Wicker Buyer's Guide
- Why Wicker and Rattan Furniture?
- The History of Wicker and Rattan Furniture
- Wicker Materials: Understanding Rattan and Synthetic Wicker Materials
- Craftsmanship: How Wicker Furniture is Made
- Types of Wicker Furniture: Chairs, Dining Tables, Bed Sets, and More
- Maintenance 101
- A Fool-Proof Guide to Choosing and Utilizing Wicker in Your Home
- 10 Frequently-Asked Questions About Wicker and Rattan
- Conclusion: Why Wicker Furniture is Right For You
Why Wicker and Rattan Furniture
Welcome to our wicker buyer's guide. In the world of furniture, there are two categories: wicker furniture… and everything else. That’s a bold statement, for certain, but let’s be honest: wicker furniture is among the most unique furniture you’ll ever be able to find. Furniture that utilizes wicker weaving can be made into trunks, sofas, chairs, T.V. stands, cabinets, end tables, night tables, coffee tables, dining tables, dining sets, mirrors, beds, lamps, hampers, desks, and – well, you get the point. It’s an entire category in and of itself. And yet, so few people seem to understand exactly what wicker furniture is all about. If you ask them about a wicker chair, they might not even know that it’s actually made out of a sturdy and exotic material known as ‘Rattan’. So why is wicker furniture so ubiquitous in our culture – supplying us with a whole range of furniture – and yet so many of us seem to know so little about it? The answer is simple: people love the natural, crafted look of wicker furniture. It looks as gorgeous on a patio at sunset as it does holding laundry in the corner of your bedroom closet. But most of us don’t take the time to consider exactly what it is: where it comes from, how it’s made and – perhaps most importantly – how to take care of it. To many people, simply buying furniture with a wicker “look” is enough, much in the same way someone may indiscriminately pick out a bottle of red wine without taking the time to consider how the individual flavor might pair with a meal. If you want to really understand what wicker and Rattan furniture is – and why it might be the right selection for your next furniture purchase, it’s going to require an in-depth examination of where the furniture comes from. You’ll find those insights all across this book as we examine the history of wicker furniture, the details of the plant known as Rattan, the craftsmanship of wicker furniture, and what it takes to maintain your wicker furniture for the long haul.
The Benefits of Wicker and Rattan Furniture
Before we move on with the wicker buyer's guide, let’s explore the question first posed by the introduction: why wicker and Rattan furniture? What is it about this special category of furniture that appeals to such a broad base of tastes and interests?
There is no one answer. Instead, there are a number of benefits and advantages to choosing wicker furniture:
- Wicker furniture is lightweight. Moving a wicker chair for example, is nothing like moving a chair made out of solid oak. Although many wicker and Rattan furnishings are stabilized by wood, they tend to remain lightweight and easy to move.
- Rattan furniture is highly flexible and customizable. There is virtually no limit to the variations you can find with Rattan furniture. Rattan furniture can be available in any number of colors, for example. It can be used to hold glass (for a coffee table), cushions (for a couch or chair), lamps, laundry, alarm clocks, and even people. There is truly no end to the variations in Rattan design.
- Wicker furniture is very easy to clean. If your furniture has a natural finish on it, it may only require regular dusting. Cushions are easy to remove from the furniture, for example, and thanks to its weight, you can also easily move the furniture around the room as you clean.
- Durability. Although many people live in fear of leaving their wicker furniture out in the rain (see the section on maintenance for information on wicker furniture and rain), wicker furniture is highly durable with proper care. Many people don’t associate lightweight furniture with durability, but as you’ll find out in this book, that’s simply a myth.
- Aesthetics. There’s no denying that wicker furniture is aesthetically-pleasing. It has a very organic, natural look that can be customized into a wide range of creative designs. It can be modified to fit just about any taste. In addition, Wicker furniture looks as natural outside as it does indoors, which is rare for any type of furniture.
- Safety. A positive side effect of Rattan furniture being lightweight (except in certain exceptions where wood is added to reinforce the furniture), is that generally it’s safer around small children. The regular bumps and bruises associated with children running around the house can be reduced when your furniture is lightweight.
Throughout this wicker buyer's guide, you’ll see plenty more reasons that wicker and rattan furniture is not only suitable for home use, but may also be ideal for your style, tastes, and furniture preferences. The question “why wicker and Rattan?” will be answered as you learn more about this fascinating category of furniture.
Defining “Wicker” and “Rattan”
Finally, we won’t progress any further until we make clear the definitions of “wicker” and “Rattan.”
Wicker is actually not a material, but a weaving process. Put simply, wicker is when woven fiber is formed into something rigid – furniture being the most obvious example.
Rattan is the material from which wicker furniture is often weaved. Botanically speaking, Rattan refers to hundreds of species of palms that come from the eastern hemisphere including Australia, Indonesia, and Asia. Rattan’s pliability and strength make it ideal for building unique shapes, hence its widespread use in furniture. Rattan has both a skin and core which are both important in furniture-making. We’ll learn more about rattan throughout the book.
If you understand the definitions above, then you know that “wicker” furniture does not necessarily have to be rattan furniture. Wicker weaving can be utilized from other palm plants as well as other fibrous plants such as raffia and willow. For the purposes of furniture, however, rattan is generally regarded as the ideal resource.
For the uninitiated, a “wicker” chair is a chair made out of wicker; to some extend this is true because the chair might have been largely formed from a wicker weave. But really they mean to say that a “wicker” chair is a rattan chair, just as you would say a “wooden chair” or “oak” chair. Rattan describes the material and wicker describes the process.
Of course, you’ve only begun to learn all there is to know about wicker and rattan furniture. There’s even more to discover about this fascinating form of furniture that will leave you wondering why you ever bought anything else.
The History of Wicker and Rattan Furniture
Many people in the United States associate wicker furniture with the years since the Victorian Age. In many cases, the shape of wicker furniture certainly seems to evoke a certain Victorian sensibility – an emphasis on grace and even an elaborate style. However, the truth about wicker and rattan history is much deeper. In fact, the history goes so far back that it just may surprise you.
Because wicker is a weaving process, it may be said that the first human beings to build shelter using a palm-weaving process were actually the first wicker furniture makers. Weaving as a process for survival – building shelters, constructing clothing, etc. – is as ancient to human beings as is agriculture itself. So it may come as no surprise in this context, to learn that wicker furniture’s history is not only deeply imbedded throughout the years, but imbedded into the history of civilization itself.
From basket weaving in the Fertile Crescent to Victorian wicker furniture to the modern age of outdoor-friendly furniture, wicker/rattan is a category of construction that has built a strong legacy throughout the world’s history. But it only makes sense to start at the beginning – and by that, we mean the very beginning. Let’s begin with an examination into the roots – forgive the pun – of Rattan itself.
Rattan: A Botanical History
In the plant kingdom, there is a family you might recognize: that of the Arecaceae. The name might look like a tongue twister, so allow us to translate into a word that might be a little more familiar:palm. (In fact, the widespread use of the word palm has led to many people renaming this botanical family the Palmae or Palmaceae.)
The family includes 202 genera and around 2,600 individual species. Move a little further down the family tree and you’ll find the subfamily Calimoideae, which consists of three further sub groupings, or “tribes”: Calameae (Rattan), Eugeissoneae, and Lepidocaryeae. The result is that the word “Rattan” actually does not refer to a specific species of plant, but rather an entire group of plants that fall under the “tribe” of Calameae, or Rattan plants.
In fact, there are some 600 species that fall under the category of Rattan. Many of these species actually differ in their growth behaviors. Some Rattan plants grow as shrubs, while others follow the “climbing habit” that is typically associated with palm plants. Generally, the growth habits of rattan plants help scientists classify and separate each species. Rattan utilized for furniture tends to come from the high-growing plants that grow strong, long stems; however, a variety of rattan plants can be used for different purposes.
Unlike many other agricultural innovations that helped spark the agricultural revolution, the utilization of rattan plants did not come about as the result of cultivation. Instead, rattan was largely picked from wild growth – this is largely true throughout the history of rattan plants.
Overall, the human harvesting and use of palm plants has a rich history. The natural advantages present in many palm plants, from its generally lightweight-but-strong texture to its easy weaving and strong leaves, can come in handy in a number of ways. Coconut, for example, is a highly useful and edible fruit of the coconut palm. It’s not unreasonable to assume that many members of the palm family had a vital role in the history of civilization because of their impact on trade. However, rattan stands out in the palm family for its own unique characteristics and uses – and it’s important to review these before further delving into the history of wicker furniture.
Rattan as Its Own Plant
Throughout history, rattan was harvested from the wild because of two main advantages: it is both strong and malleable, which makes it perfect for the structuring of crafts including furniture. Much of its use in ancient history, however, was relegated to basket weaving – scientists have carbon-dated many baskets to as far back as 8,000 B.C., perhaps even further. This predates even pottery, suggesting that rattan – and many other similar materials – had a key role in shaping human history.
The word “rattan” itself comes from the Malay word rotan. It’s appropriate that the name of the plant comes from this corner of the world, as the plant itself can trace its origins to tropical and subtropical Asia. As a plant that survives well in the tropics – where heavy rain is part of the annual climate – it’s no surprise that rattan continues to thrive there, being mostly produced in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
Although rattan comes in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the individual species of the “tribe,” calameae generally shares a number of characteristics, many of which make it ideal for its use in wicker furniture. Primarily, rattan’s generally slender shape, full stem, and barbed leaves separate it from a number of other similar materials such as palm and bamboo. Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of this tribe.
Stem: The long, thin stem of rattan that grows high is very strong, lightweight, and generally easy to shape. This means that rattan itself is not only ideal for weaving, but also works well structurally in the building of a variety of furniture types, though much rattan furniture will also be reinforced with wood if need be. A main difference between rattan and bamboo is that while bamboo stems are hollow, rattan stems are not: they’re rattan all the way through. Although bamboo is strong, rattan is better suited for furniture because bamboo is more likely to crack and split under more weight.
Leaves: The leaves of the rattan may be what differentiate it the most from other plants in the palm family. Most palms are clustered into a sort of “crown” shape. A rattan plan doesn’t look like this. Instead, the leaves are pointed into barbed tips. Because of the slender stems of rattan plants, the slender leaves contribute to an overall physical difference that makes rattan easy to differentiate from other plants in the palm family.
Resin: Like many similar plants, rattan can have a resin, specifically from the fruit of fruit-bearing rattan trees.
The Movement of Early Rattan
Of course, rattan itself couldn’t have influenced civilization in the myriad of ways that it did (which you’ll read about in the next section) if it had stayed primarily in Asia and Indonesia. Some histories trace the trading of early rattan to its original spot of Indonesia, eventually reaching mainland China through trade. From China, it eventually spread to Japan. Of course, tracing the history of rattan trade throughout Southeast Asia is very difficult due to the problems inherent in dating and finding similar artifacts throughout the world.
The spread of ancient rattan may have been aided by the fact that rattan grows year-round; it’s not seasonal like some other plants. (This is also a favorite fact for rattan fans, especially those concerned about the impact of harvesting material like wood on the environment). This encourages year-round trade, of course, and makes trading across oceanic distances favorable, which may help explain how rattan was able to reach the Fertile Crescent including ancient Egypt. However, it’s important to remember that while these near east ancient civilizations almost certainly created wicker weaves, they did not necessarily use rattan. It was far more likely to find rattan wicker in ancient China and Japan, for example, thanks to their proximity to where rattan was most prevalent.
Ancient Wicker: Egypt, Rome, and China
The history of Rattan as a material for producing wicker weaving materials is difficult to trace. Just how prevalent was rattan trade from Southeast Asia and Australasia into the Fertile Crescent, where many of history’s great civilizations would grow to thrive and develop?
What is clear, however, is that wicker furniture and basket weaving was as integral to the formation of early civilization from Egypt to China as was, perhaps, any other method of construction or craftsmanship.
Our first stop is in Egypt, where the oldest examples of wicker have been found. Considering that ancient Egypt’s history dates back several thousand years, it’s not difficult to see the impact that wicker had on civilization.
Wicker in Ancient Egypt
There is no evidence to link ancient Egyptian wicker to rattan materials; most scholars believe that ancient Egyptian wicker simply came from the lush source of reeds and fiber materials available around the Nile delta. The Nile, of course, was the source of just about every material imaginable to the Egyptians – it’s no surprise that wicker finds its roots there, as well.
The Nile wasn’t only a source of reeds, but entire varieties of “swamp grasses.” Generally, these reeds were wet (hence the term “swamp” grasses) – but it wasn’t long before ancient Egyptians discovered the strength of their reeds after they were dried. Given the abundance of sun in northern Africa, this was not a difficult process.
The process of drying out reeds that had already been moist not only allowed ancient Egyptians to discover how durable they were, but how malleable they were – the reeds could be molded into a certain position when wet and, as they dried, they would eventually come to hold that shape. Today’s process of molding rattan is actually not entirely different from this ancient process. As the old saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
It’s believed that the distribution of wicker crafts varied according to class and wealth. For example, archaeologists have been able to turn up chairs, baskets, and chests made from wicker weaving in the tombs of ancient Pharaohs. Evidence suggests that the “average” Egyptian family might have only been able to afford a couple of these luxury items.
