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All About Rattan

The Art & Use of Rattan Over Time

Picture this - you’re deep in the humid rainforests of Indonesia. Bananas, mangos and rambutan fruits hang from trees all around you. Monkeys swing from vine to vine, and a cacophony of bird calls fills the air. The spindly green vines, dangling all around you; those are rattan. Yes, rattan - that strong-yet-supple vine-like palm that many of the sturdiest pieces of wicker (meaning woven) furniture are made from.

What Exactly Is Rattan?

As one of nature’s strongest materials, rattan has grown to be one of the most ideal resources for the production of indoor and outdoor furniture. This vine-like climbing palm primarily found in the dense tropical jungles of Southeast Asia, grows in a uniform diameter. With supple and pliable-like qualities, it's an appealing material to use for wicker (woven) furniture. Given its flexibility we would assume it wouldn’t be great for the longevity of furniture, as most often flexible materials mean a lack of durability. This is precisely what sets rattan apart from the rest.

Despite its malleability, rattan is classified as a fibrous palm, and its secret strength is one of its most unique and irreplaceable qualities, making the plant so valuable within the furniture and textile industry. So valuable in fact that many rattan harvesters make up to 75% more money than their equally hard-working farming counterparts.

A Durable Material Native to Asia

From a practical standpoint, rattan is extremely rugged, durable and can last a lifetime, if well constructed. Families with very active children oftentimes select rattan because of the tremendous beating it can take. Most of us know a family who has passed rattan or wicker furniture down for generations. It requires very little maintenance and is the preferred choice for many homeowners.

Today rattan is still largely grown and manufactured in the Pacific jungles of Indonesia, the Philippines, and China. With little maintenance necessary for a lifetime of natural beauty, rattan has been positioned as a popular choice for consumers looking to bring a little tropical spice into their homes.

Rattan’s Transformation Into The Modern World

Used as a resource for crafting furniture since the early days of mankind, historical evidence also suggests that rattan was used for martial art weapons, basketry, bridges, crossbow strings, and fish traps. Some rattan fruits produce a red resin called dragon's blood. This resin was once considered to have medicinal properties and was also used as a dye for violins.

Rattan’s Grand Entrance to the West

Rattan gained popularity in western culture around the 19th century during the height of British and Dutch colonization in southeast Asia. Families stationed in the tropics would bring back rattan furniture to Europe where it immediately gained popularity. Rattan furniture soon began making appearances inside the home as the cool European climate limited time spent outdoors. Influenced by a new wave of consumers wanting rattan pieces for their own homes, intricate Victorian elements were introduced by the turn of the century.

Emerging as New World Couture

With heightened popularity in Britain by the 20th century, rattan sailed on to America aboard trade steamships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Noted designers like Paul Frankl fashioned new relaxed and casual designs, favored by the Hollywood elite of the time when rattan hit the silver screen in the 1930’s. Frankl is credited for bringing American rattan indoors from applying trendy clear beeswax and flexing it into innovative yet comfortable designs.

An Environmentally Sustainable Material

Though much harder to harvest than wood, rattan’s regrowth is much faster than timber, making it a more sustainable resource; especially given South East Asia’s depleting and overly-sourced rain forests. Due to the tricky nature of harvesting the vines, which must be carefully selected first and then hand cut using a machete, the additional physical labor naturally prevents the tendency towards mass over-harvesting by machine-driven-industry methods, adding to the product’s overall sustainability - provided, of course, the workers harvesting receive a fair wage.

Rattan grows best in what is known as ‘secondary forest’, which means closer to the ground than the towering trees we tend to picture when we think of a rain forest. Rattan, growing up from the ground, relies on the plentitude of trees around it to cling onto in its upward climb towards the sky. Therefore, with little choice, an area that produces the in-demand product must be heavily populated with trees; keeping the trees in the ground and contributing to the surrounding environment and ecological system, rather than on a logging truck.

Don’t Get Confused: Rattan vs. Wicker

The strength and easy manipulation of the rattan stem has positioned it to be one of the most common materials applied in wickerwork. Because furniture designs commonly utilize both, the concepts of rattan and wicker are often misunderstood.

Rattan furniture is constructed by joining rattan poles. Wicker is a woven effect, much like a basket. Some weaves are plain, emphasizing textures, while others may be very intricate in design. However, all wicker has a "woven" look.

While the term "wicker" only refers to woven, there are a variety of materials used to produce wicker furniture. The most desirable modern day material is referred to as "core" wicker, as it is cut from the core of the rattan pole. It can be tightly woven in a variety of patterns to produce extraordinary strength and beauty. Other canes, reeds, and grasses are sometimes used to produce various effects.

