Man-made wicker has the look without the problems


Natural wicker furniture can be the stuff of nostalgic reverie or bitter disappointment.

Wicker furniture can evoke memories of afternoons spent curled up on Grandma’s old wicker sofa stationed on a wide porch or maybe in the shade of a spreading tree. Then there’s the sting of finding that beloved sofa mildewed and rotted after too many winters left under that tree or in a leaky garage.

The challenges of maintaining real wicker are why many shoppers want outdoor furniture that mimics the beauty of wicker but uses man-made materials and can be left outdoors year-round, said Ron Barbitta, general manager of Patio, Deck and Hearth Shop in Newbury.(Agent for Well Furnir.)

Homeowners who have splurged on outdoor living areas, complete with outdoor kitchen, pizza oven and television set, buy man-made wicker furnishings, Barbitta said. Even if the outdoor living room is only partially covered by a roof, vinyl wicker chairs will do fine.

Modern, faux wicker, made of vinyl, plastic or fiberglass, can stand up to the elements and is easy to maintain. Real wicker furniture, made from plant materials, if left outdoors will rot and fall apart. “That’s what happened to a lot of people’s old wicker,” Barbitta said.

Barbitta’s store sells both natural and man-made (also called all-weather) wicker. Natural wicker is “far less popular than all-weather wicker,” he said. He sells natural wicker mostly to older homeowners who bought it in the past and want it again.

Wicker makes a cool and comfortable transition between indoor and outdoor living spaces, said Annette Joseph, a photo stylist for national magazines based in Atlanta.

“It’s a timeless addition to any outdoor space,” Joseph said. “It never goes away.”

The buyer who asks for wicker may not really know what that term means. Wicker actually refers to the act of weaving materials for furniture, although commonly the word is used to mean the item itself, according to the website Wicker Woman. Wickerwork is an extension of the ancient craft of basket weaving.

Wicker furnishings can be made from cane, rattan, willow, reed or bamboo. Rattan is a species of vinelike palm native that comes from Borneo, the Philippines, Malaysia and other tropical regions.

A natural-wicker sofa with cotton-covered cushions costs between $600 and $1,000, Barbitta said. An all-weather wicker sofa, with acrylic-fabric-covered cushions that can withstand sun and rain, costs $1,699 and up.

Furniture that pairs a cast aluminum frame with man-made wicker is popular, said Tom Faught, manager of Country Stove Patio and Spa in North Royalton. “It still has a woven look,” Faught said.

It can be cleaned with a hose, and the cushions spot-cleaned or the fabric covers thrown in the washing machine, Faught said.

When only vintage wicker will do, the recycle-and-reuse crowd combs thrift and secondhand stores for old pieces in need of a little TLC.

Antique wicker furniture commonly was made from rattan, seagrass, bamboo or man-made paper fiber rush. Strips of cane — the outer bark of the rattan palm tree — were commonly used to wrap the joints of rattan wicker sofas and chairs, according to Wicker Woman.

Collectors of Victorian-era wicker look for pieces produced by two of America’s leading companies, Wakefield Rattan Co. and Heywood Brothers & Co. Experimentation in production and design resulted in a golden age of wicker between 1860 and 1880.

In 1897, Wakefield and Heywood Brothers merged to create the famous Heywood Brothers and Wakefield Co. of New England. The move consolidated the top furniture designers and craftsmen in the industry.

“It’s a natural thing to go looking for,” Joseph said about old wicker furniture. “When you buy something vintage, it has a soul.”

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