What's the Difference Between a Pouf and an Ottoman?

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

pouf ottoman
Photo: Anna Quaglia/EyeEm/Getty Images

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.

You may even prevent an online furniture shopping snafu. (Returning furniture ordered online is not always as easy as one would hope.) So if you're in the process of modernizing your living room, take these definitions to heart.

Pouf and Ottoman, Defined

An ottoman is a low, upholstered stool, usually with legs. This furniture can be used as a footrest, coffee table, or seat. Many ottomans can also double as hidden storage, with a hollow center that can organize blankets, games, books, and more. The style is based on similar items found in the Ottoman Empire. Some online furniture stores, such as The Inside, offer customization options so you can create the perfect ottoman for your space.

Meanwhile, a pouf (or pouffe, not poof) is a cushioned, pillow-like seat that's low to the ground. The origin is French, and these pieces come in various sizes and firmness. They can function as makeshift chairs (particularly in small spaces or when limited chairs are available), footstools, or side tables.

Key Differences

In function, a pouf and an ottoman are very similar. Both are variations of low stools and can serve as footrests. Both can also serve as extra seating or side tables (especially in small spaces that require multi-tasking furniture).

However, 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. In addition, most 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 too small for that purpose. Either can be round or square. A good rule of thumb:

  • Call anything that looks more like a cushion than a table a pouf.
  • Call anything that is more table-like an ottoman.

How to Decorate With a Pouf or Ottoman

Depending on material and brand, a pouf may be less expensive than an ottoman, but that also means a smaller surface for whatever purpose the furniture is intended for. Here are some ways to incorporate these pieces into your home.

Styling Tips for a Pouf

  • Consider a pouf for a small living room that needs some color and extra seating.
  • Incorporate a boho vibe in a relaxed, laid-back space with a patterned pouf.
  • Add a fun element to a child's bedroom with a fluffy, bright-colored pouf.
  • Bring texture to a dining room space with a rattan or wicker pouf.
  • Warm up a stark space with a fur-covered pouf.

Styling Tips for an Ottoman

  • Incorporate a leather ottoman into a more formal space, either as an accompaniment to a footrest-less couch, as a window seat, or as part of a conversation area.
  • Purchase a sleek ottoman with storage that can double as a stylish coffee table.
  • Add a seating option to a bedroom by placing a long, narrow ottoman at the end of a bed.
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