Glossary of Terms,
Antique Furniture


Saddle: Chair seat scooped away to the sides and back from a central ridge, resembling the pommel of a saddle. The best examples occur in Windsor chairs with thick pine seats.
Salem Rocker: New England rocking chair after 1800. Has heavy scrolled seat and arms, a lower back than the Boston rocker, light straight spindles, and a heavy top rail scroll.
Saltire: X-form stretcher.
Sash Bars: Framework of glass doors in cabinets.
Sausage Turning: Continuous turning similar to the spool turning, frequent in the 19th Century American furniture.
Savonarola Chair: Italian Renaissance X-shaped chair of interlacing curved slats and wooden back, carved or inlaid with certosina work.
Sawbuck: Table frame or base having X-shaped supports.
Scale: Relative size; proportion of a piece to its surroundings.
Scallop: Carved shell ornament after the escallop shell.
Scandinavian Modern: Machine-made Swedish furniture launched in the 1930's showed simplicity of form, devoid of ornamentation. First to employ blond woods. After World War II, Danish furniture had sculpted look; woods chiefly walnut, teak, and rosewood.
Scissors Chair: X-shaped chair, folding or stationary.
Scoop Seat: Dipped or dropped seat, one in which the front rail is slightly concave to fit the body.
Scotia: Concave molding, about one-quarter round.
Scratch Carving: Crude form of carving usually done with a V-chisel.
Screen Table: A small fireplace table which becomes a screen when its top is turned down to an upright position.
Scroll: Ornament of spiral or convolute form.
Scroll Arm: Chair terminating at the hand in a scroll.
Scroll Foot: Curved foot not fully articulated with the block above, as in a cabriole leg.
Scroll Top: Broken pediment formed by two S or cyma curves; also swan-neck.
Seaweed Marquetry: Fine line design resembling marine plant life.
Secret Drawer: Small, hidden compartments in old chests, bureaus, desk, and the like, for private or valuable papers.
Secretaire: Closed desk, usually with drawers below and bookcase above. In Europe, sometimes called "bureau."
Sectional Furniture: Furniture which comes in complementary parts which can be grouped in a variety of arrangements or used separately. Term generally refers to upholstered furniture.
Segmental Corners: Panel corners broken by curved lines, typical of Regence work.
Segmental Pediment: Unbroken curved pediment, the arc of a circle.
Semainier: Tall narrow chest or chiffonier with six or seven drawers, planned for supply of personal linen for each day of the week.
Serpentine: Waving or undulating surface. A serpentine front, as in a commode, has the center convex or protruding, while the ends are concave. Reversed serpentine fronts have a more complex curve. Serpentine stretchers are X-type with curves.
Serrated: Zigzag or sawtooth ornament of Gothic origin; a form of notched dentil.
Serving Table: Dining room side table with drawers for silver.
Settee: A long seat with side arms and back, sometimes upholstered; light-scaled forerunner of today's sofa.
Settle: All wood high-back bench built to the floor, with solid wood end panels. Seat sometimes consists of a box with a hinged lid.
Shaker Furniture: The Shakers, a religious sect, founded independent communities in the mid-19th century. Chiefly rural and self-sustaining, they produced their own furniture, simple and straightforward in design, soundly constructed and often well-proportioned and invariably of local woods, such as pine, walnut, maple, and fruit woods, the Shaker productions are among the best of the rural American types.
Sheaf Back: Typical small chair of France, late 18th century and early 19th century, having a delicate back resembling a graceful bundle of rods spreading out in a fan shape. They usually had straw seats.
Shell Motifs: Various shells appear as ornament in all styles, but the scallop-shell (cockleshell) form is most common, especially in Italian and Spanish Renaissance furniture. The Rococo style is actually based in part on the use of the shell ornament. In Queen Anne furniture the shell is typically placed on the knee of cabriole legs; Chippendale used it is as a central theme in carving. Rococo shells are perforated; Louis XV style uses pierced shells as a center for two acanthus sprays. In later 18th century work the conch-shell form is used as an inlay motive.
Shell Top: Cupboard of half-round recessed plan, whose round top is a half dome carved with ribs to simulate a shell.
Shellac: Natural resin soluble in alcohol. The mixture may be brushed on or padded on, and dries quickly, after which it is susceptible to fine satiny polish by rubbing down. The padding produces the high-gloss brittle finish known as French polish. Shellac finishes are easily damaged by moisture and heat.
Shield Back: Typical chairback form of Hepplewhite, having double curved top rail and a half ellipse below, filled with various openwork designs, such as vase forms, three feathers, swags, and ribbons.
Shoe: A metal cup terminal for a wood leg, sometimes part of a caster.
Side Chair: Chair without arms usually small. Term generally refers to dining chairs other than the host and hostess chairs.
Side Rails: The long narrow boards or rails that connect the headboards and footboards of beds.
Sideboard: Originally an open-shelf dining room piece( literally a side board or boards) the sideboard later consisted of doors and/or drawers below, sometimes open shelving above for the display of plates, etc.
Skirt: See apron.
Slant Front: Desk or secretary with writing section enclosed by a fall lid that when closed slants back; probably originally to rest a book or writing material upon.
