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Rattan furniture is made from rattan canes or vines, a species of palm that is very similar to bamboo. Because it is relatively inexpensive, lightweight, extremely durable and has an exotic aesthetic, rattan is a popular choice for home décor. It is flexible enough for both indoor and outdoor use.
Rattan is one of the strongest woods in nature, has a solid core and grows wildly and abundantly in Southeast Asia. To turn it into furniture, the rattan canes must be cut into manageable sections, usually 12 to 18 feet (about 3.7 to 5.5 meters), and then steamed until it is soft enough to bend and shape. To hold the canes in place, the outside peel of the cane is usually stripped and then used to tie the pieces together in sections. This outside skin is also very durable, yet pliable.
Its exotic nature makes rattan furniture especially appropriate for use in rooms with a tropical or Asian theme. Although it is often used as outdoor furniture for patios or lanais, rattan furniture is manufactured for indoor use as well, with many companies offering dining sets, living room sets and even bedroom suites made of rattan. Virtually any furniture can be made from rattan, from chairs and sofas to desks and bed frames. Rattan takes paint and stain easily, so it’s easy to adjust rattan furniture when redecorating.
Many rattan companies can be found in Asia, including Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. While the rattan is typically treated and prepared for furniture use in these countries, the material is not usually made into furniture there. Asian companies export the treated wood to other manufacturers that then make the material into furniture.
Rattan furniture is easy to maintain. Unlike furniture made of wood, it does not require periodic moisturizing with oil and will retain its shape, color and strength for a number of years. Cleaning rattan is as easy as wiping it with a damp cloth; no special chemicals or materials are required. Unlike metal lawn chairs and tables, rattan stands up well to all weather conditions and can be left outside.
Contrary to popular belief, rattan and wicker are not interchangeable terms. Rattan is a type of wood while wicker is a style of weaving that uses different materials such as straw or bamboo to cover pieces of furniture. Wicker may be woven over a rattan base, however.