Home decor has swung sharply into focus in recent years with more and more people interested in the subject. This has been evidenced by the number of TV programmes which are about interior design and property renovation and a growing number of home-owners are ignoring the more conventional designs to look for something a little more bespoke. Rattan is a material which has been around for centuries but has always been viewed as an alternative design for home decor, rather than a mainstay. However, the tide is turning on this opinion as rattan continues to grow in popularity with more and more people opting to use rattan as their core design concept around their home, as well as in their garden. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.32.41

A rattan chair

Image Source Rattan has been long accepted as the premium material for garden furniture, offering practical durability coupled with comfort and style. But these qualities are just as suitable for the interior of a property and there’s a huge market demanding rattan furniture for interior use too. The great thing about rattan is that there’s no need to mark it as either outdoors or interior use, because the material is equally suitable for both. Whether you want a table which can be left up all year round on your decking or a sofa for your lounge, rattan is the perfect solution. The top quality manufacturers actually use synthetic rattan rather than the natural product; this is actually a sign of superior design because the natural rattan just doesn’t last in the same way largely due to the UK climate. Natural rattan can be used indoors but even then, it doesn’t have the same waterproofing or resistance to moisture and won’t be resistant to stains or spillages. Before we take a closer look at rattan around the home, let’s first explain in more detail exactly what rattan is and how it creates such strong and durable furniture.

What is rattan?

It may well be a phrase that you’ve heard before, possibly associated with wicker furniture but in order to find the best furniture for your needs, it’s essential to understand that there are some fundamental differences between wicker and rattan. Wicker is not a material but a technique and can be used to describe any type of furniture which has that unique woven finish. Wicker furniture can be made from rattan, but it can also be made from less robust materials such as reed, rush or bamboo. This latter material in particular is often confused with rattan. Unlike wicker, rattan is a material which is a member of the palms family. A type of trailing vine, rattan is processed, dried and heated in order to become the material which is stronger than steel once it’s in place. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.32.47

A Rattan sepak tawraw ball

Image Source Therefore, rattan furniture may also be described as wicker, but not all wicker furniture should be described as rattan. There can be very significant differences in strength and other qualities so don’t be tempted to opt for a cheaper model just because it is described as wicker. Rattan comes from several different hundred species of plant which are all members of the palm family and are noted for their ability to grow to great lengths whilst still remaining the same consistency throughout its entire length. Around one to two inches in diameter, rattan grows in narrow poles which rapidly elongate, reaching extraordinary lengths. It is for this reason that rattan is considered a sustainable material to harvest and an eco-friendly choice for furniture. The rattan vines grow indigenously in tropical jungles, primarily in south east Asia, such as Indonesia and also the Philippines. The Indonesian government recent slapped a ban on the export of raw rattan in a bid to drive up the number of items of furniture which are exported, but there’s no information on how this has affected companies which relied on the sale of raw rattan to overseas customers. Although it’s possible to source rattan elsewhere, the Philippines being a particular abundant source of rattan, most manufacturers are opting to use a synthetic product rather than having to try and manage using the natural material instead. In the west, rattan is recognised as a material for creating distinctive woven furniture and no other real uses are considered. However, in the places where it grows, the local population also cut down the palm, peeling, cooking and mashing it before eating it as one of the staples of their diet. However, the vine is more than plentiful enough to support all demands, especially since the harvesting of the rattan is a bit of an arduous task, and therefore not something which is carried out in great quantities by locals. Bamboo is a similar-looking yet distinctive product but once again, many people confuse rattan and bamboo.

Why synthetic rattan?

Synthetic rattan has quickly become the material of choice for all furniture manufacturers, although it’s impossible to distinguish from the real thing by simply looking. Synthetic rattan is easy to produce and source, and there’s no risk there will be a sudden cessation in the supply. This helps manufacturers continue to produce models at the rate demanded by the public. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.32.51

