Originating from the Ottoman Empire when they cushioned seated sultans and their palace courtiers, ottomans are very much on the rise in British homes. If you haven’t yet been captivated by their versatile charms, prepare to be won over. Read the definitive guide to the ottoman and how to style it and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one…
Ottomans are brilliant multi-taskers. They can be used as a coffee table, an extra chair, or a decorative footstool for a sofa, as well as offering extra space-saving storage underneath.
When beautifully upholstered and padded, they add luxurious comfort and a softer, more relaxed feel than a hard-surfaced coffee table. They can be used to add an accent colour or blend in neutrally with your décor; they can be styled with trays and accessories to serve as a focal point and provide the central hub of a seating area. They’re also ideal for a bedroom where there’s not quite enough room for a chaise or sofa.
OTTOMANS IN DEMAND
Sarah, co-founder at LRI, has seen a real upsurge in demand for ottomans over the past 18 months or so.
“Our upholstered ottomans have always been popular,”
“but sales, particularly of our large Petit Royale upholstered ottomans, have really taken off recently.
“That’s one of the reasons we decided to add a grey velvet to our linen upholstered collection last year, and now we’ve extended the range to include a lovely soft pale blue velvet and a royal blue velvet, which have just arrived in the showroom this week. They look amazing in the new colours, and have really given the showroom a summery lift.”
“I’m a huge fan of the ottoman and we have one of the linen Petit Royales in our living room at home. I love accessorizing it with different trays, flowers and scented candles and the shelf underneath is really handy for…”
HISTORY OF THE OTTOMAN
There’s an exotic aura around the word ‘ottoman’, which is named after one of the mightiest and longest-lasting dynasties in world history. If you’ve managed to catch up with Netflix’s lavish docudrama Rise of Empires – Ottoman during lockdown, you may already be aware of the history.
The series focuses on the conquest of Constantinople, renamed Istanbul, by Mehmed II and his Ottoman forces in 1453. The Islamic-run superpower was founded in 1299 by Turkish tribal leader Osman I, and was called after the Arabic for his name, “Uthman”.
The empire ruled large areas of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa for more than 600 years. It is remembered among many other things for its artistic and architectural marvels, including Turkey’s Topkapi Palace, home to 25 Turkish sultans from the 15th to 19th centuries.
The ottoman furniture we know today came to Europe from Turkey in the late 1700s and caught on in fashionable salons. At first it would have been more like a padded banquette or bench, often made to fit around a wall.
During the 19th century, the ottoman became a fixture in private gentlemen’s clubs in London. Circular or octagonal, they sometimes had arms dividing the seat into sections and a central, padded column (often with a plant or statue on top) to lean against.
Then came the ottoman footstool, an upholstered stool on four legs which could also be used as a fireside seat. By the 20th century, the term ottoman described both types of furniture.
Ottomans have long had their place in private clubs and country houses, but their mainstream use as coffee tables in our homes has blossomed over the past decade. You only need to look through the lifestyle and interiors feeds on Instagram to see hundreds of inspirational styled ottoman shots that are fuelling the trend.
So if you’re thinking of investing in one of these must-have furniture items, which should you choose and what are the best ways to style it?
TIPS FOR CHOOSING AN OTTOMAN
- Find the right shape for your room: Round or oval is more informal, a square works well as a side table and a rectangular shape is ideal for a longer room or as a centre to a seating area.
- Choose a colour that ties the room together: A neutral colour, like oatmeal or grey, will complement any décor scheme, while an accent colour such as pale or royal blue can be matched with cushions and accessories.
- Make sure it has some interest: Texture, buttoning and studded detailing all add to the luxury vibe and ensure that your ottoman deserves to take centre stage in the living room.
ADDING A TRAY
A tray is not only decorative but a practical necessity for your upholstered ottoman as it’s somewhere solid and level to put drinks and display your favourite accessories.
- Consider the size: You might prefer one large tray or a couple of smaller ones (one that could stay put with accessories on it and one for drinks, for example. Just make sure trays have handles so they can be moved easily.
- Mix colours and textures. As an ottoman is soft, you could go for wooden, metallic, mirrored or glass trays for contrast.
Your ottoman gives you the perfect opportunity to tell a story – it’s a showcase for your own personal sense of style.
- Pare it down: To avoid things looking messy, give everything on your ottoman a purpose: it should be beautiful, functional, interesting or sentimental. Think about colours too: perhaps choose two or three that work with your ottoman and décor and stick to these for a cohesive look.
- Clever combinations: If you’re struggling to think of what to display, take inspiration from the following four groups:
- Natural – try a small plant (real or faux), a wooden bowl or platter (see our feather platter), stone apples and pears, pine cone candle holders etc. Think rustic, vintage, wooden and stone.
- Practical – add drinks coasters, games or cards and boxes to hide remotes or laptops. Coffee table books or magazines look great stacked in piles of three or five, the largest at the bottom, smallest on top.
- Scented – Use flowers, reed diffusers or scented candles to add ambiance and fragrance to your room. Try a single candle or add three in different heights and shapes for best effect.
- Structural – choose a rock, crystal, object of art or a sculpture that will give a structural dimension to your display.
And finally, you can always drape a throw over your ottoman (link to one of our throws here) in a harmonising colour and texture. This looks especially inviting and cosy in the colder months.
Happy styling with the La Residence Interiors……