History and Origin of the Ottoman

Ottomans are stylish and versatile pieces that can serve many purposes in your space. Classic and modern, cozy yet elegant, these pieces deserve a place in every bohemian-inspired home or office.  

Ottomans: A design staple in every home and office 

Named for the Ottoman Empire, ottomans originated in Turkey and were brought to Europe in the 18th century. The first ottomans were very different from the pieces of furniture we know and love today – in the old days, ottomans were low pieces of upholstered furniture with no arms and back and usually piled with cushions, similar to a floor mat. 

Ottomans were fitted pieces of furniture that usually lined three walls in the main room of Turkish households, providing comfortable seating to families and their guests. 

The origins and evolution of the ottoman

Over time, ottomans changed in style as they spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world. They evolved into smaller, overstuffed, freestanding pieces that fit into one corner of the room instead of lining the walls, serving as footrests and extra seating.   

By the 19th century, ottomans had turned into round or sometimes octagon-shaped pieces, with arms extending from the centre and dividing the seating area into sections. 

Other ottomans from this era had a padded central column that supported a statue or indoor plant, and served as a backrest for guests. 

Ottomans also became popular fixtures in the gentlemen’s clubs of the 1880s, during which they were designed to have hinged seats for holding newspapers and magazines. 

In late Victorian era homes, ottomans were often used as fireside seats. 

Today, ottomans can be found in homes, offices, restaurants, cafés, airport lounges, and hotel lobbies in various iterations. These low, upholstered pieces are a softer and more comfortable alternative to coffee tables and benches.  

While the majority modern day ottomans are mass-produced, you’ll still find a few rare pieces that have been handmade by artisans. These ottomans are typically made with high quality leather or twill upholstery. Franklin Hobart offers an array of bohemian-style furniture to help you decorate your space.  

Ottoman versus footstool: What’s the difference?

There’s much confusion about what makes ottomans different from footstools, which is understandable, since the two words have been used interchangeably since the 20th century. 

A footstool is any piece of low furniture used for resting your legs and feet. The first known footstools were used by Ancient Egyptians, whose wooden pieces bore intricate carvings and symbols telling the stories of the families that owned them. 

While ottomans can be used as footstools, they have unique origins in Turkey. Traditionally, the colours, patterns, and designs of ottomans were coordinated with other pieces in the main room in which they were displayed. 

Further an ottoman footstool is an upholstered footstool with a wooden frame. It typically stands on four legs. 

Regular footstools, by comparison, are not always upholstered and were not designed to match or complement other pieces. 

Different kinds of ottomans 

  • Rectangular ottomans – These are some of the most practical and versatile pieces you can invest in because of the shape and surface area. Their shape makes it easier for decorators to push them against a wall or in-between other pieces of furniture. They often serve as footrests, extra seating, and extra storage. They also make great alternatives to regular coffee tables depending on how flat the surface is. 
  • Round/circular ottomans Commonly used in living rooms, walk-in wardrobes, bathrooms, and bedrooms, round ottomans tend to be smaller than usual, making them ideal for use in intimate spaces or as complementary pieces to larger furniture.  
  • Square-shaped ottomans – Smaller square-shaped ottomans are easier to incorporate into a room’s existing décor. While less common, large square ottomans can serve as a wonderful focal point for any space. Like other ottomans, these pieces often have removable lids with hidden storage underneath.  
  • X-bench ottomans – Known for their crisscross legs, these ottomans hark back to Ancient Egyptian and Napoleonic era footstools. These are chic, elegant pieces that can add a feminine touch to bedrooms, walk-in wardrobes, bathrooms, and similar spaces.  

Ready to find the perfect ottoman? Franklin Hobart offers a fine selection of ottomans, footstools, poufs, and other boho furniture. Visit our store today to browse our collection. 

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