Fifties and sixties-style rattan furniture is back in style, but discerning customers don’t want the same products they had sixty or seventy years ago. Luckily, modern improvements on construction and materials have enabled top manufacturers to produce these great styles, with all the benefits of technological advancement.
Rattan is a fibrous string-like material from the forests of Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. It grows almost 2000 feet above sea level, in the super-humid rainforests.
Rattan furniture was very popular during England’s colonial era, and for some time afterward. It is a combination of rustic charm and elegance that is difficult to resist.
The drawback is that, unless kept in very controlled environments and tended-to regularly, rattan furniture is quick to deteriorate, leaving you with an unsightly, peeling and ragged mess. About a decade ago, manufacturers started looking to plastics and vinyl for an alternative that had the same great features, but could hold up well to the elements within the British climate.
Synthetic rattan furniture now outsells traditional rattan by a wide margin. Much of it is still manufactured in the Far East, using expert weavers who have simply changed from one material to another, keeping the traditions and techniques of weaving alive. Even new designs tend to pay homage to the best features of time-tested forms.
Minimal Work Involved – Synthetic Rattan Furniture
Probably the top selling point of synthetic rattan furniture is the fact that there is very little work involved in keeping it nice. Spraying it down with a garden hose, occasionally, keeps it clean and does no harm to it structurally. Even messes that would render a traditional rattan piece permanently-flawed is of little concern to synthetic pieces. Food dropped into – of even pressed into – the intricate gaps in the weave are no problem for synthetic pieces. A hoovering to get the dry bits out, if applicable, then a thorough rinse with the hose, and it’s as good as new. The multi-stage, semi-successful steps needed to save rattan from such damage are arduous and sometimes expensive. The final result is seldom a return to pristine condition. Spilled wine, melted chocolate, a bit of whipped cream – any one of these can permanently mar a traditional rattan piece.
Rattan furniture comes in a variety of colours, so you can choose one that complements the area in which you plan to place it. Even the texture of the weave and fibres can make a difference to the final appearance, so consider those as well. A complementing contrast is usually better than trying to blend the colours together.
A narrow weave in a dark brown or burgundy colour often complements a brick patio, patio tiles, or pea shingle. Black goes very well on turf, surrounded with greens and bright flowers. Grey rattan garden furniture often only matches more modern gardens. White looks great in a modern garden with clean lines and glass features, aside a turquoise pool, or amid a Mediterranean-style garden of red-hued stones and bright purples, like lavender.
About Traditional Rattan
Rattan grows in tropical jungle regions, like those found in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. The strands can grow very long, reaching at least 2000ft at their longest, but the diameter along the strand is uniform, so it is perfect for regularity when weaving. The outer skin is shiny and very hard (the hardest plant material in the world, in fact). The outer skin is stripped away for cane work, and the more pliable core is used for wicker weaving. Even though it is not as hard as the outer layer, it must be soaked and softened before it is pliable enough to be used in making furniture. Once softened, it won’t crack or splinter, so it is ideal for the purpose.
The word ‘rattan’ actually refers to around 100 species of plant, each with similar fibrous vines. When properly treated, it is strong and enduring, but if left out in the rain and sun – the British climate, for example – it quickly deteriorates.
How to choose rattan furniture:
When looking for a quality piece of garden furniture, pay attention to the tightness of the weave. It should be difficult – to say the least – to move the strands with your fingers. In other words, it should be VERY solid. There should be no rough corners, protruding pieces that could scratch or poke you, and no thin fibres trailing out from it like tiny ribbons.
For synthetic pieces, the frame should be solid, and made of aluminium – not steel – to ensure durability and lack of rust. The frame should be powder-coated for added durability and wear. The weave should have internal or sprayed-on UV resistant compounds, to protect it from long days of exposure to sunlight. The best quality synthetic pieces will have some variation in colour and texture along a strand, to better imitate the natural fibres. This should be subtle, however, and produce a beautiful overall look.
A special tip: Slab-shaped pieces are easier to weave, and so they’re often more value for money.