Just as is the case today, exotic materials created by specific cultures would have been popular throughout ancient history. Wicker materials from Egypt were just as easy to trade as any other material, which helped wicker spread throughout the region of the Fertile Crescent and even across the Mediterranean Sea. Given how light these materials were, (similar to the rattan materials of today) it was not difficult to ship and transport wicker throughout the region. This helps explain the abundance of wicker crafts throughout antiquity.
Wicker in Ancient Rome
Rome conquered Egypt during the civil war between Cleopatra (with her lover Marc Antony) against Octavian (the future “Augustus” and first emperor of Rome). When Octavian won, the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt – which had been ruling since the days of Alexander the Great – came to a close and Egypt came under control of ancient Rome.
The Romans were fond of exotic cultures, particularly that of Egypt. In fact, the Romans were happy to absorb the best characteristics of other cultures into their own – they had even adopted the Greek system of mythology, giving their gods and goddesses new Roman names. Wicker was no exception; Romans not only took to the Egyptian practice but also expanded on it, using wicker weaves to create privacy screens. It may have also been the ancient Romans who came up with the idea of creating swings made of wicker, a practice that continues to this day.
Although the Egyptians tended to be fond of elaborate, exotic weaves, the Romans quickly adapted the wicker to suit their own tastes. Straighter lines and curves now seemed to take over the world of wicker. While Egyptians used the entire color palette to paint on wicker, the Romans favored neutral tones, such as beige or white colors.
Because Rome contributed its massive infrastructure to the spread of wicker, it could be said that wicker truly gained popularity in the world when it was used throughout Rome. Ancient Rome was able to unify the culture of the Mediterranean, so thus it’s influence on the world of wicker can’t be ignored. Specifically, Rome’s control and influence over the entire European continent should be remembered, because Europe would become the foothold for wicker through the dark ages, allowing the practice to be spread throughout the world later on. One place in particular wicker would later spread: China.
Wicker in China
Given China’s proximity to the ideal rattan-growing areas of Southeast Asia and Australasia, it may be tempting to presume that China’s history of wicker is even richer than that of Egypt and Rome. However, despite the abundant resources available for wicker weaving in China, some sources say that wicker did not reach China until the 15th century -- well after the fall of Rome and especially after the heights of ancient Egypt.
The chief reason for the lack of wicker in China before then: they simply weren’t familiar with the process. Trade routes between Europe and China had been established earlier than the 15th century, of course. Marco Polo, the Italian (specifically, Venetian) merchant, traveled to China and documented these travels in the 13th and 14th century – this did a lot to establish a link between the two continents in terms of culture, trade, and exploration.
This may help explain the delay in wicker in China before then. However, once discovered, Chinese contributions to the world of wicker were significant: they enjoyed a smaller, thinner weave that worked well for storage bowls and boxes. The Chinese were especially preoccupied with creating storage boxes that could be lightweight while holding and protecting writings that were deposited therein.
Wicker would go on to have an influence in the continent of Africa as well, during the history preceding our next section; however, Africa’s contributions to the world of wicker is generally not considered as significant of those listed above, probably due to a lack of resources.
Wicker in Europe and the Victorian Age
To those people who associate wicker weaving with a more modernist approach – from the 19th century on – would likely appreciate how popular wicker became during the Victorian Age.
The Victorian Age, of course, refers to the period of British history from 1837 through 1901 – the reign of Queen Victoria. By this time, the American colonies had already become the American states. Wicker as an art form had already arrived in the colonies during the age of exploration, but it wouldn’t be until the Victorian Age (along with its strong cultural influence) until wicker would truly rise to prominence again. Wicker in this age would also go on to be explored, refined, and modified in new and interesting ways that helped ensure its long-term popularity – a popularity that exists to this day.
In other words, wicker in Europe – and especially in the Victorian Age – went through many of its major formations during the history you’re about to read.
The Victorian Age in England was just one age among many throughout its history – it’s easy to forget the Norman, the Elizabethan, the Caroline, and the Georgian Ages, for example. The Victorian Age is of special relevance to Americans because of its close historical proximity, but the truth is that wicker survived to the Victorian Age thanks to its history in pre-Victorian Europe.
Wicker, of course, survived the fall of Rome (which many experts place around 476 A.D.). Marco Polo and other European tradesman and explorers would play integral roles in introducing many popular European customs and cultural influences throughout the world – not just in China, but in the newly-discovered continents west of the Atlantic Ocean.
The seemingly ever-shrinking world came to appreciate the antiques of ancient Roman culture, as well as the contribution of resources now available through worldwide trade. Indeed, as explorers poked and prodded around the Earth, they shortened the trips from India to England, for example, further closing the gap between mainstream Europe and non-European cultures.
With rattan – an ideal base for wicker – flourishing in Southeast Asia and a renewed interest in the Roman style during an age of neo-classicism, wicker was one of the cultural imprints of antiquity that encountered a revival during the Renaissance and post-Renaissance years. When the quality of rattan’s strength as a base for wicker increasingly becoming common European knowledge, demand for the resource would eventually go up – as well as demand for the furniture fashioned from it.
Trade, however, was constantly interrupted in the pre-Victorian years thanks to frequent wars (including the War of Revolution in the United States and the Napoleonic Wars, among others). It wasn’t until the peaceful trade of the Victorian Age, that wicker would truly begin to expand to its current status as a world-renowned furniture style. When Queen Victoria took over the throne of England at the tender age of 18, the groundwork for a general period of peace and prosperity – despite many major hiccups – was laid.
Generally speaking, the Victorian Age coincided with the Industrial Age -- a period of major changes in transportation, manufacturing, and craftsmanship. It’s no wonder that wicker furniture saw major changes in the Victorian Age as well.
Thanks to well-established trade routes and the European Age of Exploration, discovery of rattan’s particular strengths, wicker was essentially in for a renaissance all its own during the Victorian Age. European and American minds alike found that wicker furniture was conveniently lightweight, inexpensive, and easier to clean than the traditional upholstered furniture of the day.
Wicker was also a natural match for meeting the stylistic demands of the day. While elaborate furniture designs may have only been relegated to the upper classes of European in the pre-Victorian age, the age of manufacturing left a middle class that demanded something similar to it’s style -- even if it wasn’t quite the same price as what might be expected in the upper class.
The fact that wicker furniture is easy to paint, contributed to its expanding popularity during the Victorian Age. Painting wicker white and other natural colors (which, maybe not so coincidentally, was also popular in ancient Rome) was a standard practice throughout these times, contributing to the styles of wicker that we’re also generally familiar with today as Americans.
By the time the Victorian Age wrapped up, the world had already crossed into the 20th century. Worldwide trade had become a common practice and wicker had already cemented itself as a common way to produce furniture throughout the western world. Additionally, rattan as a material for wicker had grown to an immense popularity, including in the United States.
Wicker Arriving in the Americas
Before moving on to wicker’s more modern history in the Americas, it may be appropriate to take a step back and ask an important question – how wicker got here in the first place. Indeed, wicker’s history in the Americas does predate the Victorian Age. Wicker came to America with the earliest of settlers – both as a resource for furniture and as a skill, or piece of knowledge. Because so much transportation was handled by boat, it was important to have storage bins and other furnishings that were lightweight – they would take up similar space but not add so heavily to the overall load of a transatlantic journey.
Subsequently, wicker suitcases and wicker traveling trunks became very popular in the Americas. In many cases, this was simply due to the fact that people traveled lightly on their way across the ocean. It may not have been any European’s specific intention to bring over their wicker luggage to the Americas as a method of introducing it to this culture. Instead, wicker largely first arrived in the western hemisphere simply because it was convenient to travel with.
With the Victorian Age now on the horizon and a presence of wicker already established in the Americas, the conditions were ripe for a wicker explosion in the United States in the 19th century.
Early Wicker in America
With the foundations for wicker’s presence in America already laid by the earliest settlers and travelers – who brought wicker with them usually as a matter of convenience because of its lightweight properties – wicker was ready to take a more prominent role in the Americas.
The major change here, of course, was the fact that the colonies of British America won their independence from the crown in the late 18th century. Americans, however, still retained many of their British sensibilities. Not only would British and Americans continue to share a common language, but in many ways they would share a common culture – Victorianism in Great Britain did not only influence its remaining colonies but also influenced the United States. This was going to be very apparent in the way Americans would come to embrace wicker furniture throughout the 19th century.
But Americans weren’t only going to follow in the world of wicker: they were primed to take a role of prominent leadership, primarily thanks to the innovations of one key man: Cyrus Wakefield. In just a few short centuries, the idea of wicker in the Americas would be reshaped from European influence, into a newly-minted American style. Let’s trace the history of wicker as it underwent its transformation in the United States.
Wicker in Colonial America
Prior to the United States winning its independence from the British crown, very few citizens thought of themselves as “Americans.” They were colonists, to be sure, but they were also British colonists, loyal to the crown of Great Britain. It certainly follows that the cultural styling of Colonial America followed this pattern – one that would continue in similar fashion, for many years to come.
To these Americans, wicker furnishings and luggage were part of the culture they brought with them from Great Britain. Not only did colonials bring their own materials when they sailed from England and Europe, but they also brought their skills. It wasn’t long before colonial Americans were producing their own wicker furnishings – though, at this time, the furnishings tended to be relegated to work such as baskets and cradles. Though rattan wicker had been produced before, it certainly hadn’t reached the popularity of today. The result: for a long time, wicker in the Americas was relegated to small storage-based items.
One of the earliest wicker artifacts known to exist in the Americas was a cradle – which happened to be a popular wicker item in the Americas for a long time before wicker was truly explored to its Victorian and post-Victorian heights.
After the Revolutionary War, the state of wicker in America for the most part, didn’t change for several decades. However, a transformation was on the horizon – one that would alter the destiny of wicker furniture in America as well as throughout the world.
The utilization of rattan was not uncommon in the Americas or throughout the world prior to the mid-1800s. The major problem, however, was that not many people seemed to recognize the potential of this strong-but-pliable material as a natural resource to be matched up with the wicker process.
In fact, Europeans at large didn’t seem to realize how to properly utilize rattan. They found a use for it on wooden ships, using it as a way to hold ship cargo in place. Taking into account that the material was considered so disposable, many sailors would simply dump it once their cargo reached harbor. It was this dumped rattan that Cyrus Wakefield, an American, would utilize to change how rattan and wicker furniture were used.
It was Wakefield who would not only realize that rattan was ideal for creating wicker, but realized that rattan wicker furniture was an idea with a lot of potential. Wakefield would take the discarded rattan and shape them himself until his enterprise was large enough to begin manufacturing on a large-scale basis.
Wakefield would establish a factory for producing his products in South Reading, Massachusetts, but eventually the town would change its name to simply “Wakefield” in recognition of his accomplishment as well as his local influence.
But Wakefield’s influence on the world of rattan and wicker can’t be understated. It was he who realized that rattan could be used as more than ship ballast on a large scale. As furniture-makers began to realize the possibilities of using rattan for wicker as well as for support (sometimes deferring to wood for straight-corner items), even in furniture that people could sit on for leisure, the industry of wicker furniture in the Americas would take off – this time, for good.
Wicker Leading into Modern Times
In 1897, Wakefield’s company would merge with Heywood Brothers & Company, forging together two of the most prominent makers of wicker furniture at the time. The two companies – now working as one – went on to create a wicker furniture catalog that was highly influential and would help set the tone for wicker in the modern United States.
By now, wicker and rattan were not limited to being used on transportation. Instead, they were being utilized to their full potential in a full range of items: from chairs and end tables to couches and swings. With all of these options printed in one place (the new company’s catalog), a modern age in wicker furniture was being developed.
The catalog, dubbed “Classic Wicker Furniture”, utilized the best assets of both companies. One company would supply the artistic designs, while the other was able to handle much of the manufacturing as well as the logistics of the orders. With one company providing just about everything that wicker customers needed, wicker furniture was now much more readily available to a larger market. Furniture that had once been relegated to Pharaohs, noblemen, and the upper class was now available to everyone.
That is largely the state of wicker furniture in the modern world. The 20th century would see real modernization for wicker furniture. With the Industrial Revolution infusing the manufacturing base for widespread sale of wicker furniture, companies like Heywood Brothers & Wakefield Company were now able to reach a much wider base. This sets the stage for our final chapter in wicker history: explaining the modern history of wicker furniture and why wicker furniture finds itself where it does in the 21st century.
Modern Wicker and Rattan
All of the history we’ve gone through thus far has led us to modern wicker and rattan – the history of rattan and wicker furniture as it exists today. Given the extraordinary journey that wicker and rattan have taken to get from ancient Egypt and Southeast Asia to your front porch, it’s only appropriate to set a broad historical context for the wicker furniture you find so easy to acquire in the world of 2013. However, if you really want to understand your new wicker and rattan purchases from a historical context, we’ll also have to take a look at modern wicker and rattan history, especially their account throughout the tumultuous and ever-changing, 20th century.
First, let’s set the scene: wicker and rattan during the Victorian Age in Europe and in America saw a revolution as rattan began to become the norm for creating and crafting such furniture. Much of this can be credited to the innovations of Cyrus Wakefield, of course, but the emergence of the industrial age also saw a revolution in terms of how wicker could be produced. There was greater efficiency in manufacturing for a number of items; wicker furniture was no different. And though wicker furniture would still often be hand-assembled, the growing influence of machines meant that wicker furniture could also be more affordably produced.
As we navigate the 20th century, we’ll not only find that machines have had a large impact on the history of wicker, but that a new devotion to arts and crafts would shape the destiny of wicker furniture. Let’s continue to explore the history of wicker and rattan as they emerge onto the modern scene.
