What Is a Credenza, and Do You Need One?

What Is a Credenza, and Do You Need One?
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The term credenza can be a bit confusing when looking for the right pieces of furniture for your home. What is a credenza anyway, and what's it for? Is it a cabinet? A desk? A cabinet? Do you even need one?

This quick guide will cover everything you need to know, including the difference between a credenza and similar pieces of furniture. Then, we'll look at how to use and decorate credenzas before highlighting some of the best credenzas online.

Are you ready to figure out what a credenza is once and for all? 

Meet the experts

To create this credenza guide, we spoke to a number of interior design and furniture experts. Including: 

What Is a Credenza?

Burrow Totem Credenza
Burrow's Totem Credenza

The credenza was originally an Italian piece of furniture and was first used in homes in the 14th century. Before people used it in homes, the credenza was found in cathedrals and churches. The original purpose of a credenza was to display expensive plates and serving vessels, as well as for food preparation. 

The purpose has changed somewhat in modern times, but the credenza continues to be a staple in households everywhere. Modern credenzas are used for storage and decor, and they're available in a variety of styles.

Here's what the experts have to say on the matter: 

  • "Credenzas are known to be more 'formal,' and the term is considered an American word for dining room cupboard. They typically feature short or no legs and often have glass doors and shelving," explains Kristin Patrician of Dwelling Envy Interiors. "These characteristics make them best for use in the dining room areas. However, today they are interchangeable in living room areas in open floor plan and apartment-style layouts."
  • "Credenzas are best used in dining rooms and against walls, as most of them are not finished all the way around," adds Jay Britto, interior designer and founding principal of Britto Charette.

So, you can use a credenza as a storage piece in the dining room, living room, or anywhere against the wall. You might use yours to store linens, napkins, delicate dishes, seasonal decor, or something completely different. Credenzas also double as decorative pieces, giving you additional space for dining room displays and more. 

What's the Difference Between a Sideboard, a Buffet, and a Credenza?

Despite how often the terms are used interchangeably, credenza is not secretly a synonym for sideboard or buffet. Some will tell you otherwise, but a credenza is its own piece of furniture. As we'll explore below, it has minor differences that set it apart from sideboards and buffets. 

Credenza vs. Sideboard

Sideboards look similar to credenzas with a low profile, long shape, and ample storage space. The shape and style we know today first appeared in the 18th century and gained popularity in the 19th century, when people used them for extra storage and display space in the dining room. 

"The only real difference between credenzas and sideboards is that credenzas are typically lower to the floor, while sideboards are slightly taller and usually designed with legs," explains Katie Simpson, Mackenzie Collier Interiors. "Both styles are wide and allow for an additional storage space in your home."

The main differences between a credenza and a sideboard include: 

  • Size: Sideboards are generally a bit larger than credenzas.
  • Legs: Sideboards often feature medium-height legs, whereas credenzas usually have very short or no legs.
  • Shelving: Sideboards sometimes have cupboards or a hutch, while credenzas may feature center shelving with glass display cabinets to either side.
  • Appearance: Sideboards often look less formal than credenzas. 

Sideboards are also known as servers, and they often double as entryway or hallway tables because of their height. In addition, they often feature cupboards that extend to the floor and sometimes a display hutch for additional storage space. As a result, sideboards are common in the dining room, living room, entryway, and hallway.

Credenza vs. Buffet

Unlike credenzas and sideboards, buffets usually have longer legs and are almost always used in the dining room. They originated in Sweden in the 16th century, where people used them to serve large smorgasbords or buffet-style spreads.

These days, they're used similarly to credenzas and sideboards as a place to keep linens, display decor, and serve food at gatherings. Buffets are typically counter-height to make serving easier.

The main differences between a credenza and a buffet include: 

  • Size: Buffets are usually taller and larger than credenzas.
  • Legs: Many buffets feature tall legs, creating a different aesthetic than credenzas with short legs or no legs at all.
  • Shelving: Buffets sometimes include open shelving on the bottom and pullout drawers above cabinet-style doors. 
  • Appearance: Buffets usually look as formal as credenzas and are more traditional than sideboards. 

