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Weaving rattan into your interiors

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Weaving rattan into your interiors
As rattan enjoys another heyday, we explore the appeal of wicker furniture and how to style it in your home. Indoors or out, in small doses or entire schemes, this versatile material continues to permeate our interiors for good reason.

The rattan advantage

Rattan has been harvested throughout history in the tropical jungles of Australia, Africa, and Asia because it is both strong and malleable. A member of the palm family, this trailing vine plant takes the form of a long and thin stem that grows tall. In fact, it is very sustainable, being the quickest developing tropical wood and taking only 5-7 years to renew. Rattan is similar to bamboo, but crucial differences make the former easier to work with. Whist the bamboo stem is hollow, rattan stems are dense through to their core. Bamboo is certainly strong, but it is more likely to crack and split under pressure. The outer core of the rattan stem is one of the hardest plant materials in the world, yet it is soft and porous inside. The ecological prowess of this plant and its pliant qualities help to explain its popularity throughout history.

Wicker throughout the ages

[caption id="attachment_1678" align="aligncenter" width="605"] Rattan and steel drinks trolley, designed by Raoul Guys.[/caption] Talking about rattan and wicker can cause confusion. Wicker refers to the process of weaving raw materials to create an object, and it is one of the oldest methods of furniture-making. Wickerwork was integral to the formation of civilisation, from China to Egypt. Basketware was the main outlet, and beautiful examples survive from ancient communities. The Egyptian craft inspired the Romans, who adopted wicker as their own and spread it throughout their Empire. In these early stages, wickerwork in lots of countries often relied on weaker materials like rush and palm. It wasn't until the 'Age of Exploration' in the 15th Century that a far more suitable material began to spread around the world. By the 17th Century, wickerwork in Northern Europe increasingly began to resemble what we see today. Wicker was particularly popular for cribs, bassinets, and other such baby items. Over the next two centuries, rising trade with Asia brought rattan to the West. This brought Europe and America a new, stronger material for wickerwork and the desire for a tropical look and feel became more popular. The Victorians were particularly enamoured with this material, considering it exotic but just about civilised and refined enough for their tastes. Rattan furniture was then imported from Britain's colonies in the Far East during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It boomed considerably in America, with the Wakefield Company and Haywood Brothers & Company offering large-scale manufacture of rattan furniture. Our love affair with woven furnishings was in full swing.

Mid Century meets rattan

[caption id="attachment_1684" align="alignright" width="411"] Pair of French Mid Century rattan and wrought-iron armchairs.[/caption] Like other 70s trends, rattan has resurged with a vengeance in the 21st Century. We see its prevalence on the antiques and vintage market, but also in modern homeware and garden stores. Rattan use has varied greatly depending on periods and styles, proving its adaptability. We owe much to Mid Century designers for redefining the use of the material in design. In the late 40s and 50s, the world was still reeling from war and there was a desire for furnishings that reflected a more casual lifestyle. Rattan was utilitarian, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing. Suddenly, it was everywhere and it stood for stylish and understated sophistication. Designers and collectors realised that rattan, far from being dated, was actually very well-suited to modern life. Paul Frankl was one of the first major designers to experiment with the plant in modern design. Frankl used rattan for his sleek Art Deco designs, and it was a perfect complement to his ergonomic shapes. In the later 20th Century, the likes of Gabriella Crespi proved that woven furniture could be both functional and glamorous. The iconic Italian designer drew her inspiration from the Far East and combined rattan and bamboo with everything from tubular steel to African red marble. The 80s came and a demand for more high-tech design left rattan in the shadows again. But this certainly wouldn’t be the last time we saw it…

Styling wicker furniture

Wicker furniture is in the midst of another zenith, and this time it might just be here to stay. Indeed, following the latest hit BBC drama, The Serpent, searches for rattan furniture have surged along with other 1970s trends. As its popularity continues to endure, open-mindedness is key to styling rattan in your home. Whenever wicker has fallen from favour, it has been unfairly associated with dated décor and clichéd garden furniture. But it is far from boring, and far from passé. On a practical level, rattan is breathable, comfortable, and easy to clean. But it is also a versatile visual treat. Woven furniture can be used in whole suites, or just use a couple of one-off pieces to bring texture and interest. Rattan is a natural partner for everything from dark wood, to bold modern light fittings, to polished brass. As a result, it looks at home in every room. Elegant wicker pieces are your trusty design saviour, whether you are looking for bathroom shelves or a drinks trolley for the home office. There's also a presumption that rattan only suits a fresh white minimalist scheme. Not so; the natural patina of the wickerwork sings against punchy paint colours and vibrant accessories. It works wonderfully with bohemian or shabby chic styles, but there are also Mid Century examples that gave rattan a smart, sleek-lined facelift. From the sprawling country pile to the minimalist townhouse, a scattering of wicker is welcome in any style of interior. Of course, the qualities and look of wicker furniture make it well-suited to outdoor spaces too. Combine rattan with bright textiles in a conservatory or patio setting to welcome in the Spring. To view our collection of rattan furniture and accessories, click here.