Interior Design Glossary


Where meaning differs, the US term is cross-referenced to the British term.

Accent lighting

The use of lights such as spots or wallwashers to highlight architectural features, objects or displays.

Acetate (cellulose acetate)

Strictly speaking, any of a family of esters used in fabrics, etc. The type used in, for example, stencilling comes in thin, tough transparent sheets.

Advancing colours

Colours which, when painted on a surface, seem to make that surface come towards you; they can be used to make a room seem smaller. ‘Hot’ and ‘warm’ colours — reds, oranges and yellows — can have this effect.


A family of synthetic resins used as binders in oil-based paints.


An extremely heavily embossed wallpaper, used for wall or ceiling decorations.


Any of various painting and varnishing techniques used to artificially age a surface.

Background lighting

Essentially, the use of artificial lighting sources as a replacement for natural daylight, providing a general level of illumination.


See skirting.


A wooden or metal strip. In the United States larger battens are referred to as furring strips (q.v.).

Bauhaus movement

This movement took its name from a workshop (the Bauhaus) founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The movement aimed to design articles that were suitable for mass-production and yet were elegant and functional.


Wood or other material supplied in the form of a thin strip and used for edging, ornamentation, etc. See also moulding.

Blind nailing

See secret nailing.


The formation of air-bubbles in a layer of paint or varnish, or under a wallcovering.


A thicker form of plywood (q.v.). Two 1ayers of softwood, their grains at right angles, are sandwiched between two outer 1ayers of veneer.


See hessian.


A type of window having, typically, one fixed pane, a small top pane that can be opened, and one large pane that can be opened (usually hinged at the side).

Cavity wall

A wall constructed in the form of two outer layers sandwiching a gap of air. Extra insulation can be provided by filling the gap with, eg. expanded polystyrene beads.

Ceiling rose (medallion)

A roughly circular ceiling decoration, usually placed centrally on the ceiling. The rose is often of plaster, and in many cases a lighting fixture may be suspended from it.

Cellulose acetate

See acetate.

Chipboard (particleboard)

A substitute for wooden boards created by bonding together fragments of wood using a synthetic resin. Chipboard can be bought either plain or veneered in wood or plastic laminate.


A technique analogous to spattering (q.v.). Rather than spattering on a wash or glaze, however, you completely cover the base coat and then flick it with specks of the appropriate solvent for effect.

Coir matting

Matting made from coconut fibres.

Colour washing

Painting on several weak layers of wash or glaze over a base colour in order to produce an extremely luminous colour effect.


A decorative paint technique. Paint on a base coat and, when this has dried, cover it with a glaze. While the glaze is still wet, ‘tease’ it with a comb.


A bracket of brick, stone or plaster; usually an internal feature.


See pelmet.

Cornice (crown molding)

A decorative band of plaster, wood or other material set horizontally at the junction of a wall and a ceiling or of a wall and a roof.

Crown molding

See cornice.

Cutting-in brush

A paintbrush specially designed for painting along the edges of, for example, ceiling lines and window frames.

Dado (wainscoting)

The lower part of a wall whose upper and lower parts have been divided by a horizontal rail (a dado rail). By analogy, the lower part of a wall, if decorated differently from the upper (eg. with different wallpaper).


Also spelled ‘durrie’, an Indian flat-weave rug, usually made from cotton, and displaying geometric designs.


A type of paint made by mixing glue and water with size, whiting etc. Ready-made distemper is now out of commercial production, but you can make it yourself.

Distressed effects

Decorative paint techniques that make use of broken colours rather than solid ones. Examples are ragging and sponging (qq.v.).

Double glazing

The setting of two parallel panes of glass in a window frame to reduce heat loss, external noise, etc. Equivalent to the fitting of a storm window (q.v.).

Double hem

A hem in which the fabric is turned over not once but twice by the same amount, so that the raw edge is completely enclosed.


A decorative paint technique for walls and ceilings. After a coloured base coat has dried you apply a glaze and, while this is still wet, you drag an almost-dry paintbrush across it.