Wicker in the Early 20th Century
After the merging of the Wakefield and Heywood Chair Manufacturing Company, wicker was poised to make its national presence known. Because the Heywood Company had developed a way for wicker to be weaved mechanically, wicker was about to undergo an industrial revolution in the early 20th century, much in the same way automobiles would arrive on the scene.
The problem? There was a slight decline in the popularity of wicker during the early 20th century. While wicker patterns had been popular during the Victorian Age, modern sensibilities turned to a more simplistic style. Popular wicker companies of the time (including Wakefield and Heywood) tried to change their designs in order to adapt to these new sensibilities. The results were wicker patterns for chairs and similar furnishings that attempted to emulate a more simplistic, modern style.
However, a competing designer, Marshal Lloyd came up with a new innovation to boost the popularity of wicker. It would be an innovation that would help define the development of wicker furniture throughout modern times: creating wicker furniture from synthetic materials. Using synthetic materials to produce wicker furniture had a distinct advantage over many natural types of wicker because the synthetic materials in many cases could be more durable, especially when exposed to elements of the weather like the sun or rainfall (note: We’ll address how wicker handles different weather later on).
This great innovation led to a renewed interest in wicker. Modern furniture was expected to be versatile and able to handle a number of different environments. Now that synthetic wicker furniture joined that group, many people considered the lightweight wicker furniture to be a viable option for their own homes. And because wicker furniture looks as natural outdoors as it does indoors, it also added an element of versatility for those who wanted to bring some of their furnishings outside for picnics and other similar events. Wicker’s regained popularity sustained throughout the century.
Rattan vs. Synthetic Wicker
The innovation of synthetic wicker also gave customers a choice: whether to choose rattan or synthetic wicker for their furniture. The choice, however, revealed some advantages and disadvantages to each type of wicker furniture.
Rattan furniture had a number of distinct advantages. In addition to being lightweight, strong, and durable – which had made it such a solid option for wicker furniture in the first place – rattan is also porous like wood. This means that rattan is especially ideal for painting, coloring, and even sealing. It is easy to use rattan furniture in a number of ways, giving rattan a reputation as a highly versatile material for furniture. (However, as rattan is porous like wood, you will have to avoid exposure to sunlight and rain.)
The advantages of synthetic wicker (also known as “all-weather wicker”), often made from an artificial material known as “resin,” which is a substance close to plastic, were obvious. It is better suited to the environment than any natural option would, considering it wicks water and moisture away easily and doesn’t rot when left out too long. Additionally, it is highly resistant to sun damage, which is concerning when leaving any type of natural furniture outdoors.
In order to properly choose the furniture that would work best for their personal needs, customers now had to consider if their furniture would see most of its use indoors or outdoors. In the outdoors, synthetic wickers are often preferred. Indoors, rattan furniture is ideal. But the choice isn’t always black-and-white.
To this day, choosing your wicker materials remain the individual’s preferences. This leads us into the truly modern age of rattan and wicker.
Wicker and Rattan in 2013
Visit any serious wicker outlet today, and you can see the results of thousands of years of history and innovation. Not only will you find a variety of rattan furnishings ranging from end tables and beds to chairs and desks, but you will also be able to procure synthetic wicker furniture for more frequent use outdoors.
This is, of course, a far cry from the world of wicker throughout much of its history. Even ancient civilizations that saw the potential of wicker as a lightweight travel material did not see the potential of rattan when used in wicker. Previously, people didn’t see how widely wicker weaves could be applied in order to create a variety of designs – this was largely an innovation of the Victorian Age.
Now, in 2013, wicker and rattan – even synthetic materials – are joined at the hip to create a large variety of options for a large variety of customers. Though wicker and rattan furniture had once been the domain of the upper class, it is now available to just about anyone who is in the market for new furniture.
If you find yourself in the market for some furniture, you’ll likely want to know what is you’re looking at. Now with the history of wicker and rattan behind you, you’re ready to move on to the next step: learning about the materials that go into wicker to give it its unique properties.
Craftsmanship: How Wicker Furniture is Made
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of wicker furniture is the way it looks. The wicker weave is not a subtle one: it grabs the eye almost immediately. Its stylish contours accentuate a room, drawing your attention from the designs on the wall to the designs in the furniture.
That kind of look isn’t achieved by accident. Creating wicker furniture is a very deliberate and labor-intensive process—and it’s a process that requires a skilled wicker furniture maker from the very beginning. Selecting the right materials is just step one in a long line of steps that go into creating wicker furniture.
It’s in this section that a piece of raw rattan transforms from its wild roots in Australasia into something completely different—something worthy of your living room.
Throughout this section, we’ll explore how wicker furniture is made by isolating various aspects of manufacturing. However, we’ll tackle more than simply the wicker weave; we’ll also go into what a furniture maker does with rattan after it arrives in their warehouse—and we’ll follow the process until we’ve arrived at a complete piece of wicker furniture.
The Wicker Weave: The Basics
When done right, a wicker weave has a very “natural” look – as if birds somehow landed and decided that instead of creating a nest, they’d like to create a basket (or chair).
Of course, the wicker weave doesn’t arrive to that look by accident. Wicker weaving is a skill that’s been passed down from generations dating back to ancient Egypt and beyond, but it’s not something that people come by naturally. It takes a good degree of skill to be able to handle a wicker weave.
By traditional definition, a wicker weave is simply woven fiber that is formed to create something rigid—in this case, furniture and other items like baskets. As you’re already aware, wicker is not a material itself; instead, it’s the result of weaving a material together in order to hold a solid shape. When handled properly, wicker will hold its shape well despite being very light-weight, which is part of the attraction of wicker furniture in the first place.
If you’ve read this far, then you likely already know all of that. So let’s dig a little deeper into the world of wicker weaving to establish exactly how the weaving is put together.
Wicker Weaving 101
What’s so interesting about wicker weaving is that you often use the same material as both a support structure and as material to hold everything together. For example, a rattan chair will utilize both rattan for the limbs and for the smaller pieces that help hold everything in place. Accomplishing a weave with just one material takes a skilled eye and a lot of experience.
If you’re entering wicker weaving with no idea how it’s done, it may be a good idea to start at the beginning and learn about weaving in general.
Simply put, weaving is accomplished when you take different strands and interlace them with each other in order to create a cohesive whole. There are a lot of different patterns used for weaves; it’s important to remember that wicker isn’t actually a specific pattern of weave.
Instead, a “wicker” weave can include any number of simple or artful weaves. A simple cross-stitching pattern would be an example of a wicker weave. What separates a wicker weave from other weaves—like patterns of fibers cross-stitched into clothing – is that wicker is meant to create a rigid frame.
This definition allows a high variety of stitching patterns to be incorporated into wicker designs, which is why you see so many different types of patterns crafted into wicker furniture.
However, if you want to really train your eye to spot different types of wicker weaving patterns, there may be some worth learning:
- Under-and-Over weaving (or “randing”): Because this is the simplest technique, it is also the easiest. In order to weave this pattern, you lay down one strand of fiber. You then lay another perpendicular fiber over that and continue in this pattern. Interlacing these fibers so that they go “under and over” creates a quick and simple weave.
- Double weaving: Double weaving is the same technique as above, only using two different fiber strands instead of simply one at a time.
- Pairing: Pairing utilizes the same basic pattern of Under-and-Over weaving, but adds a twist: a strand (or double-strand) of fiber is added in and crossed between each spoke so that whichever weaver was “under” is lifted to an “over” position.
- Waling: This is a weave typically used when building up the vertical spokes of a woven piece. It’s a complicated interlocking method known for creating good strength and allowing the spokes to hold their direction—thus allowing the entire structure to hold its shape well.
- Triple twist: Interlacing three weavers at a time, the triple twist is often used to strengthen a weave; it’s particularly useful when new spokes need to be inserted into a weave pattern and held in place.
In many cases, wicker weaving is simply about adding new levels of sophistication on top of the “under and over” pattern; if you want to learn weaving yourself, that pattern is the first you’ll want to master.
Adding Levels, Spokes, and Sides
Wicker weaving gets complicated as you enter three dimensions. It’s not enough to use a simply under-and-over pattern to create a wicker plate; you’ve got to be able to incorporate all three dimensions to create objects as sophisticated as baskets and even furniture.
There are a number of ways to accomplish this. One common method is to create a wicker weave in a circle, using the under-and-over technique as well as pairing to utilize a skeleton of spokes on the bottom. Then, when you have finished the bottom of the basket, you will add longer spokes that can be bent (or pre-bent) to move upwards. You insert these longer spokes into the sections of the weaving left open by the previous spokes and snip off the edges of the spokes already there. If you have constructed a strong weave, the new spokes will hold firmly in place.
These new spokes will be much longer than the finished height of the object you’re creating – you can then use the remaining material (once you’ve constructed a weave moving vertically to the height you’re happy with) to weave a pattern for the rim of the basket.
Naturally, there are a lot of different ways to create and incorporate wicker into different types of furniture. Some objects are created entirely from a weave – such as baskets – while others will rely on heavier frames. There’s a lot more to learn about weaving and how you can use these patterns to create entire varieties of household items, but this “101” lesson will hopefully have provided you with the groundwork to understand what you’re looking at when you encounter a wicker weave in your life.
When you understand all there is to know about wicker weaving, you begin to discover why rattan is perfect for wicker furniture. As a strong, lightweight (but not hollow) fiber, rattan offers everything that wicker items require. However, that doesn’t mean rattan doesn’t still require processing to become wicker furniture. Rattan, like any other raw material, has to go through some degree of modification before it’s ready for use in furniture.
Starting with Large Rattan Poles
When buying rattan wholesale, furniture makers often encounter large, solid rattan poles. These can sometimes range up to 80 feet in length.
Rattan comes into the furniture factory in big, long stalks. It has to be cleaned and processed, the same way a banana may have to have its skin removed. At Wicker Warehouse, we’ll remove the skin from the rattan and keep it aside to use for other purposes.
We cut these poles down to lengths of 8 feet and then remove the strong outer skin—though we save this skin for later use. With the strong skin removed, the poles of rattan can be processed and cut down to just about anything we want, from small “spaghetti”-sized rattan for weaving to wide, “fettuccini”-style weavers.
Of course, while a basket can be made out of “spaghetti” sized rattan, furniture requires a little more strength. That’s why we will also cut broom handle-sized rattan rods for use in furniture. This allows us to create a frame that provides a strong, sturdy foundation to whatever furniture item is being created.
When you look at a large piece of wicker furniture that incorporates a lot of small “spaghetti” sized rattan weavers, you’re likely looking at a combination of rattan rod sizes. The weave itself will be made out of the smaller rattan while the structure is made out of the larger broom handle sized rods. The difference in rattan processing is what allows an entire piece of rattan furniture to be made from the same material, giving it its cohesive appearance.
Building Rattan Furniture from the Ground Up
Before you build anything, it’s necessary to construct a foundation. You can see this when skyscrapers are constructed—for months and even years, workers dig down first, laying a strong foundation. Without a strong foundation, you can’t make a strong structure.
The same principles hold up in the construction of rattan furniture. Luckily, rattan is a material that’s not only ideal for wicker weaving, but is strong enough to support furniture as its foundation, as well. (There are some exceptions to this when regular wood is used to bear more weight or create straight edges. These issues will be addressed later on.)
To begin making rattan furniture that will be expected to bear weight, we have to start with a very strong and sturdy foundation. That is why we will begin our work on furniture by constructing a strong rattan frame, usually by working with the thicker, “broom handle”-sized rattan poles.
After creating a strong rattan frame, we will then hand-weave wicker patterns and attach them—as well as all sorts of different rattan textures—over the frame.
Of course, you can’t construct the kind of rattan furniture we construct—furniture full of subtle and curved edges—unless you knew how to work with the rattan poles and create a furniture frame that features more than straight edges. In order to construct a foundational frame for furniture that itself looks attractive while allowing us to incorporate a large variety of different wicker designs, we have to process the rattan poles before construction.
Shaping and Integrating Wicker Weaving
The basic process of rattan furniture assembly is easy enough to understand: you construct a frame and weave in different patterns and textures of rattan over that solid frame. However, what if you want the frame itself to be part of the design of the furniture?
Since we incorporate attractive design into each and every rattan frame we create, it’s necessary to shape the larger rattan poles even before we assemble the entire frame.
After all, if you look at a wicker chair or a wicker couch, you’ll likely see that it’s flowing and curved—even the larger rods seem to be curved. Does rattan just grow this way and furniture makers happen to get lucky?
As it turns out, there is a lot of work that goes into the process of shaping and curving rattan. Rattan is a good material for accepting these modifications and then holding it well—once rattan has been shaped, it will hold that shape sturdily. But it does require both equipment and know-how in order to get rattan into a desired shape.
Smaller rods of rattan, like many fibers, can be manipulated by hand in order to be woven into a certain shape. However, there’s no way to accomplish this with larger rattan strands, especially because rattan is not hollow.
Furniture makers will use steam – applying both heat and moisture – to modify the shape of rattan poles. First, we will build a form for the shape we want the rattan to hold after it’s been steamed and cooled. Then we steam the rattan and shape it to that form, allowing it to cool (as well as dry). One of the chief advantages of rattan is that it will hold its shape well after it has been steamed, molded, and cooled—in addition to retaining much of its strength. This allows us to create just about any rattan furniture shape we like. If you see rattan furniture with any sort of curve, then the rattan has likely gone through the steaming process.
