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What Is the Difference between an Ottoman, Footstool and Hassock?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 16, 2024
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An ottoman, footstool, and hassock are all terms referring to furniture, namely the type upon which a person may rest his or her feet. Although closely related and often used interchangeably, there are significant differences among these variations of footrests. The size, style, and substances used are all factors differentiating the hassock, ottoman, and footstool.

In order to better understand the fundamental variations in these commonly owned types of furniture, it is best to describe each one individually. A footstool is a very general category of furniture, and many items may potentially fall under this category. The purpose of a footstool is to support a person's feet, usually while sitting. Traditionally, a footstool is composed of wood and is of a simple nature; however, ever more ornate versions may be found as well as those composed of many different materials. Both the ottoman and the hassock fall under the footstool's umbrella, so they can therefore be thought of as niche versions of footstools.

While footstools encompass a wide variety of objects used to relieve one's feet of pressure, ottomans and hassocks are specialized types. The ottoman is generally a large, padded stool that usually is also covered in fabric. One of the defining characteristics of this piece of furniture is its ability to store things inside. The word ottoman itself was generated from its identical French version, first introduced to the English vocabulary in 1806. The French term denotes a type of fabric, perhaps providing the reason for why an ottoman always possesses a fabric coating.

A hassock, like an ottoman, is covered in fabric. Traditionally, a hassock's covering is so extensive that no legs or framing are visible, unlike an ottoman. Another difference between the hassock and the ottoman is that an ottoman usually has a central space available for storage, while the hassock does not. Lacking the storage feature, hassocks tend to be smaller than ottomans. Other names for this type of furniture are tuffet and pouffe.

While these three common types of furniture are somewhat interchangeable, the variations are obvious. Each piece is exclusive in form and function. And, each is available in nearly unlimited colors, patterns, and shapes. All serve both comfort and style functions, and it is up to the people purchasing them to determine which aesthetic and functional qualities they desire in their furniture.

How to Reupholster an Ottoman With No Sewing Skills

Reupholstering furniture is usually best left to professionals or those with extensive sewing skills; however, changing the upholstery on an ottoman is a project that most people can do on their own with a little time and patience. All that is needed is fabric, a good staple gun and a bit of glue. The steps are simple and straightforward:

  1. Cut a piece of fabric large enough to cover the lid of the ottoman plus extra to tuck and staple
  2. Lay the lid, on the wrong side of the fabric and staple one edge in place on the underside of the lid.
  3. Pull the fabric tight and staple the opposite side. 
  4. Follow the same procedure on the remaining edges, folding the corners like wrapping a square package.
  5. Lay the body of the ottoman on its side and cut a piece of fabric that will wrap all the way around with a 2 inch overlap. The fabric height should cover the sides of the ottoman with enough overlap to be pulled over the edge and stapled out of sight.
  6. Pulling the fabric tight as you go, staple the top and bottom of the fabric one side at a time.
  7. Fold the remaining raw edge over to create a clean edge and use upholstery glue to fasten it in place.

How To Make an Ottoman Cover to Match Your Decor

Like pillows, curtains and rugs, an ottoman is a soft furnishing that offers the opportunity to accessorize and define the style of a room. Changing fabric choices on soft furnishings can refresh, update or completely alter a room's aesthetic at a fraction of the cost of purchasing new furniture.

Making a Basic Cover

While creating slipcovers for sofas and chairs can be a complex project, a basic ottoman cover is very simple and a great project for inexperienced DIYers. Making the simplest cover involves very few steps:

  1. Cut a piece of fabric that matches the shape and dimensions of the ottoman top, adding an inch for seam allowance on all sides.
  2. Measure the length around the ottoman and add an inch seam allowance on both ends.
  3. Determine how long you want the cover to be; you may want it to touch the floor or you may want it to be shorter in order to expose the legs. Add an inch seam allowance to both ends of that measurement as well.
  4. Fold and stitch a one inch hem on the bottom of the skirt portion.
  5. Sew the one side seam together.
  6. Pin your top to your bottom with right sides together and sew it on.
  7. Turn the cover right side out, iron out any wrinkles, and put it on your ottoman.

Slipcovering Pros and Cons

There is really only one negative to covering an existing ottoman, but it is important enough to consider before moving ahead with the project: the cover will need to be removed in order to access the storage area underneath the lid. For those who do not use this space regularly this may not be an issue, but if items in the ottoman are used frequently this can quickly become annoying and reupholstering the piece may be the better option.

There are more reasons to take on an ottoman slipcover project than not. Slipcovering an ottoman updates an older piece at little cost. It is a simple matter to make multiple slipcovers which offers the ability to change out the look seasonally or for special occasions. Slipcovers can be removed and laundered making them more impervious to spills and stains; those with pets and children will find this feature useful.

Adding Embellishments

Experienced DIYers and those with a bit more sewing skill can easily take a slipcover from basic to elaborate. There are many finishes and embellishments that can tailor the slipcover to the decor and style of a room such as adding welting for a more finished look or ruffles for a cottage feel.

Why is it Called an Ottoman?

What is now called an ottoman bears little resemblance to its original form. Historically, this piece of furniture can be traced back to the opulent Ottoman Empire in what is now modern-day Turkey. The Ottomans commonly used moveable seating, usually low benches piled with colorful cushions. When this style of furniture was brought to Europe, it was generally a very large circular, cushioned bench that surrounded a padded center pole. Over the years this ornate furnishing shrunk in size until it took the form of an upholstered and lidded footstool. Today it is most common to see an ottoman in a dressing room or as an alternative to a coffee table in a living room.

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Discussion Comments

By anon967833 — On Aug 29, 2014

Going by the definition given here, it appears to be an ottoman.

"Traditionally, a hassock's covering is so extensive that no legs or framing are visible, unlike an ottoman. Another difference between the hassock and the ottoman is that an ottoman usually has a central space available for storage, while the hassock does not. Lacking the storage feature, hassocks tend to be smaller than ottomans."

Here's the object in question for those not familiar:


Legs are visible - Ottoman +1

Appears to have storage (if you look closely, there's a large line between the top of the object, and the next section that the legs connect to - this cover appears to be removable) - Ottoman +1

Ottoman 2, Hassock 0

By Markerrag — On Jan 07, 2014
That's just going to rekindle the age-old debate -- did Dick Van Dyke trip over an ottoman or a hassock in the opening credits of his iconic 1960s sitcom? Is there even enough evidence to tell?
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