‘Drop’ pattern

A wallpaper pattern in which the repeated images match up diagonally rather than horizontally.

Dry laying

Setting down tiles without using adhesive so that you can adjust pattern and positions before starting to fix the tiles into place.

Dry rot

Severe form of decay in which, due to the presence of certain fungi, wood (or any other vegetable matter) dries out and crumbles. Dry rot spreads readily.


See plasterboard.


A powdery white substance that can appear on the surface of new brickwork or a newly plastered wall. Soluble salts in the brick or plaster react with moisture and force their way to the surface.

Eggshell (semi-gloss) paint

A type of oil-based paint with a mid-sheen finish — halfway between matt and gloss.

Emulsion (latex) paint

Water-based paint used principally to cover walls and ceilings.

Enamel paint

Very dense oil-based paint used for small areas of woodwork and metal; only a single coat is required.

Faux bois

Decorative paint technique which simulates the effect of wooden surfaces.


A low screen that stops burning coals and logs rolling out of an open fire.


Plant (usually wood) fibres compressed to form thin sheets, often used for insulation and as a wallcovering. Compare wallboard.


Any material made out of thin, closely matted fibres of glass. Fibreglass blankets are much used for insulation. Sometimes called ‘glass wool’.

Flat fell seam

The most widely used seam in upholstery and curtain-making, whereby raw edges are completely enclosed.

Flat paint

Oil-based paint which is matt (q.v.).

Flat seam

The simplest way of stitching two pieces of fabric together, but not advisable where a strong finish is required. Compare flat fell seam.


A type of shaggy-pile woollen rug, usually white or off-white, made in Greece.


A band of plaster, paper or other material usually placed horizontally all around the four walls of a room, often at or above cornice (crown moulding) height.

Furring strips

Large battens (q.v ) of wood or metal.


A transparent, or semitransparent, thinned oil-based paint applied over a base colour, so that one or both are enriched and intensified. A number of decorative techniques — eg. combing (q.v.) — depend on the use of glazes.

Gloss paint

Oil-based paint that provides a shiny finish. Gloss is used mainly for woodwork and metalwork, for interior and exterior surfaces.


See woodgraining.


Heavily ribbed silk (or, nowadays, rayon) tape used as a trim for upholstery or clothes and as banding on fabric-covered walls.


Often called ‘grouting’, a filling that is inserted between tiles after they have been stuck in place. The grout ensures that the entire area is properly sealed. It can be coloured for graphic decorative effect.

Gypsum board

See plasterboard.

Hardboard (masonite)

A type of board usually used for surfacing. Made from compressed vegetable (usually wood) fibres, it is shiny on one side (the outer side) and textured on the other.

Herringbone stitch

A simple type of stitch widely used for fastening hems.

Hessian (burlap)

A coarse fabric woven from jute, hemp or similar fibre. It can be used as a wallcovering and is available with a paper backing.


Porous earthenware tubes inserted in walls to attract water, which then evaporates away through them.

Insulating board

A type of board applied to ceilings and walls in order to reduce noise penetration and improve heat insulation.


A type of flat-weave rug, usually woollen and in rich earth colours, made in Turkey and Afghanistan.


(1) A surface of suitable roughness for the application of a coat of paint, plaster or whatever. (2) A substance applied in order to create such a surface.


(1) A hard, glossy coating. (2) The substance used to produce such a coating, consisting of natural or synthetic resins dissolved in a volatile liquid; as the solvent evaporates it leaves the coating behind.


A deep valance (q.v.) that frames a window, extending some distance at either side.

Latex paint

See emulsion paint.

Load-bearing wall

A structural wall supporting a load (usually the wall above). Before you remove or alter a wall of this type you must install a lintel to carry the load. Compare partition wall.

Local lighting

See task lighting.

Lock stitch

This is used to hold the lining and interlining of a curtain loosely to the main fabric.


Often called a ‘maulstick’, a stick used by artists to help steady the hand.


A decorative paint technique designed to simulate the appearance or general effect of a marbled surface.