While this might seem like an intensive process for one piece of furniture, it’s important to remember that many different rattan poles can be steamed at the same time using the right equipment.
With the right equipment and craftsmanship, even the heaviest of rattan poles can go into a form. As a result, we can create rounded rattan, square rattan—really, we can fashion rattan poles into any shape we like. This allows for nearly endless varieties of rattan furniture designs. It also allows rattan to provide the design for different types of furniture from couches to end tables.
However, you’ll notice we employed the phrase “right equipment and craftsmanship.” At every point in the process of modifying rattan from a raw material to a completed piece of furniture, you need skilled craftsmen. It’s not just in the weaving of wicker designs that craftsmanship factors into furniture-making. As you’ll see in the next section, every step along the way requires a skilled eye and a skilled hand.
Hand-Made Furniture: The Art of Rattan Craftsmanship
When you look at a completed piece of wicker furniture, it’s easy to appreciate the craftsmanship. After all, it’s obvious in the weaving of the wicker itself: without a deft hand, there’s no way the design could exist. However, the goal of this section is to enlighten you on the totality of craftsmanship present in each piece of hand-made rattan furniture. In truth, the craftsmanship begins with the processing and shaping of the rattan and only ends when the furniture is ready for sale.
Understanding the Role of Rattan Poles and Frames
In the previous section we covered a little bit about the important role broom handle-sized rattan poles play in the craftsmanship of rattan furniture. The truth is, without these larger poles, no real weight-bearing rattan furniture could be constructed wholly from rattan.
If you want to identify rattan pole craftsmanship in the wicker furniture you’re considering, it’s worth taking some time to explain the exact role of rattan poles. With a well-tuned eye, you’ll be able to spot different types of rattan furniture simply by understanding what kind of frame was used during construction.
The phrase to remember here is what we call “pole rattan furniture.” We define pole rattan furniture as rattan furniture with rattan poles that touch the ground. Many chairs, couches, and tables fall into this category: any piece of furniture heavily relying on pole rattan that has been steamed, cooled, and finished would qualify as pole rattan furniture.
However, even rattan furnishings that don’t feature broom handle or pole rattan still require a frame. Smaller rattan pieces can be constructed with smaller rattan “spokes” as their structure—this is typically the kind of rattan framework you’ll see in baskets, for example. Many furnishings will utilize some combination of rattan sizes, utilizing heavy poles for the furnishings and smaller “spaghetti” sized rattan for weaving.
With rattan’s ability to hold its shape after steaming and cooling, it’s entirely possible to create a unique shape for furniture through the framing alone while weaving in wicker patterns over the top of these frames. Many “Tahiti”-style frames will utilizes this method. However, the truth is that a variety of rattan furnishings will utilize the basic method of attaching wicker weaves over thicker rattan pole frames.
Constructing the Frame and Holding it Together
Because wicker craftsman can indeed construct a piece of rattan furniture using rattan as the only material used, many people ask about how rattan can be used in all aspects of a rattan’s structure. Many people wonder how you can look at a piece of rattan furniture and only see rattan. This is possible thanks to the craftsmanship of the people creating the piece by hand.
Though it requires experience and a certain amount of artfulness in order to execute, the process of holding a frame together using rattan is actually quite simple to understand.
All of the poles will be attached to one another by our skilled craftsmen. These attachments—often known as joints—will then be wrapped with the rattan skin we removed and kept in the early stages of rattan processing. We may also wrap joints with “Fettucini” sized rattan so that all of the connections and joints are covered and look pleasing, revealing none of the work underneath. The overall effect is that the entire chair is covered in or constructed from rattan, making it more attractive and giving it the “organic” quality that only rattan wicker can achieve.
Because even rattan peelings are strong, these joints hold up well. An additional material of use is leather because it shares many of the qualities of rattan skin that we furniture makers are looking for to cover up joints.
How each frame is constructed, however, will depend on the make of the furniture being constructed. For example, on an end table, the construction process will loosely follow these steps:
- Constructing the frame first. This includes using a heavier rattan for the frame. This part will vary depending on the type of piece being created; a loveseat, for example, will require more work on the frame to ensure it can support enough weight.
- Covering the joints and connections. Wrapping the joints and connections with rattan (either using rattan skin or smaller cuts of rattan) is essential so that nothing but rattan shows.
- Creating crossbars for the shelf underneath. While the shelf itself will be mostly smaller rattan, it will still bear weight; that means the crossbars that support this weight will have to be inserted next.
- Weaving. Once the basic structure is finished—featuring both the frame and the crossbars for the shelf—we will hand the furniture off to our wicker weaver. The piece will then be hand-woven and hand-tied to create the overall look of complete wicker covering the piece. If the worksmanship is done properly, there will be no additional rattan sticking out; it will instead be a cohesive whole.
An end table is a fairly straight-forward example of rattan furniture, but it should give you an idea of what the process is like and in which order the steps need to be accomplished.
Wicker Weaving Craftsmanship
The wicker weave on the exterior of the furniture is going to be the most noticeable part of the entire set; it needs to be done right. Because the wicker weave is often one of the last steps of the process (aside from additional steps like painting, sealing, and installing cushions), it’s important to have skilled, quality craftsman working on the wicker weaving. Even in synthetic wicker, the wicker should be hand-woven and hand-tied.
You can quickly tell if the hand-weaving on the wicker was skilled or not. For starters, the beginnings and the ends of the weave should not be exposed; they should be covered by the middles of the weave. The weave should also be consistent yet artful; anything protruding that shouldn’t be protruding or a weave off here or there might indicate that the weave wasn’t made by an experienced hand.
A Note on Wood-Lining
Although much of the furniture we make includes a foundational frame made from rattan, sometimes it’s important to line wood into the making of furniture. This is usually done for two reasons: first, we’ll include wood in the frame of the piece for furniture will need to support a lot of weight. Beds are a common example of this. Second, we sometimes use wood when straight lines or ninety-degree angles (such as trunks) are needed. We approach every piece of furniture as its own creature and use wood only when necessary.
Trunks and bedroom furniture are some of the most common furniture items we create that feature wood. This makes the trunks strong enough to sit on, and obviously offers the support a bed needs if it’s going to be subject not only to daily sleeping by two people, but the various challenges of family life (including children jumping on the bed). Of course, the wood is incorporated into the rattan design so that you can’t see it, allowing the full rattan “look.”
The use of wood is a chief difference between trunk ends and bedroom furniture as opposed to loveseats and rocking chairs. We generally don’t use wood to line living room or dining room seating, including couches and loveseats. However, we also don’t approach every item with a steadfast rule of whether or not to use wood: each piece is different.
Crafting Synthetic Rattan Furniture
In examining the process of crafting rattan furniture thus far, we’ve mostly dealt with creating furniture almost entirely out of rattan. Even though there are a number of steps in the construction of rattan wicker furniture, it’s possible to use the full stalk of rattan in order to craft each piece, from the skin on down.
Now it’s time to address the creation and craftsmanship of synthetic rattan furniture. While the end-result of synthetic furniture looks and feels similar to real rattan, the truth is that the entire process is in many ways different from crafting natural rattan furniture, with many similarities to point out as well. In this section, we’ll explore the materials and strategies used to create synthetic rattan furniture that resembles the real thing.
Constructing Synthetic Frames
The first step in creating a piece of rattan furniture is to process the raw material. As stated, rattan will arrive to our factory in large stalks that have to be peeled of their skin and cut down into varying sizes.
In the creation of synthetic furniture, however, aluminum is the primary material. Aluminum poles don’t require the same processing as rattan; for example, you don’t need to steam aluminum in order to bend it into its proper shape. Aluminum frames are very easy to create for this reason.
Aluminum, like rattan, is a very handy material for creating wicker furniture. Like rattan, aluminum is lightweight while also being strong and easy to shape. This allows us to make a variety of designs for synthetic wicker furniture the same way we’ll try out a number of designs for natural rattan. With synthetic frames, the possibilities of design are really limitless and bound only by the imagination of the designers and craftsman working on them.
Like rattan, aluminum frames also have to be considered by the furniture maker. Is the aluminum thick enough to support the kind of furniture that’s being created? These questions must be answered before the furniture maker continues.
Of course, synthetic frames are bound together using different methods than the binding for rattan furniture. As you’ll see, however, we easily interlace synthetic wicker on the outside of these frames much in the same way we’ll attach natural rattan to larger rattan rods. Even though the materials are different, a great deal of the process is the same.
In order to produce a piece of synthetic wicker furniture that is resistant to weather damage, however, it means finding the best synthetic materials for producing the synthetic wicker weave.
All About Synthetic “Wicker”
With aluminum poles serving as the structure for our synthetic wicker furniture (the same way pole rattan works for natural wicker), the next question is simple: what material we use for synthetic wicker weaving?
We use high density polyethylene, or HDPE. Unlike natural rattan, HDPE is non-porous. It can also be bought already-dyed from the factories that produce it, which means we can skip the typical sealing/painting process that is often required when producing rattan furniture. It is possible to paint HDPE another color after the dying process, but it will require a special type of paint in order to work right.
It’s the non-porous nature of synthetic wicker like HDPE that makes it so special. Being non-porous, HDPE will not absorb moisture. HDPE is also infused with ultra-violet protectors that allow you to keep the furniture out in the sun without having it succumb to UV damage. These properties are already inherent in the HDPE before we weave it onto the furniture.
When it comes to craftsmanship, the process of synthetic wicker is just like the process in weaving natural wicker. We will take the aluminum frame we’ve created and integrate hand-woven synthetic wicker into the design, covering up any joints to ensure that the overall look of the piece of furniture is exactly how we want it to be. The weaving patterns we use with synthetic wicker are just as hand-crafted and artistic as the natural rattan weaving patterns.
The result of crafting this hand-woven synthetic wicker over the rest of the frame is that the HDPE is what gets exposed to sunlight and rain. Because HDPE is non-porous and UV-protected, it won’t “weather” like natural rattan. Even if you were to remove the HDPE from the furniture, you would simply expose aluminum underneath, a material that is highly weather-resistant.
Putting it All Together
The same essential process—starting with a strong, lightweight frame and weaving wicker over it—is what we use for both synthetic and natural wicker furniture. However, because of the nature of synthetic wicker, it’s important to note a few key differences that come along during production of synthetic wicker furniture.
- Painting and sealing: In natural rattan, sealing helps to preserve its longevity and painting brings it from its natural colors to the color of your choice. With synthetic wicker furniture, the HDPE is already pre-dyed and there’s no need for sealing because the material is non-porous. Additionally, if you want to paint synthetic wicker, you’ll need a special paint; this is not true for natural rattan. (Another note: the water seal around natural rattan will eventually start to wear down. The sealing process makes it better capable of handling water, but it will still eventually wear away. If you’re getting charged extra for water sealing, you might want to try another furniture maker).
- Pliability: HDPE has to be warmed to be pliable, similar to the “steaming” undergone by rattan during its own shaping. However, the two processes aren’t the same, even if both substances need a little “coercion” for extra pliability.
- Full coloring: Painting a rattan chair can be done after the whole structure is completed. It’s not the same with similar furniture made from aluminum and HDPE. Instead, we will paint the aluminum frame first in order to ensure a proper color match and then weave the HDPE wicker to the outside. This is because HDPE doesn’t respond exactly the same to the paint that we will use on the aluminum, whereas natural rattan furniture will respond to paint in a uniform manner.
Aside from these key differences, much of the process of crafting wicker furniture from natural and synthetic materials follows the same basic steps. However, it’s important to find a furniture maker who will pay attention to the subtleties of handling each type of material.
Cushions, Fabrics, and Finishing the Furniture
If you look at a piece of wicker furniture, you’re bound to notice the wicker designs—the elaborate weaving, the uniform color, the natural appearance. However, there’s more to consider when you’re buying your furniture, just as there’s more to consider from the furniture maker’s point of view: cushions and fabric.
After all, no one is going to sit down on a piece of wicker furniture without a proper cushion to make the piece comfortable. And while some wicker items don’t require cushioning (hampers, end tables, etc.), many of your most important wicker purchases—like chairs and couches—do.
That’s why it’s essential to not only examine the process of building natural and synthetic wicker frames, but understanding the craftsmanship of fabrics, cushions, and everything involved with finishing a complete work of wicker furniture.
Cushions: Maximizing Comfort and Effectiveness
As someone who’s going to be sitting and lying in your wicker furniture, you should place paramount importance on the kind of cushions you deal with.
For indoor natural rattan furniture, we focus on cotton fabrics filled with foam. These cushions, designed for inside use, are probably the most comfortable you’ll find on indoor furniture—and they work well with rattan because we will construct a frame that properly holds the cushions in place.
There’s more to the story of cushions than comfort, however. It’s also important to get the most possible life out of your cushions. In order to accomplish this, we’ll work on building rattan furniture that can hold cushions that will be easily flipped over. A prime example comes from our Savannah Rattan Bistro Set: you can see that the chair cushions fit snugly in with the rattan and are symmetrical, allowing them to be flipped over at a moment’s notice.
Flipping over cushions regularly helps to maintain them, keep them clean, and also extends the life you’ll get out of them because you’re constantly changing where the cushions are getting most of their wear and tear. Look for similar designs to the Savannah Rattan Bistro Set if you’re concerned about the wear and tear your cushions will receive on a regular basis.
