“If you are a fan of wicker furniture, might as well we give a little throwback of this particular furniture. Let’s look how it all started and how it became one of the most loved furniture in the world despite of the new furniture in the market today.”
Wicker furniture might seem like an invention of the Victorian era, but that’s just when it hit the English and American markets. In fact, wicker is one of the oldest methods of making furniture, common all over the world for thousands of years. But wait, I’ll bet you’re wondering what wicker is exactly, am I right? So let’s define our terms, and take a quick look at the history of wicker.
Wicker is the term for the product of weaving any number of natural materials, including rattan, cane, willow and raffia, among other plant fibers. The material is typically cut into strips of proper width, dried, then soaked in water to make it flexible before it is woven into wicker. So in other words, wicker can refer to anything that’s woven, while, say, rattan refers to anything made specifically from the rattan plant.
Although modern wicker is not necessarily made of rattan, it often is, because rattan is stronger and more durable than reeds and other fibers. Last week, we discussed cane, which is the outer skin of rattan. Rattan wicker furniture is typically made from the tough inner core, or pith, of the rattan vine, woven around a solid rattan or wood structure.
Wicker is an ancient craft that initially developed as basket weaving. Delicately woven rush or reed furniture was buried with pharaohs in ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamen (ca. 1341-1323 BC), who was buried with several examples of wicker, from a chair seat to a headboard to a stool (image 2). The Romans were inspired by Egyptian woven furniture, and adopted wicker as their own furniture technique, spreading the style across their empire.
By the 17th century in Northern Europe, wicker began to look much like it does today. In Holland, wicker was considered particularly appropriate for baby-related furniture, including cribs, bassinets and low-slung nursing chairs (image 4). It was also used for high-backed or hooded chairs, like porter’s chairs, favored by the infirm and elderly (image 3). Wicker was considered a healthful material, more breathable and comfortable than solid wood, and more hygienic than upholstery. It didn’t hurt that wicker was also pretty cheap, natural fibers being an inexpensive alternative to timber.
During the next couple of centuries, the rise of trade with Asia brought rattan to the West, introducing a stronger material that lent itself to wicker work. Imperialism also contributed to a new perception of wicker as exotic and Eastern, since European colonists encountered the technique in Southeast Asia. Rattan wicker was an ideal material for tropical locales, since it wouldn’t warp or crack in heat and humidity.
Wicker furniture soon spread across the British Empire, from India to the West Indies, and to England itself, where it was associated with a safely civilized exoticism that captivated the …