Interior design terminology explained

Our handy glossary of the most commonly used terms in the building industry.
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Following on from our article Architectural terminology explained, never again be caught out, confused or too embarrassed to ask your architect, builder, tradesperson or designer what he or she is talking about with our handy glossary of the most commonly used terms in the building industry.

Below we list from A-Z key terms and their definitions relevant to interior spaces.


Acoustics (building acoustics)

Acoustics refer to the effective management of sound within a space. Acoustic design techniques can be employed through layout considerations and sound insulating materials to help to absorb or diffuse sound. Acoustics should be considered early on in a project.

AFF (above finished floor level)

An acronym used to denote heights of elements such as electrical outlets or to reference the height required for a light fitting.


An alcove is a recessed opening within a room.


A moulding applied horizontally along the top, and vertically along the sides of a doorway. Installed to conceal any join lines and allow for both shrinkage and movement between the door and the wall.


An atrium is a central garden area filled with light within an interior space.


Barn door

Barn doors are a style of door that are very popular in farmhouse, Hampton’s or coastal style homes. This type of door slides open and is hung from a track mounted to the wall outside of the room.

Bay window

Bay windows are a beautiful configuration on 3 angled walls that project outward beyond the exterior wall.


Bespoke is another term to describe something that is custom designed such as furniture or joinery. 


An angle that is formed between 2 straight lines that meet at a 90 degree.


Bouclé is a type of upholstery that has made a huge comeback this year. It could be described as cosy thick textile that contains nubby, looped yarn to create a soft texture.


Bullnose is a term used to describe the rounded edge finish of a material such as a benchtop, cabinetry paver, tile or even the edge of a wall. This type of fascia is beneficial as it is much less likely to chip, crack or break.


Case goods

Case goods refer to storage furniture that is sold in sets such as dressers and side tables.

Cavity sliding door (also known as a cavity slider or pocket door)

A cavity sliding door is a door that offers a great space saving solution as it does not swing out into a roof and is concealed by a hidden pocket recessed into the wall above it. 

Ceiling rose

Ceiling roses are often found in more traditional or classic style homes such as Victorian and Federation. They provide a lovely decorative element by way of moulded plaster mounted to the centre of the ceiling for a pendant light to be suspended from. 

Complimentary colours

A complimentary colour scheme consists of any two colours that are opposite to each other on the colour wheel.


Contrasting is where one element is strikingly different from another element within a space. Designers use contrast to create drama and interest in an interior so that the space doesn’t appear too matchy matchy. When contrasting is used to describe a colour scheme, it  is also referred to as a complimentary colour scheme. (See above).


A decorative, horizontal moulding that is fitted between the underside of the ceiling and the top of an interior wall. Generally made from plaster. 

Coffered ceiling

A coffer is a beautiful detail used to highlight a ceiling by  way of one or more sunken panels. This can be a variety of shapes such as a square, rectangle, oval or an octagon. This type of detail usually incorporates interesting accent lighting.


‘Curated’ refers to interior elements that have been carefully chosen with much thought and meticulously organised to create a space that appears eclectic, yet complimentary rather than all matching.


Decorative moulding

A decorative moulding is an architectural or interior feature that is made from plaster or wood. Types of decorative mouldings include; cornices, skirting boards, architraves, corbels, dado rails, panel mouldings and ceiling roses. 

Documentation (also known as a drawing package)

Design professionals refer to ‘documentation’ as a set of architectural or interior drawings that convey the information required for a project. This can include site plans, demolition plans, floor plans, finishes plans, lighting plans, structural engineering plans, land survey plans, elevations, sections, details and 3D visuals. These drawings are usually computer generated using CAD software and are drawn to scale. 


Drafting refers to the act of creating technical drawings that communicate how specific elements of a home are to be laid out and  constructed. A person who creates these drawings is known as a draftsperson or a drafter.


Elevation (interior elevation)

An elevation depicts a 2 dimensional interior view of a space as if you were looking at it from front on rather than from the top as you would see in a floor plan. Design elements and heights are shown on elevation drawings such as ceiling heights, built-in cabinetry heights, door heights etc.

Exposed beam (truss)

Exposed beams are a popular design feature often found in farmhouse, Hampton’s or coastal style homes where timber beams are positioned on the underside of what is usually a vaulted or angled ceiling. They are often left in a natural finish or painted white.



Some interior wall panels, wall tiles, joinery designs or sculptural art may be faceted in their design. Textured stone feature walls and textured 3D panels have become common for both interior and exterior applications. 

Fall (within wet areas)

A fall is a floor gradient within a shower area where the floor slopes slightly toward a drain to avoid flooding.


The term faux refers to a design element or finish that is artificially manufactured to imitate the look of an authentic material.