The effectiveness of these cushions also makes for easier furniture maintenance. As the cushions are held snugly in place by the furniture frame we’ve designed, you can easily remove them and re-attach them later when you want to dust off your wicker furniture or flip the cushions over. The end result of a well-designed wicker cushion set is that you’ll get more life out of them, they’ll be easy to maintain, they’ll lock in place, and they’ll offer you the most possible comfort.
Fabrics: The Unsung Hero of Long-Lasting Wicker Furniture
Like the materials from which your wicker furniture is crafted, the fabrics that line your cushions need to be strong, durable, comfortable, and attractive. While few people think about fabrics when they consider wicker furniture, it’s an important piece of the puzzle—and one that you’ll need to pay attention to during your next furniture purchase.
Fabrics, like wicker materials, come in both natural and synthetic versions. Cotton fabrics are ideal for inside use as they’re comfortable, sturdy, and match the organic attractiveness of natural rattan. Look for fabrics with higher stitch counts if you want a fabric that wears well.
Synthetic fabrics are generally very strong. Mostly made out of spun polyester or acrylic materials, synthetic fabrics are also difficult to dye. When the fabric mill applies a design print to the fabric it produces, they use what’s called a “silk screening” process. This sets the dye on top of the fabric without dyeing it through—cotton, in contrast, can be dyed through. The advantage of synthetic fabric’s inability to color all the way through, however, is that they are also resistant to fading.
Another advantage to synthetic fabrics, like synthetic wicker, is that they can include added ultraviolet (UV) ray protection. When we at Wicker Warehouse use synthetic fabrics, we generally use spun polyester with a minimum of 500 hours of UV protection. There are synthetic fabrics available with higher-grade UV protection, such as Sunbrella acrylic fabrics, which offer some 2,000 hours of UV protection. These fabrics employ a more expensive dying process, but the end result includes better wear.
It is possible to receive spun polyester floral fabric with no UV treatment. This fabric will be less expensive, but the trade-off is that it will wear out faster when exposed to the sun. As is so often the case with furniture, you get what you pay for.
Sealing, Painting, and Finishing
After all of the craftsmanship—shaping the materials, painting the aluminum, creating a wicker weave, selecting a fabric—has been finished, the wicker furniture piece is nearly complete. However, the specific final step in finishing a fully-crafted piece of wicker furniture depends on how it was made.
- Sealing: Generally, sealing is only necessary as a final step when working with rattan. We generally don’t water-seal our rattan furniture because the seal wears off and only adds to the final costs of the piece. Some wicker furniture makers will use inexpensive steel instead of aluminum in their synthetic pieces and use a water seal to prevent rust—this, too, however, fades eventually.
- Painting: Most often, painting is only a concern at two points: finishing a natural rattan piece or finishing a synthetic frame. It’s important to paint aluminum to the same color as the pre-dyed synthetic wicker that will be used on the outer sections before the outer sections are assembled. Natural rattan, however, is porous and will easily accept paint. Before the cushions are attached, natural rattan pieces can be painted whole.
- Finishing: This is a very important point, because how an item is “finished” depends on how it was made. Some furniture makers will finish a less-expensive steel frame with water sealant, for example—however, as this easily wears off, we believe it to be inferior to aluminum. Others might finish natural rattan with a sealant as well. In general, it’s best to look for wicker furniture that has been minimally-sealed. Synthetic wicker should already come pre-dyed, painted, and ready for outdoor use; it doesn’t require further sealing or finishing.
Now that you understand what goes in to creating a piece of wicker furniture (literally) from scratch, it’s time to look at all of the varieties of furniture this process can create.
Types of Wicker Furniture: Chairs, Dining Tables, Bed Sets, and More
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to say that once you’ve seen one piece of wicker furniture, you’ve seen them all. However, you probably know better than that. Now that you’ve been introduced to the subtlety of craftsmanship present in wicker furniture, it’s time to learn all of the different varieties of furniture that can be produced using rattan and synthetic wicker.
If you want to know all there is to know about wicker furniture, it’s important to go through different types of furniture step-by-step in order to fully understand all of the possibilities present in this art form. We’ll also explore the different environments that are suitable for wicker furniture—everything from the great outdoors to the intimate setting of the bedroom, and everywhere in between.
It’s also important to remember that wicker furniture is not just limited to the home. Wicker seating in restaurants, for example, is one type of business use for wicker furniture. We’ll explore these specialty items in this section as well, being sure to hit on just about every type of wicker furniture under the sun. Each of these items we make ourselves at Wicker Warehouse.
Seating: Chairs, Couches, and More
Perhaps the most visible of all wicker furniture is the kind of furniture you’ll find in the living room. If you’re a guest in someone’s home, this is the furniture you’ll use. If you own wicker in your living room, you’ll likely spend a lot of time with this furniture.
Wicker furniture designed specifically for seating has to follow the process of creating a strong frame and integrating wicker designs around that frame. For seating, this usually means utilizing broom handle-sized rattan or (in the case of synthetic wicker) aluminum poles for the frame so that the furniture can handle the weight that will be placed on it.
A wicker chair is perhaps the most commonly-known item of furniture in the entire wicker world. It’s no wonder: these chairs are timeless, easy to use, and easy to make comfortable (especially with a soft cushion). Chairs come in all shapes and sizes and can be custom-designed to suit just about any specification. At Wicker Warehouse we produce stackable restaurant chairs as well as elaborate wicker chairs for use around the home. Let’s take a closer look at some different chair types.
- Stand-alone Chairs: Of course, just about any wicker chair can function as a “stand-alone” piece, but a specific type of chair is designed to stand alone. Yes, even stand-alone chairs can be used as part of a larger set. But even those chairs that are designed as part of a dining or living room set often function well as stand-alone chairs that can be used both indoors and outdoors (in the case of rattan chairs, on a protected porch).
- Rocking chairs: We produce a lot of rocking chairs at Wicker Warehouse because they’re a popular type of wicker piece. Many people like the association between wicker and traditional rocking chairs. Of course, the frames of these rocking chairs are vastly different than standard chairs, which means that the rattan will have to be properly shaped in order to achieve a smooth, symmetric rocking effect. A well-crafted rocking chair, however, will be easy to spot; you know it the instant you get in the chair and start rocking.
- Glider chairs: A “swivel” or glider chair is a piece of furniture that somewhat resembles a rocking chair—but doesn’t really. They swivel in more than one direction, unlike the rocking chair, and are usually a favorite in outdoor settings because of this activity.
- Chaise lounges: Long, wide, and flat, a Chaise Lounge is one of the best ways to relax near a pool or simply outdoors. They offer a lot of room and support for relaxing, which often means they’re capable of supporting the weight of two—a “lawn loveseat,” if you will.
- Swing chairs: A favorite of people who enjoy wicker furniture meant for the outdoors, swing chairs have to be well-crafted in order to support a lot of weight for a lifetime of use. There are generally two types of swing chairs: wicker swing chairs hung from a metal frame, usually meant to seat just one or maybe two, and porch swings, which can often seat two or three. These chairs typically come with cushions attached for maximum comfort, which makes them perfect for lounging with a book while enjoying the outdoor son.
- Ottomans: Most seating is focused on where you put your torso, but sometimes your feet need a rest too. Ottomans make a good accompaniment with both large furniture sets or stand-alone chairs. Having an Ottoman around to rest your feet upon is a great way to relax as well as to send a message to guests that you want them to relax as well. Typically, an Ottoman will come with a cushion that should match the chair it’s paired up with—this is not a problem when you buy an Ottoman as part of a larger seating set.
Couches and Sofas
There’s more to the world of seating, of course, than just chairs. Sometimes you want to lie down; other times you want to share your seating with other people. That’s where couches and sofas come in. A good wicker couch or sofa will be sturdily built, capable of handling more than one person’s weight, and will fit in with the décor and look of the other pieces that it might be paired with.
- Indoor Couches: Generally made from natural rattan, indoor couches are ideal pieces for a living room set, particularly if you want a “natural” look for your interior décor. Cushions are paramount here; a good cushion will make a good couch and a bad cushion might ruin an otherwise well-crafted piece of wicker furniture. So be vigilant in the way you select indoor couches. It’s also important to look for pieces that allow for easy cushion removal when the couch needs to be cleaned.
- Outdoor Couches and Sectionals: Large couches that seat a lot more than just two or three people are known as “sectionals.” Typically, these couches are so large that they are shaped in a right angle so as to keep everyone in the same basic group; otherwise you would have a couch that was too long and would probably not fit anywhere. Sectionals work well outdoors with Sunbrella fabric as ways to enjoy a barbecue without having everyone sit on a folding chair. Many sectionals often feature wood built into the frame to ensure it can hold a lot of weight and that right angles are maintained.
- Loveseats: A smaller couch that fits only two people is usually known as a “loveseat” because it pairs one couple together. Loveseats can be used as feature pieces in your home, however, if you don’t anticipate a lot of guests. Loveseats are crafted much in the same way as traditional couches, though they will likely not have to support as much weight as a sectional, so it’s easy to find loveseats made entirely from rattan.
Benches and Stools
Finally, there is specialty seating designs for one person at a time: benches and stools. Benches and stools can be integral to pulling a room together, or even two rooms together—especially when a kitchen counter acts as a border between a living room and a kitchen. Wicker benches are also ideal for moving inside or outside; a wicker bench looks like a fit just about anywhere that it’s placed! Wicker benches and stools are as sturdy as anything else you’ll find out there, and lightweight rattan or synthetic wicker makes them easy to move when you need to clear them out.
- Benches: Perhaps the most versatile of all wicker furniture, wicker benches have the advantage of looking natural in just about any environment. They don’t look out of place in an office waiting room setting, nor do they look out of place sitting outside on your porch or even in your yard near a garden. Benches will include both wicker rattan and pole rattan in order to support the weight of those who sit upon it, which sometimes means supporting the weight of two or more people.
- Stools: Wicker stools work well with wooden bar countertops, but they can be utilized for any number of purposes. They are usually simple pieces with a four-legged rattan pole frame with a wicker weave on top that serves as a comfortable, flexible seat. Much of the subtle design work that goes into these stools actually takes place in the legs, where various arches and connections and crossing patterns can make the stools stand out from the rest of your pieces
Tables and Desks
We just got done covering some of the different types of wicker tables available, but considering how important tables are to the world of furniture, they also deserve a section all their own. There are endless amounts of shapes, sizes, and varieties available for tables. Wicker dining tables, wicker coffee tables, wicker restaurant tables—the list goes on and on. Selecting a wicker table for yourself will mean matching the appropriate wicker table to the room and use it’s best suited for.
Standard Tables and Desks
The most common type of table is obvious: a table that is meant to have something put on it, usually in an active sense. We dine on tables, we write on tables, we plop our mail down on tables—they should be sturdy enough to handle our daily routine and attractive enough to draw compliments from our guests.
- Writing Tables: Writing tables made out of wicker have the distinct advantage of being light and easy to move. Usually writing tables are small to some extent, but they’re not always easy to pick up because of their weight. Wicker writing tables, on the other hand, can easily be moved throughout a room, giving them a distinct advantage over writing tables made from heavier substances like wood. Wicker desks can also be used much in the same way, and are also advantageous thanks to their lightweight nature
- Dining Tables: Perhaps the most common table available is the dining table. Dining tables come in all shapes and sizes. You can usually buy dining tables as part of larger dining sets, because it’s important to match the chairs used for a dining table along with the design of the dining table in order to hold a room together aesthetically. Unlike many other types of wicker furniture, dining tables are somewhat unique in that they’ll often prominently feature pole rattan rather than wicker rattan. This gives them not only their sturdy structure but a particularly sturdy look even though the dining tables made from rattan, again, will be much lighter than those made from wood.
- Desks: The chief challenge in crafting a desk from wicker is to make sure that the desk has storage space. This is usually accomplished through shelves underneath the top surface of the desk, although a variety of different designs are usually available. Constructing a desk entirely out of rattan can be a little tricky, which is why the frame must be specially-made to suit the needs and specifications of a desk. Wicker desks do, however, offer all of the storage space and “amenities” of any other furniture desk; for example, you can buy wicker desks that also feature pull-out keyboard spaces. Like many tables, desks often come as part of a set with similarly-looking wicker chairs.
- TV Stands: These days, television sets are lighter than they used to be, so TV stands don’t need to be the towering pieces of lumber they once were. Wicker works just find to hold up television sets in the 21st century, but TV stands can do more than simply that—they can also be built with rattan shelves attached right in for various purposes such as including DVDs near the TV or storing the remote control.
End Tables and Coffee Tables
Tables that we use very often but don’t often think about include end tables and coffee tables. These are two of the most common tables for use around the home because they feature prominently in most wicker living room furniture sets; really, no living room set is complete without at least one end table and/or coffee table.
- End Tables: Like any other wicker piece, end tables can come in an endless amount of shapes and sizes. Typically the craftsmanship will include a shelf for the end table, particularly if the end table is designed to sit next to your bed. An end table should not take up too much space in the room—just enough to hold a lamp, some books, and otherwise look pretty.
- Coffee Tables: As you’re probably already aware, coffee tables are essentially a furniture category in and of themselves. They can be found in endless varieties, even if you’re just looking for wicker coffee tables! Some wicker coffee tables feature a wooden top; others make room for glass. The options are endless, of course. However, it’s usually best to go with a coffee table that makes sense within the context of the room that it will be sitting in. Coffee tables can be great for moving indoors and outdoors, too, depending on how heavy they are. Mostly wicker coffee tables can be moved out on the porch for use on hot summer days.
