Although rattan furniture has taken off in recent years, it has been a staple furniture material for millennia because it is stylish, strong, durable, lightweight, and sustainable. Rattan’s popularity was fueled by a resurgence of interest in Italian modern furniture designers from the '50s to the early ’70s. The recent renewed demand for rattan was born during the COVID19 pandemic when people were looking for furniture that is cozy, comforting, and safe.
Warmth is another attribute driving the popularity of rattan. This warmth is due to the way light streams through it, as well as its neutral, mellow tones and natural textures. It is as beautiful as it is practical. Air flows through rattan furniture, and this makes it very comfortable particularly when combined with padding or cushions.
The basics and origins of rattan furnishings
There is some confusion about the difference between wicker, rattan, cane, and reed. Wicker is a weaving technique while rattan refers to the stem of a tropical climbing palm that is native to Southeast Asia. The outer bark of rattan stems is cut into thin strips to make cane, and the inner core is the reed.
Rattan has been used in furniture dating back more than five thousand years to the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The basic designs we see today originated in northern Europe in the 17th century and subsequently spread throughout the British empire. Wicker became very popular during the Victorian Era (1860-1880) and English colonists are thought to have brought rattan to America.
Rattan’s natural aesthetics
Natural aesthetics are a big part of rattan’s recent appeal. The earthy tones and rustic quality of rattan connects people to nature, and this fits seamlessly into a design megatrend in which natural elements are used to bring the outdoors inside.
People also want furniture that reflects their environmental sensibilities and rattan is among the most sustainable furniture options. As an abundantly available, fast-growing palm, rattan is a renewable resource. This is a plant that grows wild along the jungle floor as well as through trees. It grows at a rate of more than three quarters of an inch per day, and the vine is ready to be harvested within 2-3 years (a tree can take decades). Not only is the material sustainable, but the harvesting and manufacturing of rattan is simple, minimally invasive and has negligible environmental impacts. The processing requires far less energy and therefore generates far less emissions than other furniture manufacturing.
The rattan trade also benefits local economies in Southeast Asia as well as the skilled artisans and others. Rattan is fully biodegradable, so instead of going to a landfill at the end of its useful life, it can be composted.
Rattan is beauty that lasts
One of the things that make rattan sustainable is its durability. Furniture made from rattan withstands regular use and lasts for years while aging gracefully. It is flexible making it more resistant to heat and humidity and therefore less likely to crack or split compared to some types of wood.
Rattan furniture is lightweight so it can be easily moved. Although it is not heavy, it is very strong. The strength of rattan comes from its weave. These tightly woven fibers provide structural integrity that makes them highly resistant to bending or breakage.
Rattan is the eco-friendly choice, but it is also effortlessly cool. Its modern-vintage look is rustic and authentic, it is also elegant, sophisticated, and refined.
How to get rattan stylings on a budget
Rattan is beautiful, durable, and practical, but it can be expensive. The high cost is due in part to transportation costs as well as customs duties and taxes imposed on imported goods. Woven furniture is also labor intensive and time consuming. While some of the hefty price is due to the craftmanship of skilled artisans, much of the cost can be attributed to brands that command a premium.
To get rattan without the big price tag you may want to consider budget friendly brands. You may also want to consider affordable alternatives like faux rattan that provide a similar wow-factor at much lower price points.
Synthetic alternatives look posh, are easy to clean and resistant to mold and discoloration. Faux rattan can be manufactured closer to the point of sale so it can also avoid the emissions associated with shipping to markets in Europe and North America. Synthetics can also be flat packed, which is far more efficient than shipping assembled rattan furniture.
Rattan’s versatility makes decorating easy
Although it is commonly associated with outdoor furniture and summer houses, rattan works well in almost any room including living rooms, kitchens, or bedrooms. It goes with everything from minimalist Scandi inspired décor to contemporary Hamptons-style designs. Decorating with this versatile material gives a lighter twist to mid-century furnishings.
Rattan is easy to integrate into most rooms because it pairs well with other materials like wood and upholstery. Handcrafted rattan perfectly complements and counterbalances marbles and metals to create a cohesive, harmonious look. An earthy, neutral palette and soft hues like beige, cream, white, or light pastels are the colors that best compliment rattan.
Indoor rattan furniture comes in many designs and styles. It is used in chairs, dresser drawers, shelves, coffee tables, console tables, TV stands, nightstands, storage cabinets, sofas, dining tables, headboards, beds, and a wide range of accessories like lamps, baskets, mirrors, and trays. Rattan lighting can be used to create a warm, and organic ambiance while rattan mirrors are great for reflecting light and opening up a space.
Rattan will fit seamlessly into your home whether your décor is Scandinavian, Japandi, bohemian, contemporary, coastal, rustic, or farmhouse. Rattan is versatile, comfortable, durable, lightweight, and strong. Its natural timeless look never seems to grow old, so while trends may come and go, rattan is here to stay.