Trompe L’eoil wallpaper - Old Bookshelf Wallpaper by Young & Battaglia
Old Bookshelf Wallpaper by Young & Battaglia is an example of Trompe L’eoil | Image ©

The world of interior design is often not a simple one. Having a glossary to hand to explain the complex concepts that you’ll discover as you design the home of your dreams is useful. Guest writer Janine Saal continues her guide to demystify some of the key terms.

In compiling the first volume of our décor glossary, I realised it’s easy to make faux pas with the complex terminology thrown around by architects and design experts. So at the risk of turning this into a franchise, here are another ten terms to commit to memory that could be useful in the course of creating your ideal spaces.


1) Trompe l’œil

Young & Battaglia Old Bookshelf Wallpaper
Old Bookshelf Wallpaper by Young & Battaglia | Image ©

In French the term itself means to “fool the eye”. Appearing as two dimensional images that appear to be three dimensional objects or sceneries, such a design is an optical illusion. It’s a great addition to use in small spaces as wallpaper or even as flooring.


2) Oxford flap

Decor glossary - Oxford flap
Scatter cushions with an Oxford Flap | Image ©

A term often found in bedroom linens, pillow cases and cushions, an Oxford flap traditionally describes a border or flap of around 50-100mm around the edges of a cushion. It’s a good idea to incorporate this kind of stitched finish in living room linens and cushion covers to give your scatters a more tailored look. Mixed with the plain look, Oxford flaps create stand-out and make features of your soft furnishings.


3) Gusset

Decor glossary - gusset
Yellow and Gray Gate Outdoor Gusset Chair Cushion | Image ©

That piece of fabric frequently found in fashion design, sewn into a seam to allow tight-fitting fabric to give a little, also has a role to play in interior decoration. Incorporating a gusset in furniture design usually functions to make the piece sturdier or add dimensional space – it could be a bracket strengthening the angle of a structure (such as a wall mounted bookshelf or hanging basket) or an additional piece of material sewn in to a linen cover to enlarge its dimensions (like a sofa cover).


4) Wave track

Decor glossary - wave track curtain
Wave track curtain fittings offer seamless movement | Image ©

Out of the myriad of curtain systems there are, the wave track system is one of my favourites to add to any home. The name is quite self-explanatory: it creates a loop like that of a wave when hanging your curtains, making for quite an elegant and sophisticated finish. If you’re tasked with making your own curtains, it’s also one of your easiest solutions as it requires very little pleated finishing – all of the work is done by your sliding hook & bar system instead.


5) Voile

Decor glossary - voile
Voile Curtain in Popsical White | Image ©

A fabric made mainly out of sheer cotton. It literally translates from the French meaning “veil”. Because of its delicate nature it’s mostly used for curtains but can also be used for that four poster bed you always wanted or act as a mosquito net. It adds lightness to rooms and is often used in dressmaking to add soft layers to a garment, closely resembling chiffon.


6) Pinch Pleat

Decor glossary - pinch pleat
A standard pinch pleat curtain finish | Image ©

Keeping with the curtain theme, this is another system that creates a crisp and elegant appearance to any space. The name explains the look of the curtain – three small repeated pleats that are pinched together with a stitch. It was adapted from the more traditional Butterfly Pleat style but this one offers a more contemporary look.


7) Ticking

Decor glossary - ticking stripe
Ticking Stripes – Red on White Wallpaper | Image ©

A type of pattern that consists of tightly spaced lines next to each other. Ticking stripes form a popular pattern used for anything from cushions and upholstery to wallpaper. Depending where you use it, it can lengthen your space or function as a classic style in your decoration. Traditionally, it was used for durability and to prevent down feathers from poking through the fabric.


8) Semenier

Decor glossary - semenier
Tall narrow chest of drawers | Image ©

This is a tall narrow dresser consisting of 5-7 drawers and usually used to house delicates but can be used for anything from housing stationery or those precious cutlery pieces you only take out during special occasions. This type of cupboard would normally be used in the bedroom but can also be a functional and aesthetically pleasing addition to dining spaces too.


9) Pret-a-porter

Decor glossary - Pret-a-Porter
Casamania’s Pret-à-Porter Mirror | Image ©

Again inherited from the French, this term literally means ‘ready to wear’. Predominantly used in fashion for ready to wear clothing, in interior decoration and design it applies to all ready to pick-up-and-use furniture. These furniture items are great if you tend to move things around a lot. Italian firm Casamania is one company that does this very well.


10) Passementerie

Decor glossary - Passementerie
Ornate passementerie in the Rococo style | | Image ©

From the French passement, which means braiding, it has come to indicate the use of decorative trimmings such as tassels, tiebacks, and ornamental braids. The result is a very ornate style – first used in 1794, it’s a design feature synonymous with the Rococo style and in traditional terms can be a challenge to work into contemporary interiors. Though with the resurgence of natural yarns and woven fabrics like wool, modern interpretations or passementerie are having something of a renaissance.

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Are there more interior design concepts you want explained?

Tell us what they are in the comments below or sends us an #askDECO tweet @ELLE_Deco.

Janine Saal headshotDeco guest writer Janine is a CPUT graduate and loves anything and everything to do with design and décor. Her passion lies in helping the everyday reader to understand the wide world of interior design. Currently she is working for Collaboration in Woodstock where her passion meets execution. She is a yogi in the morning, a designer by day and writer/avid series fanatic at night. You can follow her in Instagram too.