All about rattan – how and why to use it in your home

With connotations of cool, gracious outdoor living, furniture and accessories made from rattan are perfect for adding a touch of colonial style to any home. We take a closer look at what it is and how to care for it.

What is it?

‘Rattan’ is a collective name for around 600 species of palm, which grow in tropical regions such as Africa and Asia. It’s also known as manila or malacca. 

Unlike their close relatives palm trees, rattan plants look more like slender stems of bamboo with a diameter of between one and three inches, and they grow like vines, using other vegetation for support.

A single rattan plant can grow to be hundreds of feet long! The stems are solid wood rather than having a hollow core like bamboo, and as a result they’re very strong and durable.

The stems are cut and steamed to shape into furniture and other items, and the outside peel used to bind the stems together.

How to look after rattan

Rattan’s very versatile, and can be made into almost anything from chairs to trays to lamp bases. As it’s a natural material, though, it does fade if exposed to strong sunlight.

It’s also not very good at getting damp, and if it frequently gets wet or is stored in a damp place, it may go mouldy. Most manufacturers will apply a coat of lacquer or sealant to rattan furniture to make it more weather-proof and practical. It’s easy to care for, and doesn’t normally need any special attention, although as it’s porous unlacquered furniture may stain if you spill something like coffee or red wine on it.

To reduce the appearance of stains or simply give it a bit of TLC, put a few drops of washing up liquid into a bowl of warm water. Dip a cloth in, and squeeze it out until almost dry (excessive moisture can damage the rattan).

If you do get it too wet, dry it off with a hairdryer. Use a dry toothbrush to clean out any crevices.

To rejuvenate old, dry rattan, boil up some linseed oil in an old pan, and apply it with a paintbrush. Leave it for a few hours between coats. When the rattan won’t absorb any more oil, buff off any residue with a soft cloth and, in the case of furniture, leave it to dry completely before using it.

Synthetic rattan

Although manmade alternatives will never quite capture the texture and colours of the real thing, there are now some very good synthetic rattans available which have the advantage of being completely weatherproof. Some are even made in the same way, and woven with strips of synthetic material.

We love:

1. Louis rattan French white bed, Newtons

Louis VI style rattan bed, £759 from Newtons

For a true touch of colonial luxury, how about this gorgeous Louis XV style caned bed?  It has a hand-carved solid mahogany frame with rose motifs, a curved foot board and sustainable rattan woven by hand. Was £949 for a double bed, now £759 from Newtons.

2. Rattan paperclip stool, Mia Fleur

With a retro 70s vibe, this rattan stool, £89 from Mia Fleur, is useful as well as attractive.

This striking green rattan stool is perfect as an occasional seat for when you have guests, but also makes a nice way to showcase a favourite plant. Made from natural rattan and painted in dark green, it costs £89 from Mia Fleur.

3. Grey washed rattan rectangular coffee table, The Orchard

Add some eco elegance with this traditional rattan coffee table, £468 from The Orchard

At just over a metre and a half long and a metre wide, this coffee table would suit most sizes and styles of room. Made entirely by hand using organic materials, each one is slightly different. £468 (also available in a smaller size) from The Orchard.


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