Design Dictionary

Below are a list of frequently used terms.


Design elements showing general forms, rather than a detailed, realistic representation

Accent Lighting
Controlled and focused light used to accent interior elements or architectural details

Decorative objects of art, lighting, plants, area rugs and wall hangings added to an interior space to enhance and reinforce the design style.

Acrylic Paint
A type of paint with high pigment levels and good colour retention. Acrylic paint is made up of a synthetic resin and is similar to latex. It is fast-drying and the end result can be compared to a water colour or oil painting

Effect of sound produced in an enclosed space

Plastic resins used in making synthetic fibers as a coating or to bind pigment

Architecture & Design

Adaptable Design
Accessible features changing the original use or appearance of the design

Tacky material, like glue, mastic, paste or rubber cement, which secures one object to another

Steep, pitched roof forming a gable in an “A” shape

American Institute of Architects

Recessed area adjacent to a larger space, typically enclosed on three sides, often with a lower ceiling.

The amount of money that might be allowed to purchase a particular item in the construction budget for a house.

Aluminum Paint
It’s a type of paint with a metallic-looking finish. This finish comes from aluminum particles contained within the paint base.

Ambient light
Measurement of the overall illumination of a room from reflected sunlight or overhead lighting applications

Materials and characteristics of American history, civilization and culture

Analogous Colour
Colours adjacent to each other on the color wheel. COMPLIMENTARY, PRIMARY, SECONDARY, TERTIARY

Yarn made from Angora rabbit hair

Aniline Dye
Fabric and leather dye made from coal tar

All items, including accessories, art, buildings, furnishings, lighting, sculpture, statuary and other personal possessions, over 100 years old.

Antique Satin
Satin weave fabric with slubs imitating 18th-Century spun Shantung silk

A set of related rooms in a single building or in a larger group of buildings with multiple units rented to tenants. See Abode, Bungalow, Cottage, Domicile, Dwelling, Farm, Farmhouse, Home, House, Loft, Manor, Mansion, Ranch House, Studio, Villa

Electrical or gas fixtures designed to perform specific tasks; refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, humidifier, microwave, compactor, purifiers, toaster, blender, etc.

Appliance Garage
Enclosed cabinet for kitchen appliances

Decorations sewn onto fabric or added to an existing surface

Horizontal member or decorative band mounted below a work surface, attached to side vertical elements for support and stability; raised panel below a window sill.

An open or closed series of arches supported by columns used along passageways, courtyards or porches

Motifs resembling three-dimensional architectural elements and ornamentation; pertaining to architecture

Architectural Style
Specific or recognizable attributes in architecture. See “DESIGN STYLES: ARCHITECTURE, INTERIORS & FURNISHINGS”

Originally wedge-shaped stones cut to span an opening; now seen as curved openings in doorways, windows, cabinetry, or cornice treatments. See PALLADIAN ARCH, EYEBROW ARCH, GOTHIC ARCH

Lowest section of an entablature, placed just above a column capital, or a series of moldings surrounding an opening

Length x width of floor space.

Originally large cabinet or wardrobe used for storing clothes, often converted into entertainment or computer center

Objects of artistic expression, i.e. paintings, pottery, sculpture, etc.

Art Glass
Any form of decorative glass including beveled glass, cut, etched, hand-blown, leaded or stained glass

An individual who creates. See CRAFTSMAN

American Society of Interior Designers

Small convex molding, sometimes with a repetitive beaded detail

Elements positioned off center to one another

Attic Fan
Large circulating fan mounted in the attic to move air throughout a building

An estimate of the value of property by an authorized appraiser.

A licensed professional who leads a design team in the renovation and planning of commercial or residential spaces. An architect also oversees and advises on the creation of the design. In its broadest sense, an architect is the person who translates a user’s requirements into a built environment.

Architects are required to obtain specialized education and experience to obtain a license to practice architecture. The requirements for practice vary from place to place.

Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can be separated into fibers. These fibers were very attractive to the construction and insulation industry due to its strength, stability and fire resistance. It was later discovered that exposure over a long period to this material would cause various types of lung cancer.

Assessed Value
The value assigned to a given property by the municipality for the purpose of establishing realty taxes payable by the owner of the property.

Area Rug
A decorative thick heavy fabric that covers a limited area of floor space in a room.

The upper most space between the ceiling joist and rafters. The amount of attic space will vary depending on the size of the house and the pitch of the roof.

Attic Insulation
Attic insulation refers to insulation put in the attic. This is usually either batt insulation or blown insulation. The thickness will vary depending on the “R” value that is specified in the plans.


