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Lowly footstool is now trendy, in high demand

Go ahead. Prop your feet up. Feel that holiday rat race escape your aching arches.

While you're at it, plop down a tray of snacks beside the remote. And haul in that stack of magazines you've been meaning to go through.Easier said than done?

Not with a little support from your friendly ottoman. The footstool is back - but bigger and more versatile than ever, providing extra seating, a tabletop surface and, in some cases, even storage for toys and blankets.

"Ottomans are making a huge comeback because they wear so many hats," said Jack Arthur of Norwalk Furniture, an Ohio manufacturer with stores in Atlanta.

Versatility has become a selling point for consumers whose busy lives demand they perform multiple tasks, often at once - eating in front of the tube, helping Johnny with his math, playing games with the family.

"It goes back to the comfort factor," said Patty Kuhel of Calico Corners, an Atlanta store that sells and upholsters furniture. "And you can move an ottoman anywhere."

Originating in Turkey, the lowly footstool has come a long way since it first appeared in late 18th-century England as a long, upholstered seat. By the time it reached the United States in the early 19th century, the ottoman was circular or octagonal or a corner bench or low fireside seat, and, later, upholstered to the oversize, overstuffed design of today.

The biggest trend is pairing a rectangular ottoman with an oversize chair or "chair and a half," typically 41 inches wide, said Marie Koehler of Haverty's Furniture at Gwinnett Place.

Another popular arrangement is the oversize ottoman between two angled chairs, serving both as footstool and coffee table, said Phil Lancaster of Innovations, an Atlanta furnishings store. "Everybody feels uncomfortable propping their feet on a cocktail table, so the ottoman solves that."

Some even are lining up two ottomans, end to end, in front of the sofa to create one long surface, he said.

With so much use, today's ottoman demands heavier-weight fabrics than in the past, typically cotton blends, said Beth King of Storehouse Furniture in Lenox Square. Neutral earth-tone colors, such as taupe and brown, and slipcovers have become sensible choices.

Yet practicality doesn't have to spell boredom, as some ottoman designers are proving. Carson's, a contemporary-furnishings manufacturer in High Point, N.C., offers a cloverleaf-shaped ottoman covered in a leopard-pattern chenille. "We've also got one shaped like a comma," said Mac Lane, national sales manager.

With such variety, expect to pay a wide range of prices, from $200 to more than $1,000.

Whatever the cost, aren't your feet worth it?