The Timelessness of Rattan In Your Home

The timeless appearance of rattan, when well designed, is enduring and extremely versatile. Rattan never goes out of style! Additionally, seating pieces typically have the added advantage of separate seat and back cushions which can be easily removed or recovered, eliminating expensive upholstery costs.

The current trend toward natural materials has brought an even greater appreciation for rattan furniture. It pairs well with live plants, pottery, baskets and other hand crafted accessories. It can reflect a warm, springtime feeling in any season. Rattan and wicker blends with ease into formal or informal settings. Also, it is equally comfortable as a stand-alone accent in a formal setting or as a coordinated grouping in a complete room.

How to Care for Your Rattan Furniture

Rattan and wicker furniture is fairly easy to maintain and should be treated as any other wood furniture. It’s one of the most maintenance free furniture materials in the world, requiring very little care in comparison to other furniture types. Here are some tips to keep your furniture looking like new:

Supplies Needed:

Caring For Your Rattan Pieces Day to Day

To keep furniture looking its best and to protect the finish, wipe occasionally with a damp cloth followed by an application of good furniture polish. We find lemon oil to be an excellent polish for dark finished Rattan (omit the lemon oil on white or whitewash finishes). For the removal of body oils or dirt, we recommend Murphy's Oil Soap.

If your rattan is a dark finish, Old English Scratch Cover is easy for small touch-ups of scratches followed by a clear lacquer spray available from any hardware store. The clear lacquer is also perfect for touch-ups on natural finishes. Small touch-ups on white or whitewash is easiest by brushing on a very small amount of correctly colored paint with the tip of your finger.

If the binding or wrap loosens, return it back to its original position after applying white Elmer's Glue to the area. Hold the binding in place while the glue is drying by covering the repaired area with plastic wrap and tightly wrapping tape over the plastic wrap. When dry, remove the tape and wrap for an invisible repair.

How to Clean Up Dust Buildup

Dust buildup should be periodically removed. Using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a soft brush attachment is very effective if your furniture features rich details or wicker.

How to Remove Soil or Dirt Off Rattan

If you see there is dirt or a stain on the rattan or wicker frame of your furniture, you should first use Murphy's Oil Soap® or similar product and a soft rag to remove the soiling. If this is not effective, a clean rag with acetone, fine grit steel wool or sandpaper may be used. When using acetone, fine grit sandpaper or steel wool, proceed slowly being careful not to remove the finish. If you accidentally do remove some of the finish see Minor Rattan Touch Up.

Polishing Rattan Furniture

If you wish to polish your rattan furniture, any over the counter wood polish such as Pledge® or Old English® can be used. Simply follow the instructions provided on the bottle.

Tropical Material Terminology

Bamboo is not a vine but a tropical grass that grows straight out of the ground. Bamboo is hollow with a tough outer shell. It does not flex like rattan and is very difficult to shape. Bamboo splits easily and does not take a finish well

Buri is the center stem or spine of a species of palm. It can also be made out of low quality small rattan vines which can be constructed into furniture.

The narrowest strips of rattan peel are commonly called cane. Cane is woven into chair seats and backs, furniture side panels and accessory pieces.

The outer bark of the rattan, called peel, is removed from the rattan poles during processing and cut into narrow strips of varying widths. Some of these strips are used to wrap and weave on framework.

Raffia is a fiber made from the leafstalks of the raffia palm. It is commonly used in pillows and rugs.

A member of the palm family, rattan is a palm tree that grows like a vine up to 600 feet long in the jungles of the Far East. Cut when it is 7 to 10 years old, the vine quickly replenishes itself.

Reed is a tall slender grass. It is also the name sometimes used for the inner core of the rattan pole.

Wicker is not a material, but a classification of furniture woven from any one of a variety of materials (i.e. rattan, reed, willow, buri, raffia, latania, plastic, metal or any other pliable material).

Willow is a tree or shrub with tough, malleable shoots that are often woven into loose, open designs. Willow is particularly long lasting because it retains its natural moisture for extended periods of time.

Leaders Warranty

We warranty our wicker, rattan, and upholstered furniture against manufacturer defect for the following terms:

Warranty Disclaimer

Warranties listed on this document are not exhaustive and will be serviced at our discretion. All warranties described herein apply to residential use only. These warranties are intended to provide a remedy for damage or failure resulting from a manufacturer defect. Conditions resulting from abuse, neglect, improper care or usage, accidents, normal wear and tear, or acts of nature are not covered. Fading, pilling and soiling of fabrics is not warrantied. Furniture used in a commercial setting is not covered under the warranties described here. Natural wicker, rattan and upholstered furniture is intended for indoor use only. Damage or wear resulting from using this furniture in an area open to the elements will not be covered.

Contact Us

For more information regarding warranty service and specific service or warranty related issues, please feel free to contact us by email at or by toll free telephone: 877-538-5783.