The Difference Between Rattan and Wicker, and Which You Should Choose

The Difference Between Rattan and Wicker, and Which You Should Choose
Photo: brizmaker, Shutterstock

Fans of the Golden Girls should be familiar with the type of natural, woven style of furniture in the photo above. But what’s it called? The Girls refer to it as “wicker,” but it also looks a lot like the trendy rattan furniture we’ve been seeing so much of lately. Is “rattan” just a fancier way of saying “wicker,” or is there more of a difference? Savannah Sher breaks it down for us in an article on BobVila.com. Here’s what to know.

The difference between rattan and wicker

Given the explosion in popularity in rattan and wicker furniture over the past few years, you’d think we’d know the difference by now, but it’s not as easy as you’d think. That’s because a lot of the time, the two words are used interchangeably, even though it doesn’t always work that way. Here’s what to keep in mind.

Wicker is a style, rattan is a material

So that’s the main distinction right there. Though we might think of wicker as a material, it’s actually the name of the of weave that’s used when making wicker items, like furniture and baskets. Rattan, on the other hand, is the material, and it comes from certain species of palms. (Making it an ideal choice for four mature women living in Miami.)

While wicker furniture certainly can be made from rattan, at this point, “wicker” has become an umbrella term for most types of woven furniture. So in addition to rattan, wicker furniture and products can be made out of bamboo, reed, and synthetic materials, like resin.

A closer look at rattan

Speaking of bamboo, what’s the difference between bamboo and rattan? Though they make look similar when used in furniture, bamboo is hollow in the middle, while rattan is solid. Both of the materials are pretty light, making them much easier to move than traditional furniture.

And if you’ve noticed that rattan furniture has both the solid wood parts, and thinner, webbed areas too, they’re actually made from the same material (rattan). The cane (thin part) is the outer layer of the rattan, and thanks to being both durable and flexible, is commonly used for making chairs.

When to use rattan vs. wicker

It all comes down to where and how you’re going to use the furniture. Any furniture or decor that lives outdoors should be made from a synthetic material. Natural rattan (or bamboo, reeds, etc) can sustain water damage if left outside. Instead, keep those pieces indoors. For the same reason, you should be careful with natural rattan in rooms where water is used frequently, like kitchens and bathrooms.

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