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Buyers Guide To Rattan Furniture

garden furniture buying guide


Warm weather is here again, and people all over the UK are thinking of buying new home and garden furniture. Light, durable and fashionable rattan furniture is a natural choice, but do you know everything you need to select the right rattan furniture for your needs? If you’re not sure, this guide should help!

History of rattan furniture

Rattan has a long history both as an indoor and outdoor furniture material. But what is rattan, and what is rattan furniture made of?black rattan furniture with vanilla cushions
First, let’s define ‘rattan’: Rattan actually refers to more than 600 different species of climbing pants which have traditionally been used to make furniture, baskets, shelters and other structures. It is derived from the Malay word ‘rotan’. The same material is also called ‘manila’ or ‘malacca’ elsewhere in the world, after the shipping ports it passed through before being sold.

What is rattan furniture made of?

The rattan definition you are most interested in is for a type of furniture. Rattan wicker is a type of woven material which is made from the inner core of rattan stems.
Sections of many species of rattan liana can also be cut into sections and built into light, sturdy furniture. Though not technically a ‘wood’, rattan does accept paints and stains well, and treated just like a wood in many ways.

Where is rattan furniture made?

Today, rattan furniture is made all over the world. However, South East Asia still produces a large proportion of the rattan wicker furniture that the world consumes, as that is the natural environment of almost all of the most effective varieties of rattan plants. Even when rattan furniture is manufactured elsewhere, odds are that the rattan itself was grown in and exported form South East Asia originally.


Why buy rattan furniture?

brown rattan chair seatRattan wicker furniture first became popular in the west around the Victorian era, and has never gone out of style. People like rattan furniture because it has a natural, organic look and feel, and because it has the durability needed for outdoor furniture coupled with the comfort needed for indoor pieces.

Sturdy, light and inexpensive

When asked why they buy rattan furniture, many people cite its light weight and its lower expense compared to other, similarly durable options. Because it is both sturdy and inexpensive, it is perfect for taxing environments like the garden, or in heavy-use areas like playrooms. An added bonus is that rattan furniture is light enough that it is unlikely to injure children, even if it should topple onto them as they play.

Weather resistant and low maintenance

Rattan furniture is especially well suited to outdoor use. Unlike other natural materials (such as wood), rattan requires no oils, preservatives, paints or other treatments to stay strong and attractive for years. If your rattan furniture ever does become dirty, a simply spraying off with the hose or wiping with a wet cloth should be all you need.


The difference between rattan and wicker

brown rattan sofaOf course, rattan wicker is one of the most popular types, and with good reason. Nonetheless, you can have non-rattan wicker, and even non-wicker rattan. We’ve defined ‘rattan’ above, so let’s turn out attention to ‘wicker’

Wicker definition

There is no such thing as a ‘wicker furniture material’. Wicker is a technique, not a material. Wicker means weaving anything from any cane-like material. This includes rattan to be sure, but you could make wicker furniture out of anything reed-like. Bamboo, straw, willow and other natural materials are quite common, but plastics and other man-made wicker material types are also available. One could even weave a chair or basket out of steel wire and legitimately call it ‘wicker’

What is rattan wicker?

As you might expect, rattan wicker is simply the technique of weaving an object or piece of furniture (wicker) out of rattan stem cores. Rattan wicker furniture, then, is any piece of furniture made of rattan wicker – or woven rattan stem cores.


Natural vs. Synthetic Rattan

brown rattan sofa with coffee cushionsThis is where the definitions get more complicated. As ‘rattan wicker furniture’ is wicker furniture woven of rattan material, ‘synthetic rattan wicker furniture’ is woven of synthetic rattan. In the same way that natural rattan garden furniture is lightweight, durable and easy to clean, synthetic rattan garden furniture seeks to be ‘all that and more’.
Natural rattan outdoor furniture is still an organic material, and will eventually succumb to mould and decay. Synthetic rattan outdoor furniture avoids this, extending its lifespan even farther.

What is synthetic rattan made of?

There are several types of synthetic rattan-alternative, so there are several answers to ‘what is synthetic rattan made of’. Each is best suited to different types of rattan furniture.

What is plastic rattan made of?