Synthetic rattan garden furniture

Unlike many other materials, there has been no lull in the popularity of rattan; there has been a real surge in demand which shows no signs of abating. There are many Rattan images online which show just how beautiful rattan really is, and the different ways it can be used. This means that furniture manufacturers need to have a reliable source of the natural product so they can continue to create rattan furniture at the required rate. By using synthetic rattan they not only can produce it at the required rate, they also have control over the colours it’s made in. Synthetic rattan is made available in a range of colours such as warm brown, slate grey, jet black and icy white. As mentioned above, natural rattan is grown in tropical jungles all around the world and it’s this climate that it is best suited to. Unfortunately, the wet and drizzly UK climate, even in the warmer summer months simply isn’t what natural rattan can adjust to. Furniture which uses natural rattan can easily become shrunken, weaken or splinter when faced with undesirable moisture or extremes of temperature, such as the cold. Synthetic rattan isn’t limited in the same way and can cope with extremes of temperature, and can be left outside all year round. Snow, ice, wind and rain, none of these weather conditions are a problem for synthetic rattan and it will remain impervious to any of these elements. Heat is also not a problem for synthetic rattan, and it has a special UV resistant quality which means it won’t fade or become shabby with continued exposure to sunlight. This means that rattan garden furniture doesn’t need to be put into storage to protect it, whatever the weather. Cleaning synthetic rattan is also easy and the general care can easily be described as low maintenance. Patio furniture can simply be washed down with a wet cloth; if possible turning them upside down will help them drain away the moisture quickly but if this isn’t possible, it’s fine to let them dry the normal way around. Rattan furniture which is used indoors can at first be cleaned using a feather duster or for a deeper clean which draws out grit and grime from in between the weaves, a vacuum cleaner can be used. This really helps to get between the gaps on the wicker and ensure there’s no deep seated dust remaining which can make the furniture lose its lustre. As well as being resistant to both UV sunlight and adverse weather, the surface of rattan is also very easy to clean up if there are any spillages. It’s resistant to stains which mean if there are any mishaps they can easily be wiped up without leaving any marks. Although rattan is remarkably low maintenance, it’s a good idea to perform a deep clean on it occasionally, just to ensure that you are reaching any grime which is buried in the depths. The best way to do this is to use a hose and wash over its entirety; this will flush out any impurities and help to loosen any dust and dirt which has proved otherwise tough to shift. It’s important to try and make sure all of the grime is cleaned from the rattan because it can otherwise degrade the rattan. Be careful not to have the pressure switched up too high or else it could damage the more delicate parts of the furniture, or push the strands out of place. Once it’s been rinsed over, blot away any excess water with a cloth and leave to dry outside, preferably in the sun or the wind. Don’t be tempted to try and use the rattan furniture again while it’s still damp as you could stretch it permanently out of shape. If you can’t carry furniture from in the house to perform this task, then just carry on with using a damp cloth and a hoover, but just try to be extra fastidious! Rattan shouldn’t splinter or crack, but if it gets too dry, this may start to occur. To treat the problem, simply rub the rattan down with boiled linseed oil until it’s not absorbing any more. Then using a fresh cloth, wipe away the surplus oil on the surface and allow it to harden and set. This will help the rattan to swell and expand, healing any splits and filling any gaps with a shiny new resin surface. The linseed oil must be boiled as raw oil doesn’t harden. To help prevent the surface cracking and splitting over time, if you notice any excessive dryness, wipe the rattan over with a cloth soaked in lemon oil. You don’t need as much as with the linseed oil, just enough to give it a light coating. This will replenish some of the moisture and also give it a lovely rich sheen. If you need a bit more guidance about how to apply it, there are some great Rattan YouTube videos which demonstrate the exact process. These hints can really extend the lifespan of your rattan and keep it looking as good as new. This ease of use and low maintenance are just some of the reasons why rattan is a great idea for use around the home.

A centuries-old technique

There’s evidence to show that wicker and rattan have been used in civilisations for many centuries , dating back to 4000BC. Both the ancient Romans and Egyptians used wicker techniques although it’s not entirely clear the materials which were used. There’s some suggestion that in Egypt, rushes and reeds were the primary products used to create their woven designs. Wicker plays a large part in folklore through the ages and many myths and legends include wicker in their stories. It would therefore seem that the use of rattan was mainly restricted to Asia, originating from Indonesia before travelling to China and then onto Japan. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.32.58

Outdoor dining with rattan furniture

Rattan only started to gain widespread use in the 15th century, when Europe started to explore the possibility of finding different trade routes to Asia, rather than relying on the notoriously difficult Silk Road. The lucrative spice market was based in Asia and rulers and merchants in Europe were keen to find an easy way to gain access to this area, without risking everything via the Silk Road. This is how the use of rattan spread from Asia to Europe, and slowly achieved widespread notoriety, increasing in popularity across the continent as the years passed. Rattan also moved across to the Atlantic, securing the market in the US too. However, until there was a freak shortfall in the supply chain, much of the product was being wasted. The inner core of rattan was used to simply bind ship’s cargo and was being discarded after use. One enterprising individual took an armful of this waste product home to experiment and discovered that it worked wonderfully well as a type of wicker. This was the beginning of what we would now recognise as the modern rattan market. A similar pattern emerged in the UK and rattan quickly became the material of choice for garden furniture, at least in synthetic form. The material has gradually risen in popularity with manufacturers expanding their range and styles, to capture an ever-appreciative market. Modern rattan designs are geared towards both indoors and outdoors living, being suitable for both in terms of both style and practicality. Its elegant design means Rattan is suitable for events without sacrificing quality for appearance. This is one of the qualities which make rattan a unique material. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.33.03

