The History of Rattan and Wicker Furniture

The History ofWicker Furniture

Wicker is not a modern marvel; the wicker furniture history is a long and storied legacy that dates back a millennium. Read below to learn about the origins of this age-old material and how it has advanced to the American rattan furniture we know today.

Ancient Egyptian origins

According to, the first known use of wicker was in ancient Egypt circa 3000 B.C. Archaeologists who have studied and explored the area extensively have found furniture made from reeds and swamp grasses. Most likely the materials for this furniture were found along the shores of the Nile River. Some different types of furniture that were made from the earliest forms of wicker include chests, baskets, wig boxes, and chairs.

Ancient Rome

The use of wicker eventually became known in other parts of the ancient world and before long the Roman Empire began using it as well. The Romans appreciated the simplicity and style of wicker furniture. Eventually, Roman emperors began using wicker to create their own furniture styles.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

The popularity of wicker grew in many European countries during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This growth in popularity was mainly due to sea travelers who developed an appreciation for the Roman culture and wicker in particular. These explorers took the wicker with them and allowed its use to spread throughout the continent. Their travels to Southeast Asia introduced them to rattan, a similar material that was stronger and more durable than the wicker with which they were already familiar.

Victorian England

Wicker was the perfect material for Victorian England. During this era, the English were concerned with cleanliness and sanitation. Since wicker was easy to clean and did not collect dust like upholstered furniture, it was a perfect choice for them to use for furniture both inside and outside of the house. Further, its simple nature combined with its flexibility allowed the Victorians to use the wicker for a many different styles and designs of their furniture.

Wicker in the United States

Wicker has been in the United States since before the states were united. Pilgrims brought wicker with them on the Mayflower. However, the popularity of wicker in the New World did not expand until the mid-1850s. The most common form of wicker that was used in the 1800s was rattan, as it was used to hold cargo on trading ships that were headed to Asia.

Cyrus Wakefield

During this time, Cyrus Wakefield discovered large amounts of rattan on the shipping docks in Boston. He immediately recognized the potential of it for various uses. He began his own rattan importing company and had lots of the material shipped directly to the United States. Not only was it widely used to make baskets and furniture, Wakefield began designing his own line of American rattan furniture. Before long he became the industry leader in constructing wicker furniture. He is now considered the father of American wicker furniture.

Production automation

One downfall of early American production of wicker furniture was its time-intensive nature. Hand-weaving furniture is time-consuming, so production was quite limited. But, by the late 1860s, a loom was created that sped production of the furniture by automatically weaving and installing the chair seats. The automation resulted in a reduction in production costs and an increase in competition between Wakefield and his competition, the Heywood Brothers. Eventually, the two companies merged to become a wicker furniture industry giant.

Decline in popularity

In the early 20th century, interest in wicker furniture began to decline due to styles changing to less ornate, simpler designs. To keep up with the times, Wakefield and Heywood attempted to redesign their furniture in the more modern mission style, but popularity waned again during the Great Depression. Wakefield and Heywood made attempts at producing less-expensive synthetic wicker and later moved to wood and metal furniture but eventually were forced to close their doors for good in 1979.

The 1960s and ‘70s

The mid-to-late 20th century brought a resurgence in the popularity of wicker. Homeowners began clamoring for outdoor furniture that had an “old style” feel to it, and wicker furniture fit the bill. The resurgence held its ground and wicker furniture remains a mainstay on porches and decks throughout the country.

Current wicker furniture

Although the resurgence of wicker furniture has its roots in the old style it was created in, current incarnations of wicker furniture have a much more modern look and feel to them. Today’s wicker furniture is more in tune with the lifestyles of today’s families.  For those who like to dine al fresco, there are many choices of outdoor dining sets. People who like to entertain can get a lot of use from outdoor wicker seating. There are even comfy chaise lounges made of wicker for those who like to recline during their down time. There are so many options of wicker furniture; it is hard to not find something to like.

Wicker furniture certainly has come a long way over the millennium. Thankfully, it is still going strong after all these years. If you are looking for some wicker furniture to spice up your outdoor area, check out what Design Furnishings has to offer.

We have an extensive array of wicker furniture to suit everyone’s tastes and needs. Check us out today!