My rattan bed from Made.com is – without a shadow of a doubt – the best piece of furniture I’ve ever bought. In fact, I have a bit of a love affair with rattan beds. But deciding on a big furniture buy can be difficult. With the higher price tag comes a bigger risk of feeling as though you’ve got it wrong. And I certainly worried that I was buying into a trend with the rattan bed.
But the resurgence of rattan and mid-century interiors aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Plus that bed makes me happy every time I walk into the bedroom. Which, for my money, means it was a good call.
What is rattan?
The short answer is: it’s a plant.
The long answer is: it’s a vine that grows in the tropical belts (Africa, Australia and Asia). Farmers peel the thin vines to create a flexible, sturdy material that can be woven.
The resulting woven material is strong and sturdy, with some flex. That can be reduced by setting into a strong wooden frame – so don’t worry that any rattan furniture will wobble around!).
It is lighter than wood but similarly long-lasting as a furniture-building material. Its main difference from wood is aesthetically. When woven, it can have an intricately patterned finish, and a warm organic tone.
But it’s not quite that simple – there are actually hundreds of species of rattan. And these days a lot of low-end rattan furniture (especially garden furniture) is “synthetic rattan” – plastic. Synthetic rattan is significantly less sustainable as the material will not biodegrade and involves fossil fuel burning in its manufacture.
So if you want the real deal, be sure to check the actual material.
What’s the difference between rattan and wicker?
You might see these terms used interchangeably. But rattan is not wicker and wicker is not rattan.
Rattan is the organic material itself (see above) that grows from the plant. Whereas wicker is actually a particular kind of weave pattern. Lots of furniture made from rattan uses a wicker weave style – but a lot of it also doesn’t. The French-style rattan weave, for example, (with a horizontal and vertical cross as well as a diamond cross, creating a pattern of tiny hexagons) is not “wicker”.
Whereas most garden furniture made of rattan does use a wicker weave. It’s a more simple ‘under-over’ style that results in a tight, weather-proof finish and little flex.
What style is rattan furniture?
You might associate rattan furniture with ’70s boho, or with French renaissance. But the truth is rattan furniture has been around for ages, so it actually spans most styles. Though of course it’s also fallen out of fashion at times too.
It was used around the world in early furniture history – as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, who wove rattan plants to make vessels and fans. But as far as contemporary furniture and interiors go, wicker became popular in the Victorian era.
It was particularly popular to paint rattan at this time – especially white. It prevailed throughout the Arts & Crafts movement, especially with more intricate and detailed weave patterns.
Rattan fell out of style in the early 20th century as the predilection was fore simpler, sleeker styles. But rattan was a big part of the German Bauhaus movement in the inter-war period. Iconic, era-defining pieces like the rattan recliner, Breuer chair and Cesca chair all catapulted rattan back onto the style agenda.
And post-war, the ’60s and ’70s brought about the Bohemian trend. This saw with softer and rounder rattan pieces like the iconic peacock chair and arched rattan shelf.
Where to buy rattan beds
As such a key trend piece, most furniture retailers have a rattan bed in their collection today. Some of my favourites who have great rattan pieces (and you’ll find them pulled out below) include Made.com, Anthropologie, West Elm, Zara and Wayfair.
Are rattan beds sturdy?
Rattan is a strong, capable furniture building material. There’s more flex in rattan panels than in solid wood, so you may find a little more movement in, say, a rattan headboard. For a stronger finish, choose a rattan piece with smaller pieces broken up by wooden framing.
How to style a rattan bed
Rattan is a neutral, organic base for a piece of furniture. So when it comes to choosing bedding and accessories, the world’s your oyster! Personally, I prefer muted earthy colours that show up in the rattan material itself – taupe, green, cream and grey will all look warm and relaxed. But a deep blue, crisp white or dusty pink also play beautifully against the tones of rattan.
Also consider the type of wood your rattan piece is made with – deep reddish cherry, strong black or pale oak will dramatically change the look.
The best rattan beds you can buy
If you’re in the market for a rattan bed, I’ve taken a look at what’s out there and pulled together links to all my favourites.