An outdoor rattan dining set

Image Source

Uses for rattan around the home

The innate qualities of rattan explain its meteoric rise in popularity, and its gradual move from garden furniture to interior design material. Modern Rattan designs involve the use of a powdered aluminium frame upon which the rattan is wrapped. Using a frame helps to make the furniture stronger and more stable and reduces the possibility of any sagging or stretching, extending its lifespan. Cheaper and inferior versions may use powdered steel instead of aluminium. While this is a stronger metal, it will corrode and rust if left outside for long periods. The powdering of the metal can help provide some protection but sooner or later it will start to break down, ruining the item. Aluminium is powdered but this isn’t to provide any protection against corrosion as although it’s not quite as strong as steel, it won’t rust if it’s left out in wet and cold weathers. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.33.08

The rattan in this chair is wrapped around an aluminium frame, which is ideal for sturdiness

For aluminium, the powder serves a different purpose, helping to disguise the metal and prevent it glinting through any tiny gaps in the rattan. The best craftsmen wrap rattan so tightly that there are barely any holes but it’s impossible to eradicate this completely. The powder prevents the aluminium from being seen and spoiling the appearance of the item. If you haven’t seen some of the uses for rattan around the home, here are a few suggestions of how to use Rattan to the best effect.

Conservatory

The conservatory is a room which can be particularly difficult to furnish because its composition is different to the rest of the house. Primarily made from glass or uPVC, conservatories or orangeries let in more light and have a different range of temperatures. Typically much warmer or colder than the rest of the house, they can also have areas of dampness and humidity, which can make it difficult for more traditional furniture to dwell in. Solid wood doesn’t respond well to dampness or humidity and it can warp or swell in these conditions. This is less than ideal for a sofa as it could leave you sitting on s structure which isn’t as solid as it should be. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.33.13

Rattan corner sofa

Rattan isn’t as delicate as other materials and isn’t fazed by these types of conditions. As a material which can be used extensively outdoors, the possibility of some dampness and humidity won’t lead to any degradation in its form or shape. Conservatories may be used for a wide range of purposes, depending on the style of the house and the room which is available elsewhere. They may also be a small and snug design, or a grand addition which adds significant footage to the property. For this reason, a conservatory might be a place of serenity and solitude, a quiet space to escape from the noise in the rest of the house. It sometimes functions as a children’s play den, or a dining area for more formal occasions. This means there’s lots of different types of furniture which may need to be used in the conservatory. For those seeking a quiet retreat, there’s a huge range of rattan chairs, sofas and other seating which can provide the comfort to sit down and relax in peace. If the conservatory is large enough, you could even opt for a rattan daybed, providing opportunities for you to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and a chat with friends or stretch out properly with a good book. For those planning on using it as a children’s play area, storage boxes provide a great way to help keep the room neat and tidy – if you can persuade your children to put their toys away! – And as the boxes are made from rattan, you won’t need to worry about them warping or degrading. Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 16.33.19

Large rattan storage box

There’s an entire range of rattan tables and dining sets, suitable for both casual and formal meals. These can either be used in the dining room, or for those who are using the conservatory for that purpose, set up in here.

Dining room

Rattan tables and chairs are one of the most popular types of furniture for this material, and can be used either inside the house or outside for al fresco dining. Enjoy wining and fine dining with quality rattan chair. One of the benefits of rattan is that with the wicker wrapped around an aluminium frame, it is sturdy but surprisingly lightweight. This means if you need to move it around, it’s entirely possible without straining your back in the process. The light weight of rattan furniture provides it with versatility in whatever room it is used in. Rattan tables come in all shapes and sizes and there are models available from just a compact two seater design, to those which are suitable for seating up to 10 diners. This wide variety allows you to select the table and chairs which best suit your needs, and the number of people in your household. If you have the space to accommodate it, choosing a design which has sufficient room for all your usual diners, plus a couple of spare seats, just in cases guests join you is a good idea. Rattan Cube seating can be a space-saving way to achieve this as the additional seating is provided by stools at the ends of the table. These don’t take up the same space as full chairs but still enable guests to take their place at the table. When not in use, the cubes simply slide under the chairs until they are next required. Even the chairs slot into the table, with the backs flipping back down to create a compact and sturdy cube which doesn’t jut out into the space surrounding it. If you are looking for a rattan dining set you will need to choose not just the size but the shape of the table you want. There’s rectangular, square and circular designs and all of these have their relative merits, depending on how many people you are likely to have for dinner, and whether it’s a social occasion.

