By John Rodgers
Rattan furniture is a distinctive style of furniture constructed traditionally from the rattan vine. Found in SE Asia and other tropical climes, the rattan vine has been used for hundreds of years to construct furniture and household goods.
It has been a popular construction material due to its durable properties and widespread availability in the area. The rattan vine in it’s natural state is a stiff and tough vine, however when heat is applied and only for the duration that the heat is applied, the vine becomes pliable and workable. As soon as the heat is withdrawn the vine returns to a stiff and uncompromising state that is strong and durable. When the vine is used in furniture it is often constructed using the wicker process. That is the vine, or remnants of, are plaited between supporting material to give a hatched effect.
Traditionally constructed rattan furnishings was/is often built around a solid timber frame generally constructed from teak hardwood. Once the frame is constructed the rattan is heated and applied in wicker style. Work has to be done quickly and skilfully before the vine cools and stiffens to its natural state. The resulting furniture is a tough durable object that can last between 15 and 25 years if properly maintained.
Traditional rattan ooutdoor furniture doesn’t require a great deal of maintenance. It can be cleaned down with a wet cloth but should avoid being soaked. It is advisable to avoid leaving the furniture out in the sun uncovered for extended periods of time as this call lead to discolouration of the rattan. Traditionally constructed ratan furniture should be stored in dry conditions as one of the potential drawbacks of this organic material is that it can, if left for prolonged periods in damp conditions, become moldy.
This traditional furniture can be very environmentally sound especially if the materials are sourced from renewable sources. One thing to look out for, especially if your are looking to buy pieces constructed using a teak frame is that the teak should be from a government approved renewable or managed source.
If you intend to purchase rattan furniture purely for outdoor use and live in a wetter climate and perhaps lack storage space then you may be wiser to opt for a synthetic rattan furniture set.
Synthetic or man made poly rattan is the latest development in rattan furniture. Using nylon man made strands, steel or aluminum framed furniture is clad in a wicker style to emulate natural rattan whilst doing away with potential mould or fading problems associated with the organic furniture. As the fiber is man made and locally produced prices often reflect lower costs of producing this furniture. The man made fiber is often more pliable and workable and as a result a far wider range of furniture shapes, textures and patterns is available. As a result of these developments poly rattan furniture is now the derigeur option when choosing outdoor rattan furniture, although perhaps not as environmentally friendly as the organic traditional alternative.
Your choice of rattan furniture will depend on budget, intended use, storage and preferred style of furniture but you can be sure out of the extensive ranges available you will find something beautiful that catches your eye.