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The Ottoman, A Victorian Furniture Form

As the name indicates, this auxiliary seat for a Victorian parlor set was inspired by a Turkish pile of small rugs used as a low seat. From its usage it could well be considered the effete descendant of the austere joined stool of the seventeenth century which was accepted as a fitting seat for "women, children, and lesser folk." Two centuries later, the well-behaved young person was expected to choose the upholstered but back-less ottoman as a proper seat in the presence of elders.

This piece of furniture dates from a little before the beginning of the Victorian period and remained in favor through the end of the century. Since this period included not one but eight sub-styles, the types of ottomans naturally varied with the chair fashions they matched. The high point came with the French Louis XV sub-style when the ottoman with slender cabriole legs was a standard unit of many matching parlor sets.

The Ottoman in the Victorian period was used as a companion to the armchair, the two pieces become a sort of chaise longue. The French-style ottoman and large or "gentleman's" armchair are of corresponding size and the ottoman has an upholstered seat, crowning, and is equipped with springs like that of its matching armchair. It is the same height from the floor. Seat rails serpentined,finger-molded, and ornamented with central medallions of carved flowers or fruits, flanked by leafage done in low or medium relief. There usually is carving also on the knees of the four cabriole legs. Black walnut was the usual wood but rosewood was also fashionable, especially for expensive, cabinetmaker-produced furniture.

This type of ottoman was made in quantity by furniture factories and manufacturers of sofa and chair frames from about 1850 to 1865. Some were made with longer legs and used as dressing table seats or as piano stools. The chair-high ottoman is desirable in this style and more apt to be found as a separate piece today than as part of a set.

Ottomans in other Victorian sub-styles include the spool-turned which was being made at the same time. This has plain straight rails and is supported by four spool-turned legs of either black walnut or walnut-stained native hard wood.

There is also the bracket-foot type which bears traces of the earlier American Empire period in that it has a rectangular base with either an ogee-molded or serpentined skirt veneered in crotch-grain mahogany and four low bracket feet fitted with casters. It is sometimes as large as a love seat and dates from about 1840 to 1855.

Later and less desirable is the lyre-trestle ottoman which dates from 1850 to 1875 and is supported by a pair of open lyre-shaped trestles braced by a stretcher.



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