- Cocktail Tables: Typically identified by the glass surface they include, wicker cocktail tables are ideal settings to place your glasses of wine when hosting company. They’re easy to move, which means you can transport them outside or onto the porch on a summer’s day. Typically, the frames of cocktail tables will include a lower surface, as well, that is often useful for storing books, magazines, gadgets, and just about anything else you typically use during a visit to the living room.
- Serving Carts: Imagine a cocktail table on wheels and you have a serving cart. The wheels are the major addition to the wicker frame here, although it’s important to note that most wicker serving carts will use glass as their surface(s). Adding a glass surface to wicker furniture gives it a predictable, even surface that doesn’t distract from the wicker’s natural attractiveness.
In the Bedroom
We’ve covered a lot of wicker furniture thus far and we haven’t even gotten to one place where furniture is paramount: the bedroom. As you already know, a good bed can make or break a room. Other items like vanities are also important for the creature comforts that you expect just a few seconds away from where you sleep – and where you wake up.
Many items in the bedroom are lined with wood because of the need for ninety-degree angles and weight support. However, they may still be lighter weight than common wood furniture because they rely on wood far less.
Beds and Bed Collections
Like most furniture, beds often don’t come alone but rather as part of an entire bed collection. Since the bed is the centerpiece of the entire bedroom, it’s important that it match the other furniture that’s present, as well.
- Traditional Beds: A traditional bedroom set made out of wicker has a “traditional” look, but it’s still somewhat unconventional. Typically, beds made out of wicker give the entire room a more rustic, Victorian look – like viewing a bedroom in a beach house. Wicker beds are typically lined with wood to ensure they can endure the stress of more than one person’s body weight as well as the normal wear and tear that happen to beds—especially children jumping on them. A wicker bed will still be able to house regular bed mattresses.
- Single Beds: At Wicker Warehouse, we often include these in our Montego Bay collections. Single beds and bed sets operate on the same principles as wicker traditional beds except the frames are typically smaller. These are the beds best suited for children. They often come with other bedroom furniture ranging from lamp stands to desks and book shelves.
There’s a lot to store in the bedroom. You have to store your clothes, for starters. You also have to store a number of items that you might not use every day—anything ranging from old books to important documents that you don’t need to access regularly. It’s important that you have wicker bedroom storage that works just as well as wood storage furniture—offering the same quality of support and organization.
- Dressers: The large surface area of a dresser—including both its top and its shelves—allows for a lot of wicker weaving down the sides. This makes a wicker dresser a particular favorite of those who are partial to wicker weaving. And since so many wooden dressers are heavier than wicker dressers (even though wicker dresses can use wood for the frames), you still have the advantage of owning a dresser that will be easier to move.
- Vanities: A good wicker vanity can make the entire bedroom look like something out of a novel. Typically, a wicker vanity will be sold as a set with a wicker bench-style seat that is lined with a cushion for optimal comfort. These vanities include mirrors that are stitched to the vanity side but also feature a considerable amount of exterior wicker weaving. Most vanities include a small shelf in the center for storing common household items like jewelry and makeup.
- Armoires/Wardrobes: Armoires and wardrobes are common bedroom furniture for most people, but most people tend to opt for heavy, mostly wooden-based furniture. Like dressers, armoires and wardrobes are much lighter, easier to move, and feature just as much storage space as their mostly-wooden counterparts. It’s easy to store clothes in armoires and wardrobes—and move it inside the closet if you need to make more space in your bedroom.
Near the Bed
If you’re like ma lot of people, you’ll spend some time in your bed each night before going to sleep. This means that you’ll have to have high-quality wicker furniture near where you rest, as well.
- Night Stands: Essentially, these are end tables for use around the bed. A wicker night stand at Wicker Warehouse generally features two shelves on the inside and a glass surface on the top so that any drinks you set down will be perfectly balanced. You can also balance a lamp on these night stands for easy access to shutting off the lights when you’re ready to go to bed.
- Headboards: One of the major advantages of using a wicker bed, the headboard is an opportunity for a craftsman to really show off their style. A variety of wicker headboards are available in an endless array of designs. Another advantage to the wicker headboard? It won’t hurt if you ever accidentally smack your head against it thanks to the “give” most wicker weaves have.
Outdoor Wicker Furniture
Although much of the furniture you’ve already been reading about is just as suitable for the outdoors as it is for indoor use, there are specific types of wicker furniture that don’t only thrive outside, but are built to be outside. Typically, this is the kind of furniture that you’ll want to be made with synthetic wicker, as you’ll likely leave this furniture outdoors on a regular basis.
- Bar Height Tables: These pieces make excellent places to socialize. A wicker bar height table will typically feature a glass surface so that drinks will be held with perfect balance. Much of the interior of the table is hollow, with an emphasis on curved pole rattan that provides a lot of vertical support. These tables typically come in sets with high bar stools or high wicker chairs. Although these bar tables can be used indoors, they’re usually better suited on a porch or outside.
- Bistro Chairs: A wicker bistro chair is the wicker equivalent to the type of stackable plastic chair most people are used to trotting out whenever they have a party outdoors. These chairs are very lightweight because they’re meant to be moved—and since they’re already made out of synthetic wicker, you can practically throw them around. Light pole rattan provides the legs and structure for these seats while a wicker weaving pattern provides the bottom and back.
- Plant stands: Plant stands are truly a wicker hybrid: they work just as well indoors as they do outdoors. With synthetic plant stands, you can easily move your plants around, which makes them particularly suited for gardening and landscaping. Many people will leave their synthetic wicker plant stands under their porch and near doorways, however.
- Outdoor dining sets: Dining sets outdoors are so popular that they are specially made to suit porches and a variety of other outdoor environments. These can be lightweight since they typically won’t require the sturdiness of indoor dining sets, allowing these wicker items to be foldable. At Wicker Warehouse, the dining sets will include cushioned chairs, as well—how many chairs depends on the individual dining set. The dining sets are made with the aluminum/resin combination so common in outdoor synthetic wicker furniture items.
- Storage trunks: Storage is as important outdoors as it is indoors. Outdoor storage trunks are built on right angles to provide maximum storage space while the synthetic wicker weaving keeps your items protected. Storing outdoor cushions, hoses, swimming pool items, and all sorts of outdoor tools can be done in these large storage trunks. Made out of aluminum frames that are heavier—allowing them not to blow easily in the wind – these storage trunks can be left just about anywhere on your property and hold their position.
- “Conversation Sets.” Somewhat similar to outdoor dining sets, conversation sets include a table and chairs built for outdoor use. The difference here is that the conversation set includes a smaller glass-surface table that is more ideal for holding drinks and casual food – or perhaps even a meal – keeping people closer together and keeping the atmosphere somewhat casual. These sets make a great place to enjoy an appetizer before a meal, and the synthetic wicker allows you to keep these conversation sets outdoors without worrying too much about what is happening to them.
- Chaises: Long, loungey chairs or a couch built for one—it’s hard to decide how to describe an outdoor chaise, but they’re certainly ideal wicker furniture pieces for lounging outdoors and near swimming pools. Soft, thick cushions help provide the most possible comfort while synthetic wicker and strong fabrics keep them resistant to the sun – and they tend to get a lot of it.
Specialty and Other Items
Wicker is so versatile in creating furniture that it helps create some items that defy categorization. In this section, we’ll take a few looks at these “specialty items” that don’t really fit into any specific one of the categories above, but still warrant mentioning.
- Hanging Lamps: A hanging “swag” lamp is a prime example of a wicker piece that defies categorization: it looks completely natural in a wide range of settings, but in and of itself stands as a unique piece. These lamps can be had in a variety of colors in order to suit different design needs, but require an indoors environment to truly thrive and do their best lighting.
- Etageres and Floor Shelves: A perfect way to subtly store anything from vases to books, wicker etageres make a great mobile, lightweight method of storing just about anything you want out in the open. They’re handy to have around in just about any indoor room you have. Etageres will usually feature three woven wicker surfaces though they really look like they carry only two spaces.
- Screens: A screen or room divider should be lightweight and attractive. That, of course, suits the description of wicker furniture to a T, which is why wicker screens are so effective. They easily stand firm with their solid pole rattan frames but bear almost no weight because of the wicker weave that comprises the rest of the screen. These are built to be easy to fold for easy storage when not in use.
- Restaurant and Café Chairs: These aren’t typical purchases for most homeowners, but they still play a vital role for many people. These chairs are lightweight, making them easy to pull out from under a table, and easy to stack, which is important if you’re buying a lot of chairs for restaurant use. Caribbean style chairs are additional stack-able chairs with a little added sturdiness—they work well on porches as well as when you need some extra chairs indoors.
- Waste baskets: The history of wicker goes back to basket weaving in the fertile crescent; waste baskets are a throwback to those times. The technology, however, has improved somewhat. Now many wicker waste baskets will include heavier pole rattan for larger, stronger frames. These can hold many of today’s larger garbage bags. Smaller additions work better for bathroom waste baskets.
- Hampers: Similar in style to waste baskets, wicker hampers also employ a sturdy skeleton of rattan in order to stay upright and vertical no matter what you throw at it. However, because hampers are lightweight, they’re ideal for carrying to and from the laundry room, even if your hamper is in a vastly different area of the house.
- Outdoor furniture covers: We’ll talk more about outdoor furniture covers in the section on maintaining your wicker furniture, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s important to buy outdoor furniture covers even if you have synthetic furniture outside. These covers can remove a lot of the typical wear and tear that the environment places on whatever you leave outside, giving you more life in your wicker furniture—which means less trips to the wicker furniture outlet. Typically these covers are made of vinyl and formed to fit a specific type of furniture, though large enough covers can be versatile enough to cover just about any type of outdoor wicker furniture piece.
Although we didn’t explain in detail each and every piece of wicker furniture available today, you should have a good idea of the versatility that wicker and rattan have to offer. They are capable of producing furniture for a variety of needs. Some wicker is utilitarian while other wicker furniture serves a more aesthetic purpose. Determining which rattan furniture best suits your own needs will be up to you.
Once you’ve made a purchase, however, it will then be up to you to figure out how to maintain that furniture for a long, long time—that way you can get the most for your investment. In the next section, “Maintenance 101,” we’ll look at ways to preserve wicker and rattan both indoors and outdoors.
Once you’ve acquired the piece of wicker furniture that fits with your home and your lifestyle, you’re ready to begin enjoying it. However, not after long, your attention will come to one not insignificant detail: what you will do in order to properly maintain your wicker furniture for as long as it will last.
There’s more to the story than simply how long your furniture will last, however. Your goal should be to have wicker in your home that both lasts a long time and has a high quality of life—in other words, it should remain “good as new” for as long as possible.
The good news is that many wicker furniture pieces are easy to care for—they only call for the occasional dusting and flipping of the cushions. In fact, many people consider wicker furniture among the easiest to clean and keep. There are, however, a number of wicker pieces that require a little more attention. Additionally, there will be some mistakes you’ll want to avoid if you plan on getting the longest quality life out of your wicker furniture.
Maintenance isn’t only about maintaining appearances. If you buy a piece of wicker furniture, it should last you a long time—precluding you from buying other, possibly more expensive furniture, along the way. If you learn how to properly maintain and care for your wicker, you’ll never have to pay those extra dollars. With good maintenance for your wicker and rattan furniture, you’ll be able to get the most bang for your buck. Let’s learn how to properly maintain a variety of furniture pieces.
10 Common Mistakes to Avoid
Before you learn about what you should do in order to best maintain your wicker furniture for the future, it’s best to learn which common mistakes are most easily avoided. If you could do nothing other than read this section before you move din your wicker furniture, you would still likely gain a few tips for helping your wicker furniture live a long life.
- Leaving your natural rattan outdoors. This is perhaps the most common—and most harmful—mistake. Because natural rattan is porous, it’s susceptible to moisture and rotting, much like wood. Additionally, it isn’t protected against sun damage. If you were to stay out too long in the sun, you would get sunburnt. Similarly, your natural rattan does not have a high tolerance for UV rays. This means that you’ll either want to cover your natural rattan when it’s outdoors, never leave it outdoors, or always remember to bring natural rattan back in when weather comes. Natural rattan is meant for indoors, covered areas, and limited exposure to the elements. Trying to make it something it’s not will just damage it.
- Assuming a “seal” will fix everything. It’s common for wicker furniture makers to employ some sort of “seal” finish on your rattan and tell you that it will protect your rattan. The seal may work—for a while. However, even seals aren’t permanent. Eventually, heat and water can break down even the best seals and get down to your natural rattan. You may have bought a few additional hours on your natural rattan, but was the investment really worth it? Generally, if you want outdoor wicker furniture, it’s simply better to purchase synthetic wicker that is capable of handling the elements without the additional need of sealing.
- Believing the paint will protect your rattan. Painted rattan is not necessarily protected rattan. Even white-painted rattan, while better reflecting the sun’s rays, will still be at the mercy of the environment if you leave it outdoors for too long. It’s tempting to look at the paint as some sort of seal, as if it will lock out the porousness of the rattan from exposure to the environment. However, paint’s purpose is primarily to color the rattan—and, usually, nothing more.