Rattan dining set

Circular tables can look really effective in the garden, but they take up more room so may not fit in those with only a small area set aside for entertaining. There’s also a selection of different chairs that come with the rattan dining sets, with distinct varieties in the design. There’s some which are more traditional dining styles, which are better for use when a formal dining set is required. However, there are others which offer a more relaxed seating space, more akin to small-scale armchairs than upright dining chairs so it really is a matter of personal choice which style you prefer.

Lounge

Moving into the lounge, rattan has increasing becomes a material of choice because of its natural-looking qualities. Clean, fresh lines with no fuss or frills are a popular contemporary design and rattan fits the bill perfectly. With a natural wooden-type appearance, angular geometric shapes and plain covered seating, rattan sofas and chairs can become a real centrepiece in this type of decor. Rattan sofas have a reputation for only being suitable for occasional use but that simply isn’t the case. Offering the perfect space to sink into after a hard day at work, rattan sofas are supportive yet soft, with deep plush padding and cushions. There’s a huge range of styles to pick from, including bijou two seaters as well as large curving corner designs too. These types of sofa styles can look just as good in the garden, and can be an easy way to link up the decor of the home to that used in your garden, a very popular way to decorate right now. Rattan Corner sofas can be an easy way of creating lots of seating in a sociable group without taking up too much space.  Corner sofas come in all sizes, ranging from the very large to the small and compact so regardless of your seating needs you could find that this style works for you.

Bathroom

This is another room which can be difficult to decorate but rattan is perfectly suited here too. Just like a conservatory, a bathroom can be humid and damp, which can be problematic for many materials. However, just as mentioned previously, rattan will shrug off these types of conditions and will remain as flawless as ever, so accessories for the bathroom made from rattan are an excellent choice.

Inspirational ideas with rattan

Storage areas such as a chest of drawers or a shelving unit are useful pieces of furniture in a bathroom, and made from rattan look great. Another handy addition to the bathroom if you have the space is a rattan chair. If you have young children, this provides you with a place to sit whilst you watch them bathe rather than wearing your knees out constantly kneeling on the floor. Or the chair can simply be a handy spot to place your clean clothes while you jump in the shower so they don’t risk ending up in a puddle on the floor!

Bedroom

Just like in the bathroom, a chair in the bedroom can be a very useful addition, both in your room and in your child’s bedroom too. In your child’s room, a chair can be a place to sit and read stories, or settle into if they’re not well in the night and you need to watch over them for a while. And for those times when you’ve had a hard day, taking five minutes to relax and watch your children peacefully sleep can be a way to regain a sense of perspective and inner calm. In your bedroom, if you’re blessed with a large space, you could pick a sprawling armchair to place in a strategic spot. This might be a personal sanctuary, where you can snatch five minutes to yourself when the house is chaotic. You might also use a chair to sit in while you dry your hair, rather than perching precariously on the end of the bed. If you add a rattan chair to your bedroom, complementing it with the addition of some rattan storage boxes can help to pull together the accessories, as well as providing you with some useful space to put blankets, towels or bed linen.

Garden

Many of the above design ideas would work just as well in the outdoors space, creating a mirror of the type of interior decor featured in the home. Rattan Garden accessories can be a great way to complement the main pieces of furniture, and ensuring the theme is continued throughout. Parasols and gazebos that match the fabric of the upholstery are one option, while planters and storage boxes matching the rattan itself provide another. Choosing flowers which complement the colour of the rattan can help to draw together the plants and shrubs and other organic parts of the garden into the overall decor. For a truly contemporary seating solution, day beds can be a lot of fun, creating either a social space or a place for someone to spread right out and relax. Perfect for family barbecues or for informal summer evening get together, they allow people to relax while chatting over a drink. But when warm weather appears during the day, it’s time to break out the rattan sun loungers and relax. The light weight of rattan and aluminium combined means it’s easy to move the chairs around the garden to get them in prime position. Many loungers come with a table so there’s a convenient place for your drink or your phone.