Balloon Mortgage
A loan which is repaid by a series of small, periodic payments until a given date, when either the balance comes due in a single, large payment or the amount of the payments rises significantly.

Balloon Payment
A balloon payment is a lump sum payment that is made at a particular time during the life of a loan. Normal payments would be made until this time and then a balloon payment would be made to retire the loan.

A 2” to 4” board that runs along the base of a floor; the baseboard covers the gap between the floor and the adjoining wall. It covers the inevitable uneven edge as flooring meets the wall. As a secondary function, it protects the wall from kicks and abrasion and sometimes prevents furniture from being pushed right against the wall. As a tertiary function, it can serve as a decorative molding.

Bay Window
A window that has a space projecting outward from the main walls of a building and forming a bay in a room, either square or polygonal in plan.

Any angle at which two pieces of wood meet, other than a right angle.

A written offer of price that describes the project, in specific details, to be done, and the cost for which the contractor will be willing complete the work.

A low bathroom fixture resembling a toilet equipped with a spray or jet of water. Fixture runs both cold and hot water, used for washing posterior parts of the body. Bidets originated in France.

Bill Of Sale
Documentary evidence that title to personal property (chattels) has passed to the Purchaser for valuable consideration

Bleeding is when there is an underlying substance or material that is showing through after the area has been painted. This area needs to be painted separately with a good primer that will kill the stain and prevent the bleeding.

Mechanical drawings, prepared by an Architect or Engineer, that show precise details of a building or space. These drawing are used during the planning and construction of a project.

The amount of money that some cities require to receive a license. This bond is usually between $5000 –
$10,000 and will be kept on deposit in a government agency.

Bow Window
Is a curved bay window, composed of several windows panels that form a bow/arch shape. Bow windows were designed to create space by projecting beyond the exterior wall of a building, and to provide a wider view of the garden or street outside.

Breach Of Contract
A failure to meet one’s obligations, whether under a contract or otherwise. A breach of contract allows the innocent party to enforce the contract, rescind the contract or sue for damages.

Breaker Panel
The electrical service panel which contains your house breakers. Most homes have an electrical panel outside which holds the main breakers and all of the 220 volt breakers. There will also be another panel inside the house which will contain all the 110 volt breakers.

Building Code
Set of regulations established by a municipality to govern the standards of construction in that municipality.

Building Permit
A document obtained from the local government, allowing for the construction of a structure in accordance with the terms of the permit.


Head or top part of a column

Capital Gain
Increase in value of a capital property (a property other than a principal residence) upon which tax is payable, either upon disposition of the property or the deemed disposition of the property under tax rules.

Capital Loss
Decrease in value of a capital property (a property other than a principal residence). May be set off against capital gains or against regular income according to the tax rules.

Certificate Of Occupancy/C.O.
Document issued by the local municipality indicating that a new dwelling is suitable for occupation. Generally confirms that the dwelling complies with local building, safety and health by-laws.

Closing Date
The date set in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale upon which the transaction is to be completed, the purchase price paid and the transfer of title registered.

Casement Window
A window that is attached to its frame by one or more hinges. Casement windows typically are hinged at the side, sometimes at the top or bottom. They are used singly or in pairs within a common frame, in which case they are hinged on the outside.

The trim or molding that forms the frame around doors and windows

A pasty compound used to fill cracks, gaps, seams and joints. It also comes in different colours

Ceiling Joist
The Horizontal members that make up the ceiling and the house. They can be anywhere from a 2×6 up to a 2×12, depending on the structure and whether there is a floor up above.

Change Order
Made to the original contract. It is very important to document all requests that affect either the project budget or schedule for completion. It serves as proof that additional work took place, either at the client’s behest or with the client’s approval for changes initiated by the designer.

A groove cut in masonry or plaster for electrical cabling or pipework.

Circuit Breaker
An electrical device used to protect electrical circuits from overload. Breakers are rated in the maximum amperage (20 amp) they will allow to pass. If the current exceeds the rating of the breaker, it will trip the breaker. In order to turn the circuit back on, the breaker will have to be reset.

Arrangement of sunken panels (coffers), square or polygonal, decorating a ceiling, vault, or arch.

Colour Palette
A set of colors

Colorant/ Colourant
The dye or pigment used to cause a change in the colour of paint.

Is a vertical structural element that transmits, through compression the weight of the structure above to other structural elements below. Columns are frequently used to support beams or arches on which the upper parts of walls or ceilings rest. In architecture “column” refers to such a structural element that also has certain proportional and decorative features. A column might not support any major structure, but be a decorative or triumphant feature with e.g. a statue on top.