- Forgetting that natural rattan and too much moisture don’t mix. Think of rattan as behaving much like wood. After too much exposure to water, what happens to old wood you’ve left out? Wood, like natural rattan, is a porous material and is able to accept and soak up some moisture. Rattan that is exposed to moisture will be susceptible to expanding—and then rotting. Both rain and snow count as moisture when it comes to wood, so don’t leave your natural rattan out believing that the winter is dry enough, either. Many of these problems can be fixed by remembering to cover your rattan if leaving it outdoors, or—more simply—to bring it inside more often than not. Additionally, should you clean your rattan with water, you should tilt it so that moisture drips off quickly.
- Using lemon oil on white or whitewash finishes. Lemon oil is a popular cleaning agent for people who are cleaning their furniture. However, if you’re working with rattan that has been painted white or whitewashed, you’ll generally want to avoid using lemon oil. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use lemon oil on the rest of the rattan (of other colors). It actually functions as an effective finish for most natural rattan, especially natural rattan that has been lefts its typical color.
- Overcleaning. Rattan only requires an occasional light dusting—we’ll talk a little bit more about that soon—and the occasional wipe down with a wash cloth to get the trickier pieces out. Overcleaning your rattan is not only pointless, but can actually lead to long-term damage of you expose the rattan to too much moisture. Don’t overclean your natural rattan; instead, dust it every so often and enjoy how long it lasts as-is. Many people who are used to regularly cleaning their furniture feel odd doing this, but it’s an advantage of using natural rattan.
- Overwashing. You may avoid cleaning too often, but if you clean with too much water on the rag, you run the risk of overwashing. Don’t soak natural rattan when you clean it. Instead, simply have a moist washcloth that’s capable of getting the spots out. That’s all you need—otherwise, natural rattan will function very well on its own. Many people recommend building up a detergent-water solution and simply using the bubbles for cleaning rattan, allowing you to use just enough moisture to get the job of cleaning out the surface area done.
- Leaving the furniture around while cleaning other areas. Since dust is one of your chief concerns for maintenance on natural rattan, you might as well minimize your rattan’s exposure to the stuff. Move rattan furniture out of the room if you’re going to be cleaning everything else and kicking up dust. You don’t want to dust one piece of furniture just to find that it has stuck to the rattan. Because rattan furniture is light and easy to move, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Forgetting about dirt. Porous as it is, the chief concern for cleaning rattan is the accumulation of dirt. Generally this is more of a concern when rattan has been left outdoors, but it’s possible for dirt to accumulate on indoor pieces as well. Your chief concern with cleaning natural rattan indoors should not be finishing the rattan, but rather clearing dirt—that’s why you don’t need a lot of chemical agents or expensive materials to clean rattan. Consider it a bit like flossing: the main goal is to eliminate the offending material, not necessarily to polish the structure itself.
- Forgetting about the floor. Natural rattan pieces often feature pole rattan that pokes out onto the floor for stability and support. It may be best to place rubber stoppers under these legs, depending on the type of floor in which you’ll be placing the furniture. This will help keep the furniture in place – and prevent scratching the rattan—for floors that are a little more slippery than others. Furniture you place in carpeted rooms, for example, generally don’t have this same need.
Now that you have an idea of the mistakes to avoid, it’s time to learn a little bit more about the types of actions you should be taking in order to best achieve a long-lasting piece of wicker furniture.
Maintaining Natural Rattan Indoors
If you keep your natural rattan indoors, you’ll generally have very little need to care for it. Aside from the occasional cleaning or dusting, your maintenance is mostly done by mother nature, which has supplied you with a clean, hearty rattan for your furniture. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do a little bit extra in order to keep your rattan looking young—and fixing it up a bit if it ever begins to look old.
Installing Rubber Stops for Furniture Placed on Hard Ground
In mistake #10 above, you learned that exposing rattan to a solid floor can eventually make for scratched material. This is true. However, there’s much more to the idea of placing rubber stops on the bottoms of your rattan legs. In addition to holding rattan in place—which is important because of how lightweight rattan can be—the rubber stops will protect the bottoms of your pole rattan legs.
It’s also important to be sure that your wicker furniture won’t move around easily. For most furniture, this is not a major issue—it’s heavy enough to stick in place all by itself. Although lightweight furniture made with rattan can be very sturdy, it will not be as heavy. As a result, it’s common for people unfamiliar with wicker furniture to move into it with more strength than they realize they actually need. Rubber stops help provide a grip that may just save you a lot of trouble down the line.
Needless to say, you won’t need to employ these on every piece of rattan, especially if you’re not placing your furniture on hard surfaces or if you’ll be moving your furniture around a lot. But it’s certainly a strategy to consider if you want to employ maximum protection on your rattan.
How to Regularly Clean Your Rattan
The key to cleaning natural rattan that you keep indoors is simple: you want to keep the moisture to a minimum. As you know from reading this book, natural rattan and moisture don’t mix—it’s similar to cleaning wood with a lot of water. If you want your natural rattan to last as long as possible and to keep its strong, natural sheen, you’ll want to follow the steps you read about in this section to reduce moisture use.
If you’re confused by the list of mistakes not to make when caring for natural rattan furniture, it may be helpful to give you a step-by-step guide explaining how you can clean your rattan in the future. You may want to keep this section saved for when you have a party or are expecting guests that will use the wicker furniture in your home.
First, be sure to have all of your ingredients ready. Here are the basic raw materials you’re going to be needing:
- Dishwashing detergent
- Water in a bowl (a large bowl if possible)
- Lacquer (if applicable)
Additionally, you’ll want to be sure that you’re using the proper equipment as you clean. Here are our suggestions:
- A cloth (as soft as possible)
- Vacuum cleaner and hose
Vacuum the rattan first so that you can remove as much of the dust and debris as possible; the rattan is sturdy and will respond well to vacuuming. It’s recommended you start with this so that you’re only cleaning what needs to be cleaned thereafter. In short, vacuuming your rattan first will make it easier to clean the rest of the rattan later.
Fill your large bowl with water and add a few drops of the detergent. Mix until the entire solution is frothy and bubbly. Generally, you don’t want a very high soap-to-water ratio; the idea here is to have a solution comprised of mostly water. In fact, the actual cleaning agent you’ll be using is the froth itself. Dip the cloth into the bubbles and use this part of the solution to clean your rattan. Wipe down your rattan firmly.
Why not use a lot of the water-heavy solution directly on the rattan itself? If you’ll recall, rattan and water, like wood, generally don’t mix. The more you can avoid direct contact with water, the better. In most cases, you’ll find that the bubbles work fine as a cleaning agent and keep the rattan relatively dry, since you’re using the minimum amount of moisture possible.
If you’re performing only a basic ”maintenance” clean on your rattan, you can likely stop with this quick wiping down of the furniture and allow it to dry. However, if you want to be sure that your rattan is thoroughly cleaned there are a few more steps to follow.
Use the toothbrush for cleaning the harder-to-reach areas: crevasses, cracks, and the like. If you don’t have a toothbrush to spare, you can use another soft brush. When you use a brush, be sure to handle your cleaning the same way: dip it in the bubbles of your solution, not the solution itself.
True: a toothbrush doesn’t exactly hold a lot of water. But as already stated, when it comes to cleaning natural rattan, you want to use as little moisture as possible. You’d be surprised at how much dirt and dust you can clean away with a mostly dry toothbrush and a few soap suds.
One quick note: be sure to pick a soft brush that you don’t mind getting dirty, because you’d be surprised at the kind of dust that can settle on all of your furniture over the months.
How Often Should I Clean?
For long-term maintenance of clean natural rattan, some experts will tell you that you should clean your rattan every week or so. That’d be ideal, of course, but let’s face it: it’s also a lot of work. You can still keep your natural rattan looking bright and new with the occasional cleaning spaced out over more time than that. If you clean your house once a month, simply add the cleaning of your rattan furniture.
The truth is, many people only do a “surface-level” cleaning on their natural rattan even if they do wash it often. If you include all of the steps in this section, you’ll be more thorough than a majority of rattan owners. Other owners will wash their rattan in too much water; some may even wash their natural rattan with hoses!
Remember that you should dust your rattan just as often you would dust wood; like wood, rattan is porous and can gather dust and dirt pretty quickly.
So don’t worry about the frequency with which you clean your rattan; just worry about doing it right when you do clean it.
Maintaining Wicker Furniture Outdoors
The wicker furniture you keep outdoors is going to be synthetic—at least it will be if you’ve been paying attention! As you might guess, synthetic wicker is considerably easier to clean than natural wicker, which means you can drastically cut back on the amount of time you spend cleaning your furniture.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that outdoor wicker furniture is exposed to the elements and will require more regular cleaning. You never know what Mother Nature will throw at your outdoor wicker furniture—spider webs, bird droppings, etc.—but you should know that it’s coming. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that you spend as little time cleaning and maintaining your outdoor wicker furniture as possible.
Tarps and Coverings: The Keys to Outdoor Wicker Maintenance
The quickest way to ensure that your outdoor wicker doesn’t get damaged is to keep it covered. A moisture-protecting tarp will keep your outdoor furniture dry and protected from the elements—so long as you actually apply the tarp at the appropriate times! Let’s look at some common strategies (and problems) with using tarps to protect your outdoor wicker furniture.
Maximizing Your Tarp’s Efficiency
You don’t always have to keep your furniture under a tarp if you’re not using it. What you want to emphasize is keeping the tarp over your furniture at the most opportune times. If you can live with a little natural debris now and then, there’s no reason to keep your tarp extended; it doesn’t look good and it deprives you of nice outdoor views that include the wicker furniture you’ve purchased!
The key to maximizing your tarp’s efficiency is timing. Most people have an internal timer that goes off when the rain comes: it tells them to close the windows in order to ensure the smallest amount of water damage possible. This is a good instinct to have as a homeowner. Simply add “drape the tarp over the outdoor furniture” to your usual rainstorm checklist and you’ll be able to protect your wicker furniture at the right moments.
Potential Problems with Large Tarps
No one wants to look at a tarp. They want a clean, pristine, beautiful yard. They want their house to blend in naturally with its surroundings. If you’ve purchased wicker furniture for your deck or patio, then you know exactly how important this can be to building a beautiful home environment.
This presents some problems to those who would prefer not to keep giant tarps and related coverings over large pieces of furniture in their yard. This is understandable, so if you want to minimize the use of tarps and coverings in your wicker maintenance, try to follow these quick tips:
- Keep the furniture close to the house when covered. Having an entire deck set covered under a tarp is an eyesore; keeping it close to the house reduces its visibility, particularly if your furniture is in the backyard. You can also make use of some of your home’s natural sheltering if you have a roof that extends over the side of your walls.
- Stack furniture and keep it close together. The best way to ensure that your tarp does the least-possible “eyesore” damage is to keep its radius small. Stack and bunch furniture together so that you don’t have to drape a giant tarp over a wide-spanning area. We often build stackable wicker furniture for storage purposes; take advantage of this and keep your protected area small.
- Leave a way for water to wick off the tarp. Many people casually toss their tarp over their furniture because they don’t believe anything else is required. They’re later surprised to find that rainwater has pooled in the center of their tarp making it difficult to remove. Try to stack furniture underneath your tarp so that water will not pool in the middle; build a typical “mountain” shape and you’ll have no problems getting the tarp off later
Cleaning Outdoor Wicker Furniture
Generally you can simply hose down your outdoor furniture because it’s non-porous and water-resistant. In fact, the quick cleaning is one of the major advantages of using synthetic wicker!
If you really must clean your synthetic wicker, try a solution of three parts water and one part bleach (note: wear protective gloves to avoid getting the bleach on your skin). This will clean off just about anything Mother Nature has to throw at your wicker furniture.
When in doubt, however, simply hose the furniture down.
Cold Weather Issues
If you live in a cold climate, you’ll want to be wary about leaving your synthetic wicker out for long periods of time in the cold. Even plastic can contract in cold weather, causing it to harden, snap, and potentially break. Store your furniture away in the winter if you want to guarantee that it will have a longer life.
If you’re used to cold winters, this shouldn’t be a major encumbrance; after all, you didn’t exactly plan on hosting your next outdoor dinner party in January, did you?
The Sun: Friend or Foe?
When summer rolls around and the sun starts making more frequent appearances, it’s exciting to soak up all the Vitamin D you can. But just like your skin, your wicker can actually have too much sun.
Most synthetic wicker furniture pieces are made out of UV-resistant materials, but it’s important to remember that simply being resistant doesn’t mean they’re UV-proof. If you want to extend the life you get out of your synthetic rattan furniture, you’re going to want to shade it from the sun when not in use.
A tarp will work for this just as it works for keeping moisture and other debris out of your synthetic rattan furniture. However, it may be more efficient (and pleasing to the eye) to keep your synthetic furniture out of view when it’s not in use. If you have a backyard shed, for example, or some kind of outdoor weather bin you’ll want to make full use of them. You can then bring out the synthetic furniture when it’s time to have a family gathering or party.
But Wait! Isn’t The Whole Point of Synthetic Furniture that It’s Low-Maintenance?
If you’ve been reading up on synthetic furniture and found yourself positively giddy over all of its low-maintenance attributes, don’t let this section discourage you. Well-made synthetic furniture is highly resistant to weathering and UV-rays. They’re more forgiving to you if you leave them out in the sun or forget to move them to a shed before a storm hits.
But that doesn’t mean they’re indestructible. You can seriously extend the life of your outdoor wicker furniture simply by keeping a few routines in mind. Synthetic rattan will break down faster if left out in the elements.
