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Antique Rattan Furniture

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Antique rattan furniture is a great addition to porches, sun rooms, and even bedrooms. It's casual, old fashioned look makes it work with most decorating styles and gives the rooms it is placed in a cozy, country ambiance.

Rattan Furniture in History

Rattan furniture has been discovered in ancient sites in Egypt that are over 5,000 years old. Although it was not particularly popular in Europe or the Americas it was being produced in Asia for centuries.

In the mid 1800s American manufactures began producing rattan. Victorians saw the easy to clean rattan as a viable alternative to the heavily upholstered furniture of the day. The material was flexible and allowed artisans to create complex designs and patterns which were the passion of every Victorian worth her salt.

Rattan was placed in sunrooms, on porches, and in the less casual areas of homes as well as summer houses of the wealthy. It was associated so much with Victorian homes that you would be hard put to imagine a Victorian porch without white wicker furniture on it.

By the early 1900s wicker furniture was being formed into sleek Art Deco designs. It continued to take on the shapes of the current design trends as the decades passed.


The Differences in Bamboo, Rattan, and Wicker

While looking at rattan furniture you may wonder what the difference is between bamboo, rattan and wicker. Simply put, rattan and bamboo are plant materials and wicker describes the process of weaving the fibers. You can have bamboo wicker, straw wicker, or rattan wicker.

Rattan is the stem of a tropical tree. It grows upward but eventually it bends and becomes very vine like. When the rattan is mature it is cut in twelve foot sections, then dried and processed. The leaves and outer fibers are stripped from the rattan and then either steamed or soaked to make the material pliable.

Since the trunk of rattan is solid it is often used to make sturdier furniture than bamboo. Another way to tell the difference between rattan and bamboo is by looking at the joints. The joints on rattan are often wrapped with fiber to keep it stable.

Identifying Antique Rattan

Rattan can be difficult to identify because of the lack of labeling. Most furniture makers did not label their wicker furniture and the styles were not always significantly different. Two designers in particular had unique enough designs that they are pretty easy to identify.

Paul Frankl was one of the first to utilize rattan in modern furniture design during the 1930s through 1950s. Hollywood snapped up the clean Art Deco furniture and his designs became very popular.

Milo Baughman was another designer that created unique designs for Calif-Asia in the 1940s and 1950s.

Caring for Your Antique Rattan Furniture

If you are lucky enough to have an antique settee or other vintage rattan item you want it to last for a long time. With proper care it will only get more valuable and more beautiful as time goes on.

  1. Whisk a mixture of Murphy's Oil Soap and warm water until thick suds are formed.
  2. Using just the suds, not water; rub the mixture into the rattan with as soft brush or cloth.
  3. Get dirt out of crevices with a soft toothbrush.
  4. Wipe dry and allow to air dry completely.
  5. Rub lemon oil into the rattan. This will help keep it from drying out and splintering.
  6. Dust weekly.
  7. Clean your antique rattan furniture about once a month to keep it in top condition.
  8. Keep it out of direct sunlight and weather conditions.
  9. If you do get some splintering on your rattan use furniture glue to glue it down.

Finding Rattan Furniture

It can be difficult to find antique rattan locally, especially if you don't live in an area with many antique stores. You can find it online but since you can't examine it you may miss important facts about the authenticity or condition of the piece.

If you are buying locally always check for authenticity. Antique rattan often had joints wrapped with fibers but modern reproductions will often use leather or plastic to hide screws.

If you are buying online buy from a source you trust. Check references and feedback as well are guarantees and return policies just in case you are not satisfied. Most of all, if you do find something you love don't wait to buy it. Antiques are one of a kind items and you often only get one chance to purchase something you love.


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    • Linda Tadlock profile image

      Linda Tadlock 6 years ago from Atlanta

      I'm a great fan of all kind of wicker and rattan furniture. Excellent hub.

    • profile image

      Devy Rusdianto 6 years ago

      Rattan furniture is the best. they're beautiful durable material

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      ...well Marye, you wrote this hub especially for me! (hee, hee). I am a lover of rattan pieces and have my music room decorated in rattan and wicker. Even with my black grand piano, the antique rattan blends beautifully. I use bright throw pillows to brighten the room and for seasonal changes. Thank you so much for the best article on this topic I have come across. Thumbs up and I am a fan!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      They are very beautiful

    • vanidiana profile image

      vanidiana 6 years ago from Depok, Indonesia

      I like rattan furnitures, they're strong and can last for years.

    • werebear profile image

      werebear 6 years ago from UK

      Rattan furniture is king! that plastic rubbish that's so popular these days is just nasty.