What is a Credenza?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A credenza is a piece of furniture which is characterized by having a long flat top, and lots of storage space below. This design can be seen in offices, restaurants, and private homes, and the credenza has a number of potential applications. Many furniture stores carry this item or can order it by request, and people can also commission custom pieces from woodworkers and other furniture professions.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

The origins of the word “credenza” are rather interesting, for those who enjoy exploring word origins. The term appears to come from the Latin word for “trust,” which may seem odd for a piece of furniture. Etymologists have suggested that it may be a reference to the fact that food was often displayed and served on sideboards historically so that guests could be assured that the intentions of the host were honorable. In some households, a servant would taste the food on the sideboard, demonstrating that it was not poisoned.

In an office setting, a credenza desk is usually used as a secondary workspace. No space needs to be left for someone to sit at the desk, so the area under the top can be filled with cabinets, drawers, and shelving for storage. The additional workspace can be extremely convenient for people who like to spread out papers and other materials while they work, and the credenza also creates an accessible storage area which can help to keep the workspace tidy.

In private homes, a credenza is most often used as a sideboard or storage unit in a family room. As a sideboard, a credenza can be used to display food, plates, and other materials, and the storage space underneath can be used for various accouterments of the house, such as napkins, placemats, silverware, and so forth. In family rooms and living rooms, the top can be used to display photographs, house plants, and so forth, while things like games are stored inside the credenza so that the room will not feel cluttered.

Restaurants also utilize credenzas, so that extra place settings and other supplies will be readily available without being obtrusive. This can cut down on time for waitstaff and bussers, since they do not need to run to the back of the house for extra glasses and other commonly requested items, and they can quickly reset a table with items from the credenza when a guest leaves to make it ready for the next patron.

Credenzas which sit lower to the ground may be used to hold televisions and associated supplies, and a hutch can also be added to the top of a credenza to increase functionality. Hutches are often used with computer credenzas to create more functional space.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Nothing unusual about the word "Credenza" - cupboards for food were often called a "Safe" like the safe in which we store and protect money - to store and protect the food. One entrusts the keeping of things to a cupboard...it is fun to think about the evolution of such words and *thank you* as usual for the "Food For Thought" :-) pun intended


I have seen antique credenzas with shelving above the main storage unit. The shelves are used for decorative items, while the 2 drawers and shelves underneath them, but with a door, are used for storage. A pretty and useful item reminding you of older times.

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