Masking tape

Sticky tape that can be peeled off easily without lifting off the surface beneath it. It can be used to provide a straight crisp edge when you are painting a flat surface, or to protect the glass when you are painting a window frame.


See hardboard.

Matt paint

Water- or oil-based paint whose finish shows little or no sheen.


See mahlstick.


See ceiling rose.


More correctly, ‘mitre joint’, a joint whereby two pieces of wood, plastic or other material are joined by cutting bevels at complementary angles at the end of each piece.

Monochromatic colour scheme

A colour scheme in which al1 the colours used are variants of a single colour.


(1) A narrow piece of wood or other material used as a decorative edging; essentially, a synonym for beading (q.v.). (2) A decorative element, usually on a wall or ceiling (often where a wall joins a ceiling), commonly made out of plaster or similar material. See also cornice.


A picture or pattern painted directly onto a wall. The term is often used today to mean also anything that gives the general impression of being a true mural — such as the self-adhesive ‘mural panels’ you can buy in some stores.


A type of cheap embroidered rug made in India.


A moulding with an S-shaped cross-section.

Paint pad

A rectangular pile-covered foam pad attached to a handle and used to apply paint (usually emulsion) swiftly and smoothly to large surfaces.


A form of wooden floor covering, usually polished. Traditionally, laying parquet involved the use of small pieces of wood. Today parquet is available in tile form.


See chipboard.

Partition wall

An internal wall that divides up areas but does not carry any direct load. Compare load-bearing wall.

Pelmet (cornice)

A decorative surround, usually made of fabric or wood, which covers a curtain heading, and adds definition to window treatments.

Plasterboard (drywall, gypsum board)

Board used for surfacing walls and ceilings. It consists of standard-sized sheets of plaster sandwiched between external paper coverings.


A type of board made by gluing together several thin layers of wood. Often used to make sub-floors.


A family of plastics with diverse uses. Polyester fibres are used (usually blended with natural fibres) in fabrics, while resinous forms are used in varnishes and certain paints.


A plastic used in both solid and expanded forms for wall or ceiling tiles, packaging, etc. The expanded form is used also for insulation and as a stuffing for cheap furniture. Should you be thinking of buying polystyrene-stuffed furniture, first check that it does not constitute a fire hazard.


(1) A synthetic resin used in the manufacture of paints and varnishes. (2) Synonymous with any transparent synthetic wood varnish, usually but not necessarily containing polyurethane. These yellow with age. (3) A foam used in cheap upholstery. Unless specially treated it is highly inflammable, and furniture containing it is banned in several countries.

Polyvinyl chloride

See vinyl.


A first coat of paint applied to a surface in order to provide a good key for subsequent coats, to seal and protect the surface, and to prevent it from absorbing the outer coats.


See vinyl.


A decorative paint technique whereby you dip clothes into washes or glazes (q.v.) and use the crumpled fabric to make prints on a surface. In much the same way, you can completely cover a base colour with a wash or glaze and then selectively reveal the base colour using crumpled fabric.


A variant of ragging (q.v.) whereby you roll a cloth down over a surface. Either roll a cloth dipped in glaze over a background colour or use a clean cloth to distress a wet surface.

Receding colours

Colours that, when applied to a surface, make it appear to recede from you. Receding colours — the ‘cool’ colours such as blue and grey — can be used to make a small room seem larger.

Room divider

Any unit — such as a bookcase, set of shelves or screen — that can be used to divide a larger room into much smaller areas.

Rose (medallion)

See ceiling rose.


A type of shaggy-pile rug made in Finland.


(1) A layer of material (eg. concrete or cement mortar) used to even off the surface of a floor prior to the application of a hard or heavy type of flooring. (2) As a verb: to bring a material flush with the surface around it.

Secret nailing

Also known as ‘blind nailing’, a technique of driving nails into wooden boards so that their heads are underneath the surface and are hidden by an adjoining board.


On a piece of fabric, a finished border that will not fray.

Semi-gloss paint

See eggshell paint.


A coarse flat-weave Mexican cloak, often fringed, used as a rug.


