Credenzas, Buffets, and Sideboards: What’s the Difference?

Burrow Credenza
Credenzas, sideboards, and buffets are all traditionally used as dining room furniture pieces, “But they have different cultural origins with different, while minor, intended uses and functions,” says Will Jackson, senior product designer at Burrow..

The Buffet

Anthropologie's Dalton Buffet
Anthropologie's Dalton Buffet

Buffet-style furniture pieces are typically used as dining room storage to keep serving dishes, linens, and other hosting essentials at the ready. “Buffets are traditionally narrow and tall in height, similar to the height of a dining table and above,” says Will Jackson.

“Buffets are traditionally narrow and tall in height, similar to the height of a dining table and above.”

They often have large cabinet doors, drawers, and/or shelves, and might comprise wood, metal, or glass. Many of them also feature long airy legs that give them a mid-century modern feel.

And while “Buffets are designed and marketed to be used in the dining room,” says Jackson, their typically low-profile design and ample storage space can offer a solution for a wide variety of spaces in the home, such as the living room, home office, or bedroom.

The Credenza

Burrow's Totem Credenza
Burrow's Totem Credenza

Like buffets, credenzas are also pieces of furniture designed for the dining room to store serving dishes and table linens. However, according to Will Jackson, “Credenzas are typically more decorative and are often lower and wider than buffets, with more emphasis on displaying items, such as valuable fine china.”

“Credenzas are typically more decorative and are often lower and wider than buffets, with more emphasis on displaying items.”  

Credenzas typically feature a long, narrow shape, offering plenty of space to display decorative items on top. They might also have big cabinets or drawers, often with glass doors to showcase their contents.

In addition to being used as dining furniture, credenzas, “Are often used in home offices or other workspaces, serving as office furniture or storage units,” says Keely Smith. Their versatile design can even function as a dresser in a bedroom or a stylish drop-off point for keys and mail in an entryway.

The Sideboard

Lenia White Oak Sideboard
Article's Lenia White Oak Sideboard

Similar to buffets and credenzas, “Sideboards are storage pieces intended to be used in the dining room,” says Will Jackson, "But they’re also used as general storage cabinets for the home in spaces like entryways, hallways, and living rooms.”

And while sideboards serve similar purposes as credenzas and buffets, “Sideboards are often taller and narrower with longer legs than credenzas,” but they’re not usually as tall as buffets.

“Sideboards are often taller and narrower with longer legs than credenzas."

Sideboards come in a wide variety of styles, ranging from minimalist and mid-century to traditional and contemporary. They might also have storage cabinets, drawers, or open shelving to provide an attractive way to store linens and serving dishes, as well as showcase your favorite home decor pieces.

Another Option: The Media Console

Another storage solution that can fit in a similar category as credenzas, buffets, and sideboards is a media console. But unlike the other three, media consoles aren’t designed for the dining room. As their name implies, media consoles are traditionally used in living rooms or home offices to display a television, stereo system, and other media.

According to Will Jackson,Media consoles, or tv stands, are typically lower in height than other cabinets—sometimes as low as 10 inches—and will often include cord management features like cutouts in the back panel.”

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The Differences Between Buffets, Sideboards, and Credenzas

The differences between buffets, sideboards, and credenzas are so subtle that many people, retailers, and even interior designers use the words interchangeably. However, there are definitely a few minor differences between each type of furniture.

According to Will Jackson, “The word ‘sideboard’ has English origins, ‘credenza’ is Italian, and ‘buffet’ comes from the French. All three are storage cabinets intended for the dining room for easy serving and hosting purposes.”

Serif Credenza
Burrow's Serif Credenza

However, sideboards are often taller and narrower than credenzas but not as tall as buffets. Buffets are also more often used for serving food than sideboards and credenzas. In fact, when you think of going to a restaurant and picking out food from a buffet table, that word is derived from this piece of furniture, which was designed to serve a spread of food on top of it.

All three pieces of furniture are quite versatile, though, which is why you might find them in spaces that extend beyond the dining room, such as entryways and living rooms. Their ample drawer and cabinet space makes them a great fit for just about any room that could benefit from another storage solution.

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How to Choose the Right Option

When it comes to choosing between a credenza, sideboard, or buffet, try not to get too hung up on the name. Many retailers use the terms interchangeably, so look at all options under the umbrella of this type of furniture to find the shape, size, and style that best suits your needs.

“Think about how you will use the piece of furniture and what items you will need to store in it,” says Kimberly Horton. For instance, if you have lots of home decor you want to display, then a sideboard or credenza with open shelving or glass doors is a great option.

In addition to the furniture piece’s purpose, “Consider the size of the room and the furniture,” says Keely Smith. “Make sure you choose a piece that's proportionate to the room and provides enough storage space for your needs.”

Finally, think about the overall aesthetic that you’re going for. These pieces of furniture are relatively large, so the one you choose will make a big impact on your overall look. If you have a traditional dining room design, maybe you want an ornate credenza in a rich, dark wood finish. Or if you have a minimalist aesthetic, a mid-century or contemporary piece with a simple silhouette and long, airy legs might be perfect.

“At the end of the day, be sure to communicate with the people you’re working with about the purpose of your piece.”

“At the end of the day, be sure to communicate with the people you’re working with about the purpose of your piece,” advises Justin Hossle, “because there’s a whole group of case-goods furniture that swim around in the same pool, including credenzas, buffets, sideboards, and even tv stands, hutches, media consoles, and china cabinets.”

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Written by
Kelly Weimert
Kelly Weimert is a writer, editor, and interior design expert with 10 years of experience writing about design and home decor. She's written for interior design publications such as MyDomaine, Apartment Therapy, Domino Magazine, and Hunker. When she's not writing or editing, she's probably busy obsessing over how to beautify her home.
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