Ottoman, Hassock, Footstool, or Pouf?
When it comes to getting your home looking great, there’s nothing like accessories to add flair and style. But finding the right piece to fit your design and budget can be a challenge. Take your living room, for example. Everything is in place; you’re happy with the main furniture, the drapes, curtains, or blinds. The paintwork or wallpaper looks stunning. The flooring is perfect, whether rug, carpet, wood, or tile. But it feels like there’s something lacking. An open space in the central area that could do with something to fill it. So, what should you buy that will complete the look?
Something that won’t detract from the design you’ve cultivated. Something practical, yet stylish. Perhaps you have a coffee table already, but there’s a sense that the space around it doesn’t flow as well as it should. It may be that you are looking for more comfort, perhaps a footrest of some kind. And here’s where you might need some assistance. Do you go for a footstool, an ottoman, a pouf, or a hassock? Are all these one and the same? Maybe to some people. So let’s try to bring some clarity to the issue.
A rose by any other name…
‘What’s in a name?’ as they say. Wouldn’t it be great if we all called things by the same name? Well, it might be simpler, but maybe a little dull. But that doesn’t help when it comes to making choices when buying things – like furniture. Consider your couch. Or your sofa. Or your chaise longe. Maybe you call it a settee, or even a settle? These are basically the same thing, but sometimes with subtle differences. It all comes down to things like locality, upbringing, and even culture.
When choosing an accessory on which to place your feet whilst sitting in your favorite seat, the name can be important. You might look for a footstool, but is that what you really wanted? What about an ottoman? How many people would consider a hassock or a pouf? And do you know the difference?
To some, this might not be an issue. But to the sensible, discerning buyer who really cares, and wants their home to look the best it can, this does matter.
If you’re one of those people, then this guide is for you.
A rather grand-sounding name for what is essentially a storage box. Taking its name from the mighty empire that ruled vast areas of Europe, Asia, and North Africa for about 600 years, this was originally a wooden platform covered with large, soft cushions. They had no arms or back and formed the main seating area within the home – very different from the idea of seating in the west. Its exotic appearance appealed to the ‘civilized’ westerners who came across it, taking the idea back home with them. As the trend spread westward, the design evolved to suit more European tastes.
This type of seating was often found in clubs, museums, and other public spaces, often set around poles or pillars. Some examples had a central arm that divided the seat in half or a recess in which plants could be set. Over the course of the 19th-century people began to experiment with the shape, introducing circular or octagonal ottomans. As with most fashions and trends, they became a ‘must-have’ for anyone who was anyone. This is nicely illustrated by the fact that the very first mention of an ottoman in the English language was written by none other than the 3rd American president, Thomas Jefferson.
This furniture accessory was often set in the bedroom, where it served as a handy place to store linen as well as creating a ‘lounge’ space. Unhelpfully, because these tended to be larger items of furniture used for storage, the name then came to describe plain wooden chests – especially in the British Isles.
These days, however, an ottoman is generally regarded as a small, rectangular, fully-upholstered stool with a hinged lid. They are hollow, allowing for storage, but usually strong enough to be sat on. Most are covered completely and are over-stuffed, and they can come with or without legs.
Should I buy an ottoman?
If you want something rigid, practical, and that is completely upholstered, then this could be what you are looking for. The range is immense, and quality (as with most things) differs greatly. But there are many hundreds of beautiful examples to choose from. They can be on the heavy side but are basically portable – but take care when it is full! Some furniture suites include a matching ottoman. but sometimes a deliberate difference in fabric adds a touch of sophistication.
While it can be used as a footstool, it is better used as extra seating. Some people place a tray on top so that it doubles as a coffee table. While this is handy, you’d need to be certain that it is secure enough not to cause a hazard.
Obviously, the more it is used, the more likely it will wear out over time. Re-upholstery can be on the expensive side – even more so if you need it to match your other fabrics.
If you select one that has feet or legs, take care when positioning it within your home. If set within a ‘high-traffic’ area, there is a good chance that someone will stub a toe on that solid wood. And if it has already been filled it will be heavier, adding to the pain of the encounter.
To the more religious-minded, the word hassock may invoke memories of kneeling to pray in church. Those little rectangular cushions, often decorated with biblical emblems and scriptures have saved many a pious knee from pain.
But the term, like so many other words in the English language, has suffered changes in its meaning over the centuries. Originally, in the 10th century, it referred to a clump of grass, usually in marshy ground. How it then evolved to refer to a stool or kneeling-cushion is anyone’s guess, but that is precisely what happened.
