Surprise—these furniture multi-taskers are not the same.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated December 28, 2018
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Pouf and ottoman: The words are often used interchangeably, but they do, technically, refer to two different pieces of living room furniture. The differences may be small, but knowing those differences could make future furniture shopping missions a little easier and even prevent an online furniture shopping snafu. (Returning furniture ordered online is not always as easy as one would hope.)

What is the difference between a pouf and an ottoman?

Christie’s—the global auction house—defines an ottoman as a low, upholstered stool. By its definition, an ottoman can be used as a foot rest or, sometimes, for storage. The style is based on similar items found in the Ottoman Empire.

The Oxford University Press’s Oxford Living Dictionaries says a pouf (or pouffe, not poof) is a cushioned footstool or low seat with no back, and the origin is French. According to the New York Times, poufs can vary in proportions and firmness and function as makeshift chairs (particularly in small spaces or when limited chairs are available), footstools, or even side tables.

So, in function, a pouf and an ottoman are very similar. Both are variations of low stools and can serve as footrests. Using them for extra seating or as side tables may be more contemporary uses, but both can also serve these purposes (especially in small spaces that require multi-tasking furniture). Many ottomans can also double as hidden storage, with a hollow center that can be used to organize blankets, games, books, and more, while poufs generally don’t have storage space.

The two mainly differ in appearance. Ottomans are almost always firmer and less pillowy, whereas some poufs are more like oversized pillows than anything else. Some ottomans have legs that raise them slightly, while most poufs sit flat on the ground. Larger ottomans can easily work as coffee tables, but most poufs are slightly too small to do so. (Ottomans tend to be larger than poufs.) Either can be round or square in shape. A good rule of thumb is to call anything that looks more like a cushion than a table a pouf, and call anything that is more table-like an ottoman.

How do you pick between a pouf and an ottoman?

Consider a pouf for small spaces that need some color and a little extra seating. These compact items have a boho vibe and fit well in relaxed, laid-back spaces. For a more formal space, look for an ottoman, either as an accompaniment to a footrest-less couch, as a coffee table, or as part of a conversation area. Depending on material and brand, a pouf may be less expensive than an ottoman, but often that also means a smaller surface for whatever purpose the furniture is intended for.