Wicker furniture may come in many forms, but it has been a piece of living and bed rooms for centuries of human history. The ancient Egyptians crafter chairs and tables out of it, while the Romans used it for sofas and baskets. It was an important part of Victorian era furnishings, and lasted into the early 1900s where it cemented its own vintage style. Wicker is useful anywhere in the house, looking attractive inside the sitting room and outside on the patio.
Traditional wicker is known for its strength, durability, beauty, and comfort. The wicker fibers are typically made from cane cores, rattan stalks, willow switches, reed, sea grass, banana leaf, or bamboo. Today, alternative materials are sometimes woven into the materials to help increase strength. It requires maintenance to uphold its beauty and durability. Synthetic wicker furniture design is often paper wrapped in high tensile wire, vinyl or resin to reinforce and weatherize the materials. Synthetic materials can stand up to hard rain and snowfall. Some recent versions even include aluminum in the frame to support more weight.
It has been in use since the days of Ancient Egypt at which time it was made of reed and swamp grass. Middle class families loved the material because they could only afford a few quality pieces, and wicker tables last forever. Wealthier people, such as the pharaohs, would keep even more keepsakes like chests, wig boxes, baskets, tables, and chairs. Even shields of Egyptian soldiers were found to have contained the material. Egypt passed wicker to Rome where baskets were used and furniture was made. That use grew into Europe as the Roman conquests spread, and the material quickly became common in England, Spain, and Portugal.
Rattan began to see use in the modernizing world as international sea traders came back from Southeast Asia, where the weed grows prevalently. Rattan was a stronger material, and its popularity grew in the 1800’s as word spread that the material was more sanitary than upholstered furniture. It was also less expensive and heavily resistant to the elements. It was up to Victorian furniture makers to shape it into something attractive, and that became main stream during the mid 1800s.
Cyrus Wakefield popularized the use of rattan when he began selling it off of ships docked at Boston’s many ports. The ships would use the material as light weight packaging, capable of keeping crates together. He sold the rattan, among other scavenged items, from the ports to make money as a “jobber” or small merchant. He rose to prominence as one of America’s first rattan furniture makers during the 1860s, after he had married the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate. Through the connections that his in-laws brought in their shipping business, Wakefield was able to import rattan from China.
His company became an industry leader, later merging with the Heywood Chair Manufacturing Company and created Heywood Wakefield of Gardner, Massachusetts. The company came to be known worldwide and is still one of the leading manufacturers of rattan furniture.
Rattan is made from Calamus, which is a type of palm that climbs. The entire plant is used to make rattan, beginning with the cane. Cane is the material created when rattan’s outer skin is removed and cut into thin strips. Cane is used for weaving seats or wrapping joints, and it’s known for a glossy finish. Kubu is rattan cane which is packed in wet clay and allowed to season, and it is exceptionally strong. Bamboo resembles rattan and is often mistaken for it, while willow or twig is used mostly for baskets. Banana Leaf is used for furniture. It is dried, twisted, and braided into rope which is woven over a frame.
The history of outdoor wicker furniture or origins of this technological advancement dates back fairly recently.
Wicker and rattan continue to be a top choices used in porches, patios, bedrooms and sunrooms.
Wicker furniture history informs these designs, which is part of the vintage charm that wicker an rattan hold. Designs of woven wicker furniture are still offered in traditional patterns, but wicker is sold in contemporary styles too. The long history of wicker furniture shows us that wicker will always be in our hearts and favored among designers, a staple of patio furniture preference and interior design must haves!