Interior Design Terms and Concepts Explained

Sally Painter
Interior Design Concepts

Interior design professionals use many terms and concepts that aren't widely understood outside of the industry. When you learn more about interior design practices and principles, you'll gain insight and knowledge regarding common industry terminology and how it applies to décor.

Terminology Used to Convey Design Concepts

Design pros use many phrases and words to convey various design concepts. Examples include:

  • Advancing colors: This phrase is used to describe the optical illusion, often created by dark colors, of making a surface appear closer or larger than it actually is.
  • Contrast: Creating contrast in a room's décor is achieved by using opposite textures (such as glass and wood), light and dark colors, solids and patterns, etc.
  • Curated: When a designer puts together a collection of furnishings, it is said to be curated. Curated collections often reflect the designer's personal style or have a historical connection or meaning.
  • Elevated: This word describes a situation when a designer takes a décor to a new level of style or demonstrates her or his design expertise in an impressive way.
  • Layered: The art of adding design elements to create a cohesive room décor is called layering. Each level of the design, such as flooring, window treatments, furniture, and accessories, adds another layer.
  • Open concept: This popular modern phrase is used to describe an open floor plan where multiple activities or tasks take place, such as a kitchen, dining and living spaces occupying a large open area.
  • Rhythm: This type of room design has a flow to it that generates a rhythm within the design. The eye moves about the room, touching on one design element after another, such as patterns, colors, and textures, some contrasting and others matching.
  • Textured: This term describes a room or object that has a tactile and/or visual appeal. It's often used to describe the different fabrics, colors and patterns used in a décor.
  • Well-appointed: A well-appointed room is one that is designed with high-end furnishings and outstanding execution of interior design principles.

Furnishings and Design Lingo

Interior designers use a number of terms to describe certain types and styles of furniture. Common examples include:

  • Barcelona chair: Every interior design student knows about the famous Barcelona chair, designed by Mies van der Rohe (Bauhuas Director) and Lilly Reich for the 1929 International Exposition. The duo based their design on Roman and Egyptian folding chairs, only theirs didn't fold. It is considered a classic icon for modern furniture.
Barcelona Chair
  • Bauhaus: The famous pre-Nazi German school of modern design, architecture, and applied arts (1919 to 1933) is referred to as the Bauhaus movement. This style is considered to be the starting point of the modern movement.
  • Bobeche [bah-besh]: This is the protective ring that encircles a candle to catch wax. Another form is used to suspend prisms or crystal from it.
  • Breakfront: This is a large cabinet that is like a buffet or china cabinet. The center section protrudes, making both sides appear to be recessed. The protrusion can vary from only a few inches to being very pronounced.
  • Cabriole leg: This classic double curved wooden leg is used mostly for chairs and tables. The top curve is convex and bows out, while the second lower curve bows and tapers inward to a rounded wooden pad.
  • Chifferobe [shif-rohb]: Similar to an armoire used for hanging clothes, a chifferobe typically contains drawers as well as a spot for hanging items.
  • Étagère: This furniture piece can be found as a wall unit or one that sets on the floor. It features several open shelves used for displaying objects or collections.
  • Frazada: A Frazada is a colorful blanket from Peru or Bolivia. It is a trendy home décor item.
  • Girandoles [jirəndōl]: Girandoles are a pair of ornamental candleholders or sconces that are permanently attached to either side of a decorative mirror.
  • Wainscoting: The term wainscoting describes materials (usually panels) applied underneath a chair rail. It typically covers the bottom third of a wall.

Design Acronyms

Professional interior designers use a number of acronyms. A few examples are:

  • AFF: The term Above finished floor (AFF). It is used by the building industry to signify things like electrical outlets or to reference the height needed for a chandelier.
Design Acronyms - AFF
  • CFA: Cutting for approval (CFA) is a standard request made to a vendor to obtain fabric samples prior to ordering. This allows the designer to check against the original fabric from which she is ordering.
  • COM: The phrase customer's own material (COM) is used to communicate that a client wishes to select a different fabric than what the manufacturer provides or is ordering custom-made furniture. The fabric is shipped directly to the manufacturer.
  • KD: The phrase knock down (KD) refers to any furniture purchased that must be assembled.
  • RID: This is an abbreviation for the Registered Interior Designer credential.

Interior Designer Lingo and Slang

Interior designers also have a bit of their own special lingo. Commonly used slang terms include:

  • Case goods: This phrase refers to any furniture that isn't upholstered.
Interior Designer Lingo and Slang

Meanings of Industry Terminology

Just as with other industries, interior design has an abundance of nuances along with specific jargon born of the industry. Starting with a few of these words and phrases will lead you to a greater understanding, and possibly appreciation, for the processes designers go through to create great décors.

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Interior Design Terms and Concepts Explained