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All about ottomans

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An ottoman in a living room

An ottoman is a form of couch which usually has a head but no back, though sometimes it has neither. It may have square or semicircular ends, and as a rule it is what upholsterers call “stuffed over” — that is to say no wood is visible.

In American English, an ottoman is a piece of furniture consisting of a padded, upholstered seat or bench, usually having neither a back nor arms, often used as a stool, footstool or, in some cases, as a coffee table. Ottomans are often sold as coordinating furniture with armchairs or gliders. An ottoman can also be known as a footstool, tuffet, hassock, pouf or pouffe. Many ottomans are hollow and used for storage. Ottomans can be used in many rooms; they can be used in the bedroom, gaming room, family room and guest room. Leather and bench ottomans are used as alternatives to sofas.


The ottoman was brought to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century. The word ottomane to refer to furniture appeared at least as early as 1729 in French. The first known recorded use in English occurs in one of Thomas Jefferson's memorandum books from 1789: "P[ai]d. for an Ottomane of velours d'Utrecht." In the Ottoman Empire itself, an ottoman was the central piece of family seating and was piled with cushions. In Europe, the ottoman was first designed as a piece of fitted furniture that wrapped around three walls of a room. The ottoman evolved into a smaller version that fit into the corner of a room.

Ottomans took on a circular or octagonal shape through the 19th century, with seating divided in the centre by arms or by a central, padded column that might hold a plant or statue. As night clubs became more popular, so did the ottoman, which began to have hinged seats underneath to hold storage.

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