A Short History: Rattan

Craftsmanship, Products

First discovered buried with pharaohs in ancient Egypt, wicker is an ancient craft that uses raw materials originally developed for basket weaving.  Later, the Romans were inspired by Egyptian woven furniture, and adopted wicker as their own technique, spreading the style across their empire.

Fast forward to the 17th century in Northern Europe – and wicker began to look much like it does today.

Over 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. This style of rattan 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 Victorians.

Photo of Paul Frankl, by Paulette Frankl

It is thought that rattan entered America through colonists who brought wicker and basket chairs with them. Paul Frankl was one of the first major designers to use rattan in modern design, breaking convention by introducing wicker into the dining room and intermixing with upholstered furniture.

As most of us already know, the 1960s and ’70s saw a huge appreciation for rattan. After a period where Victorian style decor was seen to be overly-sophisticated, this era witnessed a resurgence of ornate wicker furnishings, which resulted in a Renaissance of sorts as the beauty of wicker furniture was once again appreciated and welcomed inside the home.

Design and style icons such as Gabriella Crespi and Marella Agnelli lead the pack in blurring the lines between the haute bourgeois taste for expensive cosmopolitan decor and the rules of modern design. An often misunderstood craft, their bamboo and rattan inspired designs were limited, handcrafted, and niche – and intended for cultivated, sophisticated people with high taste.

Gabriella Crespi at Home, Photo by Matthieu Salvaing/OTTO

Gabriella Crespi’s personal life somewhat reflects that of her favourite medium: born into aristocracy, Crespi was regularly seen rubbing shoulders with royalty and celebrity alike and counted Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy among her closest friends.  However; underneath her glamorous social persona, her spiritual life had always been profound, and in the late ‘80s she ceased operations and relocated to India for 20 years in a quest for a deeper meaning for existence.

Today once again, we are seeing a wicker revival – and something tells us it’s here to stay. Our new Saronno collection is much like our favourite socialite; exuding both the allure and polish of an aristocratic Grande dame, and the soulful spirit of an inspired and gifted mind. Ranging from armchairs and stools, to coffee tables and chests of drawers, the collection is exotic and chic, pure and baroque: a perfect fusion of force and finesse.

Domingo Bench upholstered with Elba Stripe in Navy and Java Ceiling Light
Capitola Side Chair and Santa Barbara Desk with Prau Tray


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