Feng shui

Originating from China, Feng Shui is a design principle that focuses on arranging an environment in a way that creates balance and harmony to encourage the flow of positive energy and enhance well being.

Finishes (also known as interior finishes)

Finishes are all of the decorative materials that are selected for a home. They fall into 2 categories; hard and soft finishes. Examples of hard finishes are stone, timber flooring, tiles, paint etc. Soft finishes are fabrics, carpets, window treatments etc.

Focal point

An interior designer will always be sure to bring a defining feature or ‘focal point’ to a room that draws the eye into space and creates interest.

Fluted (also known as ribbed)

Fluted refers to a design element that has grooves or ridges. Fluted forms are extremely popular for joinery elements such as kitchen islands, bathroom vanities or glass.

French doors

French doors are double doors that swing all the way back to sit open against a wall.
Generally they are designed to have glass panels and mullions running from the top to the bottom.

French polisher

A French polisher is a craftsman who can assist to restore wooden furniture and timber flooring. ‘French polish’ can also be a wood finishing technique that creates a highly polished or gloss surface by applying shellac and denatured alcohol with a variety of oils.


GPO (general power outlet)

A GPO is just another name for power point or socket outlet.



A hue is a term often used to describe a colour. In colour theory a hue refers to the origin of a pure colour such as a Primary or Secondary colour, without the addition of any tint (white), tone (grey) or shade (black).



An island is the freestanding (or floating) cabinetry unit that sits within the centre of a kitchen. An island can be used for sitting at, for storage and even cooking or washing up if a hot plate or sink is installed.



A junction is a point where two or more elements meet such as a wall junction, a joinery junction, a ceiling junction etc.



A term that is used in kitchen design to describe the fascia board that runs across the recess at the bottom of a floor-mounted base cabinet. Their purpose is to hide the internal cabinet legs from view.



Laminate is a synthetic material used for benchtops, cabinetry and timber look flooring. Popular laminate manufacturers are Polytech and Laminex.


Layering is a term used by interior designers when referring to placement of decorative accents. Basically meaning to successfully combine and balance elements such colour, shape and texture by way of introducing art, rugs, throw blankets, cushions to add dimension to a room.

Lighting types:

  • Ambient lighting
    Ambient lighting actually refers to general lighting such a downlighting, pendant lighting, ceiling or wall mounted lights etc. 
  • Accent lighting
    Accent lighting is a type of lighting used to highlight particular elements within or around the home such as artwork, cabinetry or garden elements.
  • Task lighting
    Task lighting is very important for areas that require a focal point or directional light that is brighter than that of ambient lighting, without being glarey but strong enough to prevent eye strain such as; in the home office, a reading area, a workshop or cooking space. 



A Mezzanine floor is an intermediate floor construction within a room or space that’s between a floor and a ceiling or between a floor and a roof. A mezzanine floor does not extend the full area of the room or floor space.


A monochromatic colour scheme consists of two, three or more tones of one colour. Usually from pale, to medium to darker shades along with accents of full colour purity.


A mullion is a vertical element that divides up the glass sections of a window or door. 



A niche is a recessed space within a wall used for storage, or to house a decorative element such as a sculpture or artwork. A niche is commonly used in a bathroom shower for products to be stored.


Parquetry (parquet flooring)

Parquetry refers to the design layout of timber flooring that has a geometric chevron type pattern.

Partition Wall (also known as stud wall)

A partition wall is a wall that’s sole purpose is to divide rooms. It is not load bearing and is usually constructed with timber studs and gyprock/plasterboard cladding.


A patina is a lovely naturally occurring finish that comes with an aging finish such as copper or brass. 


Plaster is a material used for the protective and decorative coating of walls and ceilings and for moulding and casting decorative elements.


A pelmet sits above a curtain to conceal the track and provides an additional decorative element. 

Pivot door

A pivot door is usually used for a front door to create a grand modern statement. It swings open by rotating on a spindle as opposed to butt hinges affixed to a frame. Pivot doors are wider and heavier than a standard hinged door.

Popcorn ceiling (acoustic ceiling or stucco ceiling)

A popcorn ceiling dates back to around the ’70s. It was a quick and easy way to finish a ceiling by spraying a textured finish onto the ceiling to hide imperfections. It has a dimpled finish that works to reduce sound. 


Masonry wall

A masonry wall is a load bearing wall that combines mortar with either brick, stone or concrete blockwork.


Melamine is a cheaper alternative to laminate. It is similar in its compound but cheaper to produce and not as hard wearing.


A ‘mitre’ is a type of join where the 2 adjoining edges are cut on a 45 degree angle to create a nice corner finish. 


Raked ceiling

A raked ceiling is found in a lot of 80’s built homes and has become highly sought after today. A rake is basically a ceiling with a higher incline than that of a flat level ceiling. It makes a home feel much more spacious and airy.

