For the average homemaker, the term credenza can be a bit confusing. Is it a desk? A sideboard? A hutch? Originating from the Italian word for “belief,” credenzas were first used to store food that would be tested for poison before being served to aristocrats. From the 14th-century to now, the defining characteristics and purpose of a credenza has changed in several ways, though it continues to be a staple in many households. Today, credenzas are available in endless styles and finishes, with both decorative and functional uses.

By the books, a credenza is an item of dining room furniture for serving food, displaying serving dishes, and storage. Still, with seemingly indistinguishable terms like sideboard and buffet, it can be easy to get things mixed up. Although the differences between these items are minute, it can help to understand what sets one apart from the next. If you’re in the market for a new credenza (or sideboard, or buffet), read on for a full guide on how to choose what’s right for you.

A credenza is a cabinet-style piece of furniture that is typically used in a dining room, with no legs (or extremely short legs), complete with sliding doors that open up to storage space for dishware and other dining essentials. It’s a stylish storage solution, and its long and low shape provides an additional serving surface. Credenzas can be used in offices as well, substituting a desk or workspace while providing additional office storage.

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