A Fool-Proof Guide to Choosing and Utilizing Wicker in Your Home
Okay, you think. I’m convinced. I’m going to buy some wicker furniture for my home.
There’s just one problem: you have no idea where to start.
The options, after all, are basically limitless. There are wicker beds, wicker couches, wicker chairs, wicker desks, wicker nightstands, wicker cabinets, wicker drawers, wicker—well, you get the point. You can decorate the interior of a giant mansion using only wicker.
For many people, having this many options to consider is actually quite intimidating. Simply picking a place to start seems complicated, let alone making a major investment in more than one wicker furniture piece.
The truth is, wicker furniture is actually a straight-forward and simple way to invest in your furniture and furnishings. But if you’re still feeling confused about where to start, this section will be your guide to browsing, selecting, arranging, and utilizing wicker furniture in the best (and most tasteful) ways possible. In short, this chapter will teach you how to get the most functional and aesthetic use out of the wicker furniture you buy.
Viewing and Selecting Wicker Furniture
Many people are intrigued by the possibilities of wicker furniture, inspired by what they read, and then head down to a local wicker furniture outlet and feel stuck. There are too many options. It’s difficult to choose what type of furniture you want to buy, let alone focus on details like fabrics, weave patterns, and subtle variations in wicker designs.
What’s an aspiring wicker aficionado to do? Simple: make sense out of all the chaos by looking at one variable at a time. In this section, we’ll break down the wicker selection process so that you know what you’re getting into—and how to view wicker the next time you examine some pieces you’re considering for purchase.
Viewing Wicker Furniture: Three Questions to Ask
If you’re not sure about what you’re looking at, you can ask three questions about the furniture you’re viewing in order to discern as much as possible about what kind of wicker best suits your needs:
- Is this wicker natural rattan or synthetic? It’s perhaps the most basic of questions. After some experience with wicker, you should have no problem discerning between the two. Feel free to ask around if need be, but you should be able to check yourself by feeling the wicker itself. Usually, the wicker will be advertised as natural rattan or synthetic wicker (sometimes labeled as “outdoor” wicker), which usually makes your job a lot easier. Generally, wicker of varying colors tends to be synthetic, though this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule. Why it’s important: if you know you have synthetic wicker, you know you can leave it outside. If you know you have natural rattan, you’ll have to care for it in a different way.
- Is this piece going to support bodyweight? There’s a big distinction between wicker pieces that are meant for small jobs (think laundry baskets) and wicker pieces meant to hold entire people off the ground (think couches, chairs, and beds). If the piece you’re buying is going to support bodyweight, you should give the wicker a quick test. See how it feels when seated, and start asking other questions like which fabrics or cushions might work best with the piece. Why it’s important: some wicker is meant for people and other is not; it’s better to know which pieces are more fragile to avoid breaking.
- Is this rattan supplemented with wood? This is important to know for beds and chests, in particular. Rattan can be supported by additional wood lining. It’s not entirely a weight issue—rattan is very strong—but more about the edges that can be produced by wood. If a rattan piece is supplemented with wood, it’s likely to be heavier to carry, which means you’re going to have some trouble moving it to your house. This is definitely something you’ll want to have answered as soon as possible. Why it’s important: wicker lined with wood tends to be heavier and more difficult to move.
Once you learn to discern the three variables above, you’ll be ahead of 99% of casual wicker customers. When you consider wicker furniture to purchase, keep these three principles in mind to sharpen your discernment skills.
Fabrics: The Underrated Variable
So many people get caught up with what kind of wicker furniture they’re buying that they forget one of the most important parts of the furniture: the fabrics. After all, sitting on a wicker couch means you’ll be spending all of your time on cushions, not direct contact with the wicker itself. That’s why it’s important to know all about fabrics, cushions, and what to look for.
For example, cotton fabrics are very comfortable and light. But they have the disadvantage of being an indoor-only fabric, which means you’ll want to match them with natural rattan, not synthetic wicker.
There are, however, a large amount of synthetic fabrics to choose from. As you should only match weather-resistant synthetic fabrics with synthetic wicker (and this will be taken care of by the wicker furniture maker unless you’re buying antique wicker that’s been separated from its fabrics), you’ll want to be sure you’re using the correct ones.
As there are a wide variety of fabrics—likely too many to be covered here—you’ll want to ask about the fabric or check labels before you make any purchasing decisions. Buying cotton fabrics for outdoor use can mean a spoiled investment as soon as it rains outdoors. You don’t want to be burned that quickly! Instead, be sure that the fabrics you’re buying match up with what you want the furniture itself to do.
