Many people use the word sideboard, buffet and credenza interchangeably to refer to the same item of dining room furniture.
In case you’re confused, it’s this thing here:
Sideboards (or servers or buffets or credenzas – whatever you want to call them!) stand against the wall in your dining room, and provide a surface area as well as a storage area.
But is there a difference between a sideboard, a buffet and a credenza?
Everyone is going to tell you: YES.
But there really isn’t. Whilst it is true that there are very subtle differences between the three, there is no real reason for wars to be fought over the correct terminology.
The English sideboard would traditionally stand against the back wall of a dining room at about waist height if not lower. It is thought to be most likely that the very first sideboards in England would have been just a simple plank balanced on trestles, or even just a shelf attached to the back wall. It was used as a surface in the dining room from which to serve food onto the table.
Over time, the sideboard evolved to include built-in cabinets that reach the floor, rather than things just being stored beneath the plank’s surface. And as sideboards became more extravagant, people took to using them to display decorative ornaments atop its surface too, as the feature piece of the dining room.
Originally, the credenza would have no legs, with cabinets that reach the floor. But since the birth of mid-century design, it seems that the unwritten rule now allows credenzas to have legs, but those legs will be slimmer than those of a sideboard. Another differentiating factor is that modern credenzas are typically narrower in shape, and make use of sliding doors for the cabinet.
The credenza has a fascinating history. The origin of the word itself comes from the Italian word for “belief” – or the English word “credence”. This is due to the credenza being the surface on which food was placed when taste-tested by servants for poison, before serving to royalty, noblemen and other people of importance. Next time you’re serving food to the family from the credenza, remember to share that fun historical fact and watch their change in facial expression!
Buffets, unlike sideboards and credenzas which can be used as console tables, are confined to the dining room and serve more of a definitive purpose. The feature that commonly distinguishes a buffet from a sideboard is its long legs, though arguably in modern use, what truly distinguishes a buffet from a sideboard is its role in the dining room.
Originating from 16th century Sweden as the smorgasbord, buffets provide a long surface to serve a wide variety of food. And 16th century Swedes loved food. The concept of buffets, where people could congregate and serve themselves from a large selection of food and drinks, spread to the rest of Europe in no time. (You may also hear buffets being referred to as servers. Servers are similar to buffets, but are smaller and more formal in appearance.)
The truth is: there are so many overlapping styles of furniture now that it’s become harder to define particular items when they can be hybrids or modified beyond what originally defined that item as that item.
When it comes to sideboards, buffets, credenzas, servers and consoles… There is very little difference, and will usually depend on what function the item serves and what room you put it in, rather than the type of furniture itself. But who doesn’t enjoy the etymology of furniture names!
What do YOU call that long, low storage item in your dining room?