that’s timeless, tasteful, and welcoming. Understated, refreshing colors, use of wood, and an emphasis on clean lines are all typical of this much-loved look!
Vaulted Ceiling: Unlike a cathedral ceiling, a vaulted ceiling does not follow the pitch of a home’s roof. Since it’s not part of the actual roof, this ceiling can be constructed in various rooms within a home. Additionally, a vaulted ceiling can have unequal sides, whereas a cathedral does not. Both ceiling styles are wonderful for creating drama in your space!
Volume Ceiling: Any ceiling that exceeds the standard height of 8 feet. Great for an airy, dramatic look and atmosphere.
Wainscoting: Once used to insulate and protect the interior stone or plaster walls of homes, wainscoting is now more of a decorative element, though it still might defend your drywall from a chair shoved back too far or a rogue soccer ball! The panels that make up wainscoting can be plain, recessed, raised, beadboard, or contain decorative molding, but all extend partway up a wall.