Understanding Plastic Content in Synthetic Wicker
Natural rattan is common in wicker. Once you’ve seen natural rattan, you know what it feels like and what it looks like. “Synthetic wicker” is much more of an umbrella term describing all sorts of artificial substances that can be used to create a wicker effect.
Synthetic wicker, for example, generally has a high plastic content. This high plastic content means that the synthetic wicker will be less expensive than other synthetic types of wicker. However, this comes with some sacrifices: plastic is quicker to dry out and contract than other types of synthetic wicker. The principle of “you get what you pay for” certainly bears out in the world of synthetic furniture.
Remember that in addition to understanding the difference between synthetic and natural wicker, it’s important to know the different types of synthetic materials available as well. You can check labels for this or ask the staff at the furniture store. It may be more difficult to discern the types of materials used in the creation of your synthetic furniture if you’re purchasing them at an antique store, for example, which is why you’ll want to be wary of deals that appear “too good to be true.” Sometimes people will charge low prices because the material used in the synthetic wicker is not up to snuff.
Six Sure-fire Signs of Cheaply-Produced Wicker Furniture
If you take nothing else from this book, this section alone should make you a much more savvy customer when it comes to purchasing wicker furniture.
Many furniture makers are honest. They want to produce a good product, charge a reasonable price, and make sure that you’re happy with what you’ve purchased. In fact, even producers of so-called “cheap” wicker furniture fall into this category when they charge the appropriate prices. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t wool being pulled over your eyes simply because of the way some wicker furniture can be cheaply constructed. Let’s take a look at six sure-fire signs that you’re dealing with a cheaply-produced piece of wicker furniture.
Sign #1: Easily-Splitting Plastic
You can’t go to a furniture store and ask to test the strength of the plastic – any store owner in their right mind would tell you to hit the road and never come back. But if you’ve ever dealt with cheaply-produced plastic synthetic wicker, you should take a look at it (assuming you haven’t thrown it out) to study it and learn a little more about how it was constructed. Additionally, you should monitor your synthetic wicker furniture as it reacts to temperature changes—if it doesn’t react well to the cold, for example, and easily snaps off, you know that it might be time to check out a new set of synthetic wicker furniture. Long-story-short: cheap synthetics snap easily.
Sign #2: Steel
One of the most reliable ways furniture makers will cut corners in the synthetic wicker department is actually to employ the use of steel and then weave a synthetic wicker pattern over the steel.
So what’s wrong with steel? Well, nothing in particular—it just isn’t well-suited for the purposes of synthetic wicker. In order to ensure that steel has the same outdoor life as other types of synthetic wicker, most manufacturers will put some kind of water seal on the seal. The problem is that this particular shortcut doesn’t really work. The sealant doesn’t really stay with the steel, and the end-result is that the sealing comes off and the steel is then exposed to the elements and rusts.
If you’ve ever dealt with synthetic wicker that rusts, then you’ve probably come across this problem before.
Sign #3: Firmness and Elasticity
What if you could feel a synthetic wicker and tell its quality from that? You’d probably feel like the Wicker Whisperer. But the fact is that when you press against good quality synthetic wicker, it has a give and a softness to it—and it bounces right back into place. The synthetics that contain more plastic are firmer—they have less give. It’s no wonder that these plastics are the materials that tend to snap under too much pressure.
If you’re still confused about Sign #1, give a piece of synthetic material a good touch and try and press against it a little. Don’t try to break anything—especially if you haven’t bought it yet.
But if you notice that the material has give to it and doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap, the chance is that its plastic content is what you’re looking for: low. If you press the synthetic material and it does feel like it’s going to snap, you might want to continue browsing.
Sign #4: Bad Weaving
Chances are, you’re not a basket weaver or a wicker weaver. You know there may be an art to wicker weaving, but you’re not exactly sure what it is. So how on earth do you ever suppose that you can tell a good weave from a bad weave?
Here’s a simple trick: you’re generally looking at a good quality wicker weave if there are no ends exposed to the air. A weaver who pays attention to detail will be sure to wrap these ends coyly out of sight—it’s part of the artistry of an effective wicker weave. If the furniture you’re dealing with has ends exposed, there’s a good chance that the weavers didn’t put the same care and attention to detail into it that you should expect.
