The modern trends for furniture which has a natural appearance and is sustainable means that other materials in addition to wood are increasingly being sought after. Rattan and bamboo both have the reputation of being a sustainable commodity which can be chosen as a viable alternative to more traditional materials, but do you understand what each of these terms mean? Two words which can may mistakenly be used interchangeably; we take a closer look at both rattan and bamboo and consider the difference. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 15.52.51

A bamboo stool, which has a fundamentally different look to rattan

Image Source

What is rattan? Rattan furniture is popular for use both inside and outside the home, and can be used to fashion a great number of items.

Rattan is a natural vine, a member of the palm family, and the species that is used to make furniture can grow up to a hundred metres or more in length. It is considered to be a particularly sustainable resource because when harvested, the roots are left in the ground, allowing the plant to simply regrow rather than need to be replanted. And, unlike timber which takes many decades to grow back, rattan can replenish itself at the rate of several feet per day. When harvested, rattan is cut into long poles which are steamed while the outer skin is peeled off. These poles are what are used to create the wide and diverse variety of furniture such as rattan sofa sets, with the skin typically used to bind the joints of the furniture together. Rattan is an incredibly strong natural material, able to rival substances such as steel and concrete in terms of its strength. This is why it is so sought after for items of furniture such as tables which need to not just look good but be strong and resilient too. rattan chair

A rattan chair

Not all rattan used is natural; a synthetic version has been produced which looks exactly like the real thing but has the added benefit of being more durable too. Natural rattan doesn’t fare well in the ravages of the harsh British weather, which is far colder and wetter than the tropical climates it comes from naturally. There is a long history of using synthetic rattan as it has the same strength as the natural product but added durability outside too.

What is bamboo?

Despite their similarities, bamboo is not a member of the vine family, but a type of grass whose diameter won't continue to widen and thicken with age. Like rattan, bamboo is a type of non-timber material which can be woven and used to create the same type of wicker-effect furniture. The rate of growth for bamboo is equally as impressive as rattan, replenishing itself rapidly to make it a very sustainable material. There are hundreds of varieties of bamboo and it can be found growing in a great number of locations all over the world, starting at sea level and climbing high into mountain top forests. As a grass, there is a greater versatility to bamboo and it can be used to make flooring, paper, clothing and handcrafted items too. Although rattan is able to accomplish some of these things, it may be far clumsier and the natural finish may not look as good. Rattan however makes some of the best furniture and it’s this industry for which it is considered as a superior and standout material. Conclusion Rattan and bamboo are undeniably similar materials which look very similar after harvesting and treatment. However, at their very core, they are different and have to be treated in different ways to be useable. Understanding what item you are buying is essential when making a purchase as both have different intrinsic qualities and offer customers very different options.

Image Credit: Martin Chen