Slat: Crosspieces supported on side rails of a bed to carry the spring; horizontal crossbars in chairback to brace uprights and to support back of sitter.
Sleigh Bed: American version of the Empire bed, the scrolled ends slightly reminiscent of sleigh fronts. They are usually used lengthwise to a wall.
Slip Seat: Same as "loose seat" separate upholstered wood frame, let into the framework of the chair seat.
Slipper Chair: Small side chair or armchair with low legs, designed for bedroom use.
Snack Table: Small occasional table used individually for informal dining; often folds for easy storage.
Socle: Plain block used as a plinth or base for a case piece or as a pedestal of a statue.
Sofa: Long upholstered seat for two or more persons. The name "sopha" is of Eastern origin and was first used about 1680 to designate a divan-like seat in France.
Sofa-Bed: An upholstered couch with hinged arms and hinged back which drops to seat level, converting unit into a bed and forming half of the sleep surface. Also called "jack-knife."
Sofa Table: Long, narrow 18th century English table with drop-leaf ends and drawers.
Solid: In reference to wood furniture, term means lumber rather than veneered plywood; solid pieces of the same wood, minus the veneers. Solid woods generally have less interesting graining than veneers.
Spade Foot: A rectangular tapered foot suggesting the outline of a spade, common in Hepplewhite designs.
Spanish: Always massive and masculine, robust and vigorous, Spanish furniture for some 700 years (until the 16th century) was Moorish-inspired; marked by the rich inlays, carving, brilliant color, decorated leather(tooled, painted, or embossed). The Renaissance brought wrought iron stretchers and braces; sling seats on square chairs; large ornamental nailheads; ornate metal mounts and the vargueno (desk box with fall front).
Spanish Foot: Rectangular ribbed foot larger at the base, usually with a weak scroll.
Sphinx: Mythical winged monster, half woman and half lion. Of Egyptian origin, it occurs in all classical schools of furniture.
Spice Cupboard: A small cupboard to hold spices, etc., usually hanging. Often miniatures of floor cabinets in the 18th century.
Spindle: A thin turned member, often tapered or molded, used in chairbacks.
Spiral Turning: Twisted turned work, typical of chair and table legs of the 17th century. They were favored in Germany and Flanders; in less robust forms they are found in late 17th century English work.
Splad: Flat central vertical member in a chair back.
Splay: Pitch; rake; cant; outward spread or slant, as of a surface or leg.
Split Spindle: A spindle turning cut in half lenghtwise; applied as surface decoration or used in chair backs with the flat side inside.
Sponge Painting: Primitive decorating texture, 19th century American.
Spool Turning: Continuously repeated bulbous turning suggesting rows of spools. In America in the 19th century, it was a favorite turning after the introduction of the machine lathe.
Spoon Back: Queen Ann chairbacks were often curved in profile like a spoon to fit the shape of the body.
Spring Edge: Upholstered edge that is supported by springs rather than by the hardwood frame. Now universally used in lounge chairs.
Stack, Stacking Furniture: Cabinets, shelves drawer units, etc. designed so they can be superimposed one atop the other, like building blocks, to create a unified, free-standing wall system. Stack chairs are chairs designed so they fit one atop the other for space saving and storage reasons.
Stand: Any small table, used for holding or displaying objects such as shaving stands, candle stands, etc.
Standard: Adjustable or swinging mirrors are carried on uprights called standards. Also the term for a frame that carries a table or case piece.
Stepped Curve: Broken curve, the parts being interrupted by right angles.
Step Table: A two-tiered rectangular occasional table suggesting a pair of steps.
Stile: Outside vertical member of a cabinet or door, which frames a panel.
Stool: Armless, backless seat.
Stopped Channel Fluting: Filled fluting; lower part, usually about 1/3 of fluting, filled with a reed like rounding, sometimes carved like beads.
Straight Pediment: Triangular or gable pediment of a cabinet or secretary, unbroken and uninterrupted.
Strap Hinge: Hinge with long straplike leaves, usually of iron, and common in Gothic work in England and on the Continent.
Stretcher: Crosspieces or rungs connecting legs of chairs, tables, etc.
Studs: Large or fancy upholstery nails used as decoration.
Stump: Front support of arm chair.
Stump Bedstead: Beds with neither canopy nor posts.
Suite: A set of matched furniture for a particular room; a group of furniture pieces--living room, dining room, or bedroom--in which a single design theme maintains.
Sunburst: Figured grain in wood in which crossfire or divergent rays radiate from a center.
Sunflower: Carved or painted motif in Colonial Connecticut chests.
Sunken Panel: Sinkage or set-in panel in posts or other flat parts of furniture.
Swag: Festoon; swinging or suspended decoration, representing drapery, ribbon, garlands of fruits and flowers, etc.
Swan-neck: Curved broken pediment of two s-curves, usually ending in paterae.
Swatch: A small sample cutting of upholstered fabric, leather, etc.
Swell Front: Convex curved front, as in a chest or commode or any case piece.
Swing Leg: Hinged leg to support a drop leaf; similar to a gateleg, but lacking the lower stretcher.
Swivel Chair: Revolving seat on a fixed frame, used for desk chairs, dressing chairs, music stools, etc.
Swivel Rocker: Same as swivel chair but also rocks.