The Designer’s Dictionary

Have you ever felt lost in a conversation about interior design? You’re not alone! Designers sometimes use words unfamiliar to us “normies” when it comes to architecture and interiors, but not to worry. In order to help you feel more empowered and confident in your design conversations, we are breaking down the most common designer lingo. Welcome to the Designer’s Dictionary!

Decorator vs Designer

You may think of HGTV when you think of interior design, but the furnishing and accessorizing of a finished house is actually describing interior decorating. Decorators have an eye for aesthetic and can piece together furniture, art and accessories, but don’t have professional training. An interior designer has years of schooling and training in necessary tools and skills (like creating construction documents) because of the complexity of their work. Interior designers may decorate, but they are also involved before the project breaks ground, creating the overall look and feel of the interiors. They design everything from interior architectural detailing to curating custom pieces. Here at KTI, we are proud to be in the designer category!

Couch vs Sofa

Nearly every designer you meet will have a strong opinion on this one — and majority agree — it’s a sofa, not a couch. While it can be argued that “couch” sounds lower-end and “sofa” sounds more sophisticated, this is really just based on personal preference, but we are definitely team sofa!

Curtains vs Drapery

These terms actually do mean different things although they are commonly used interchangeably. Curtains are fabric panels that hang over your windows, but are typically shorter than drapes. Drapes are often higher quality, lined fabric panels that are designed to block out light and cover floor-to-ceiling. Since there are numerous drapes in one home, we bucket them all together as “drapery.”

Wallpaper vs Wallcovering

While both terms are correct, there are a few key differences between the two. Wallpaper has been around for centuries, is traditionally made from paper, and comes in narrow rolls used for residential spaces. You can even customize your own wallpaper with unique patterns. Wallcoverings were originally developed as a protective wall finish in the 70’s. They’re now mostly made from vinyl and are durable, impact resistant, fire protected, cleanable — typically used in commercial spaces.

Casework vs Millwork

These terms are used to describe details made from wood, but there’s a slight difference between the two. Millwork is usually bespoke, custom built for a client’s specific needs — this can be wood beams, feature walls, or built-in cabinetry. Casework describes factory made, modular wood detailing added on-site like door framing, crown molding, base boards, and trim.

Harp vs Harp

If you’ve never heard this term in an interior design setting, you might think it’s a musical instrument. In interior design, “harp” refers to the metal piece that holds a lamp shade. It looks a little like a wishbone!

Custom vs Made to order

Custom and made-to-order have a key difference. A custom piece is something that isn’t available to everyone. It’s a piece that is specifically made for one order, like this custom leather detailed dining table. A made-to-order piece is available to everyone, but not typically kept in stock. The fabricator will start crafting the product when the order is placed.

Under-mount vs drop-in

These terms refer to the look and installation of sinks. An under-mount sink sits under the countertop so the counter can come all the way to the edge of your sink, for easy cleaning and a sleek look. A drop-in sink is easier to install and typically a lower cost option, but provides less counter space as the sink is raised and sits atop the countertop.

Pendant vs Chandelier

Hanging lights — there are so many kinds! The only difference between a pendant and chandelier is that a pendant has one singular bulb and hangs independently; while a chandelier is larger, usually has multiple lightbulbs and multiple appendages. Both can be stunning!

Broadloom carpet vs Carpet tile

Do you like your carpet whole or sliced? Broadloom carpet is made to stretch wall-to-wall and is made in 12 or 15 foot increments, while carpet tiles are like carpet squares, being laid side-by-side to fill a room. Carpet tiles are typically cheaper because they limit waste and are easier to replace when damaged, so they are often used in commercial spaces.

Brickset vs Straight-set

These terms are used to describe the pattern of laying tiles. Brick set means each row of tiles is offset, so they lay like a traditional brick pattern. A straight set is well, straight! All the tiles are lined up perfectly from top to bottom.

Thanks for reading along! We hope this helps you feel more informed in your next conversation with an interior designer. What other words should be in our dictionary? Let us know at!