IT isn't a couch — those have backs and arms, don't they? And when was the last time you saw a button-tufted, leathercovered cocktail table? So what is this large upholstered entity sprouting like an irradiated tuffet in so many Los Angeles homes?
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.
"My husband was thrilled to get rid of the coffee table," Monroe says, laughing. "The ottoman is much softer. You don't have to worry about people running into it and hurting themselves."
At 28 inches wide and 45 inches long, Monroe's ottoman is "huge, the same size as a coffee table, if not bigger. Two or three people can put their feet up and you still have room for a tray."
It is the tray that may be the biggest draw of all. Shelter publication and home furnishings catalogs can't get enough of ottomans dressed with snuggly cashmere throws and trays laden with silver pitchers, framed photos, flowers and candles.
"It looks a little too deliberate," says Mark McMenamin, an editor who covers home décor for InFurniture magazine. "But, if we're talking about an ottoman that can suddenly become a serving station by adding a tray full of appetizers, it becomes functional, even improvisational, rather than froufrou."
Like it or not, the decorated ottoman is a particular form of home theater, a quick-fix Real Simple decorating idea for creating a setting for indulgence and intimacy that few can pass up.
For Carmen Lopez, who has a two-ottoman living room, resistance is futile. The western manager for advertising at People en Español magazine keeps books about interiors and travel on one side of the bamboo-trimmed ottoman she purchased at Nell's in Los Angeles, and her tray on the other.
"I change it with the season," Lopez says. "It's fun to get different things for the top of it. It's a serviceable surface, soft and sturdy, that you can decorate and put your feet on. It's one of those things I saw in a magazine or store years ago and thought that can work. Now everybody has them."
Monroe experiments with decorating her ottoman tray. She uses various candles and teapots that she collects for different moods and seasons.
"It adds comfort and beauty and completes the room," she says. "We've had every kind of coffee table, but this is by far the best for use. We're redecorating throughout the house, and I'm already thinking of how to use an ottoman in every room."
David A. Keeps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.*
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Where to find them
Some ottoman resources, listed in alphabetical order:
Barclay Butera: 169 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 634-0200; 1745 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach, (949) 650-8570; http://www.barclaybutera.com .
Bombay Co.: http://www.bombaycompany.com .
Donghia: http://www.donghia.com .
Henredon Home Furnishings: 520 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 628-1000; http://www.henredon.com .
La-Z-Boy: http://www.lazyboy.com .
Nell's: 7407 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 857-6697; http://www.nellsathome.com .
Room & Board: 1661 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana; (714) 549-5995, (800) 301-9720 catalog sales; http://www.roomandboard.com .
Rowe: http://www.rowefurniture.com .
Target: http://www.target.com .
Thomasville: http://www.thomasville.com .
Vioski: 132 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; (323) 937-7741; http://www.vioski.com .
Z Gallerie: http://www.zgallerie.com .Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun