The Ottoman Empire: Furniture Words

Words like "desk" and "chair" are so drab and commonplace that we pay them no mind. Give your vocabulary a makeover with these words for furniture that will have you sounding like a famous interior designer.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. armoire
    a large wardrobe or cabinet
    Seeing the NFL plan for an uncertain future with rote certainty is like watching passengers on the Titanic carefully unpack their bags and place their clothes into cabin armoires.
    In French, and armaire is a place to store books. In English, an armoire is like a wardrobe, below.
  2. bassinet
    a basket (usually hooded) used as a baby's bed
    Cathay Pacific Airways, perhaps the airline outside mainland China most affected by the health crisis, says it is disinfecting all cabin surfaces after each flight, including baby bassinets.
    Our word basin is actually French, and meant, well, a basin: a shallow vessel for washing. A bassinet is a cradle, originally with a similar shape; the diminutive -et suffix makes it smaller and cuter, befitting a baby.
  3. buffet
    piece of furniture that stands at the side of a dining room
    On the main level, there’s a living room with a tile fireplace and a dining room with a built-in buffet.
    A buffet is both the long side table that holds big serving trays of food for people to serve themselves from and the word for food presented in this manner. Its origin in French is unclear, but modern French slang for eating, especially a lot, is la bouffe.
  4. bureau
    an administrative unit of government
    The difference between a bureau and a dresser is their location: A bureau is typically in an office or library and a dresser is usually in a bedroom or closet.
    A bureau is a chest of drawers. It' the French word for "desk," so when you see the word bureaucracy, that's also French for "government by paperwork."
  5. cabinet
    a storage compartment for clothes and valuables
    Then students spring into action, raiding their home’s pantries and cabinets for materials before turning their back porches and kitchens into makeshift science labs.
  6. chaise longue
    a long chair for reclining
    There was a long white chaise longue and two tall, curvy white armchairs.
    This is a term that you will often see misspelled. Longue means "long" in French, so literally it means "long chair." But because we lounge on a chaise longue, and those two words are so close, chaise lounge is the nonsensical, yet common, error that you'll encounter in print.
  7. chandelier
    an ornate branched lighting fixture
    Unlit chandeliers gather dust in a revolving rooftop restaurant that doesn’t revolve.
  8. console
    a small table designed to stand against a wall
    She’s also developing new objects, including a floor lamp and a mirror frame, to add to her white-plaster collection of lighting, consoles and side tables for the British design company Porta Romana.
  9. credenza
    a flat-topped piece of furniture for storage
    Troy’s ashes are in the credenza in her father’s dining room, next to a picture of him beaming and hoisting a beer.
    Though it's Italian rather than French, a credenza is essentially the same as a buffet.
  10. divan
    a long backless sofa, usually with pillows
    He was perched with his Chihuahua, Queenie, on a French divan upholstered in green velvet.
    In Persian, divan refers to both a private council or court and the couches upon which participants would sit.
  11. hassock
    a cushion for kneeling on
    I sat down in Dad’s chair in the living room and put my feet up on the hassock while the reporter and I talked.
    In Old English, a hassock was a dense clump of marsh grass. Whether this grass was used to stuff cushions for kneeling upon in church, or whether the cushions resembled those tufts of grass is unknown, but that's where the word comes from.
  12. ottoman
    a low seat or a stool to rest the feet of a seated person
    Under the light of a brass-stemmed floor lamp, a cognac leather armchair and white faux-fur ottoman anchor the designated reading spot.
    The Ottoman Empire was a huge area of Europe and the Middle East under the rule of Turkish Sultans for 600 years beginning in 1299. Because low, backless, upholstered stools were fashionable furniture, the name became applied to any such footstool in French and then made its way into English.
  13. sconce
    a decorative wall bracket for holding candles or lights
    Place wall sconces and floor lamps in strategic locations where you want to highlight wall decor.
  14. secretary
    a desk used for writing
    Secretarium is Latin for "separate" or "private." That's where the word secretary comes from, though with a likely detour through the French word escritoire, meaning "writing desk."
  15. settee
    a small sofa
    My house is all goth: black flock wallpaper, black settees, black gloss furniture, baroque-style ornaments.
    Settee probably derives from the word settle, as in settle down to rest.
  16. table
    furniture having a smooth flat top supported by legs
    The space looks like a cafe for loners: small round tables, six feet apart, with a single chair at each one.
  17. vanity
    low table with a mirror where one sits while dressing
    He swapped the dingy vanity for a new one featuring white cabinetry, a granite top and a white sink with brushed chrome faucet.
  18. wardrobe
    a piece of furniture that provides storage space for clothes
    Lockdown is a great time to rediscover pieces already in your wardrobe.
    If you've read the Narnia books, then you already know what a wardrobe is. If not, it's a large cupboard for hanging clothes inside, common in bedrooms without closets.
Created on April 11, 2020 (updated May 8, 2020)

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