A hard building material composed of cement (such as Portland cement) and sand or gravel with water. Concrete solidifies and hardens after mixing with water. The water reacts with the cement, which bonds the other components together, eventually creating a stone-like material. Concrete is used to make pavements, architectural structures, building foundations motorways/roads, bridges, footings more.

Construction Schedule
The timetable of a project. It should detail the dates of commencement and anticipated completion of a project, and also include a description of each phase in the project and how long it will take relative to the completion time of the entire project.

A legally binding agreement (oral or written) between two or more persons regarding an exchange of some sort. A legally binding contract must include consideration passing between the parties, an intention on the part of all parties to be bound to the contract, a meeting of the minds of the parties as to the contents of the contract, and an element of clarity such that the terms of the contract may be interpreted, understood and enforced by a court.

Cost-Plus Contract
Cost Plus is a term referring to how the contractor will be compensated for his work. In a cost plus contract the contractor is paid for the material and labor costs plus a flat fee or a percentage of the total cost.

To cut a tapered recess that allows the head of a screw or bolt to lie flush with a surface.


A legal document conveying title to a property.

Deed Trust
A legal instrument conveying legal title to a property to a trustee, may contain statements as to powers of trustee, duties of trustee etc.

Interior Designer
A professional whose practice is concerned with anything that is found inside a space – walls, windows, doors, finishes, textures, light, furnishings and furniture. All of these elements are used to develop a functional, safe, and aesthetically pleasing space for a building’s user. The work of an interior designer draws upon many disciplines including environmental psychology, architecture, product design, and traditional decoration (aesthetics and cosmetics). They plan the spaces of almost every type of building including: hotels, corporate spaces, schools, hospitals, private residences, shopping malls, restaurants, theaters, and airport terminals. Today, interior designers must be attuned to architectural detailing including: floor plans, home renovations, and construction codes.

An expenditure of money.

Valves used in several plumbing fixtures that divert waster to different outlets. Diverters are used in faucet, showers, bathtubs and more.

Double Hung Window
The double-hung window is perhaps the most familiar window type. It consists of an upper and lower sash that slide vertically in separate grooves in the side jambs or in full-width metal weatherstripping. This type of window provides a maximum face opening for ventilation of one-half the total window area.

Dry Rot
Is a fungus that can eat away at wood fibers, turning them to power. Dry rot thrives in moist and damp conditions.

Drywall/Gypsum Wallboard
Is a common manufactured wall surface used globally for the finish construction of interior walls and ceilings. Typically comes in panels


That part of a sloping roof which is overhanging.

Eggshell Paint
This type of interior paint has a slight hint of shine or gloss, it’s good for walls and holds up better with cleaning than a flat finish paint.

Electrical Permit
City or county permit taken out by an electrical subcontractor in order to perform electrical work on a particular project.

Electrical Plans
it’s a detailed drawing of all outlets, lights, and switches in a house. The plans will show the location of the outside service, inside panel, and any disconnects. Three way switches will be noted along with any switched receptacles. The location of all lights will be shown and it should note if there will be any specialty switching such as dimmers. The overall plans should give a complete view of everything.

One of the external faces of a building; also, an architect’s drawing of a facade, set out to scale.

Elongated Bowl
An alternative to the standard round toilet bowl shape. The elongated Toilet bowl is oval in shape and is about 2” longer than a round toilet bowl.

Enamel Paint
Is a paint that air dries to a hard, usually glossy, finish. Enamel paint comes in a range of finishes/gloss levels.

Energy Star
Is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.

Equity is the amount of money value of a property or an interest in a property in excess of claims or liens against it.

The amount of labor, materials, and other costs that a contractor anticipates for a project as summarized in the contractor’s bid proposal for the project.

Expansion joint
A joint designed to safely absorb the heat-induced expansion and contraction of wood during seasonal temperature fluctuations.


The front of a building.

A material made from extremely fine fibers of glass. It is used as a reinforcing agent for many products such as sinks, bathtubs and more.

A term used to describe many items within a home, typically in bathrooms and kitchens.

Flat Paint/Matte Paint
This type of interior paint has a matte surface. This paint finish is usually used on interior walls. It’s especially good for camouflaging small wall bumps, cracks, or other imperfections on walls, as this finish does not reflect light. This finish has virtually no gloss or shine, It is also less durable than paint with a higher gloss finish.

The rapid turnover of a piece of property by one person who buys it for a certain price then sells it soon thereafter for more.

