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Commonly found in most households, ottomans are an easy place to rest your feet, your drink, or your accessories. They can act “as an extra seat or stylish storage solution in any room, and serve double duty as a coffee table, too,” says Jennifer Davis, the founder and Principal Designer at Davis Interiors.
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According to James Stanley, “ottomans are a favorite furniture piece to use in a home because of their versatility that can really do it all.” However, in the shadow of larger items like sofas and lounge chairs, these multi-functional pieces tend to be overlooked.
The ottoman was originally created by Turkish carpet weavers, who used bales of cotton to construct them. This type of furniture wasn’t introduced to Europe from Turkey (then, the Ottoman Empire) until the late 18th or early 19th century.
Today, ottomans are typically used as additional seating while entertaining, a coffee table, or a place to put your feet up in front of the sofa. Some, however, place ottomans in the bedroom– particularly, at the foot of the bed, to create seating or a place to drape clothing or accessories while getting ready in the morning.
Robin DeCapua says that she’s seen people use ottomans as a vanity stool, or extra storage for pillows, remotes, board games, and more. “Bonus points if you find an ottoman with a removable tray top, as it can serve as a handy side table as well,” says DeCapua.
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Types of Ottomans
Just like many other pieces of furniture, ottomans are available in a variety of styles. “Ottomans come in different shapes, sizes, styles, types, and materials,” says Robin DeCapua. “Most are upholstered in some way, either completely or partially. However, some are made of natural materials like rattan. They're often sized similarly to a side table, but can be round, square, rectangular, or hexagonal.” Additionally, some chairs come with a matching ottoman. The classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman is an example of a matched set.
Ottoman Coffee Table / Cocktail Ottoman
An ottoman coffee table is an ottoman that has been merged with a coffee table to create a piece that does it all. These ottomans often have a hard surface connected to the ottoman or placed on top of the ottoman to create a hard surface for drinks to sit.
According to Robin DeCapua, “poufs are a particular type of ottoman that have become extremely popular in recent years.” These ottomans are affordable, stylish, and practical. “You’ve probably seen them in modern interior design blogs, magazine features, and all over Instagram,” DeCapua adds.
Many like poufs because they’re incredibly easy to move around the room as seating or a footstool, sort of like an adult bean bag chair.
A favorite of small space dwellers, storage ottomans have extra storage space built into the piece, usually in the form of an upholstered top that lifts up to reveal a hidden cavity. James Stanley uses this sneaky storage option to keep his remote controls, seasonal throws, pillows, and magazines out of sight.
Tufted ottomans are ottomans created using an upholstery technique called tufting. These ottomans can be any size or shape, and are bring unique style and design to your space.
This style of ottoman pairs well with solid chairs, which accentuate the ottoman’s design, and linear accessories like trays or coffee table books.
Ottoman with Wheels
An ottoman with wheels (or a rolling ottoman) makes rearranging furniture even easier. Heather Bull says that her ottoman with wheels is “easy to move, even if the storage inside is full.”
These types of ottomans are perfect if you think you’re going to be using it for extra seating often, as the wheels mean that any guest can move it around to arrange it to their liking.
Oversized ottomans, a piece that has really made their mark in the last few years, serve as a practical piece for sitting, or can be used as a divider that creates a separation between rooms. These pieces are available in either square or rectangular varieties and create an exaggerated feel in any space.
It’s common to pair oversized ottomans with L-shaped sectionals, as they tend to fit well in between the two segments of the sofa.
A tall, circular ottoman that serves as a footstool or perch for a glass, drum ottomans are a great accent piece in any space. Many purchase drum ottomans as a pair to display on either side of a sofa.
Additionally, many like that the drum ottoman is a smaller version of the typically large piece that also provides a bit of height, which creates variation in what is usually a space where most furniture is on the same level.
Waterfall ottomans are curved, often upholstered pieces that bring an elegant shape to any space. According to Danielle Walish, waterfall ottomans have “a modern silhouette that looks especially nice at the foot of a bed.”
