Following my recent trip to Paris, I have not been able to stop obsessing over all things French, especially those related to the decorating world. My obsession has turned into a dictionary of sorts, an ongoing and growing collection of French decorating terms no design aficionado can do without. This first collection centers around specific furniture items. I have paired each visual with a textile from the Calico Luxe collection, an assortment of timeless and chic textiles in a gorgeous neutral color palette. Enjoy!
Buffet à deux corps
One of the most favored types of antique furniture for French homes is the buffet, especially the antique buffet à deux corps, which allows its proud owners to store and display their finest heirlooms. The name literally translates to buffet with two bodies, which provided an ingenious type of storage and display case, plus it was able to be split into two component parts making it much easier to transport and deliver into the narrow doorways of homes of past centuries.
A bergère is an enclosed upholstered French armchair with an upholstered back, seat and armrests, but the rest of the wooden framing is exposed. A bergère is fitted with a loose, but tailored, seat cushion. It is designed for lounging in comfort, with a deeper, wider seat than that of a regular fauteuil. A bergère (which literally means shepherdess chair) in the eighteenth century was essentially a meuble courant, designed to be moved about to suit convenience, rather than being ranged permanently formally along the walls as part of the decor. A bergère may have a flat, raked back, in which case it is à la reine, or, more usually in Louis XV furnishings, it has a coved back, en cabriolet. A bergère with a low coved back that sweeps without a break into the armrests is a marquise.
Demi-lune refers to the top of a piece of furniture - usually a small table or commode - shaped like a semi-circle or a half-moon (the words demi lune translate to half-moon in French). Demi-lune can also refer to a semi-circular table with a drop-leaf that is flipped up to form a full circle. The flat side allowed the piece to be kept against a wall, to be moved into a room when needed - a typical practice in 18th-century rooms.
Created in the 19th century, the tête-à-tête is known by many names, including gossip’s chair, vis-à-vis and indiscret. It literally means head-to-head in French. In addition to allowing conversation, it traditionally allowed courting couples to make eyes at each other without actually touching. While a traditional tête-à-tête is composed of two single seats conjoined in a serpentine shape with a frame barrier between them, other configurations mimic the concept but may not include the dividing frame, like a tête-à-tête lounger, which is basically a chaise longue with two facing but opposing “heads.”
The opposite of the tête-à-tête is the boudeuse, a type of small upholstered sofa or loveseat of sorts, consisting of two seats sharing a common back, so that the sitters face in opposite directions. It is also known as a dos-à-dos (back-to-back in French). The French word boudeuse translates as sulky - typical, perhaps, of the mood of a pair of lovers who chose to sit facing away from each other on this type of seating.
A récamier is a type of light daybed that can double as a sofa. It has a curved headboard and correspondingly scrolled, but usually shorter, footboard. Developed in France in the 1790s, it was named for Madame Récamier, a Parisian hostess and style-setter pictured reclining on one in a famed portrait.
An escritoire is type of case furniture, usually a low desk, with a slant top. When open, this sloping lid forms a surface for writing or reading (the name derives from the French word écrire, meaning to write). Developed in the early 18th century, the escritoire grew out of - and the term can still apply to - a writing box or small cabinet with a drop-front and drawers or shelves that dates from the Middle Ages, probably from Spain.
A semainier is a chest of drawers, usually tall and thin, intended for storing linen and lingerie. It traditionally has seven drawers, one for each day of the week (the name derives from the French word, semaine, meaning week). Devoted to storage of a single type of clothing, this piece of case furniture was typical of the luxurious types of furniture developed in the Rococo period of the early 1700s.