Flood Insurance
A policy of insurance that specifically covers damage due to flood waters, required in designated flood areas.

Floor Area
Square footage of a building or space

Floor Plan
A diagram, usually drawn to scale, of a building or space that shows the current or proposed design and specifications between rooms. Dimensions are usually drawn between the walls to specify room sizes and wall lengths. Floor plans will also include details of fixtures like sinks, water heaters, furnaces, etc. Floor plans will include notes to specify finishes, construction methods, or symbols for electrical items.

The act of a bank or lending institution calling for the early payment in full of a loan. This process is usually brought about when payments are not made on a loan resulting in default.

Framed Kitchen Cabinets
Commonly referred to as traditional cabinets, consists of a front frame with rails and stiles around the cabinet opening.

Frameless Kitchen Cabinets
Cabinets with doors covering the entire cabinet face; commonly referred to as an overlay door. With frameless kitchen cabinetry the front of the cabinet is not obstructed by any frames. Also known as “European Styling”, it allows for more storage space and wider drawers.

Framing Inspection
A framing inspection is an inspection performed by a building official to check for any discrepancies in the framing work completed.

French Door or Window
A tall casement window that reaches to the floor and opens like a door. It is a popular, modern, feature that brings more light into a home.

French Hinged Door
Hinged doors with multiple glass panes that extent for most of the door’s lengths.

A decorative band, typically horizontal that runs along the wall of a room, usually just below the ceiling. This architectural detailing could be found on the interior or exterior of a building or home.

Full Overlay
Cabinet door styles that cover most of the face frame, giving prominence to the door and drawer design.

A protective electrical device that regulates the current of electricity. A fuse, typically found in older homes, will break and interrupt the circuit when the current flow exceeds the amperage rating on the fuse, the fuse link in the fuse will open and stop the flow of current. Today most fuses have been replaced with electrical breakers.


Covered with a protective coating of zinc.

General Contractor
A contractor who enters into a contract with the owner of a project for the construction of the project and who takes full responsibility for its completion, although the contractor may enter into subcontracts with others for the performance of specific parts or phases of the project

A machine which converts mechanical energy into electrical energy

GFCI/Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter
A residual current device (RCD), similar to that of a residual current circuit breaker (RCCB), is an electrical wiring device that disconnects a circuit whenever it detects that the electric current is not balanced. Such an imbalance is sometimes caused by current leakage through the body of a person who is grounded and accidentally touching the energized part of the circuit. A lethal shock can result from these conditions; RCDs are designed to disconnect quickly enough to mitigate the harm caused by such shocks.

Gloss Paint
High gloss paints have an almost reflective quality, as their shiny finish mimics the look of enamel or plastic. Though not widely used in home interiors, it is becoming more popular for a dramatic look on cabinets, trim, and furniture in very formal and very contemporary settings. This finish will magnify any surface imperfections, so careful preparation and sanding is essential before painting with high gloss paints.

Is the practice of imitating wood grain on a non-wood surface in order to increase that surface’s aesthetic appeal. Graining can be accomplished using either rudimentary tools or highly specialized graining tools Graining can also be applied on bricks and brass, as is more common today.

is a thin construction material used to fill voids, and seal joints (like those between tiles). Grout is generally composed of a mixture of water, cement, and sand. Color tints can be added for decorative uses.

On a building, a trough fixed under or along the eaves for draining rainwater from a roof.


Hazard Insurance
A type of insurance designed to cover damage caused by a peril specified in the policy of insurance (i.e. fire, flood, etc.).

Head Board
A decorative vertical board or panel at the head of a bed.

Hand Held Shower
A shower head designed with a handle that is connected to a water supply via a flexible hose

Home Owners Ins.
Liability coverage for property owners covering both loss/damage to property or dwelling and personal liability.

HOW Program
A type of insurance that covers repairs to specified parts of a house for a specific period of time. It is provided by the builder or property seller as a condition of the sale.

HUD/Housing and Urban Development
Department of Housing and Urban Development; tries regulates Fannie Mae and Ginny Mae.


Material used to reduce the transmission of heat or sound; also a non-conductive material around electrical wires or connections to prevent the passage of electricity.

Isolating valve
A valve used to shut off water from a particular room or appliance, so as not to have to turn off the entire water system.


A vertical post supporting a window frame or doorway.

A horizontal wooden or metal beam (such as a RSJ) used to support a structure such as a floor, ceiling or wall.


Two or more sheets of material bonded together; or the top waterproof sheet of the bonded sheets used as a work surface; also to fix such sheets together.

