The Ottoman: Ruler of the Free Home
No, not the Empire -- though that did play a paramount role in its name.
Our story begins in ancient Egypt where Egyptians piled cloth and soft natural material into low stools to replace wooden furniture for the lack of abundant wood. When wooden frames were used, they were padded with leather and used for kneeling as well as sitting. Some 878 miles (1414 kilometers) north, people in the Ottoman Empire (current-day Turkey) were creating similar pieces to furnish their homes as late as the 13th century. It reflected a central piece of familial bonding and community within the home. This sentiment toward sociopetal seating was shared throughout all of Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Turkey. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “One of the early versions was designed as a piece of fitted furniture to go entirely around three walls of a room, and from this evolved a smaller version, designed to fit the corner of a room”.
And aren’t we glad?
With the late 18th century came an increase in transportation. Via these new modes, people from all over the world could travel to different countries and explore different designs. Europe quickly adapted these versatile ottomans, with the French word ottoman said to have appeared in French literature as early as 1729. Europeans enjoyed ottomans in the furnishing of their budding pubs and clubs. Sixty years later, Thomas Jefferson would be credited with the first American recording of the word after purchasing a velvet ottoman and writing it in his memorandum.
Today the word 'ottoman' is one of many used to describe this adaptable seat. Other terms include pouffe, tuffet, and hassock. The word hassock also doubles as “a firm clump of grass or matted vegetation in marshy or boggy ground” – nature’s own furniture, in a way.
Centuries later and the ottoman can still be seen with various storage capabilities, in various geometric shapes, firmly padded, and set low to the floor. While a few ottomans have been designed with arms, the majority are armless, backless, short-legged pieces likened after their ancestors. And like their ancestral intentions, an ottoman in the 21st century home can make a room feel more relaxed, inviting, and worthy of gathering.
A modern ottoman can serve as a (coffee) table, storage chest, footstool, chair, sofa, and (if you can curl up tight enough) a bed.
In a war between the utility of the ottoman and almost any other piece of furniture – the ottoman will forever continue to reign.