What is the best rattan furniture? You’ll need to know if you’re to make the most of a warm spell, when all your months toiling in the garden (having consulted our guides to the best lawnmowers and best secateurs) can finally pay off.
Rattan garden chairs have an upper-class cachet stretching back to the days of the Raj but they’ve since become central to our dreams of outdoor living, with the patio doors open, the barbecue going and a bottle of rosé chilling in an ice bucket . And if the weather doesn’t play ball, well, that’s what patio heaters are for.
Telegraph gardening writer Cinead McTernan is a rattan enthusiast. “I’ve managed to squeeze a modular corner sofa into my small city garden and it’s absolutely transformed how much we use our outdoor space,” she says.
“I went for synthetic polyethylene rattan because it’s so light and easy to look after – a quick blast with a pressure washer at the start of the season and you’re ready to go. Natural rattan does look more beautiful but isn’t as hard wearing and fades in the sunlight. I bought my set from Alice’s Garden, but if space wasn’t an issue, I’d go for something like Cox & Cox’s Hampton Corner Set.”
Not everyone is as familiar with the world of rattan as Cinead, so let’s cover some basics before we look at this year’s best.
What is better: rattan or wicker?
Trick question. Rattan is the material, wicker is the method. Wicker (from the Old Norse word vika, “to bend”) is the way of forming pliable natural fibers like willow, reed, grass or bark into furniture. In Asia it’s often done with the climbing palm rattan. Rattan wicker was so extensively imported in the 19th and 20th centuries from southeast Asia that we ended up using the word generically for woven furniture. Most of what’s sold now is PE rattan (polyethylene – also known as synthetic rattan or polyrattan).
“The properties are in between a plastic and a wax,” says Robert Bridgman, founder of Bridgman furniture store, which specializes in rattan furniture. “That gives it a very natural look and feel. It doesn’t look plasticky and it also has no toxins.”
What is the best type of rattan furniture?
As Cinead says, there’s an assumption that natural rattan is superior, but it’s not weatherproof and is only really suitable for sunny days. PE rattan can shrug off rain, snow and, as long as you give it an occasional light scrub with soapy water, mold and algae. But that’s not to say all synthetic rattan is the same.
Is rattan furniture long-lasting?
Bridgeman says you should beware of cheaper furniture where the synthetic rattan strands have been nailed onto the frame: when the nails rust, they will become weak points.
Stuart Isbister, co-founder of outdoor furniture specialists The Worm That Turned, says there is another way to assess rattan furniture: look at the shape of the strands.
“Flat-woven products are lighter and cheaper, but they probably won’t last as long as round weave. Flat weave will often sag in when you press your finger against it, particularly if it’s hot, since plastic becomes malleable with heat. And in some cases, brittle after a year or so.”
Another major factor to consider when buying rattan is the cushions, Stuart says. “They can now be made from things like textilene, which is an outdoor furnishing fabric. They’re a lot softer to the touch and they dry really quickly, so you can leave sofas outside without having to bring the cushions in. Cushions can be a significant part of the cost of garden furniture but it’s worth investing in. At the end of the day that’s what you’re sitting on.”
How we chose the best rattan garden furniture
The experts were our guide to the quality and durability of rattan furniture, but we also took into consideration price, style and a range of uses from sun lounging to outdoor entertaining. All the furniture below is chosen from the respective retailers’ most popular products. Some are longtime favorites with Telegraph readers, others are brand new for 2022.
At a glance: the best rattan garden furniture for 2022
The best rattan garden furniture
1. Made Belva corner sofa in natural polyrattan
Best rattan corner sofa
We like: rounded lines and holiday vibe
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.