Do you ever see the same furniture terms over and over, particularly with antiques? Well, come to think of it, French antiques? And, you feel kind of lame because the description gets rattled off as if they are saying it’s a red chair?
Since I look at furniture a lot, seeing this unknown furniture terminology frequently happens. However, I’m supposed to know all of this stuff! And, while I probably do know more than the average non-designer person, there are many furniture terms that I’ve had to look up.
Since they have made such gorgeous furniture for centuries, many antiques are French. Therefore, it makes sense that they use their native tongue. Besides, a bergère or fauteuil sounds more valuable than “armchair.”
Still, I bet most of you already know that bergère and fauteuil are chairs. No problem if you don’t, however.
What’s the difference between a Bergère and a Fauteuil?
A Bergère (pronounced BEAR – ZHAIR) is an upholstered armchair with closed sides. However, the wood frame of the chair is exposed. Please listen to this smexy man say it correctly. lol
Below are some Bergère chairs.
A Fauteuil (pronounce FO – TEYE-YA (but the ‘a’ is 95% silent) is an armchair with open sides. As is, the Bergère, the seat, and the back are upholstered, leaving the wooden frame exposed.
Below are some Fauteuil chairs
Here’s a good example of a furniture term that I see ALOT!
I probably see it because I love looking for cool side-tables.
The furniture term is BOUILLOTTE.
First of all, Americans should never be presented with a word with three different vowels in a row, followed by two Ls. We have enough of a problem with O and U together, as it is, but now, they’ve really messed with our heads by sneaking in the Letter i.
For us trying to figure out how to say the word bouillotte reminds me of Austin Power’s fembots, just before their heads explode.
What’s seriously sad in my case is that I studied French for four years in high school, and I still struggle to pronounce this word. We have a similar word, adopted from the French word– “bouillon.” Of course, we botch that pronunciation, too, with our American bool – yoN, when it should be boo – yahn. Please don’t hit the roof of your mouth with your tongue at the end. The N is a nasal sound in the back of the throat.
I know. But, that is why the French sound so charming when they speak English, and most of us sound painful when trying to speak French.
Therefore, the correct pronunciation of bouillotte is boo – yaht, or even better, BOO – YAGHT, kind of like gargling.
So, now that we know how to say it, what IS a bouillotte?
Well, a bouillotte in furniture terms refers to either a table or a lamp with a rather fascinating history.
There is a gambling game called Bouillotte that is the predecessor of our modern-day poker. The game was quite popular with the upper classes in 18th-century France and later in the mid-19th century US.
The players played at a round table called a bouillotte table. I’m not sure if the game is still played today or not. If anyone knows the answer to that, please let us know.
A Bouillotte table was typically large enough to comfortably seat four or more people and pretty much regular dining table height. 29″ +/-
Well, they seem to be a jolly bunch. But, here, we can see some folks playing at the Bouillotte table.
Another version via Clark Art Institute
The bouillotte tables typically had a marble or leather surface area with a brass gallery. They also came with one or two drawers for the cards and chips. And, then, two small pullout trays.
I saw in two articles that the trays were for lighting. However, that doesn’t make sense since it would be quite precarious putting a lamp with candles on a ledge so tiny. I think it’s more likely a place to put a drink or a place to set their cards down.
Below, are some beautiful Bouillotte tables, both vintage and antique. (please click on any image for more info)
These are all over 30″ in diameter. They could be used for a game or center hall table if 27″ or taller. Or, they could also be used as a table between two wing chairs.
If you click on any of the images, most of them show the drawers and pull-out flaps.
Another French table that is sometimes mistaken for a Bouillotte is a Guéridon.
Although there are far worse crimes.:]
A Guéridon is a lamp or occasional table. The original guéridons were created in France during the mid-17th century. Often, mythological creatures were used for the legs, but not always.
Below are some antique gueridon tables.
While many are small tables, I found one gorgeous 33″ diameter gueridon.
However, sometimes you will see a table in one listing identical to another and they call one a bouillotte and one a guéridon. In comparison, a small bouillotte can function as a guéridon, but not usually the other way around.
But, here’s the thing that’s disturbing me about these particular furniture terms.