These ottomans are perfect for spaces with modern furniture or home decor, as the shape works well with the wavy edges and unique shapes commonly found in the modern aesthetic.
When choosing an ottoman, keep both your existing home decor and personal style in mind. James Stanley recommends choosing a rich velvet or leather ottoman if you’re a city dweller, or a linen or rattan ottoman if you’re located on the coast. “And for a cozy look and feel, I recommend a more earthy and rustic ottoman with wood legs and upholstered fabrics,” says Stanley.
When Patricia Tram is choosing an ottoman, she prioritizes a firm seat. “This will make it more comfortable and inviting when you run out of chairs during game day or hosting a party,” she says. “This will make it more comfortable and inviting when you run out of chairs during game day or hosting a party. A firm seat will also make the ottoman an extra side table by adding a tray on top with some florals and coasters for guests.
For those particularly looking for an extra layer of durability, Tram suggests choosing a leather upholstered ottoman. “Leather upholstered ottomans add that extra layer of durability when you're needing a foot rest for your lounge chair, and who doesn't want to add another layer of comfort in the home?” says Tram.
On the other hand, if you’re pairing your ottoman with a chair, it’s better to have the same fabric so that they feel like a set. “But if you're adding ottomans as additional seating space in your living room, or they're at the end of your bed at the foot rail as an accent, I love doing a contrasting material,” says Tram. “Mixing textures and patterns make spaces feel welcoming, warm, and rich.”
Amandeep Brar agees, “Ottomans add so much texture and color to the space. Create contrast with your sofa and add a bit of drama with a beautifully textured ottoman."
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Ottoman Styling Tips
According to William Oberlin, “Versatility is what makes the ottoman such a useful tool.” We couldn’t agree more, and compiled just a few of the many ways to style an ottoman below to get you thinking about what works best for your space.
Use as additional seating
Many turn to ottomans to provide additional seating for guests. One such person is Jennifer Davis, who uses ottomans to add extra seating in compact spaces, such as near the fireplace or discreetly tucked under a console table. “With its versatility and hint of charm, it is also ideal for introducing more pattern, color, or texture into any design concept,” says Davis.
James Stanley agrees, and says that his “favorite place to use an ottoman, especially a larger ottoman or a square one, is the living or family room. Right in-front of the seating area. It doubles as a coffee table, seating area, and footrest. Talk about Form and Function meeting beautifully.” Stanley says that the style of the ottoman doesn’t have to match your seating. In fact, choosing an ottoman with a finish or fabric that’s complementary to the rest of your seating options is a great way to inject personality into your living space.
“I love using ottomans as additional seating. Having more guests than expected has never been a problem as I always like having a few of them in my home," says Amandeep Brar.
Place by the foot of the bed
For those that love the look of a bench at the foot of the bed, try an ottoman. Robin DeCapua says that her favorite way to use ottomans is as a matched set at the foot of the bed, as they “provide a great spot for removing shoes, or to place a stack of books.” Additionally, ottomans used this way to add a finished look to the bedroom, “especially in a large room with a King bed, there’s often a space at the foot of the bed that just seems to need ‘something,’” says DeCapua.
Place a tray on top
There’s nothing like a good catch-all space for accessories like trinkets, magazines, or other accessories, and adding a tray to the top of an ottoman creates the perfect surface for this purpose.
Heather Bull agrees, and says that her “go to for styling ottomans is using a simple try and adding accessories inside of it,” as this gives the ability to quickly remove all decorative accessories when accessing the storage area.” Plus, this creates a hard surface for drinks. When Bull is styling a tray, she likes to add a few coffee table books, a simple decorative item, and a candle. “The key with any type of styling is balance, so make sure it’s not overfilled and that the heights of the decorative items vary,” she says.
Sasha Weilbaker is a freelance writer with bylines in Thrillist, Business Insider, and The Vegetarian Times. She's particularly interested in the intersection of sustainability and materials. In the wild, she can be found cycling around New England, scouting coffee shops, or obsessing over new podcasts.
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