An alternative word – tuffet – was also used, and very occasionally still is, mostly in the United Kingdom. This is the word that appears in the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’, describing the seating arrangements of the unfortunate arachnophobe. The fact that she was seated gives a clue to the original meaning of both terms. Illustrations for the nursery rhyme depict her either sat on a low, grassy hump, or on a small stool.
So, is a hassock (or tuffet) the same as an ottoman? And in today’s world are they seats or footstools?
In general, a hassock (as a piece of furniture) tends to be smaller than an ottoman. Though both tend to be upholstered, the main difference between the two is that a hassock does not have storage. They are always upholstered and can come with or without legs.
Do I want a hassock?
If you don’t need the extra storage, then perhaps a hassock is the way to go. It will be easier to move around, as it will be smaller and not stuffed with magazines, books, and suchlike. Depending on how firm the surface of the cushion is (not too firm, as it won’t be very comfortable!) you may even use it as a handy side-table for remotes, glasses, and all the paraphernalia that makes your life easier.
Aside from the lack of storage, another potential downside may be the smaller size, as well as the fact that hassocks rarely come as part of a suite. You will need to select your hassock very carefully to find one that will complement your furniture and not clash with the existing patterns.
Also, some models tend to be less sturdy and not quite as comfortable as an ottoman.
To add to the fun, this can also be spelled, pouffe. Both words come from the French bouffer, which means ‘to puff’. This described anything from hairstyles to clothes, to a large, cushion-like footstool. You can easily see how it came by its name, as these cushions tend to be
Once again, the word pouf is sometimes used to describe an ottoman. But the two are completely different, in spite of the best efforts of furniture to confuse the issue by mixing the names. There are even listings for ottoman poufs. But this is surely a ruse to capture more online custom rather than a helpful description.
A pouf (or pouffe, occasionally pronounced pooh-fay to add flair) is not for storage. Although it can have a solid base or feet, it is generally a square or cylindrical cushion, used as a footstool or a seat. In more recent years these were replaced by bean-bags, which tend to be on the larger and softer side, whereas the pouf mostly served as a footrest.
Is a pouf right for my home?
These are probably the most portable of the three, as well as the cheaper option. They can be as simple or as stylish as you wish but bear in mind that they have a more casual look than either an ottoman or a hassock. Also, you are unlikely to find one that will match your furniture exactly. Being lightweight, they can be moved around without any trouble, but they are not really suitable as a side table.
A good, solid ottoman or hassock can conceivably provide extra seating when you are entertaining. A pouf, however, will probably not be firm or comfortable enough for sitting on for any length of time.
We have seen that an ottoman, a hassock, and a pouf can all be described as footstools. However, each of them is distinctly different from the other.
While the ottoman offers a classy look that’s practical and comfortable, it will probably be the more expensive of the three. Its heaviness (especially when full) may go against it in terms of portability, but it does offer a sturdy alternative if an extra seat is required. There is a chance you could get one to match your existing suite of furniture, or you can use your clever interior design skills to find one that compliments it.
The hassock doesn’t have the storage capabilities but is generally lighter and therefore easier to move. You would be lucky to find one upholstered in the same pattern as your suite, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to source one that will blend in. In fact, some talented interior designers use a mix of patterns as a theme in itself. It can be used for sitting on, although, being generally smaller than an ottoman, it might be better suited for kids.
Finally, the pouf – the cheapest and most portable of the three. You’d be more likely to find these in a home that offers a more casual atmosphere, though this doesn’t mean they can’t look good. They make a comfortable footstool but they may tend to sag over time. This makes them unsuitable for extra seating as they don’t offer the support that an ottoman or hassock does, even though they don’t have a back or arms.
We have the world of the Internet to thank for much of the confusion regarding the names, not helped by the fact that names and meanings often change over the years. Search online for an ottoman, and you’ll most likely find results that read ‘ottoman pouf floor cushion bean bag’, and so on.
This is designed purely to ensure that you find that page, using a range of terms that might offer a match.
But now you know the difference between an ottoman, hassock, and pouf. And armed with this knowledge you can make an informed decision, to add the finishing touches to the look and feel of your home. So, whether it’s just for casual comfort, a handy place to store things, or classic style with a practical side, you can choose with confidence.
If you would like to check out our full range of Pouffes, Footstools, Stools & Ottomans etc then check out the links below…
French Footstools & Pouffes
Industrial Chairs & Stools
Modern Blanket Boxes & Ottomans