(1) Gathering or puckering a piece of fabric into rows, using elastic or stitching.

(2) Adorning a wal1 with panels of shirred fabric.

Sisal matting

Matting made using fibres derived from the leaves of various types of agave plant.

Skirting (baseboard)

A border, usually of wood but sometimes of plaster or plastic, covering the base of a wall where it meets the floor. Can conceal wiring.

Slip stitch

A type of stitch used for joining two folded edges or to hold a folded edge to a flat edge — eg. a curtain hem.


The underside of, for example, an arch, door or window frame.


Simple distressed paint effect achieved by dipping the bristles of a stiff brush in paint and flicking it at a surface.


Decorative paint technique using a sea sponge or equivalent either to dab a top coat (or coats) of a wash or glaze over a base coat or to remove selected areas of an overlying wash or glaze.


A way of decorating surfaces by dabbing paint through a motif (or motifs) cut out of acetate or similar medium onto a surface.


Creating a ‘speckled’ effect using one of two similar techniques. Either cover a base coat with a glaze or wash and, while it is still wet, strike it with a flat-faced brush, so that flecks of the base colour are revealed, or simply apply speckles by dipping a brush into a glaze or wash and then stab with it at the base coat.

Storm window

An extra window fitted externally to reduce heat 1oss, noise, etc.


A meta1 or wooden strip one of whose surfaces can be used to draw an exactly straight line.

Sugar soap

An alkaline preparation, available in crystal form to be mixed with water, which is used to clean and degrease painted surfaces.


A loop of draped fabric, suspended across the top of a window, either as a pelmet (q.v.) or on its own as a window treatment. A wide window may have a series of swags.


Lengths of pleated fabric attached to either end of a swag (q.v.), framing a window.

Task lighting

Lighting placed to perform a particular function. Task lighting can be anything from a bedside 1amp to a strip 1ight in a kitchen. Also called ‘local’ 1ighting.


A cut-out pattern (perhaps in card) used so that the same 1ine can be reproduced many times over.


A 1ength of fabric, cord or similar attached to a window frame and used to loop back a curtain.

Tongue-and-groove panelling

A type of panelling that is easy to assemble. Each board has on one side a tongue and on the other a groove into which a tongue can fit.


Paint technique that seeks to imitate — or at least give the overall effect of — natural tortoise-shell.

Trompe l’oeil

A type of highly realistic decorative painting which aims to ‘deceive the eye’; for example, balusters painted at the base of a wall.


A type of paint or stain applied to a surface to provide a good key for the final top coat.


A frill of fabric. Valances can be used to cover curtain fittings (ie. as a fabric pelmet (q.v.) or to trim the base of a chair or bed.


A thin sheet of material fastened to the surface of a board or plank. Veneers are typically of wood — often of valuable wood — but synthetic materials of many kinds are also used.


Any of various minerals largely made up of hydrated magnesium, aluminium and iron silicates. Expanded by heat, they are much used for insulation (often in granular form).

Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, PVC)

A thermoplastic found in many applications: floorings, tiles, fabrics, etc. However, the exact properties of any vinyl-based product depend on the nature of the ‘plasticizer’ — the material used in conjunction with the PVC.

Vinyl wallpapers

Wallpapers that have a plastic coating so that they can be scrubbed. They are especially suitable for kitchens, bathrooms and children’s rooms.


An additional surface, usually of wood, applied to the lower part of a wal1 to a height of perhaps 1m/3ft 3in.


Board made out of compressed plant (usually wood) fibres or plaster sandwiched between paper and used as a surface for walls and ceilings and in insulation. Compare fibreboard, plasterboard.

Wet rot

Caused by various types of fungi, a condition in which wood decays. The surface of the wood feels ‘clammy’.


Powdered and cleansed white chalk used, for example, in distemper and whitewash.


A painting technique which seeks to imitate — or at least to give the overall effect of — the grain of wood.


Condition in which wood is invaded by the common furniture beetle.

03. June 2011 by admin
Categories: Interior Design | Tags: | Comments Off on Interior Design Glossary


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