Pics: Ways with wicker

By . Time of article published Feb 25, 2016

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Johannesburg - These days we prefer our homes to be light, perhaps white, with strong, clean lines and an absence of clutter.

But modern abodes would look all too clinical without texture and colour in soft furnishings and furniture.

Making a big textural impact is wicker and rattan furniture, once a charming attraction on your tannie's stoep or in your gogo's garden but now making a comeback, indoors and out, in traditional designs and shapes that belong firmly in the 21st century.

Wicker refers to the process of weaving materials such as willow, bamboo, cane, rattan and rush. Now wicker is made of durable synthetics too, for outdoor use.

Rattan, thin-jointed stems of a palm tree grown in the tropical rain forests of Indonesia and South-East Asia, was the most popular material used in wicker furniture, which would be produced mostly in Hong Kong or the Philippines and exported worldwide.

It would typically be seen in colonial homes mixed with upholstered furniture, with the wicker rocking chair a staple on many a porch.

“Wicker furniture is definitely making a comeback,” says Lee Reichman, merchandise director for Coricraft. “In the past, cane furniture was mainly used in secondary living areas, but with innovative new designs it can give any dining room, lounge, living area or covered patio a relaxed, comfortable and luxurious appeal.

“It adds texture to any area and layers beautifully with both fabric and leather pieces,” she adds. “Its natural tactility adds interest and dimension and it's also ideal for both our climate and lifestyle.

“Traditionally produced in its natural state, wicker furniture today comes in an array of colours, with white being on trend. Most popular is natural, clear varnish, white and dark brown,” says Mellor.

Wicker harks to an age when handicrafts were revered. Craftsmen from all over the world wove beautiful, slightly creaky settees, chairs and tables and baskets, and years down the line they'd invariably become a bit wobbly and unravelled.

In the 1960s and 1970s there was a lot of wicker furniture around but it has never really lost its allure, and while wicker furniture is mostly synthetic these days, there are those who still yearn for the authentic, traditional-style wicker chair or table to add nostalgic sophistication to an indoor or outdoor ensemble.

This is what prompted William and Samantha Mellor to start Malawi Cane in Cape Town, selling and exporting Malawi-made cane furniture.

“In 2012, we were looking for patio furniture for our home in Camps Bay. We were amazed at the high prices charged for overly durable outdoor furniture. We weren't interested in a lifetime warranty' and just wanted something authentic and classic,” says Mellor.

He met a Malawian man selling handmade cane furniture on the side of the road. “The furniture was beautiful, original and very well priced. We formed a partnership and the rest, as they say, is history. We are now setting up a factory in Malawi to satisfy increased local and international demand,” he says.

Synthetic rattan is first choice for elegant outdoor settings these days. At online furniture retailer Cielo Lifestyle, for instance, its rattan Jasper hanging chair (R4 299) is a big seller.

“Rattan furniture is not only popular due to its low maintenance and UV resistance, it also brings a really authentic and cosy feel to all surroundings with its natural finish and earthy colours,” says Kyle Prinsloo of Cielo Lifestyle.

Go online and you'll see many upcycling projects in which old wicker is transformed by spraying it in white or striking hues.

Rattan and wicker is just as endearing in decorative objects, and if you look around you can see it in everything from picture frames to candle holders, and underplates to pendant lights.

So if you're in the market for something yesteryear but modern, consider beautiful, stylish wicker.


Helen Grange, The Star

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