Buffets are taller and specifically designed for serving large meals. However, since laying out a buffet-style meal for multiple people isn't that common, the spacious top is usually used for display. 

Additionally, some homes might feature open shelving above the buffet, increasing the practicality with extra storage. Buffets are generally used in the dining room and sometimes the kitchen. 

What Is a Credenza Used For? 

Credenzas are convenient furniture pieces that add storage space and a surface area for decor arrangements. Here's more information about what room to use your credenza in, what to put inside of it, and some alternate uses to consider. 

What Room Does a Credenza Go In?

While credenzas are intended as dining room furniture, don't limit yourself. As Katie Simpson of Mackenzie Collier Interiors explains: "Nowadays, they are used all over the home, including your dining room as a surface for buffet-style serving, as well as your living room and family rooms as a base for your TV."

"Nowadays, they are used all over the home, including your dining room as a surface for buffet-style serving, as well as your living room and family rooms as a base for your TV."

They're ideal for today's homeowners, who need items that combine form and function with plenty of versatility. You might also see them in the office or conference room, serving as a "credenza desk." These office credenzas offer a flat top as an extra workspace for papers, screens, and anything else you'd keep on your desk. They also work well as office furniture because of the extra storage space underneath.

What Goes Into a Credenza?

"Credenzas are often used to store plates and serving dishes and such, but you could also put a credenza in an entryway," says Priscilla Moiseoff, Lead Stylist and Interior Designer at Walker Edison Furniture. Other items you might store in a credenza include: 

  • Linens and tablecloths 
  • Seasonal decor 
  • China and crystal 
  • Flatware 
  • Serving dishes 
  • Important paperwork

Really, you can store any bits and pieces that need a home. Other ideas include children's toys, CDs, DVDs, charging cables, magazines, and books. 

Can You Put a TV on a Credenza?

"Sometimes people will use credenzas as a TV console in a living room," explains Moiseoff. Credenzas are sturdy enough to hold a TV, and they can usually handle all but the biggest screens. You'll even find specific "credenza TV stands" for sale, often with modifications to help hide cables, game consoles, and more. 

Before buying a credenza to use as a TV stand, we recommend measuring your TV to ensure it'll fit. Alternately, mount a TV above your credenza, using the storage and exposed surface as you would a TV stand. 

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How Do You Decorate a Credenza?

The practicality of a credenza is excellent with all the extra storage space. But what about decorating on top of and around your credenza?

Creating tabletop arrangements might be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be challenging. Based your decor on expert advice and styling ideas will make it easier to decorate your credenza the first time around.

Below are four ideas, complete with expert input, to get you started: 

1. Go Natural 

"You can't go wrong with vases, floral arrangements, and candles as decorative elements," said Jay Britto, interior designer and founding principal of Britto Charette. However, if vases and floral arrangements aren't for you, Priscilla Moiseoff notes that "plants are usually a nice touch on a credenza," too. 

For those who don't have a green thumb, try silk flowers or fake plants, both of which can look stunning if you keep them clean and dusted. Even one vase or potted plant with some candles placed to either side can create an eye-catching display. LED candles often work best with plants, eliminating the risk of fires. 

2. Keep It Simple

Simple credenza decor is often the most eye-catching. "In general, less is more," comments Priscilla Moiseoff. "You put too much stuff on a credenza, and it just ends up looking cluttered."

The best simple look for you will depend on where you've placed your credenza. In addition to her tip from earlier about using houseplants on your credenza, Priscilla Moiseoff recommends candles, a table lamp, or artwork. 

"If your credenza is placed against a wall, adding an oversized mirror or artwork is a great idea to anchor the piece," adds Kristin Patrician. "Make sure your mirror or artwork measures 3/4 the overall size of the credenza to ensure it's properly proportioned." 

3. Create a Dry Bar

"For styling /decorating a credenza in a dining area, I love adding a mini dry bar area using an oversized tray and adding a few bottles or decanter with bar accessories," Kristin Patrician told Living Cozy. This is an excellent idea for those who like to keep things fun. 

