We all know how critical storage is when it comes to your living space, whether it's outdoors or inside. In terms of indoor storage, unless you’re blessed with a ton of closets, cabinets and built-ins, you’re likely going to have to purchase some interior storage solutions to keep your home’s clutter at bay.
Ideally, this type of storage will take the form of an attractive, free-standing, hip-level cabinet that’s equally at home in your living room or dining room. So you decide that what you need is a credenza, because well, it sounds fancy. But when you begin shopping for one, you suddenly realize that maybe what you need is a sideboard, or actually, maybe a buffet? Wait, does that one come with king crab legs?
All of them seem to accomplish the same task — provide stylish storage in your living or dining room — and they all seem to look basically the same. So I wondered: is there actually any difference between these three types of furniture, or is it merely semantics dictated by the wills of different brands? To find out, I reached out to some experts in the furniture industry to learn more about the differences — if any — between a credenza, a sideboard and a buffet.
A storage cabinet by any other name
In my conversations, the main takeaway was this: credenzas, sideboards and buffets had slightly different use cases and more rigid definitions in the past, but these days, all three terms are generally used interchangeably by both consumers and retailers alike.
"In today’s market, sideboards, credenzas and buffets are essentially three ways to describe the same thing," Will Jackson, Senior Product Designer at Burrow tells me. "'Sideboard' has English origins, 'credenza' is Italian and 'buffet' comes from the French. All three are storage cabinets that are intended to be used in the dining room for easy serving and hosting purposes. They have different cultural origins with (minorly) different intended uses and functions."
"Today, credenza is a fancy name for a piece of furniture used to store things," says Shayna Kennedy, Chief Operating Officer and Interior Designer at Kardiel. But originally, it had a much more specific meaning. "It stems from the 14th century as a furniture piece to put in a dining room. The word 'credenza' in Italian translates to 'belief' or 'confidence,' suggesting that nothing in or on the piece of furniture will poison the people being served from it."
The fancier name also translates to fancier styling and usage in many cases, according to Jackson. "Credenzas, like buffets, are intended to be used in the dining room for storage or for display," he says. "However, credenzas are typically more decorative and are often lower and wider than buffets, with more emphasis on displaying items, such as fine China."
"Sideboard" is Castlery's preferred term for these types of storage cabinets, as you won't find any credenzas or buffets in the Singapore-based brand's catalog. "A sideboard is a versatile and attractive piece of furniture that can be used for storage and display purposes in all parts of the home," says Leah Howatson, Castlery's Vice President of Marketing. "Originally, these slim, freestanding cabinets were designed to provide extra space for dishes and utensils in dining rooms."
"Sideboards are intended to be used in the dining room and are also used as general storage cabinets for the home, including entryways, hallways and living rooms," Jackson tells me. "The main difference (between the three storage cabinets) is that sideboards are typically scaled larger to maximize storage space for those bigger kitchen items."
While all three styles of storage cabinets got their start in the kitchen/dining area, the buffet is the one most associated with food. That's not too surprising, as you've probably never been to an all-you-can-eat sideboard.
"Buffets are traditionally narrow and tall in height, similar to the height of a dining table and above, and are designed and marketed to be used in the dining room," Jackson says. "They serve as functional storage pieces to hold tableware, as well as to serve food while hosting."
Kennedy also stresses the dining-specific use case of buffets, while also noting some technical differences between them and sideboards. "Furniture experts will signify the difference between a sideboard and a buffet by the height of the piece, and/or the height of the legs under the unit. However, most people will use the term 'buffet' if they are using it in a dining room to store linens and dinnerware," she says. "Buffets are ideally long enough to serve a spread of food on the top surface to act as an actual buffet and will be about countertop height for easy serving."
What about media cabinets?
If you're looking at your TV stand and thinking that it looks an awful lot like a sideboard, credenza or buffet, well, you're not wrong. Modern media cabinets are essentially versions of these historic storage cabinets that have been adopted to meet our modern technology-driven needs. "These cabinets are typically lower in height than other cabinets (sometimes as low as 10”) and will often include cord management features like cut-outs in the back panel," says Jackson.
Storage Wars: Credenza vs Sideboard vs Buffet
OK, now that the dust has settled, where does that leave us? We've learned that all three terms are more or less used interchangeably these days, and each of these storage cabinets was originally intended for kitchen and dining use. But if you want to stick with strict definitions, here you go:
Credenzas feature more elaborate decoration, and are low and wide, with an emphasis on displaying things like your "fancy" dishes rather than simply hiding them away between holidays.
Sideboards are also low and wide, but tend to be more plain-looking and less-specific to the kitchen, allowing for them to be used as storage in other areas of the home.
Buffets are the narrowest and tallest of the three, with their tops doubling as a serving area that's around the same height as a counter or dining table.
Find your inner storage