The origins of the term “ottoman” to describe a particular style of footstool are subject much debate with some commentators pointing to Napoleon Bonaparte’s exploits around the Mediterranean, others as a direct export of Turkish influence in Europe. The “Napoleonic” view sees to the term ‘ottoman’ entering common parlance as a style of footrest made popular in France towards the end of the Eighteenth Century. When the French invaded Egypt they found the locals popularising a style of footstool – Egypt at the time was still part of the Ottoman Empire and its people were subject to many acts of brutality and endured many forms of punishment. Footstools were developed to rest weary and tortured feet and when the French returned home, they took with them the influences and styles of furniture they had seen their travels.
The French foot rests became popular in Europe and were given the name “ottoman” in tribute to its origin.Others were influenced directly from their visits to parts of the Ottoman Empire. Travellers returning to Western Europe from the Balkans and Greece saw evidence of Turkish furniture styles at mosques and palaces and the name was introduced into the English language in the late 1780’s.
The generic term “Ottoman” referred to a footstool or a low upholstered seat completely covered by fabric. The first wooden ottomans had no legs sitting directly on the floor being constructed in box form with storage space under the seat with a non fixed lid. Later ottomans were fitted with hinges to regulate the uplifting lid. They also came in a variety of sizes and shapes.
Modern day designs can be both functional or luxurious, with stunning upholstered fabrics and leathers. They are found in almost every room in the house having been large receptacles of blankets and bedding in the grand Victorian houses of the late Nineteenth Century. Nowadays they are most commonly found in the bedroom as useful storage footstools of sheets and bedding, in bathrooms as taller, narrower units associated as receptacles of dirty linen and clothes or in living rooms as pieces in which to store papers and magazines.
Their versatility is such that they are often the centrepiece of a modern sitting room.