If you have a conservatory then you will probably have rattan or wicker furniture. It offers a practical and lightweight solution which can also be used outside in drier countries. But what exactly is this material, how is it produced and what should we know about it?
Rattan. It comes from a variety of palms mainly found in Indonesia but essentially around the fringes of the Indian Ocean. Imagine long slender stems trailing through the tropical trees and vegetation. They almost always need structural support from other plants and mostly cannot stand on their own. Rattan is fast growing and always dependent upon other trees. Essentially it cannot flourish on its own and here is the first environmental challenge to harvesting. The rattan farmers need to preserve the trees for the next rattan crop. Compared to hardwoods it is easy to harvest, requires simpler tools and being smaller and lighter the transport is easier.
The rattan skin is peeled away and kept for weaving material. The remaining core is light, durable and has some flexibility. Rattan will accept paint and it can also be stained. If it is cut into sections then it can be worked as any normal wood. Because rattan will not splinter it is also used to make fighting sticks for martial arts as well as being the wood used for the small sticks used in Casinos to move the dice in craps games.
Wicker furniture. Wicker is essentially a hard woven fibre made into a rigid piece of furniture. Rattan is one of the most common woods but you will also see cane, bamboo and even willow being used. The combination of lightness and strength makes it ideal for conservatory or patio furniture.
Historically wicker furniture and other items such as baskets have been dated back to the time of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. They have remained as a practical and easy solution down through the ages.
The Heywood-Wakefield company was established in 1897 and has probably been the major driving force behind the development of the wicker furniture market in North America. Looking back over their early days you can read about how the furniture was adopted within a number of designer movements and it carried a definite premium price.
How should you care for wicker furniture?
Well the first and most useful tip is to make sure that there are stoppers placed on the bottom of the legs. This will help to ensure that the material will not split over time.
For unpainted or non varnished wood you can apply a little linseed oil. But beyond these two tips it is really just a case of a light application of soap and water. Wicker furniture will deteriorate more quickly if left outside and will also suffer from direct exposure to sunlight but sometimes outside and in the sun is where you want the furniture so don’t obsess about this problem.
To summarise. Rattan is often the main component of wicker furniture. It comes mainly from Indonesia and the art of wicker making goes back as far as ancient Egypt. Wicker furniture has enjoyed periods of tremendous popularity and continues to offer a lightweight and practical solution for patio and conservatory furniture.
Article written by Colin Corlett
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