The history of rattan


Where does rattan come from?

A close, fast-growing relative of the palm family, rattan is indigenous to tropical parts of Australia, Asia and Africa. It grows from the forest floor, scaling fruit, cedar and rubber trees, and is harvested and processed by farmers. There are about 600 species in total.

What is rattan used for?

Rattan isn’t just suitable for furniture; certain types are edible, and it’s often collected to build housing in more rural areas. It’s strong and pliable, which is why it’s commonly used in basket-weaving and to make woven products, such as storage boxes, coasters and placemats.

Some species bear fruit that produces a red resin, known as ‘dragon’s blood’. The resin is collected and transformed into varnishes, pigments and incense, used in everything from traditional medicine to musical instruments (violins get their cherry red finish from natural rattan dyes).

What is the difference between rattan and wicker?

Rattan is a plant, whereas wicker is a weaving process used to create hand-crafted items. Rattan accessories will always be woven from rattan whereas wicker products can be constructed from bamboo, straw or willow.

Can rattan furniture be used outdoors?

Rattan furniture can be used outdoors, but it should be covered when not in use and brought inside during winter. It isn’t weatherproof and will crack and eventually break if exposed to the rain and direct sunlight for extended periods.

Luckily, there are some great synthetic rattans. Our all-weather ‘rattan’ is made from non-rusting aluminium, with an artificial resin coating; it’s so realistic, you’d never be able to tell it apart from the real thing. Most outdoor sets, sun loungers and armchairs are made from all-weather ‘rattan’.

Is rattan furniture durable?

Rattan has a naturally solid core, which makes it ideal for interiors. Natural rattan is strong,  but it isn’t showerproof, so we recommend keeping pieces made from non-synthetic varieties indoors.

How to clean rattan furniture

Clean your rattan accessories with a duster or vacuum cleaner and wipe using a soft cloth dipped in warm water. We have an entire section in our product care guide devoted to all-weather ‘rattan’ furniture. Discover how to keep your outdoor pieces in top condition.

You may be wondering why we have such a soft spot for this material.

The OKA Founders launched our first catalogue twenty years ago. In it was a small selection of hand-crafted accessories and storage, inspired by ancient designs from the Far East. Fast-forward two decades and a lot has changed, but not their love of rattan.