Know Your Antique Furniture Terminology Part 2
Dentil – The square block molding near the top of this cabinet is called dentil molding.
As with the last list of words (Antique Furniture Terminology Part 1), you probably know most of these, but don’t always remember them at the right times. I welcome receipt of your favorite word or phrase to perhaps incorporate in some future column of “Greatest Hits.” You can email me at email@example.com.
Armoire — One of those French words we have inherited. This one means a large cabinet that substitutes for a closet in houses that don’t have any. Since most modern houses have adequate closets, we now use armoires as entertainment centers and the like.
Astragal — The small piece of wood that overlaps the doors on a piece of case goods to hide the space between the doors and provide integrity for the lock. It is often rounded or grooved to blend in so as to appear part of both doors.
Bergere — Another French word for an upholstered chair with closed arms and a loose cushion (not to be confused with Fauteil below). Popular during the American Classical period. In modern usage, the term is loosely used to mean an upholstered arm chair in one of the French styling variations.
Etagere – A series of shelves, usually freestanding, with their own columns for the display of “objects de art.” This etagere is from the Art Nouveau period of the early 20th century.
Breuer Chair — Not Brewer Chair. Although not exactly an antique word or usage, it is common in the trade. Marcel Breuer was a German designer for the Bauhaus. His totally functional, tubular steel design from the 1920’s, with bent pine seats covered in fabric or cane, has become a 20th century classic and one of the bastions of misused vocabulary.
Chamfered — Usually refers to one corner or edge of a square object that is cut to create a flat or “beveled” edge. An example is a Chippendale chair with Marlborough legs that have the inside corners of the legs shaved or “chamfered.”
Damask — A type of upholstery and drapery fabric that features a pattern on a pattern, usually of the same color. Named after Damascus, where it first appeared around the 12th century. Italy dominated in its manufacture from the Middle Ages to the late 17th century. Originally produced in silk, primarily.
Fauteuil – An open armed upholstered chair is called fauteuil.
Demilune — Crescent-shaped or half-round, as in a demilune table; literally a half moon.
Dentil Molding —A decorative trim molding of square or rectangular blocks that resemble teeth. Why it is spelled “dentil” instead of “dental” is lost on me.
Etagere — Surrounded by the French again. A series of shelves, usually freestanding, with their own columns for the display of “objects de art.” Severely Americanized to “whatnot,” it attained great popularity with the late 19th century Victorians.
Fluting – The concave vertical stripes in the case of this vanity are called fluting.
Fauteuil — Upholstered armchair in which the arms are open, as opposed to closed (fully upholstered) on a Bergere.
Ferrule — The metal casing, round or square, around the bottom of a chair or table leg. Often encompasses a caster. Originally used in the 18th century to add support and strength to the leg and protect it from wet mops and hard boots, but later used purely as decoration.
Fluting — Deep concave channels cut parallel to each other in the legs and columns of classical furniture. Quality flutes are deeply cut with smooth curves at the end. The ridges between the flutes are called fillets.
Gadrooning — The slanted, usually convex carving around the edge of a table top. It is actually cut into the top surface, not just on the edge. Especially popular in New England Chippendale styling in the mid to late 18th century and on extremely well-made reproductions of the American Depression era.
Gallery – The grill work surrounding the open space on the top of this late 19th century cylinder desk is called a gallery.
Gallery — The raised, open “fence” or fretwork around the top of a small table or the top surface of a bookcase. Sometimes made of pierced wood, and often in Victoriana made of brass. Used to keep small objects from falling off the surface. Another early Chippendale affectation.
Gesso — The plaster-like material that comprises most of the elegant “carvings” on 19th and 20th century mirror and picture frames. Wet gesso is poured into molds and a rough wooden frame is inserted in the mixture for support. Gesso is basically plaster of paris and a water based glue which is painted, grained or gilded after drying.
Patina — The Holy Grail of all antiquedom. There are almost as many definitions of patina as there are antiques collectors. But then again that depends on your definition of “antique” anyway. Patina, as best I understand it, is that deep, warm, well-worn look acquired over time by an original surface that has not been stripped or sanded. (I think I’ll quit here before I get in trouble with this. What is your understanding of “patina”?)
Fred Taylor is a Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).
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