Our nation and world are topsy-turvy places right now. Anxiety is up and social interaction is down. But there’s hope, and one sign of that is that spring is officially here! Amid all the chaos, happy first day of spring! It’s the season of rebirth and renewal and we all need a little of both right now, am I right? So, as we nest and stay home to “flatten the curve,” you could say spring couldn’t have come at a more perfect time as we have the time to look around our homes for ways to see light and being outside is one of the only “safe” activities being allowed. And yes, I get it, home décor may seem trivial right now, but it can give us joy and for me, writing this provides something to pour myself into as I sit home and social distance.
So, let’s all take just a moment or two to lighten up. Your home that is. And, what better way to lighten and brighten up our homes than to add a little wicker, rattan, cane, and other woven wonders of your choosing? And don’t think they’re just for porches and patios, as every room in your home needs a little texture and wovens and weaves are just the places to look whether it’s in a large sofa or headboard or a small basket, stool, and even lighting.
I am admittedly somewhat old school and still love me some mahogany and Queen Ann chairs, but I also love the look of a neutral woven. I recently purchased a round front entry rug similar to one pictured below and chose woven shades for some of our windows in our home when we built it…and I love them! Best of all, all of these items don’t have to break the bank and can be as simple as the above Pottery Barn seagrass tray or the very affordable Target items also pictured above.
If you’re like me though, it’s easy to get confused as terms for the different versions are as interwoven and overlapping as the products themselves. What is wicker, what’s rattan, and what’s everything else? I’ve had time at home to research and read up, dig and decipher and even though I’m not 100 percent clear on it all, here’s what I’ve found:
First off, let’s start right off by decoding rattan and wicker. Rattan is a material and wicker is a style of weave. For example, a piece of furniture might be composed of rattan but embellished with a wicker-style weave design.
(left: Serena and Lily)
Rattan is actually the name for 600 species of fast-growing climbing palms, not a furniture style. The vine-like palm species that is rattan is a fast-growing tropical plant whose woody stems can be cut into sections and shaped into pretty much anything. Its softer inner-core is the part that’s woven and worked into wicker weaves. Indonesia is home to two-thirds of the world’s rattan population and rattan cane is what polo mallets are traditionally made from.
Rattan items pictured above: Mainly Baskets scalloped ottoman, Palecek barstools and chairs, Ballard Designs hanging basket, Serena and Lily daybed and bar cart, and Williams Sonoma stool
(left: Pier 1)
The broad-reaching term “wicker” refers to a technique not so much a product. The method uses pliant plants like rattan and weaves them into a pattern. Yes rattan is the most common natural material used in wicker pieces but other plants and fibers, including bamboo, willow, and abaca as well as synthetic materials, can all be used.
When most of us think interwoven furniture and home décor, we probably think of wicker; especially white wicker. I actually love white wicker and in a previous home I had an entire guest room of it. Yep, that old-school Florida beach bungalow retirement home meets ‘70s girl’s room bright white wicker. I gotta say though, I loved it and it worked well in the room. But, when it came time to move, it didn’t make the cut. I still like white wicker but today’s wicker is more natural and earthy looking.
The timeless stuff can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, was a popular staple in Victorian England, and the Pilgrims are said to have brought a wicker cradle to America on the Mayflower. But, despite its beachy associations, the word “wicker” has Scandinavian origins as the word “vika” means to bend and “vikker” means willow.
What we love about wicker is that it’s light and breezy yet sturdy. It tends to relax any room you put it in and if you use the right piece, it can also add a bit bohemian chic through pieces like a ‘70s-inspired egg chair. If using wicker outside and unprotected from sun and rain, stick with a wicker piece made with synthetic fibers, while covered outdoor areas or anywhere inside are the perfect spots for natural wicker. Lee Radziwill, the chic and stylish sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, loved it so much she was buried in a wicker casket. I’d put money on it that it wasn’t white wicker though.
