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Anna G. Larson, Published May 04 2013

Ottoman empire: Pieces offer function, versatility in any space

FARGO - A piece of furniture once reserved for royalty is likely sitting in your home right now.

Named for the leader of the Ottoman Turks, the ottoman – an upholstered footstool – is one of the most versatile pieces of furniture anyone can own, says designer Nancy Michelsen of Vivid Interiors. Ottomans are also called “poufs” and “tuffets.”

“They can be the centerpiece of a room, and they’re functional and beautiful,” Michelsen says.

The armless, backless ottoman can be used in almost any room of a home, although less frequently in kitchens and bathrooms, she says.

Besides its ancient use as a footrest, an ottoman can be an alternative to a cocktail table, or, when upholstered in an eye-catching fabric, it acts as an accent piece in a room, Michelsen says.

With a tray on top, an ottoman acts as a coffee table. Some ottomans even have a flat surface under the top that can be flipped up for an instant coffee table.

“I’ve used ottomans for room plans for a long time because they do have a lot of great functions,” says Sylvia Lunski of Design Direction.

Blankets, toys, books and files can be concealed in the core of an ottoman, and the furniture can act as space-saving seating when entertaining, Lunski says.

Ottomans made for outdoor use can hold gardening tools, cushions and any other items that might need storing.

“Ottomans have always been around, but they’ve increased in popularity because square footage is smaller and smaller,” Lunski says. “We need furniture that can have multifunctional purposes. Their biggest key is how transitional they are.”

Ottomans tucked under a table in an entryway save space, and people can pull them out to use as a stool when they put their shoes on, Michelsen says.

Smaller ottomans can also be grouped together in a room to make a statement.

“They’re cool for people with small spaces who like to entertain,” Michelsen says.

Not all ottomans are sturdy enough to be seating, so it’s important to keep in mind how an ottoman will be used, she says.

An ottoman that will be used primarily as a foot rest should be upholstered in durable fabric or leather, Michelsen says.

She typically avoids ultra-light colors and makes sure that the fabric is easy to clean, especially for ottomans used in a children’s room.

Traditional cube ottomans in solid color fabric work well in children’s rooms since they’re usually used for storage, Michelsen says.

The pieces are also an easy, affordable way to add color and interest to a room, she says.

“A lot of people are scared to do something kind of crazy, but these are a nice way to spruce up a sunroom, a playroom, etc.,” Michelsen says.

Lunski recently finished a leopard print ottoman for a client. She says the bold design “really made the room pop” without overwhelming the room in leopard print.

Teal is a trendy color for ottomans right now, although both designers say leather is the most popular upholstery choice, but Michelsen prefers fabric ottomans for seating.

Both designers note the size and shape of an ottoman depends on the size and floor plan of a room. For instance, a large room with a sectional can comfortably accommodate a large ottoman while that same ottoman would look out of place in a small room.

Large ottomans are usually incorporated into the main seating area of a room, Lunski says. They can also help “ground” a high-ceilinged space. She recommends an ottoman with castors (wheels) if it is large and will be moved around frequently.

The price of ottomans varies depending on size and quality. Most ottomans at furniture stores are priced $200 to $1,200, Michelsen says, although retailers like Target carry ottomans that are more modestly priced.

“That’s when you can tell they’re a hit – when they start coming out at Target because Target spends a lot of money on consumer research,” she says.

Target’s ottomans are $20 to nearly $500. Michelsen says do-it-yourselfers can create a makeshift ottoman by attaching a fabric-covered pad to an existing stool or coffee table. She’s used this trick before when a client has a great coffee table but wants the versatility of an ottoman.

“They are all about function,” she says. “People want to enjoy and live in their homes – ottomans are going to get used.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525