Plastic rattan is simply a plastic material which is woven just like natural rattan cores. It is often woven around either a wood or steel wire frame, which can negatively affect its lifespan if used as outdoor furniture.

What is rattan effect made of?

‘Rattan effect’ is just another way of saying ‘synthetic rattan’. It will typically be plastic, vinyl or some other man-made material, woven into a wicker, with the intention of resembling natural rattan closely.

What is PE rattan made of?

PE rattan is a type of synthetic rattan made of polyethylene (sometimes called PE).

What is poly rattan furniture?

‘Poly rattan’ can refer to several different synthetic rattan alternatives. It could be PE (as above), it could be polyurethane (PU), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or nearly any other artificial polymer. In the end, the answer to ‘what is poly rattan furniture’ is simply ‘furniture made of artificial rattan wicker.’

Different styles
of rattan furniture

top view of rattan armchair

You can’t really ask ‘what style is rattan furniture?’ Rattan is a material, and it can be used to make many different styles of furniture. Over the years, many different rattan furniture
styles have been developed, and many of them are still popular today.

Modern rattan garden furniture sets

Modern garden furniture (also called ‘contemporary style’) is not a single style in the classic sense, but rather a catch-all category for any rattan furniture sets currently available which do not specifically belong to any other style, such as ‘vintage’ Victorian style rattan, or the ‘true modern’ styles developed in the 1950s and 60s.

Vintage rattan furniture sets

When you ask ‘what is vintage rattan furniture’, you have to make clear is you are referring to A) rattan furniture designed and built more than 20 years ago or new furniture designed in that style.
Rattan is durable, but unless it had very gentle owners and spent its entire service life indoors in very dry conditions, actual vintage rattan would be of very little utility.

Victorian rattan furniture sets

Rattan first became popular in Europe and the UK in the Victorian era, when trade really opened up with SE Asia. As such, the styles of the time have been associated with the material ever since.

What to look for when buying the best rattan furniture

black rattan furnitureLike any furniture purchase, you have to consider more than just the piece or set itself before you buy rattan furniture. You have to consider how, where and why the furniture will be used. You have to consider the space and aesthetic it will be occupying as well.

Where you are using it?

Weather resistance and easy cleaning become very important factors when buying rattan garden furniture. You might even prefer heavier pieces to light ones, as the wind will be less likely to knock them over. The best buy rattan garden furniture might even be synthetic, if it is of high enough quality.

If you are buying rattan furniture for a conservatory, then comfort and décor become higher priorities. It won’t get rained on very often in doors, after all. What is the best rattan furniture for conservatories? Consider light, airy, Victorian styles pieces.

If you are buying for other rooms in the home, your biggest concern will be finding pieces which merge well with the space and existing furniture. The wrong wicker chair in a sitting room looks less ‘avant garde’ then it does ‘university student on a budget’. The best rattan furniture in this case might be decidedly modern and up-scale.

How to tell if your rattan
furniture set is high quality

brown rattan reclining chairBuying high quality rattan furniture can be tricky, unless you know exactly what to look for.

UV stabilised

If you are using your wicker furniture outdoors or in a conservatory, you’ll want to make sure it is resistant to UV radiation. This is especially important if it is a synthetic rattan, as un-stabilised plastics break down quickly in the sun.

Powder-coated frame

If you choose furniture with a steel frame, make sure the steel is powder-coated to increase its weather and rust resistance. Again, this is doubly important if the furniture will be exposed to rain and damp.

Tight weave

Consider the tightness and overall quality of the furniture’s wicker weave. If the weave is not tight and solid, you should be suspicious of the workmanship.

Variegation of colour

This is especially important if you are have chosen natural rattan. Make sure the entire piece is a uniform shade and colour, whether it is stained, painted or has a natural finish. It is also worth making sure the finish is uniform between all the different pieces in the set.

So, now you know a bit more about rattan in general, and what to look for when buying rattan furniture. Choose wisely, though, as a good set of rattan garden furniture will last you many years!

P.S. – We would love to hear how you’re enjoying your indoor or outdoor rattan furniture. You can even send pictures of your furniture in situ to: You might even be featured in one of our articles!
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