Wicker items pictured above: Ballard Designs swinging sconce, One Kings Lane collection, Target egg chair, Amish Baskets dog bed
Cane is generally any plant with a long, thin stem and the version used in furniture is derived from rattan. It is not sugar cane or bamboo, which is sometimes erroneously called “cane.” Made up of woven, durable, and nonporous strips, caning became popular is 1600s England and successfully competed with the already popular upholstered pieces. Chair caning is a method of weaving when rattan cane or rattan peel is applied to furniture, most commonly the seats or backs of chairs and in chair repair.
When thinking of cane, think those open-weave seated café chairs popularized in Paris but also found in kitchens and eating areas the world over. Thonet’s “No. 14” wicker-seated bentwood bistro chair, pictured above left, may have well started the trend and became the world’s first mass-produced furniture item in 1859. In the 1970s Marcel Breuer brought the style back and in a big way with these little gems that today are mid-century modern favorites:
None other than Marie-Antoinette was also a fan, and her caned chair is on display at the Getty Center in L.A. Today you’ll find it on everything from those famous chairs to mirrors, lampshades, and tables.
Cane items pictured above: World Market tiered tower, Target chest, Pier 1 light pendants, Bobila platform bed
This grass-like material is also sometimes called Bulrush, is generally made of dried cattails, is green in its natural state and can take up to one year to change into its warm golden tone. It is commonly used in woven chair seating like ladder-back chairs, which provide both a clean Shaker design and country farmhouse feel in urban and rural settings alike. The most famous rush chair is considered the one that made a cameo in the 1953 Marilyn Monroe film “How to Marry a Millionaire” designed by T.H. Robsjoh-Gibbings. Renditions of it can be found at the L.A. boutique Hollywood at Home like the one at left.
Rush items pictured above: Antique Country French chairs, seated bench, and seat
(left: Ballard Designs)
When I think raffia, I think gift wrapping embellishment or maybe wreaths and I bet you do too, but the product can also be incorporated into beautiful furniture and home decor. Raffia fibers are made from the veins of raffia palm trees and can be easily dyed and woven. It’s most commonly used in grass cloth wallcoverings, garden ties, and decorative string but if you’re looking for a very clean woven look, raffia is the way to go.
Raffia items pictured above: Daggett baskets, Tommy Bahama Home chest, Serene Spaces Living chargers, Kathy Kuo Home chest, Ballard Designs sideboard
(left: Lelands Wallpaper)
Grasscloth is an umbrella term commonly used to describe wallcovering made from hand-woven strands of natural fibers of the inner bark of the ramie plant on an unpasted rice paper backing. The fibers include hemp, jute, sea grass, arrowroot grass, bamboo and raffia. It is very popular in the décor and design industry and one reason may be that it resembles linen, no two pieces are alike, and it is both beautiful and delicate
JUTE, SISAL, AND COIR
Other materials extremely popular are jute, sisal, and coir particularly as natural fiber rugs. Jute is grown in the Indian subcontinents of Bengal and Bangladesh while Sisal is a natural fiber from the agave plant. Coir (pronounced coy-ur) is a natural fiber extracted from the outer husk of a coconut. Although the three look very much alike, Sisal is considered stronger and more durable while Jute is the smoother of the three. Both are very neutral additions to any room and can be played up by placing a more vibrant or patterned rug on top.
Sisal is a preferred material for carpet and rugs and is also used for rope and twine. Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibers and is the fiber used to make burlap, hessian, or gunny cloth. It is also popular for rugs and is second only to cotton in the amount produced and variety of uses. To clarify, burlap is a very strong and course cloth made from jute, flax, or hemp and is what those famous gunny sacks are made of.
As for those front doormats many of you probably have on your porch right now, odds are they are made of coir, which is also a popular brush and mattress material. It is known for its durability, strength, and water absorption. But telling you this is like preaching to the “coir,” right?
Pictured above: Decor Pad jute and sisal rugs and stock photo coir doormat
I hope this small diversion from social distancing and media watching finds you and your family safe and healthy in your homes. Enjoy those homes and families and be grateful for them. And, as you nest, think about this thought I read on one my favorite bloggers and author’s, “The Nester,” site: “One question I’ve asked myself about this unique time in our history is, when I look back on this time, what will I wish I would have done? And then, I try to do that thing.”