Like any industry, interior design is rife with terminology and phraseology that is bantered about by professionals on a regular basis. While this is fine in a group of professional colleagues, it’s not quite fair when the audience includes those who are less familiar with interior design and/or the design-build realm.
If you are getting ready to plan an addition, remodel or renovation to your home, it’s a good idea to become loosely familiar with some of the design terms you’ll be hearing/reading on a regular basis. Not only will it help you to understand and communicate better with those in the business, it will enrich your online perusing of industry vendors and suppliers.
While I don’t want to bore you with a slew of terms you’ll never use, I do want to highlight fairly common terms that you’ll come across as you plan an upcoming interior design.
Ambient Lighting. Lighting design is integral to the way your interior design appears at different times of the day, or even during different seasons when natural light qualities vary. Ambient light is a particular quality of light, where light is softer, warmer and more “romantic”. Think cozy, intimate and relaxing.
Analogous Colors. Colors that are found next to each other on the color wheel. Examples would include things like orange and yellow, or blue and purple.
Baluster. These are the vertical supports that hold up the railing (called a balustrade) on a staircase. If you have stairs, the design you select for your balusters – whether simple or ornate – will have an impact on the adjacent living space.
Bas-Relief. Surface sculptures that are either slightly raised or slightly indented. This is a more high-falutin’ term, but if you live in a historical home or love traditional design elements, you may appreciate their restoration or addition to a ceiling or wall.
Base Molding. This is a trim piece that lives at the bottom of the wall, where the floor and wall meet. You may also see it called baseboard or base trim. From trim and sleek modern designs, to ornate traditional ones, base molding is available for every taste.
Casement Window. This type of window is usually narrow and it opens by swinging to the outside of the wall, from a side hinge.
Casing. These are the trim pieces that finish a window, hiding the seam between the window and the wall. Like base molding and other trim options, there are a wide range of styles to choose from.
Chair Rail. This trim piece runs horizontally along a wall, about three-feet from the floor. Chair rails usually span the entirety of a room. Common in old dining rooms, they were designed to protect the walls from chairs and sofas. Now, however, they’re installed more for looks than anything else.
Contemporary. This word simply means “of the current time period,” although it’s often used in place of “modern.” Thus, you can have a contemporary traditional kitchen design, as well as a contemporary, modern kitchen, depending on the appliances, materials and accents you select.
Corbel. A corbel is a decorative bracket that were originally designed to provide a more attractive form of support the bottom edge of a shelf, vent hood, mantel shelves and countertop overhangs. I say “originally designed to support” because if they are installed correctly, the can be a support. Sometimes, corbels are added purely for decorative purposes and provide no support whatsoever.
Crown Molding. This trim is found at the top perimeter of a wall at the juncture where it meets the ceiling. It adds a nicely polished touch to a room. If your home has low ceilings, crown molding can shrink the space so you want to choose the design and color carefully.
Double-Hung Windows. These are the most typical type of windows installed in homes. There are two vertical, sliding window sashes. Usually the bottom sash opens upward, although there are double-hung windows that can open by sliding the top sash down, nice when you live in an area with a temperate climate (extra ventilation), or to enjoy an open window while still gaining the benefit of a little privacy via the closed, blinded bottom half.
Engineered Wood Flooring. If you are interested in hardwood, you may want to consider engineered hardwood floors. They are pre-finished with a very durable finish at the factory, and can be walked on immediately after installation. They’re made real hardwood veneers over durable layers of plywood and adhesives.
Hue. Hue simply refers to any particular color you find on the color wheel. I’m including it because people often use hue and shade interchangeably when they aren’t actually the same thing. Shade will be defined below…
Joist. One of the series of parallel beams used to support floor and ceiling loads. This term becomes very relevant in interior design if you want to subtract walls or add to a room, as those decisions often depend joists and the presence (or absence) of other structural supports.
Modern. This is a specific design style, born in Europe during the WWII and post-war era, focused on minimalist ideals, simple lines, and sleek finishes.
Molding. A strip of wood that is applied to a wall to hide a seam and/or to add decorative appeal.
Mosaic. The process of using small tiles to create a pre-planned design, most commonly applied to backsplashes or shower/bath areas – but can also be added to walls, floors, outdoor walkways, table tops, etc.
Mullion. A vertical strip that divides a single piece of glass into multiple panes. These days, mullions are often “faux” (fake” decorative strips used between the panes of double- or triple-paned windows.
Muntin. Strips of wood that separates panes of glass in a window.
Ogee. This is a pointed arch that has a curve near the apex, but you’ll see it most often to describe an edge finish for countertops. It’s more decorative than bull-nosed (rounded) or straight edges.
Patina. This refers to resulting color/textural changes that occur to certain materials as they oxidize – most commonly copper, bronze or metals. These days, however, it is used to describe any finish material that has rusted, changed color or appears weathered.
Primary Color. There are three primary colors from which all other hues are made: red, yellow and blue.
Shade. Within a particular hue, there are varying shades. Adding black to any hue will yield a darker shade.
Soffit. The underside of an overhang or a lowered portion of ceiling, often used to hide plumbing, electrical and HVAC parts. However, they can often be removed and will add height to kitchens and bathrooms so don’t take them for granted.
Task Lighting. Bright, direct lighting that is installed over an area for a specific task, such as food preparation, reading or crafting. Depending on the fixture, placing task lighting on dimmers can transform it into ambient lighting.
Texture. A textbook definition of texture is the feeling or sensation experienced when one touches the exterior of an object.” The same inconsistencies that create texture have a visual affect as well, which is why texture is such a critical part of a well-rounded interior design.
Tint. Any color, or hue, mixed with white.
Tone. Any color, or hue, mixed with grey.
Traditional Design. Design styles that focus on woodwork, furniture-style cabinetry and accents, more ornate decoration and adornments, and more richly textured and higher-profile furniture and accessories.
Transitional Design. A design style that blends traditional and modern design elements together.
Universal Design. Designs that are thoughtfully planned to accommodate occupants’ needs as the result of age, size or physical disability. Universal designs are also called “accessible” or “livable” design and make sure homes and their living spaces can be used safely and enjoyed by all.
Valance. A decorative window treatment that is installed across the casing, and are usually combined with other window treatments like curtains, blinds and/or sheers.
Veneer. A thin piece of wood that is adhered to a different surface.
Vintage. Any furniture, accents, textiles, etc. that are more than 10- and less than 100-years old. After 100 years, they become antiques.
Wainscoting. Wood panels that cover the lower portions of walls, typically seen in traditional home design. Wainscoting is usually topped with some type of trim or molding.
Of course, this is only a brief excerpt of what could be a much more comprehensive list of interior design terms. However, this will give you a good start.