Many of the tables I see on sites like Chairish and 1stDibs feature beautiful bouillotte tables, but they are pretty low, even for a side table. Some are only 21″-23″ high and with a diameter of about 24″. There is no way to get four people around a table that tiny. Plus, it would get rather tiring to be bending over that much.
Therefore, I’m concluding that this is some sort of chairless version of the game? Or, maybe as the game of bouillotte was the predecessor to poker, perhaps the lower bouillotte table is for, the earlier version of another kind of poker?
Original image of Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (luncheon on the grass) oil on canvas 1863
Now, those low Bouillotte tables make a lot of sense.
I never knew how much my early art history studies would come in handy one day. ;]
Below are five Bouillotte tables, all 23″ high and under, if you’re looking for a low round end table.
So, the players could see after dark; they used a type of lamp with one or more candles called a bouillotte lamp.
Oh, you’ve seen these. They’re immensely popular in traditional style decor. The top shade was usually made of tole. And the shade can be lowered around a center stanchion as the candles burn lower.
There are dozens of variations on a theme with various candles and shade styles and sizes. Below is a mini-widget showing some of the different types, but not all of them.
Another frequently seen furniture term isn’t the name of a particular piece of furniture, but it’s a name I see ALL OF THE TIME.
Maison means house. Therefore, House of Jansen.
Maison Jansen was a Parisian interior decorating firm founded in 1880 by Dutch designer Jean-Henri Jansen. Jansen is considered the first truly international design firm. Their designs have a distinctive, new-classical look. They are generally less weighty, and they frequently use ebonized wood, brass, and other sophisticated materials.
Another Maison you will hear bantered around is Maison Baguès.
Maison Baguès was founded by Noël Baguès in 1860. Initially in liturgical bronzes, the Company began producing lighting when son Eugène joined in 1880. It became famous internationally as a creator of art lighting featuring gorgeous crystal motifs.
Below, I’ve put together a widget with over 40 vintage and antique items from Maison Baguès and Maison Jansen. Some of it is “in the manner of,” and some is the real deal.
Well, this was fun. I hope you enjoyed learning more about some of these furniture terms! I know I learned a lot researching the post.
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Thank you very much for this. Excellent information, as always.
To Cris S.
I think you are referring to a pierced brass gallery.
I have no source but a metal ( brass) fabricator can do this.
Hope that helps.
Oh my! I have a bouillotte lamp sitting in my basement! I love it but didn’t know how to incorporate it into my French style of decorating! Thanks to your great info, I am digging it out and find a place for it! YAY!
LOVE! LOVE! LOVE YOUR BLOG!
Kathryn @ Maison de Witte
Would you, Laurel, or any of the knowledgeable readers, be kind enough to share what the brass filigree strip around the table tops is called (and even where to buy it)? I see it lining tables or on the edges of bookcases and have searched and searched for a place to buy lengths of it, but no luck at all! Clearly I haven’t been using the right term and now here are so many examples of its use. Any help is appreciated!
Laurel – best of luck with the holiday party!
I’ve tried once again to appreciate “le style francais” but, alas, not a single of the 40 items in your widget appealed to me. I suppose I’ll always be firmly in the camp of “le style anglais”, but it’s good to re-examine one’s passions once in a while to determine whether anything has changed.
So glad that you identified the Bergère chair as one with closed sides. It drives me crazy when I read an open sided chair labeled as a Bergère.
Thanks for the thanks, Laurel! It’s good for me to have to learn a bit more.
The story of the origin of the name “guéridon” is fascinating if a little confused. It’s the name of a character in a farce of 1614, a rustic who spoke in sententious aphorisms, and who became the hero of a song, his name becoming part of the refrain. From there he got into a ballet, also in 1614. But at the same date, a refrain formed from “o gué laridon” was used in satirical songs to refer to whoever was being laughed at (that’s the “laridon” bit). And thus, says the TLF, the name was perhaps applied to this small table, which had a single leg often in human shape, especially of a Moor, in reference to the character standing alone holding a flaming torch at the centre of the “branle de la torche” dance while the other dancers kissed when they weren’t singing the refrain. Apparently the earliest, seventeenth-century guéridon was what today is called a “torchère”, i.e. a human figure holding a candelabra.
I vouch for Laurel’s Blogger pdf! It’s got everything you need. No need to look elsewhere.
Thanks for the french furniture post. I will now sound more French the next time I go to France.
