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What is an Ottoman?

Wanda Albano
Wanda Albano

The word ottoman can mean a variety of things. It can refer to anything pertaining to the Ottoman Empire, it can be used to describe a Turkish man of a certain tribe, and it can also indicate a type of cloth. For our purposes, however, we are going to focus on the most widely used definition of the term today: a type of furniture.

Traditionally, it is believed that the ottoman takes its roots from the divan, which is essentially a long, backless seat or padded bench with cushions to lean against. In fact, in some parts of world, the terms "divan" and "ottoman" are still interchangeable. The divan style of furniture was popularly used in the Middle Eastern council chambers of the government agency called Diwan, from which it got its name. The divan was popularized in Europe in the 1800's.

Ottomans are large, padded stools covered in fabric, designed to relieve one's feet of pressure.
Ottomans are large, padded stools covered in fabric, designed to relieve one's feet of pressure.

Nowadays, however, especially in North America, when one speaks of an ottoman, one is usually talking about a low, rectangular footrest, usually upholstered, which may double as additional seating or an occasional table. The emergence of the smaller, more minimalist "divan-like" piece of furniture is generally believed to be a western evolution of Eastern furniture influences on European society, which became somewhat of a trend in the 1800's. The ottoman, at least as we know it today, is not believed to have been invented by Ottoman Turks, but was called so in deference to its exotic roots. In point of fact, the ottoman most resembles the Moroccan (North African) pouf, which is a thick cushion used as a seat.

Modern ottomans can be found in almost every furniture store, in various sizes, shapes, materials, and price ranges. An ottoman may also be hollow and may be used as chests for storage. Covered in leather, silk, canvas, or cotton, they have become a staple in most fashionable homes.

Discussion Comments


I used to think that Ottomans are very expensive. But I've seen a few affordable ones. They are small and made of faux leather but still look good and would look classy in any living room. I don't have a big budget but I think I can get a very nice one for a decent price.


@Terrificli-- I'm thinking of selling my ottoman and getting one with a storage. When we first bought furniture for out home, I insisted on having an ottoman and we basically picked it up along with our living room set. I didn't do much research about the materials, sizes and storage options.

I wish I had because I really need one with a storage now. We use blankets in the winter and we also have magazines and books lying around in the living room. It would be great to have a place to store all that without them being out in the open. It would also be very easy to access those things. We wouldn't have to go to the next room or go searching for them around the house.


The Ottomans may or may not have invented this type of bench but I can definitely see how Western culture was inspired by Ottoman seating and furniture.

I'm interested in Ottoman history and recently also watched TV series and shows about it. One historian mentioned that the Sultan used his bedroom also as his office. He had a large square padded bench which also doubled as a seat and a bed. During the day, he could sit on it and attend to his visitors, work on it and then sleep on it at night as his bed.

The ottoman furniture we know of today is basically a miniature version of this. Its uses are a little different now but the furniture itself is basically the same.


@Logicfest -- Your brother is lucky his bride to be didn't smack him upside the head (of course, she might have and you just didn't mention that in your story).

Anyway, a storage ottoman is one of the coolest pieces of furniture in my home. It is considerably larger than your typical ottoman, but that means it has plenty of space for us to store video games so they are out of sight.


The leather ottoman has become almost a standard piece of equipment in a lot of homes in these parts. My little brother had a bit of fun with the term "ottoman" back when he was preparing to get married to his Turkish wife.

"Don't ask her what she wants for a wedding present," he'd say. "All she wants is a bunch of footstools."

The funny thing about that, of course, is that the term "ottoman" may have originally come from Turkey, but its use in describing furniture in the English speaking world appears to be coincidental.

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    • Ottomans are large, padded stools covered in fabric, designed to relieve one's feet of pressure.
      By: bagarol
      Ottomans are large, padded stools covered in fabric, designed to relieve one's feet of pressure.