Rattan sun loungers are ideal in the garden

If you don’t want to lie right down, you can either prop up your lounger so that you’re sitting up, or you could opt for another kind of garden chair. Rattan is a great material for hot weather as it won’t stick to the backs of your legs or get too hot to touch. Al fresco dining is a delight in the summer months so whether you have a small bistro set or a full dining table and chairs outside, it’s a real treat to eat in the fresh air. Parasols can help keep off the sun if it’s too hot while patio heaters can help to warm you up if the evening has a bit of a chill. You can buy both of these finished with rattan so they match the rest of the garden decor.

The universal material

Rattan is a material which can be used in a wide variety of applications around the home and it’s impossible to find a room which wouldn’t benefit from some rattan accessories or furniture. The above guide describes just some of the benefits of using rattan but there’s many more besides. Strong, tough and very attractive, rattan is here to stay, not just in our gardens but in our homes as well.

When the rattan is harvested, it’s the inner poles which are used to create the woven furniture which is so popular but the outer skins are used too. Once dried they are used as the binding to hold together the canes in the rattan furniture.

The rattan needs to be processed so it’s malleable and ready to weave because otherwise it would simply snap. This often involves heat treatment but after the item has been woven into the distinctive design, it hardens once more and holds its shape rigidly.

For storage purposes rattan is often woven to create baskets suitable for storing both foodstuffs and other items.

However it can also be produced in colours which mimic its natural appearance perfectly and is such a good match it can be difficult to distinguish the natural product from the synthetic one.

You don’t really need to weatherproof your rattan furniture because it’s impervious to the effects of both water and ice. However, following these steps will provide that extra layer of protection that could help to keep looking as flawless as the day you bought it.

Rattan has so many uses it’s not restricted to either indoors or out, summer or winter; it can be literally used throughout the calendar year.

rattan baskets and

Kitchen

The kitchen is at the heart of any home and although you might not immediately associate it with rattan furniture, it can really liven up a kitchen design.

If you have a large country kitchen, it’s the perfect style and size to accommodate kitchen rattan furniture.

For a fairly subtle touch, you could simply have a rattan armchair in the kitchen, as a place where either you or the family can sit and relax in relative peace and quiet. This could also mean you could enjoy a bit of company while you’re cooking the family meals, with either your partner, children or a friend sitting in the kitchen and chatting with you.

If there’s the space available, opting for a rattan dining set in the kitchen can make eating a relaxed and informal affair. A dining room can be quite formal but gathering round the table in the kitchen to eat means that the food doesn’t have to be carried as far, as it’s also a far more naturally intimate atmosphere.

A rectangular teak table with rattan chairs

There’s a whole host of design shapes including rectangular, square, circular and even triangular that could complement the decor of your kitchen. You could either opt for deeply padded high backed chairs, adding comfortable functionality or for a ore contemporary appearance, you could choose padded benches. These help to create a very sociable atmosphere and also provides the maximum amount of seating in the minimum amount of space.

If you are short on room, the cube table and seating sets mentioned above would also work really well in the kitchen, taking up very little room but providing a full-sized functioning table and chairs.

Rattan Garden accessories can be a great way to complement the main pieces of furniture, and ensuring the theme is continued throughout. Parasols and gazebos that match the fabric of the upholstery are one option,

matching the rattan itself provide another.

Rattan for the future?

Due to the many benefits of rattan, it’s impossible to see any end to the current trend for rattan. But like any home decor trend, the use of rattan in the home will evolve and change to create new and exciting designs.

Rattan is expected to continue to have a strong presence in 2015, and beyond, combining with other materials to provide texture and interest to home decor.

The fascinating woven appearance of rattan together with more polished surfaces can create a fascinating effect. Mixing contemporary and traditional for a kind of modern eco-steampunk is also a very hot look for 2015.

Upcycling of any kind is very much in demand and rattan can complement this type of natural decor because of its organic appearance. Mixed with driftwood and unpolished surfaces, rattan can help to create a very minimalist decor that looks perfect in a modern setting.

Fusing the outdoors and inside is very much at the heart of rattan furniture as it’s a material which can be used both in the garden and in the home. It’s this versatility which allows boundaries to become blurred between the natural world and our properties, creating a space with lots of light and a continuous flow of decor from our lounge and into our garden landscaping.

This is a trend which is predicted to grow and develop even further during 2015 as the “outside in” design explodes in popularity.

Image Credits: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia