Rattan and wicker furniture tend to get a bit of a bad rap, often associated with kitschy 1980s decor or denigrated as something found in the home of a dowdy great aunt. But the long-lasting natural medium, made popular in Great Britain and the United States during the Victorian era, is a master of disguise, able to mingle with a wide range of styles — when done the right way.
Enter interior designers Celerie Kemble and Angie Hranowsky, who are devotees of the timeless material. Here, they shatter preconceived notions about rattan and share tips on how to effortlessly weave it into your home.
“If anyone says rattan isn’t the most beautiful, versatile thing in the world of furniture, screw ’em,” Kemble says when referencing her love of the material, which gets regular starring roles in homes the Palm Beach– and New York–based interior designer dreams up for clients. “Rattan and wicker is the equivalent to going to visit someone, and when they open the door, they’re barefoot. You suddenly feel like, ‘Oh, phew,’ because they’re welcoming you into their home to hang out rather than socialize. It’s softening and disarming.”
If you believe rattan is an outdoor-specific material, Hranowsky encourages you to think again. “I use it in just about every room,” she says. “I like to mix it into more formal living and dining rooms to add a relaxed vibe to those spaces. Try mixing vintage and antique rattan with modern and antique furniture to give your interiors a more interesting, collected look.” The designer also suggests easing into the aesthetic by pairing unobtrusive pieces — like a small rattan drinks table or magazine holder — with existing furniture, like a traditional armchair.
Opt for Pairs
Say you have a vintage rattan piece, how do you make it play nice with your existing decor? Kemble advises bringing in the material in pairs. “I would tell people to get two of anything, so that it has a cross reference in a room,” she says. “If they wanted to get, say, chairs, they should get a set. That or bring in something else in the room like a rattan box or planter or mirror. It’s all in the balance.”
Make It Modern
Hranowsky knows how to take rattan and wicker furniture from frumpy to fabulous. “If you’re working with a chair or a sofa, for instance, simply adding a seat cushion or pillows, or going all in with a new upholstery job in a current fabric, can go a long way toward making the piece feel more modern,” says the Charleston, South Carolina, interior designer. “If a piece is old or just not in great condition, you can also paint it to give it a whole new life.”
“People often say they’re afraid of using rattan because they imagine it a certain way,” adds Kemble. “It doesn’t have to look like jungle furniture. There’s a whole spectrum of designs.”
She is quick to reference some of her own favorites: “There’s French Riviera style that’s a little more country house, refined. Then there’s Scandinavian mid-century mod. You can go 1930s Paul Frankl Deco or more Manhattan ’70s Billy Baldwin. A vast vocabulary exists around this material, and if you do your research you’ll see that in the hands of all these decades and furniture styles, there’s a lot out there. If someone says they don’t like rattan, I can always pull up a style they didn’t think of that would change their minds.”