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For putting your feet up and making the most of your fine luxury sofa, few items are as indispensible as a leather ottoman. Also referred to as a footrest or a pouffe, a matching ottoman makes the perfect complement to a sofa set, particularly one with a classic touch such as a leather Chesterfield sofa. An ottoman can be more than just a footrest; many people use them for storage, or as coffee tables, and even as seats in their right.
Having such a versatile and convenient piece of furniture in your living room is clearly an advantage, something which is well known to all those with even a passing interest in quality furniture and interiors. What is less well known however, is how exactly an ottoman came to be called that, instead of just a foot stool. There are a few explanations and they all begin a long time ago, in a land far away.
The Ottoman Empire came into being when the Turkish tribes from Anatolia conquered Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) in 1453. Thanks largely to the power and aggression of Suleiman the Magnificent, by 1590 the empire covered an area that encompassed what is now Turkey, Greece and the rest of the Balkans, Syria, Israel and Egypt.
The Ottoman Empire survived countless wars and incursions and lasted in varying states of power and influence into the twentieth century, only coming to an end in 1922, when the monarchy was abolished and the nation we now know as Turkey was established. So what does all of this have to do with luxury leather footstools? Well, some say we have the French to thank.
When Napoleon’s army invaded Egypt in 1798, it was still under the influence of the Ottoman Empire. France’s success in this campaign over such a powerful and aggressive empire, led to the idea of the French resting their feet upon a humbled enemy, hence the simple footstool becoming known as an ottoman.
Or at least that’s one explanation. Another theory goes back to Turkish domestic customs, in which there was a central seating arrangement which was piled with cushions. This made its way to Europe, gradually losing the cushions and evolving into the smaller piece of furniture, without a back or sides, we know today. The name ottoman was retained, suggesting that this ‘seat’ design was of Eastern origin.
A more grisly possibility is that ottomans became known as such as a consequence of torture. One of the punishments meted out by the Ottoman rulers, was the burning and injuring of suspects’ feet. After being subjected to this torture, it was necessary for the victim to put their feet up on an upholstered footstool, hence ‘ottoman’.
Whichever is the more accurate, all of these explanations trace the roots of this intriguing piece of furniture to Turkey, passing on to us through France in the late eighteenth century.
What really matters of course is that you have a beautiful accessory to your sofa set that makes an excellent footrest, coffee table or whatever else you wish it to be.