Wicker is one of the most popular classifications of outdoor furniture, but its many types and forms can make it confusing to understand.
Wicker is one of the most popular classifications of outdoor furniture, but its many types and forms can make it confusing to understand. It might surprise you to know that the term “wicker” does not refer to the material itself, but to the method of weaving any one of a variety of materials. These materials include rattan, bamboo, willow, or even fiberglass resin.
The history of wicker is a long one – ancient civilizations used it for baskets and seating, the Romans took it to Britain, and Portuguese traders carried it with spices and silks from India and distributed it throughout Europe. It fell out of favor around 1750 but was revived during the Victorian era when its smooth surfaces were thought to be more sanitary than upholstered furniture. This Victorian obsession with cleanliness and health was bolstered by the production of rattan wicker furniture in America beginning in the 1840s.
The frame: Check the frame carefully before buying, especially with an older piece of wicker. Experts can repair damage to the woven part of a wicker piece rather easily, but repairing a frame is a major job.
You may find antique wicker pieces with hardwood frames, but most frames today are made of either solid core rattan (preferable) or aluminium. If you’re buying a metal frame, welded is stronger than bolted.
Construction materials: Rattan is the most common material in “wooden” wicker pieces. It is the trunk of a climbing palm that is very long and thin, like a vine. The vine is native to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and grows to lengths of up to 600 feet. Because rattan is a solid core plant, it makes sturdy furniture. Treated rattan pieces can be used in outdoor spaces that are protected from direct sun and rain, such as screened in porches or covered gazebos. Bamboo is a large tropical grass that commonly grows to over 100 feet. It is easy to identify because of the nodes along its surface and its hollow stem. Willow is more commonly used in Europe than in North America. The wood is light and durable and, because it retains its natural moisture, it is long lasting and easily woven. Fiberglass and resins are synthetic materials that are formed into long narrow vine-like pieces and woven into wicker furniture. Because dyes are often mixed right in with the resins, the color of such furniture is not subject to the same peeling and flaking that a painted piece is. Its durability and ease of care have given this type of wicker a permanent place in outdoor decorating.
Where to use it: Any non-resin wicker piece that is marked as "indoor use" only has probably been coated with a clear lacquer finish that will prevent scratching but will not provide adequate protection from the outdoor elements. Use it as advised – indoors. Limited exposure wicker furniture, intended for use on screened-in or covered outdoor areas, has additional finish layers. Highest quality pieces will have leather wrapped joints on the frame. All-weather wicker can be divided into two categories: loom-woven and synthetic. Loom woven wicker pieces use natural materials such as rattan, but are dipped in resin emulsions to form a moisture resistant shield. Synthetic wicker pieces, made from fiberglass or resin, often contain UV inhibitors that repel the damaging effects of the sun, harsh weather and temperature changes. Whether natural or synthetic, all-weather wicker will likely have aluminium frames. Even all-weather pieces should be put in storage for the winter months if you live in a cold climate.
With this information, you should be able to choose the wicker furniture that suits your intended purpose.
About the Author
Debbie Rodgers owns and operates Paradise Porch, and is dedicated to helping people create outdoor living spaces that nurture and enrich them. Visit her on the web at www.paradiseporch.com and get a free report on “Eight easy ways to create privacy in your outdoor space”. Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org