The recent interest in modular furniture - sectional seating units that can be moved around - has produced a surprising trend: the ottoman. The fabric-covered, foam-based structure is finding renewed favour among interior designers, retailers and trend-savvy homeowners, who embrace its practicality. 'The ottoman has become such a great transitional piece,' says Gabrielle Galardo, vice-president of leather furniture specialists Elite Leather in Los Angeles. 'It can act as a coffee table, a foot rest and additional seating for parties - some even have storage capabilities.' Galardo says that while ottomans have long been part of her company's range, in the past few months she has noticed an increased demand for them. Decorators credit the trend to function-driven design. 'Design is skewing towards functionality and ottomans allow for more movement and flexibility,' says interior designer Kamini Ezralow. Ottomans have been around since the 13th century, when the Ottoman Turks used ornate fabrics to cover footstools. They have bobbed in and out of fashion in the past few decades, enjoying a brief resurgence in the 1980s, when over-the-top furnishings were a staple and ottomans were hefty, standalone pieces. In their current incarnation, they are more user-friendly. Styles have no limit, from classic - with tufted leather, ornate wooden legs and deluxe fabrics - to avant-garde and even whimsical, such as those covered in seagrass. Elite has four new pieces in its repertoire, created with use and space issues in mind, and spanning shapes from circular to rectangular. Furniture website www.europebynet.com , which ships internationally, has a bright red ottoman in the shape of a large X, called simply Triple X, which retails for US$730. The standard size is 60cm by 90cm but the great thing about ottomans is they can be tailored to fit: a long bench-like design is perfect at the foot of a double bed; while a small round version can be pressed into service as a stand for cocktails and canapes in the living room.