Even if the weather isn’t so balmy, what could be more pleasurable than making the summer last with an end-of-day gin and tonic enjoyed in a comfortable chair on the patio?
Ever since the days of colonial India, the Brits have been indulging this ritual, usually with a light chair made from the natural fibre rattan. It was around 130 years ago that pieces made from rattan and bamboo began to appear on the British market, imported to our shores from the Far East. It had a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s and these days is enjoying another moment in the sun.
A truly stylish weave
For those expats in the early days of the Raj, the only seating worthy of a place on the veranda was something woven, most likely from rattan, the wonder-plant from the Far East that had recently taken British and American furniture-making by storm.
Back home in Britian, it proved just as popular. The Victorians embraced rattan in their gardens and homes and found a hundred different, inventive and sometimes surprising uses for it. In the 130-odd years since, while fashions have changed, rattan furniture has carried on being produced and, as a choice for the garden, it has never been bettered.
Inexpensive, light and easy to fit into a range of period homes, why not entice yourself to invest in some rattan with these seven easy decorating ideas. Scroll down for a full list of where to buy it too.
Combine different shapes and styles of rattan against bold colours for a sophisticated grouping
Team a variety of rattan items with a statement lamp for a display that shows them off in style
A bold wallpaper with a neutral shade below creates a look that feels tropical without being overpowering. Add textures of velvet and rattan for an easy-to-live-with yet standout scheme
Mix and match rattan furniture with statement fabrics for an outdoor dining room that really packs a punch
Hard-wearing rattan is perfect for outdoors, especially when paired with vibrant fabrics
Beautiful rattan and cane pieces stand out against a colourful background
A dramatic wallpaper and contrasting patterned fabrics create a confident framework for a trio of eye-catching rattan mirrors
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.
The word ‘wicker’ comes from the Scandinavian vika, meaning ‘to bend’.
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.
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.
Wickerwork doesn’t only include pieces woven from reeds and rattan, material varies from papyrus and bamboo to sorghum and raffia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As well as furniture, rattan is also commonly used to make mallets for keyboard instruments, walking sticks and the crooks of umbrellas.