Say hello to the ottoman, the new coffee table. Once a lowly afterthought placed at the end of a lounge chair — nothing more than a footrest, really — today's ottoman is establishing its dominion. Pushing its way past the traditional sofa-side table, this foam- and fabric-covered island — measuring from 2-by-3 feet to just shy of a twin bed — is the new design go-to, cherished for classic good looks and casual couch potato cultivation.
"The ottoman is a piece for relaxing, but the shape, style and upholstery can also add an unpredictable casual elegance to the room," says interior designer Barclay Butera. "They are very versatile. Many ottomans are on casters so you can just slide them out of the way if the kids want to set up their Legos when you're watching TV."
An even more obvious appeal: By definition and design, ottomans are a place where you can prop your stocking feet, a gesture that seems unseemly — not to mention uncomfortable — on a table.
"The more that you can sit sloppy in your own home, the better," says La-Z-Boy wonder Todd Oldham, who has nearly a dozen ottomans in his furniture line, including several storage models. "Ottomans allow you to do that."
For the space-challenged, he says, "any piece of furniture that can perform a double function is always a hit. You can replace coffee tables with ottomans and actually store your DVDs and kids' toys in them, without adding another piece of furniture. You can slide it next to a sofa and create a chaise, or an extra seat for guests."
Of course, there are downsides. Oldham recommends ottomans with high-density foam and tufted upholstery, "so you could actually sit on one side and the whole thing doesn't cave in."
Serving food and drinks also poses potential problems. "You do have to put snacks on a tray," he says, "or at least a nice open piece of Tupperware, so things don't spill."
Or, you can invest in a cocktail ottoman from the Vineyards collection, available at Henredon Home Furnishings in Pasadena, starting at $2,919. It has an upholstered top that slides forward to reveal storage space beneath. Henredon also has an oval ottoman by designer David Easton that has two small pull-out wooden tabletops for $2,047.
Sticker shock? Well, if you can settle for one pull-out drink caddy, the Larkspur Cocktail Ottoman from Bombay Co. starts at $299.
Crave the elegance of a French velvet oval with unicorn horn-styled turned legs? You'll want Donghia's Illusion, with a suggested retail price of $2,000. Want a cheap and cheerful place to sit and stash your stuff? Try the $229.99 rectangular CD Storage Ottoman in lipstick red faux leather from http://www.target.com . You'll even find animal-friendly acrylic zebra-print ottomans for $495 at Z Gallerie.
Classic ottomans with tufted leather or luxury fabrics tightly upholstered to show off ornate legs — the complement to Spanish architecture and European décor — are among the most prevalent styles. But modernists have not been neglected.
In keeping with the traditional tapered dowel legs of Atomic Age furniture, La-Z-Boy and Room &Board have round ottomans that are 3 feet in diameter and seem to be posing in miniskirts on four spiked heels. Even the conservative Thomasville offers the Lexi, a grouping of four wedge-shaped pieces that can be used as separate seats or formed into a 44-inch-wide circular ottoman.
How did this ottoman empire arise? The piece got its name from the ornate fabrics used to cover footstools that came from the Ottoman Turks in the 13th century.
Credit its current popularity to modular seating units — love seats, chaises and corner pieces sold in a set — which usually include matching ottomans. These sectionals have sped the acceptance of ottomans as alternatives to traditional living room tables, giving the space a unified look, says interior designer Stephen Saint-Onge.
"It used to be the sofa in the middle of the room with a console table behind it and a coffee table in front," Saint-Onge says. "People are now thinking in a different ways, moving furniture around and creating different seating areas. The ottoman taking the place of a coffee table is part of that."
For Tracey Briscoe Monroe, vice president of marketing and client services at an investment management firm, trading a coffee table for a Cambridge ottoman from Barclay Butera (with prices starting around $1,150) was an expense that has already paid dividends in "ease and comfort."
When she and her attorney husband, Sean, moved into their first home together in Studio City, they chose the property because it had two living areas. "One for his 55-inch projection TV, which I did not want to see every day," Monroe says, "and one that was more sophisticated for our mix of Mediterranean and traditional furniture."
For that latter room, they already had a good wrought iron table with a glass top. The only trouble was it kept getting in Sean's way.