When Raaj Kumar mouthed that cinematic dialogue to Meena Kumari in Pakeezah, “Aapke paaon … zameen par mat utaariyega, maile ho jaayenge,” was he indirectly imploring her to land her feet on a fine upholstered ottoman instead? Possible.
Placing a footstool beneath someone’s tired soles (or better, gifting them a piece) is nothing less than a royal gesture. Royal, because the practice of using footstools can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire (and probably even some parts of India). The footstool culture from those days later gave rise to an army of equally comforting objects—the hassock, pouffe, tuffet and ottoman.
Photo caption: The ottoman’s design and form is historically credited to Turkish weavers. Photo courtesy Deborah Martin Designs
Ottoman: A Curious Case
We’ve all been taught that the ottoman, the much coveted upholstered backless seat, received its title from its namesake empire, christened after its founder Osman I (‘Uthman’ in Arabic). As per common belief, it was the norm back then for people to prop their feet on stools stacked with cushions at home or in tents. The credit for the ottoman’s design goes to Turkish carpet weavers, who d such footrests using bales of cotton, says Debbie Koopman, a spokesperson at catalogue company Spiegel Inc. This method, in turn, was possibly derived from the ancient Egyptian technique of turning cloth and soft natural materials into low stools—a contraption meant to compensate for the sparsity of wood in the desert country. (The odd wooden frame would be padded with leather so it was comfortable to sit or kneel on.)
Photo caption: The furniture piece got its name due to its role in Turkish daily life. Photo by Perry Mastrovito via Getty Images
Ottoman: Alternate History
Another theory states that the ottoman was the main form of residential seating in medieval-era Turkey and that it facilitated human bonding. Says Engin Ozcan, a researcher at Ankara’s Bilkent University, the word ‘ottoman’ also means ‘divan’—banquette-like sectional furniture that hugs or wraps around three walls of a room. Typically piled with pillows, this style of seating was a common sight during council meetings (also known as divan) between sultans and their commanders. The ottoman arrived in Europe in the late 18th or early 19th century and got its name due to its role in Turkish daily life.
Photo caption: The thereabouts of the ottoman range from Egypt to France. Photo by Vostok via Getty Images
The earliest evidence of the term’s usage was in France in 1729 as ‘ottomane’. But the word entered the English lexicon after Thomas Jefferson’s memorandum revealed his purchase of a velvet ‘ottomane’—probably an armchair—in 1789 during his Paris tour. Moreover, it was perhaps after its arrival in the west that the divan-like piece shrank into smaller units that easily stood in a corner or, as seen in the lobbies of many present-day hotels, circular seats surrounding a vertical pole or column.
Photo caption: Ottomans today come with buttoned upholstery, castors or storage. Photo by Jorge Juan Perez / EyeEm via Getty Images
Ottoman: Turn of The Century
By the 19th century, the ottoman had shifted from the walls to assume centre stage and also became circular or octagonal. While these versions had backs or arms, the ottoman today features none of these and usually comes with buttoned upholstery, castors or storage.
But why ‘ottomane’? And where did the ‘e’ go?
Photo caption: The Egyptians in the 18th century used ottomans to rest their tired, tortured feet. Photo by Robert Daly via Getty Images
Ottoman: The ‘Napoleonic’ Version
As per another theory, when the French invaded Egypt at the turn of the 18th century, they saw the locals use a distinct style of footstool. Egypt then was an ottoman territory, and the masses often suffered acts of cruelty and punishment. When the people came home after their ordeal, they would rest their tired, tortured feet on these footstools. The French later took back this style of furniture. Contrarily, it’s possible that travellers from Western Europe brought home this Near Eastern design from their tours of Greece and the Balkans.
Still, why the name ‘ottomane’ and then ‘ottoman’? Was it a literal attempt to keep the ottoman under one’s feet? That’s something to sit and mull over.
With inputs by Deborah Martin, owner and creative director, Deborah Martin Designs, Associate ASID, NKBA
Priyanka Agarwal architecturaldigest.in