10 things you (probably) didn’t know about rattan and wickerwork

Impress those admiring your rattan furniture with these need-to-know facts

1

One flick through Homes & Antiques’ September issue will show that there is a whole variety of rattan furniture, wickerwork and basketry that you could add to your home – and very easily too. It’s relatively inexpensive, fits into nearly all decorating schemes thanks to the natural hues and, thanks to a 1970s revival, is back in fashion.

Advertisement
2

Impress the guests admiring your new rattan pieces with these top ten wickerwork facts.

  1. Records of wickerwork stretch back to Ancient Egypt, where remnants of pieces have been found in pharaohs’ tombs. It is also recorded as having been used to make shields for battle.
  2. The word ‘wicker’ comes from the Scandinavian vika, meaning ‘to bend’.
  3. The basketware of the Tutsi people of Rwanda and Burundi is considered among the best. It often has finely tapered conical lids and dramatic abstract designs. Some are as small as a thumb and, according to tribal art specialist Clive Loveless, were woven by high-ranking women not only as containers but also as symbols of status. Many of the smallest were used for holding jewels.
  4. Native American baskets of the Pomo, Apache and Navajo tribes are also highly collectable, especially in the USA. Specialist dealers there build up portfolio collections for enthusiasts often with very specific interests.
  5. Wickerwork doesn’t only include pieces woven from reeds and rattan, material varies from papyrus and bamboo to sorghum and raffia.
  6. Work by Paiute weavers is especially sought-after. The most expensive Native American basket ever sold at auction went for $336,250 – three times the presale estimate. Woven in 1929 by Paiute Indian Tina Charlie, it was one of only ten of its kind ever made.
  7. Rattan is an Asian palm that grows in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Philippines. The name ‘rattan’ covers about 600 sub-species. It differs from other palms by having much thinner stems.
  8. Until the 1880s all rattan furniture was imported into the UK. In 1886 and 1889 two companies began to produce it: WT Ellmore & Son in Leicester and Morris, Wilkinson and Co in Nottingham.
  9. No one knows the origin of the ‘Peacock’ chair (pictured, above) but many famous beauties have draped themselves across one for photographs including Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Kate Moss and Brigitte Bardot.
  10. As well as furniture, rattan is also commonly used to make mallets for keyboard instruments, walking sticks and the crooks of umbrellas.

FIND YOUR OWN RATTAN

Where to see

Horniman Museum and Gardens, 100 London Rd, London, SE23 3PQ. 020 8699 1872; horniman.ac.uk
The Museum of Rural Life, University of Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5EX. 0118 378 8660; reading.ac.uk/merl

Where to buy

Clive Loveless Primal Art, by appointment. 020 8969 5831; post@cliveloveless.com
Foster & Gane, Nottinghamshire and Buckinghamshire. 01494 269829; fosterandgane.com
The Old Cinema, 160 Chiswick High Road, London, W4 1PR. 020 8995 4166; theoldcinema.co.uk
Peter Petrou, London. 07831 633886; peterpetrou.com

What to read

American Wicker: Woven Furniture from 1850 to 1930 by Jeremy Adamson and Kit Latham (Rizzoli Intl Pubns, 1993)
Basketry: A World Guide to Traditional Techniques by Bryan Sentence (Thames & Hudson, 2007)
English Vernacular Furniture 1750–1900 by Christopher Gilbert (Yale University Press, 1991)
Furniture from British India and Ceylon by Amin Jaffer (V&A, 2001)

Discover the history of rattan and how to decorate with it in Homes & Antiques’ September issue, out now

Want to impress people with rattan in your home, check out some of the designs we love here.

Advertisement

Images: Katya de Grunwald
Styling: Sally Denning