The Art and Use of Rattan; creating a beautiful, sustainable future of furnishings
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 birdcalls 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. And Indonesia hosts nearly 70% of the rattan sourced for this type of use, making it a substantial part of their economy.
What is Rattan?
As mentioned, rattan presents itself like a vine, with supple and pliable-like qualities that make it so appealing 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 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.
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 rainforests. 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 overharvesting 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 rainforest. 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.
What makes rattan so extra?
From what we can tell, rattan is like the unicorn of furniture production. Its internal fibrous, celery stalk-like structure makes it strong while its also easy to bend when heated and steamed, allowing for intricate, artful and detailed weaving. Rattan is so strong, in fact, it is often used in making weapons for martial arts. That’s right, your rattan sofa is also a weapon! Much like other woods, it accepts paints and stains desirable for home decoration with open arms. Additionally, since the grain of the wood is runs parallel with the pole, rattan is virtually non-porous along the length of the pole, making it very resistant to moisture and humidity known all too well when it comes to Florida living.
Did you know?
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.
Is there anything rattan can’t do? We don’t think so!