Not only more effective synthetic rattan maintenance help you protect your purchase and get more bang for your buck, but ultimately you’ll find yourself cleaning this furniture less and less because it’s well-protected. These tips aren’t necessarily “must-do’s” on your summer checklist, but they are important suggestions to keep in mind.
Repairing Rattan: A Quick Guide
If you follow all of the steps of the previous two sections, you’ll likely have rattan and synthetic rattan furniture that will stay durable for years to come.
Let’s look at some tips for common rattan problems and how to fix them.
Problem #1: Cracked Natural Rattan
Finding that your rattan has cracked or dry can be worrisome. Suddenly, the furniture you’ve been relying on doesn’t look suitable for home use! But you’d be surprised at a common repair that many people can do at home with the appropriate know-how.
The solution is to employ boiled linseed oil. This is best applied with a brush until the furniture stops absorbing the oil. Once it does so, wipe the area clean with a cloth and allow it to dry. Once hard, you can use the furniture again.
More serious rattan cracks may be more difficult to repair, but boiled linseed oil does wonders for surface-level problems
Note that some people recommend leaving linseed oil-treated wicker out for a week to fully dry and harden. Talk to a wicker expert if you’re unsure about what to do.
Problem #2: Dried Out Rattan
Some people recommend curing dried out rattan with a quick wash with a hose, arguing that the brief exposure to moisture generally won’t cause any long-lasting harm. They might be right, but aren’t there better ways to avoid moisture and keep your rattan fresh than hosing the darn pieces off?
In addition to applying boiled linseed oil (see above), you can apply lemon oil to your rattan for a less water-rich solution to your dryness problems. Lemon oil is available as “furniture polish” in many stores, so check the ingredients of your furniture cleaners and moisturizers the next time you go out for a shopping trip.
Problem #3: Structural Damage
If your rattan furniture is damaged (a broken rattan leg, unwound weaving, etc.), then the repairs are going to be more difficult. The first recommendation is simply to find a good rattan repairman in your area (or, failing that, finding a local antique or furniture shop that offers those services).
You can attempt to repair the rattan yourself, but it’s generally not recommended. If you absolutely must, you’ll want to buy the proper supplies from weaving supply stores. We don’t recommend do-it-yourself home solutions that involve tools that weren’t meant to go with rattan like duct tape. When in doubt, take your rattan to a repairman.
Problem #4: Loose Joints
Loose joints sometimes fall in the category of Problem #3. However, if there is just surface damage (some of the weaving coming loose, etc.) that doesn’t impact the way the furniture is able to support your weight, you may be able to handle some repairs yourself.
In smaller rattan pieces you can actually re-glue wicker that’s gotten loose; when the problem is deep-set, you’ll need to use equipment like a glue injection needle in order to actually reach the affected area. While the glue dries, you can use something else to brace the loose joint so that it’s reinforced. Be sure to avoid using this furniture while the glue dries, just to be safe.
In larger rattan pieces (rattan that needs to support your weight) the best way to repair it is actually to screw joints into place. It is recommended that you drill a hole for a screw, fill it with glue, and then insert the screw in the hole you’ve made. This ensures that the joint is properly reinforced to handle a significant amount of bodyweight. Again, it’s important to leave some “rest time” to ensure that the glue dries properly and that your rattan piece will be able to bear weight in the future.
Problem #5: Damaged Weaving
Because weaving patterns can be intricate and complicated, many rattan owners are hesitant to repair it simply because they don’t believe themselves up to the task. But damaged weaving can be easier to repair than you might think.
A good way to get your bearings is to take a picture of the weaving as you see it completed on another part of the rattan piece. Of course, this will only work with a piece of weaving that is identical or symmetrical to the weaving you’re working with. It takes some “reverse engineering” in order to replicate what you see—and that’s not always easy.
Generally, you’ll need to weave in new rattan to ensure that the weaving pattern will hold up in the future. It can be difficult to effortlessly weave in the old with the new. If you have a small piece to repair, you’ll likely get away with a superficial weave. If there is a lot of weaving to do and you eventually give up, you might want to turn to a professional.
The problems listed above should represent a comprehensive look at the most common repair issues you’ll face when dealing with retain. Remember: when in doubt, you can always take your furniture to an expert who’s experienced with wicker and rattan furniture.
10 Lessons for Better Wicker Maintenance
There’s an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If the “repair scenarios” presented above sound like an option of last resort, then you’ll want to pay attention in this section. Here we’ll look through ten ways you can maintain your wicker for optimal appearance, performance, and the longest possible lifetime.
We’ll also talk about the cushions that come with your wicker furniture. As anyone who’s used wicker furniture before knows, these cushions are sometimes as big a consideration as the wicker pieces themselves.
Let’s take a look at ten lessons you can keep in mind if you want your wicker to last longer and remain durable.
1. Don’t clean your natural rattan with excess moisture.
It’s popular to hose down wicker furniture. Many people consider it an advantage to using a natural resource like rattan: they simply have to remove a few cushions from a chair and the rattan is ready for a good soaking! But the truth is you’ll get more life out of your rattan furniture if you avoid moisture as much as possible.
It’s true that rattan, like any porous material, can be susceptible to drying out. But there are other solutions to dry rattan than simply hosing down your furniture. You can apply lemon oil, for example, in order to avoid dry rattan. This will be better for your rattan and keep it looking healthier.
2. Make sure your outdoor furniture cushions are weather-resistant.
The synthetic, non-porous materials used in outdoor wicker furniture will generally keep your furniture safe and protected. But what about the cushions?
Look for sun-resistant cushions. Lighter colors reflect more sunlight rather than absorbing, keeping them cooler to the touch during the summer months and providing a little more sunlight resistance. Your cushions should also be moisture-resistant.
For synthetic wicker, avoid the extremes.
The beauty of synthetic wicker is that it’s low-maintenance. It will endure through rain, sun, and all sorts of weather conditions outside because that’s exactly what it’s built to do. But you can extend the life of your synthetic wicker if you’re sure to avoid certain extremes. For example, leaving your synthetic wicker outdoors during harsh winter months in a colder climate isn’t a good idea even if your synthetic wicker is very tough.
Synthetic wicker is tough, but you can make it tougher with a few good maintenance decisions along the way.
4. Remember that your natural rattan is porous.
Many people are so used to dealing with highly lacquered, finished wood that they forget what the true texture of wood is like—it’s highly porous, which means it absorbs dust and moisture very well.
Rattan, too, is porous. If you don’t want it to absorb too much moisture or too much dust, be sure to treat it as such. Keep our cleaning recommendations in mind—washing with bubbles and not with water—and frequently dust the whole of your rattan furniture pieces. Simply add a few seconds of dusting and cleaning your rattan to your regular routine and you should have no problems with it.
5. Dust frequently.
Speaking of the dust your rattan can gather, keep in mind that frequent dusting is a good way to ensure that dirt isn’t accumulating on your rattan. Once dirt gets into the pores of rattan, it can be harder to get out—if you want to avoid further cleaning down the road, simply be sure to dust your rattan frequently. A weekly dusting, for example, along with the rest of your house is a great way to be sure that your rattan is staying clear and clean.
If you do notice a buildup of dirt, remember to follow our recommendations for getting in the nooks and crannies of your rattan furniture. A soft brush (or a toothbrush) lightly moistened with soap bubbles can be a great way to ensure that you’re thoroughly cleaning out difficult-to-reach areas without putting too much moisture into the rattan itself.
6. Break a rule or two.
While we generally recommend avoiding moisture exposure when it comes to your natural rattan, we understand that life is busy. Sometimes you don’t have time to do anything other than hose down even your natural rattan furniture. Don’t do it!
But if you absolutely must break a rule or two in the name of convenience, be sure to keep these sessions to a minimum. Hosing down your rattan furniture for a quick clean for a party once in a while may not do serious damage, but making this process part of your routine will certainly affect the life of your natural rattan. Don’t let one instance of breaking the rules become a pattern—it’s bad habits that cause rattan to deteriorate. Avoid these bad habits, but don’t feel guilty if you break a rule once in a while.
7. Set a regular reminder for cleanings/maintenance.
The most important part of maintaining your rattan furniture is actually following through with it! In order to be sure that you regularly maintain your rattan furniture, try setting a regular reminder. There are online email reminder services that you can use, for example, or you can simply write them into your wall calendar.
You’d be surprised at how many people simply ignore the need to maintain and clean their rattan furniture. Most people take a “buy it and forget about it” approach. Obviously, this is not ideal. If you really want your furniture to last, diligence is required.
8. Use a cover for your synthetic furniture during extreme weather conditions.
If you can’t get your synthetic furniture into your garage because you don’t have the space to spare, you’ll want to use a cover for your synthetic furniture when a storm is rolling through. This will keep your furniture dry if you have an outdoor party coming up, of course, but don’t forget: keeping your furniture clear of moisture and debris also makes it easier to deal with when you do want to use it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, after all.
9. Incorporate outdoor protection into your furniture cushions.
One of the slyest ways to ensure that your synthetic furniture is protected without moving it around is to keep it covered with moisture-resistant cushions. This allows you to keep your synthetic wicker furniture outdoors without having to move it or cover it constantly. It also allows you to keep the furniture arrangement you’ve put in place even while you’re not using the furniture.
10. Don’t fret!
We’ve covered a lot of different ways in which you can maintain and repair your wicker furniture. But don’t fret! Rattan is a highly durable material. Synthetic wicker will wick away water and resist the heat. Generally, these materials will give you some flexibility; you don’t have to be a perfect housekeeper in order to ensure a long life out of your wicker furniture. As long as you’re conscious of ways to keep your furniture in good shape, you’ll be fine.
This section should give you a good idea of what it’s like to care for, maintain, clean, and repair the wicker around your home, whether you’re working with natural rattan or synthetic wicker. Yes, there are a lot of things to consider when you think about maintaining wicker furniture. If you’re still lost, keep reading: the next section features sure-fire ways to handle your wicker on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis so you can get the most out of your wicker. You’ll also learn how to choose wicker pieces.
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.
Conclusion: Why Wicker Furniture is Right For You
Throughout this book, we’ve traced wicker furniture right down to its origins (in the botanical history of rattan) all the way through the end of a good wicker piece’s life (see FAQs, question #10). In between is a vast wealth of knowledge that tells a tale of careful craftsmanship, talented artistry, and good old-fashioned furniture know-how.
The only remaining question is: why aren’t you buying some wicker furniture yourself?
If you’re still not sold on the aspects of wicker furniture that should most appeal to you, it’s worth summarizing the points made throughout this book so you can understand why wicker furnishings have enjoyed such a lush and fertile history all the way from the fertile crescent your front porch.
It’s Not Just About Looks
One of the most appealing characteristics of wicker furniture is how it looks. There’s nothing like it. The complicated weaving, the artistry, the contours of well-steamed and formed rattan—no other piece of furniture comes close to wicker furniture’s level of craftsmanship.
But you only have to look at a piece of wicker furniture to truly understand that. The truth is, the reasons to acquire wicker furniture amount to more than just looks.
For many people, that’s a primary consideration—and it should be. After all, your furniture is part of your home. It’s where you’ll be spending most of your life! Between the couches, the beds, and the desks of your home, you’ll spend more time in your furniture than anywhere else on earth. It should look a way that inspires you on a daily basis. Wicker furniture does a beautiful job at this, giving your home a naturalistic, “crafted” feeling that meshes well with just about any style of home décor out there today.
But it’s not only about looks. It’s also about substance. Wicker furniture has serious advantages that exceed the bounds of their artistry. Consider:
- Wicker furniture is lightweight. It’s easy to stack and store. This makes wicker furniture great for anyone and everyone who likes to move furniture around and frequently has to put out furniture for different guests. It’s a breeze to move a wicker chair that acts as a cornerstone to your living room. Most similar chairs made from heavy woods are a headache to move. This makes wicker furniture especially ideal for people who frequently move—and frequently have to load moving trucks
- Wicker furniture is highly customizable. Prefer a “dark wood” color? Want a certain type of cushion? Wicker furniture is customizable to the nth degree, allowing you to mix and match just about any type of design your heart desires.
- Wicker furniture is highly flexible. Yes, it’s flexible physically speaking, but let’s talk about real flexibility: the ability to be used for a number of arrangements. Wicker furniture works both outside and inside. Your leather sofa doesn’t.
- Wicker furniture is environmentally-friendly. Because rattan is a renewable resource, it’s much better for the environment than other sources of furnishing material. Many types of wood and natural leathers have a negative impact on the environment.
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you already knew about all of these benefits. What this book can’t tell you is how wicker might fit into your life.
Building a Home with Wicker
As you’ve read in this book, there are many possibilities for using wicker around the home. You can use it as a laundry basket or you can use it as the centerpiece set in your living room – and everywhere in between. Don’t feel limited in the way you use wicker and rattan furniture around the house. Look for ways to use it everywhere. Add to your basement bar by adding a few stackable wicker barstools. Or finish that new deck you’ve built with an outdoor synthetic wicker set that can stay outdoors all the time.
Building a home with wicker ultimately depends on how you choose to use your wicker. And once you acquire wicker furniture for your home, you now have the tools for cleaning, maintenance, and repair that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
We hope that your new home glows with a little bit more luster when you decide to use wicker furniture for your comfort. We hope it gives you a beautiful place to sit and enjoy the sun on those perfect summer days. But ultimately, we hope you find new uses for your wicker to get the full value out of your investment in rattan. After all, it may just be the investment of a lifetime.