A dry bar can be as simple as the oversized tray recommended above, or you might add more, with extra serving glasses and drink options stored underneath. For example, you could place a wine rack with a small stemware holder on top of the credenza or a few extra bottles of your favorite spirits. And don't forget to keep a few towels on hand for quick cleanup when needed.

4. Think Above Your Credenza 

Don't forget about the space above your credenza, not just the flat top surface the furniture itself provides. This one can work well with the ideas we've touched on already, or you can create a whole design around it. 

"My biggest tip would be to create a focal point above the credenza to draw the eye to a statement piece," Katie Simpson of Mackenzie Collier Interiors told Living Cozy. "This could be a mirror, framed artwork, or even a mounted TV. Then use the surface to add unique accessories such as lamp tables, decorative bowls, coffee table books, plants, etc."

5 of the Best Credenzas to Check Out

1. Amsterdam Credenza

Amsterdam Credenza

Price: $1,790
Brand: Modloft 

The Amsterdam Credenza from Modloft is made specifically for the home office. It offers plenty of room to store important paperwork and other work items, and each drawer can hold both letter and legal-size folders. In addition, this piece was designed with an unassuming aesthetic and a low profile, allowing it to blend in with any office style. 

The Amsterdam File Credenza comes with an Italian grey oak veneer for versatility, a concrete top for durability, and black powder-coated legs for stability. With soft-close European-style actions, it's also protected from early signs of wear caused by roughly-shut drawers. 

2. Totem Credenza 

Totem Credenza

Price: $895
Brand: Burrow 

The Totem Credenza from Burrow is designed as a contemporary media console with a striking monolithic silhouette. It features clean lines and is made using a combination of solid and engineered wood to take advantage of the unique characteristics of each material. It is available with either oak or walnut finish. 

The Totem Credenza is built with premium slow-motion hardware with gas-assisted hinges, preventing wear caused by slammed doors. It boasts a roomy interior and two convenient cord escapes, making it a perfect option for the living room as a TV console. You can complete the look in the living room or entryway with the Totem Bench, which offers more hidden storage space. 

3. Sloan Credenza

Sloan Credenza

Price: $599
Brand: Inside Weather

The Sloan Credenza from Inside Weather can make itself at home in any room, from the dining room to the bedroom. It's made in the US from precision-milled, FSC-Certified 100% Baltic Birch and it features a matte, eco-solvent finish. All excess materials are recycled to protect the planet and reduce waste, and it comes in your choice of a wide variety of colors, finishes, and styles.

The Sloan Credenza features a centered interior vertical panel with an adjustable horizontal shelf on either side, allowing you to choose from seven different placements. It also boasts signature soft-close doors, which are graceful and protected against long-term wear. 

4. New Order Credenza

New Order Credenza

Price: $1,195
Brand: New Order for Hay

The New Order Credenza from Hay was designed by Stefan Diez to accommodate today's ever-evolving spaces and needs. It's modular, versatile, and available in two sizes to fit any space. This credenza also features a tray-like recessed top and adjustable closed-door storage that you can install in either the top or bottom portion of the piece. 

The New Order Credenza is made from powder-coated aluminum, durable, lightweight, and minimalist. And thanks to the slim, minimalist design, it can fit in with the kitchen, dining area, bedroom, home office, and beyond. This credenza comes in either light grey or charcoal with single and double size options. 

5. Haskell Solid Wood Credenza

Haskell Solid Wood Credenza

Price: $2,180
Brand: AllModern

The Haskell Solid Wood Credenza from AllModern is designed to add mid-century modern vibes to any space. It's both stylish and functional, made from both solid and engineered wood to take advantage of the qualities of both materials. The credenza stands on four tapered, splayed legs with silver caps to maintain the streamlined silhouette. 

The Haskell Solid Wood Credenza has three drawers and two cabinet doors, giving you plenty of extra storage space. So whether you place it in the dining room, living room, or entryway, you'll have enough room to tuck everything away. As a bonus, it's designed for easy assembly, so you only have to attach the legs when it arrives.

Written by
Shelby Golding is a Colorado-based writer/editor with over a decade of experience. She has a college education in interior design and enjoys woodworking in her free time.
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