Sign #5: Bad Construction
You’ll also want to pay attention to how well the entire furniture piece—the frame in particular—is constructed. The frames of your rattan furniture should be made on right angles. The seat sizes should be the right size for maximum comfort. If you’re buying a wicker loveseat, for example, you don’t want it to barely fit two people; you want it to fit two people comfortably. You can save some money on smaller wicker furniture items that won’t fit as well, but you’ll also be depriving yourself of years of comfort that you can have from buying a wicker furniture piece that fits you comfortably.
Sign #6: Low stich-count fabrics.
Fabrics are just as big a part of wicker furniture as the wicker itself. You’re sitting on fabrics when you sit on a wicker couch; you want to be sure that you’re going to be comfortable and that the fabric will have a long life. You’ll generally want to look for high stitch-count fabrics. It isn’t necessary that you pick a particular fabric, though indoor fabrics will generally match the same kind of fabrics that you find on ordinary couches and the like.
Take this list with you the next time you go shopping for wicker furniture and you’ll be amazed at all of the details you can gleam from a piece of furniture simply by looking at it, giving it a few touch tests, and asking a few questions.
What Should Your Next Wicker Purchase Be?
Now that you’ve learned some ways to discern good-quality wicker, it’s time to ask some higher-level questions. You can now pick and choose wicker based on its quality, but that doesn’t mean you still won’t be stuck with an abundant set of choices. What kinds of wicker furnishings work best for your home? What wicker furniture purchases will you be proud of five years from now?
Let’s dig a little deeper into the role your wicker furniture will play in your home.
The Classic Question: Natural vs. Synthetic
You’ve seen this question already before, so if you haven’t been thinking about it which you prefer, now’s the time. You know the advantages of each. You know that synthetic wicker works well outdoors and that real rattan has the natural qualities you can’t find even with the best synthetic weaves. Which do you choose?
It’s entirely up to you. If you like having a lot of parties outdoors, then go synthetic. If you want to furnish a beach home, then natural is the ideal choice. Your own tastes, your preferences, and your goals will all influence the answer to the most important of wicker furniture questions.
Large or Small—Or Both?
When it comes to indoor wicker furniture, there are generally two categories to consider: wicker furniture that you’ll rest on and wicker furniture that objects will rest on. In the person-bearing category, you might expect to see items like:
- Couches and sofas
- Chairs and loveseats
But what about wicker furniture that isn’t really meant to bear a lot of weight—and is instead intended for other uses? Consider:
- Desks and nightstands
- Drawers and shelves
- TV stands and coffee tables
Most people who make wicker purchases prefer that all of their furniture match each other, which means they’ll have a wicker TV stand in front of their wicker coffee table in front of their wicker couch.
But individual taste varies wildly. You may prefer the look of a wicker mirror in an otherwise wicker-less bedroom. You may want to purchase an entire living room set made out of rattan. How do you make sure all of the furnishings in your rooms match each other?
We think there’s a simple solution: buy wicker sets as often as possible. Wicker works best when paired with wicker. It can certainly supplement the décor you’ve already established in a room full of wood-based furniture, but wicker as a theme works incredibly well.
(Unexpected) Times to Consider New Wicker Purchases
You don’t have to have a bank account full of disposable money and an empty house in order to make great wicker purchases. Think about it this way: anytime you need to furnish your home in some way, wicker is always an option.
For example, consider a breakfast nook. Maybe you have the table ready but don’t have the chairs to go with it. It’s easy to buy a set of light, stackable wicker chairs that you can bring out when guests stay overnight. Because the wicker is lightweight, moving the chairs in and out of storage will be easy—or you can simply keep them out to decorate the breakfast nook itself.
You don’t have to buy an entire kitchen set in order to enjoy the benefits of wicker. Just try to think outside the proverbial “box” the next time you’re in the market for new furnishings.
There are lots of examples. Need a new nightstand? Do you need to give someone a small gift for which a wicker item would qualify? There is no limitation to when you can consider new wicker purchases, so don’t limit yourself to any one way of thinking when it comes to furniture and furnishings.
Suggestions for New Wicker Purchases
We’ve covered a lot of different wicker furnishings in this book, but let’s dig a little deeper to find wicker items you can buy for when you really want to fill out your home’s interior décor:
- Mirrors: Perhaps one of the most overlooked individual wicker item is the mirror. Of course, the focus of a mirror is not on the design of the frame, but on the mirror itself—at least when you first walk into a room. However, a wicker mirror fits in a wide variety of interior decorating styles, which is important if you want to give someone a housewarming gift.