Latex Paint
Is a water based paint

In a window, the openings between mullions.

Limited Liability
Responsibility or obligation which is restricted to the limits set out.


Market Value
An estimation of the price that could be obtained for a particular asset if it were sold in an arm’s length transaction on the current market.

MDF/Medium Density Fibreboard
A type of engineered wood.

Mechanical Inspection
An inspection performed by a building official to check for any discrepancies in the heating and air conditioning work completed.

A joint between two pieces of wood formed by cutting 450 bevels at the end of each piece; also to cut such a joint.

A picture or decorative design made by setting small coloured pieces, as of stone or tile, into a surface.

A continuous, narrow surface (projecting or recesses, plain or ornamented) designed to break up a surface, to accent, or to decorate.

Mullion Doors
Mullion doors have glass inserts in place of the typical solid center panel for a more stylish appearance. The inserts have horizontal and vertical dividing bars similar to those in windowpanes.


A shallow recess in a wall designed to contain a statue or some other ornament.


A tall, four-sided shaft of stone, usually tapered and monolithic, that rises to a pointed pyramidal top.

Double curve, bending first one way and then the other, as in an ogee or gavial arch.

Oil Paint
Oil paints are a type of paint made with natural oils such as linseed, walnut, or poppy, as the medium to bind the pigment. Oil paints dry slowly, allowing the artist time to rework and blend colours.

OSHA is an occupational safety department of the government. This agency monitors and inspects construction projects for unsafe working conditions. Violations issued can result in fines or stop work order for the project.


Pilot hole
A small-diameter hole drilled to act as a guide for a screw thread.

A coat of paint applied to wood or metal to seal it and act as a first coat.

The outline or contour of an object.

PVC/PolyVinyl Chloride
A white plastic used in the manufacture of water supply


The wooden members that make up the roof structure. These could be 2×6, 2×8, or even 2×10
depending on the need or the type of structure.

The vertical side of an opening.


Satin Finish
Satin finish paint has a smooth, velvety look with a bit gloss. It is most often used for windows, doors, trim, or ceilings, but can also be used as wall paint. This is particularly suitable for kids’ room walls, kitchens, or bathrooms, or in areas which get a lot of traffic. Paint with a satin finish is formulated to hold up to cleaning and light scrubbing.

Semi Gloss Paint
Semi-gloss paint is most often used on doors, trim, and cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms. It is easily cleaned and lays down a nice, subtle shine, without being too glitzy. Take care with pre-paint preparation work, as poorly prepared surfaces can be a bit distracting when highlighted by a semi-gloss surface.

Septic Permit
Permit given by the health department that gives an individual permission to install a septic tank. This permit will provide the dimensions and restrictions that must be followed during the installation.

To copy the profile of a surface on the edge of sheet material to be butted against it; also to mark a line with a pointed tool.

The exposed, finished undersurface of any overhead component of a building; may include the underside of a staircase, eaves, arch, balcony, beams or a roof overhang.

Spec Home
A house built before it is sold. The builder speculates that he can sell it at a profit.

Square Footage
The square footage is the product of the length and width of a room or house.

A flue or chimney, or group of chimneys arranged together

Stained Glass
Glass coloured by mixing pigments inherently in the glass, by fusing colored metallic oxides onto the glass, or by painting and baking transparent colors on the glass surface.

The Studs are the vertical members that make up the exterior and interior walls of a house. They can
either be 2×4 or 2×6, depending on the location and the structure.

A subcontractor is an individual or company that works for a general contractor. This individual or company is usually licensed and bonded for the trade that is provided.

A pictorial depiction of land and the improvements on it. Shows boundary lines (with measurements and bearings), buildings, sheds, easements, etc.

Switch is an electrical device used to turn electrical devices on and off. Switches can limit
the amount of current such as a dimmer switch or just be an on and off device.


A cut-out pattern, made from paper, wood, metal etc, used to help shape a work piece accurately.

A vinyl material that is pressed and sealed onto engineered board.

The main horizontal beam in a roof, connecting the bases of the rafters, usually just above a wall. Beam that pulls together a structure and stops it from spreading outward.

Title Insurance
Title Insurance policies typically insure a home buyer against any title-search errors or mistakes, and against loss due to disputes over property ownership. Title Insurance can additionally offer protection to the lender under similar circumstances. The cost of title insurance is usually a set value per thousand of dollars of the total loan amount.

A person who holds title to property on behalf of another.

Turn Key
A term used when the subcontractor provides all materials (and labor) for a job.


An area of a municipality to which certain rules, regulations, bylaws or ordinances apply.