Oh, thank you so much, Michelle! Actually, it’s my favorite guide. It’s not that the others aren’t good. It’s just that one is full of things that my wise mentors imparted to me. And, it’s advice I never would’ve found out otherwise. I miss my Eileen Lonergan so much!
Hahaha. “another kind of poker” ! I’ll never see that painting again without a laugh.
Thanks for the informative post. I got a kick out of the French pronunciation lesson. Being Canadian, I have a tiny advantage over some of my American neighbours, but I’m English-speaking and still struggle. I do agree one should make an effort.
I’m into Annie Sloan chalk paint. Many of her colours have French names, including the fabulous Antibes (On-TIBE). I watched a lovely, talented southern belle presenting a YouTube video and happily calling it “ANT- i-bees.” If one is going to stock, sell, and promote a product, one should at least try to get the name correct, n’est pas?
Here in Canada, our First Nations are reclaiming their lands, cultures, languages, and rights after centuries of colonialism and disenfranchisement. This process brings me much joy. However, place names, such as streets, libraries, and community centres are beginning to be named in local languages. I am woefully ignorant and completely lost. How does one pronounce a word like sx”enx”tenex”? And that spelling isn’t even correct because the n has a long, curved tail on it. Always learning…
I wish you a wonderful holiday season and I hope your party is FABULOUS!!
I recently purchased a pair of old/antique lamps ($25) which have small porcelain bases and sockets near the base, and an extremely long center rod. They came without lampshades, and I was trying to figure out what the shades would need to look like to cover the bulbs but not overwhelm the small base. Light dawns. These are “bouillotte” lamps, apparently. I now know what shades to look for.
Good morning Laurel,
I used to never care for French antiques. I always thought I preferred English. But you’ve expanded my views on it. So many of the items in the widgets you included are lovely.
And thank you for the history lesson. It makes me appreciate these pieces even more.
Please keep up the education for all of us!
I really, really enjoy “Laurel’s Interior Design Courses”!
Hi Laurel…great post. I always loved those Maison Baguès crystal bird sconces. About 20 years ago, when I first came across them (probably in Traditional Home) I fell in love with them. The real thing was always too expensive for me…but I always hunted for them…hoping someone on EBay would have a less expensive pair.
On a shopping expedition with my husband ages ago…we came across a pretty good knockoff for about $800. My husband vetoed it – he thought it was WAY too expensive!
Well, one day I hope to own them! I’ll keep looking.
Better, than $8,000, or more! Maybe one day, someone will be having an estate sale and won’t know what they are and you’ll take them “off their hands” for eight dollars! haha
Another great read Laura! I’ll never mispronounce bergere again. Thank you for always helping us to learn! Happy Holidays! And love the little tree!
Just to complicate things: I’m from French Canada, and the word “fauteuil” in current usage refers to any armchair. Those behemoth recliners, for instance, are “fauteuils inclinants.” Even a wheelchair is a “fauteuil roulant.”
I own a Fauteuil with an ottoman. (Never knew what to call it:) I have it tucked into a bay window alcove where it gets great morning light. It’s flanked by a Tommy Bahama daybed with high headboard and footboard, all in my 1860s sea captain’s house. My German friend walked in and exclaimed, “It looks like a French atelier!” (Must have been the Fauteuil. lol)
Thanks for an interesting post, Laurel.
Just an extra bit of info, Laurel. I was surprised at your definition of a guéridon, so went and checked it. In your photo, only tables 3 and 5 true guéridons, even though the term is now sometimes used for any small but not low occasional table. Having been corrected myself in France by the knowledgeable, the defining feature is the single leg. But the TLF below hedges its bets by saying “généralement”!
Here is the TLF definition: “Petite table, généralement ronde et à pied central unique, de facture élégante, supportant le plus souvent des objets légers, décoratifs on non.” (Small table, usually round and with a single central leg, of elegant design, carrying mostly lightweight objects which may be decorative or functional.) PS TLF = Trésor de la langue française, the authoritative dictionary which supersedes all the earlier ones.
Thank you for being our sleuthing “French Connection” lol! I’m always thinking of you as I’m writing these posts which are heavy on French terms. Plus, I do my best to get all of the accents in.
Strip poker! Ha! Who knew it began with a low Bouillotte! 😉
Great read, Laurel. Thank your for this valuable history lesson.