Return bench (peninsula)

Is similar to an island in that it's a work bench with a top, however instead of being freestanding free in the centre of the kitchen, one end is attached to a wall.


Sconce (wall sconce)

A sconce is a type of light fixture that is fixed to a wall. The light is usually, but not always, directed upwards and outwards, rather than down. Sconces are popular for home exterior entries, entry foyers, living areas and more recently, bathrooms and kitchens


SketchUp is a 3D modeling computer software program used by many interior designers to sketch interior and exterior spaces.

Skirting (skirting board)

A skirting board is a moulding made from MDF which can be painted and is used to protect and conceal the join between the floor and the base of a wall.

Smart home automation (smart home technology)

Smart home automation uses advanced technology to automate a home by controlling almost every aspect through the Internet of Things (IoT).  It can be used for home security, monitoring energy use, controlling appliances and for assisting disabled and elderly people.

Solid surface

A solid surface is material typically used for creating benchtops in bathrooms and kitchens. It is made from acrylic resin, polyester resin or a combination of the two that is then combined with filler, colour pigments and acrylic chips. It is a popular alternative to quartz or natural stone as it can be cut, routed and sanded like wood and formed into countertops, shower walls, external cladding for buildings, signage and furniture where non-porosity and infrequent maintenance are important.

Solid surfaces will vary in quality and price.

Square edge

A square edge is a term used to describe a kitchen benchtop edge profile.
It provides a more modern style compared to that of a bullnose, chamfered or pencil round edge benchtop. 

Stair terms:

  • Balustrade – The protective enclosure to a landing or flight of stairs with a handrail, string or balusters.
  • Balusters – The individual vertical members of a balustrade infill. These can be timber, metal or wire. 
  • Tread – The horizontal surface of a step which one treads or steps on by foot.
  • Riser – The vertical closing members at the back of a tread. (A riser is not a requirement as a tread can be left open). 
  • Stringer – The inclined member on each side of a flight to which treads and risers are fixed.
  • Handrail – Is a legal requirement to offer support to a person ascending or descending the stairs and must be strong enough to assist someone who may stumble. 
  • Nosing – The front edge of the step which projects beyond the face the riser immediately below it or front edge of the step if no riser exists.
  • Landing – The platform between 2 flights of stairs

Stud wall

A stud wall is timber framed constructed wall in which cladding such as plasterboard is applied.

Suspended ceiling

A suspended ceiling is a ceiling framework and lining system that is suspended from structural support. This type of ceiling can be used to conceal beams and ducts.


Thermal insulation

Thermal insulation can be provided by a selection of building materials that can control the loss and gain of heat in a home. Thermal insulation can be installed in the roof or walls of a home. Examples of types of insulation are batts, loose fill, boards or foam.


An interior trim refers to the moulding or millwork used to frame doors, windows, walls, ceilings or floors. These decorative elements define the style of a room and make a space appear more high end and well finished.


Turnkey refers to a home that is completely finished and move-in ready with everything included in the price.



A veneer is the term used for a material that can be used for furniture, built-in cabinetry panels or wall panelling. It is made from paper thin slices of timber that can be adhered with glue to flat vertical surfaces, typically plywood or MDF panels.

Venetian plaster

Venetian plaster is a beautiful type of interior or exterior wall finish which is generally applied by a skilled craftsman. Authentic Venetian plaster contains real marble dust which adds to the lustre of the finish. It doesn’t come cheap but a similar effect can be achieved using Dulux Acratex’s Venetian Plaster collection.


A vestibule is a small entry or foyer area that leads into a larger space such as an entry hall lobby.

VJ panelling (shiplap)

VJ panelling was one of the biggest trends of 2020 and still going strong. VJ stands for vertical join and the panelling is made from highly impact-resistant MDF which can be painted any colour. It is used to clad interior walls and lends itself well to Hamptons, Coastal and Farmhouse style homes. For bathroom applications, there is a moisture-resistant version. 


Wainscotting (beadboard or vertical “v” lining board)

Wainscotting is a decorative wall panelling / moulding that can be applied in various styles and profiles that finish part way up a wall, or in some instances can be full height to the underside of the ceiling. Traditionally wainscotting was made from timber. Today pine or MDF are popular choices and are usually painted.

Waterfall edge

A waterfall edge is the term used to describe a particular style of island bench and side panel configuration. This design utilises a 90 degree angle at the end of the countertop. The countertop turns toward the floor and continues down the side of the island and has a mitred join where the benchtop and side panel meet. (Rather than simply ending with a definitive benchtop with a side panel sitting below it). 

WELS rating

WELS stands for Water Efficiency Labelling and Standard. This Australian Government labeling scheme was initiated to assist Australian households to conserve both water and money. Most plumbing products (such as tapware and showerheads) and white goods such as (washing machines and dishwashers) will have a WELS rating. 

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