Wicker furniture dates back to 3000 B.C., when Egyptians used it to create everything from baskets and wig boxes to chests and chairs. Roman emperors later adopted the technique and developed their own styles of wicker furnishings. From there, wicker spread throughout Europe, becoming especially popular during the Victorian era. Victorians believed the raw wicker to be more sanitary than upholstered furniture, which collects more dust, and they used it both indoors and outdoors.
The history of wicker in the United States goes all the way back to the first settlers who carried wicker furniture to the new land on the Mayflower. However, it was not until the mid 19th century that wicker truly became popular in the U.S. As wicker became more popular, a wicker loom that wove and installed cane seats was produced to increase production.
In the 1900s tastes changed and styles tended to be more minimalistic, featuring clean lines and overall simplicity. The elaborately decorative wicker furniture reminiscent of the Victorian era were no longer relevant in modern homes. Some more simplistic wicker pieces began to permeate the world of furniture, but wicker remained in the periphery for several years until 1960s and 1970s, when it reemerged as demands for outdoor furniture began to increase. However, the delicately woven wicker of the Victorian era remained in the past as wicker was woven more tightly, producing a more elegant and smoother finish.
This reemergence of wicker has continued steadily in recent years as it is a popular choice for outdoor living spaces. In 2005 one third of the $150 billion Americans spent remodeling their homes was spent on outdoor living spaces, including everything from grills, built-in full-service kitchens, and of course comfortable wicker furniture for lounging. Its light weight and summery feel make it appropriate for patios and outdoor kitchens. The open weave of the natural materials allows air to permeate and prevents it from retaining heat. The natural give in the materials also makes the furniture more comfortable than more solid, synthetic seating.
However, wicker furniture is not exclusive to the outdoors. Wicker can furnish sunrooms, dens and even bedrooms. Contemporary wicker furniture often includes smooth, straight contours and comfortable cushions and is available in a variety of colors and styles. Black, beige and dark brown are popular choices that fit nicely in a contemporary living space. Herringbone and other decorative weaves create furniture that is both elegant and casual—everything from sectionals, armchairs, coffee tables to dining sets.
Another modern-day use of wicker is as a partition wall between indoor and outdoor living spaces. These partitions create and easy transition from one space to the next rather than an abrupt change from interior to exterior.
Wicker has come a long way since ancient Egypt when reed and swamp grass growing along the Nile were woven together to create vessels and furniture. Today’s wicker is generally made from rattan, reed, willow or bamboo, giving it more strength and durability than the wicker of ancient Egypt. Rattan, a popular choice because of its durability, is one of the strongest types of wood in the world. When used for wicker furniture, the rattan pole is cut into long strips. The natural materials are generally sealed with a polyester finish allowing the materials to maintain their flexibility but preventing cracking and peeling of the fibers. Sometimes rattan is used as the frame, and other materials like willow, rush or banana leaf are woven over and between the rattan. Synthetic wicker is also popular due to its weather resistance and durability. In these cases steel or aluminum frames are wrapped in resin or vinyl.
With its light weight, natural comfort and consistent versatility, it’s no surprise that wicker has been a furnishing favorite from ancient Egypt to the present day.