- Restaurant and Café Chairs: Restaurant and café-style chairs are great for adding charm to your coffee shop. But they can also be perfect for use around the home. If you ever find yourself playing host and you need some extra seating, you can always turn to easily-stackable wicker café chairs for quick seating that doesn’t look like it was pulled out of a high school cafeteria.
- Etageres: If your living room or bedroom (or even your bathroom) still needs a little filling, an Etageres might be the perfect solution. These small free-standing shelves can provide storage for books or provide a place for guests to set their drinks down. They’re some of the most versatile wicker items around.
- Benches: There are two primary uses for wicker benches, although they certainly don’t have to be limited to just two. First, a bench can make a great furnishing for a foyer or entryway, giving guests who are just dropping by a quick place to take a load off. Benches also work well outdoors in garden and deck settings. They make very inconspicuous (but handy) surfaces for sitting that lend a touch of elegance when you’re hosting a party.
These wicker purchases can also make excellent gifts if you know someone who is moving into a new home.
Wicker Design: How to Incorporate Rattan in Your Decorating
“But I don’t have a lot of natural rattan. How is this going to fit in with the rest of my house?”
One of the chief concerns people who are interested in acquiring new wicker is how their new furniture will work within the context of what they already own.
On this front, there is good news: natural and synthetic rattan is highly versatile. It’s easy to customize your wicker furniture by selecting a certain color, for example. Synthetic wickers are easy to produce in a variety of colors, for starters. Additionally, many natural rattans can be painted, much like wood, though most people simply prefer to keep the natural color.
But don’t forget that wicker design is about more than the wicker itself; it’s about the design of the furniture frame, the colors and designs of the fabrics in the cushions, etc. If you want to be sure that your wicker furniture will fit in with the rest of your home, we suggest you follow this brief guide.
Using Wicker to “Anchor” a Design
The fanciful patterns that the best wicker furniture makers weave into their wicker designs might strike some as ambitious. But the truth about most wicker furniture is that it is often best used to anchor your interior design.
Consider that most natural wood furniture typically uses highly-treated wood in order to change the appearance of the wood. Many designs seek to minimize the appearance of wood altogether. This isn’t the case with wicker furniture; the designers are looking to highlight the use of natural rattan rather than stifle it.
When you use a natural material like rattan in your home, it gives you more freedom to experiment with patterns, colors, and adornments elsewhere. In short, natural rattan compliments most designs perfectly well. If you have a colorful carpet that you want to try out, you can match it with just about any type of natural rattan furniture. The woody, khaki-like color of the rattan matches just about any color you can throw at it.
You’ll want to pay special attention to the color of the fabrics in your wicker furniture, however.
We recommend consulting a color wheel when you make your next wicker furniture purchase. The color wheel might not be necessary if you’re buying a simple item like a wicker basket. But if you’re purchasing a wicker couch or any other furniture item that requires choices to be made about the color of the fabric for its cushions, you’ll want to pay close attention to how the colors you choose will affect the style and design of the rooms in which you’ll be placing the wicker.
A general rule of thumb is to choose complementary colors – that is, colors on direct opposites on the color wheel – but this is not a hard and fast rule. Some examples of complementary colors include blue and orange as well as red and green. If these contrasts are too stuck for you, you can pair colors more closely related on the color wheel to ensure that the fabrics you choose conform to a pre-established theme.
Maintenance and Décor
If you’re especially concerned about the maintenance of your wicker furniture, you’re probably used to ideas like covering up wicker you leave outside or stacking chairs away to ensure they’re not exposed to too much sunlight.
Covering up your outdoor wicker furniture fabrics, however, can be a bit of an eyesore—especially since the point of synthetic outdoor wicker is to look beautiful. The quickest way to ensure that your wicker is covered is to use moisture-resistant fabrics outdoors. The more of these moisture-resistant fabrics you use (in the presence of pillows, cushions, and throw covers), the more you’ll be able to cover up any potentially moisture-sensitive area of the wicker furniture.
Decorating with wicker furniture, in many ways, is similar to decorating with just about any other type of furniture, although with one twist: wicker furniture typically comes with many of its own designs and patterns. This doesn’t make decorating as complicated as you might think, however. As you’ll soon discover, placing wicker furniture into your existing décor is not a major challenge and likely won’t throw a wrench into your best-laid interior decorating plans.