Meet The Material: Wicker Or Rattan?

Article Posted By: Jae Warren

of The Home Depot

Phoenix Rattan Roadster Concept Car image

Image: photos courtesy of Kenneth Cobonpue via Gizmag

In 1844, Cyrus Wakefield noticed a pile of discarded rattan on Constitution Warf in Boston. Used as packing material for product shipped from China to the U.S., Wakefield wondered what this flexible cane material might be used to make … furniture, perhaps? Not long after taking a pile of it home, Wakefield quit his job as a grocer, formed the Wakefield Rattan Company, and by the 1860s cornered the market on the wicker furniture business.

Henry Ford is lucky ol’ Cyrus Wakefield didn’t decide to build a rattan roadster like the one above that product designers Kenneth Cobonpue and Albrecht Birkner dreamed up. The auto industry might be very different today.

What is wicker? Wicker, which is made from a variety of materials including bamboo, rattan, reed, willow, plastic or resin, is not so much a material as it is an ancient weaving technique passed from Egypt to Rome and then throughout Europe.

Wicker vs. Rattan. Wicker and rattan are not the same, though the terms are often confused or used interchangeably, and wicker and rattan seem inextricably linked. Wicker is made from a variety of materials, including rattan. Raw rattan is a vine-like species of palm native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Australia that is processed into a number of products including furniture. The plant’s skin is peeled away for use as weaving material, and the solid core is used to make different types of furniture, including rattan wicker furniture

What are some of the cool properties of wicker/rattan? Artificial bones can be made from it! The spongy physical structure of wood closely resembles that of natural bone, and Italian scientists have been able to develop a procedure to create artificial “wood bone” implants from rattan and certain other types of wood. To create wood bone, blocks of rattan are heated until they become pure carbon, then calcium is sprayed on to form calcium carbide, and additional chemical and physical processing produce the artificial bone, technically called carbonate hydroxyapatite. Clinical trials conducted on sheep have been very successful, but we appear to be some years away from human implantation [Discovery News].

What is wicker/rattan used for? Dozens of examples of wicker furniture have been unearthed in Egypt dating back to 3000 B.C., and today you can find a wide variety of wicker or rattan furniture, as well as wicker home decor and all kinds of wicker accessories and products.

Rattan is also used to make mallets, xylophones, marimbas and various percussion instruments. The sticks used to retrieve dice on craps tables (technically known as “dice sticks”) are usually rattan.

“Disciplinary instruments” for administering corporal punishment as practiced in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei benefit from the strength and flexibility of rattan.

What can you use wicker/rattan for? You could make tiskets, or taskets (whatever they are) — or weave lovely wicker baskets. If you’re into the Philippine martial art called Kali, you could use rattan to fashion an awesome striking weapon. Or, you could bring the lightweight, sturdy, hand-crafted earthy appeal of wicker or rattan to any space, indoors or out.

Martha Stewart Living Lily Bay Wicker Patio Set image

Home Depot has some beautiful wicker furniture from the Martha Stewart Living Collection

Wicker is an open invitation to sit, relax and enjoy. The only problem with having such beautiful, comfortable patio furniture is that you may actually have to ask your guests to leave.

Image of Kaya Bodhi Chaa by Youn Woo Chaa

Image of Kaya Bodhi Chaa by Youn Woo Chaa via Lois Lambert Gallery

Artist Youn Woo Chaa lived with Tukano Indians of the Amazonian forest for over a year and a half to learn the craft of weaving. He puts the skills he learned to arresting effect in the creation of these large-scale, intricately woven portraitures made from dyed rattan reeds.

Rattan Bridge image

Image via Crossing Indonesia

This bridge over the Baliem Valley gorge in in Western New Guinea is testament to the strength and durability of rattan reed. These ingenious bridges make travel possible along the mountains of New Guinea where high amounts of rain create raging rivers that rush down mountain sides.

Image of a Wicker Bike

Image via Art Net

When we first spotted this on artnet it was like — oh snap! — that bike is the … (word we can’t say). Turned out to be the work of Brazilian artist Jarbas Lopes. Wicked stuff.

RST Cantina Patio Seating Set image

Cantina Seating Set available from The Home Depot; Image via Mad For Midcentury

Patio or poolsisde, this swanky, low-slung Red Star Traders Cantina rattan patio seating set, made from ultra durable, eco-friendly, hand-woven polyethylene rattan wicker, just begs to have a few folks over for a party.

Meet the Material is a series designed to introduce you to some of the everyday goods sold at The Home Depot. Is there a material you’d like to know more about? Just let us know in the comments!