For Mother's Day, wouldn't it be nice to add a colorful wicker or rattan chair to the home? Toss a pillow or two on the chair, and you'll make mom happy!

You can find pieces in many magazines and catalogs, such as Serena & Lily, and locally at Adourn in Chatfield and other area shops, but the fun is in the hunt at thrift shops, garage sales, flea markets, antique malls and more. You just need to know your price range and what you're looking for. And if you don't want to do the painting yourself, some folks have done the work for you.

A new natural rattan chair on display at Adourn in Chatfield. (Contributed photo)
A new natural rattan chair on display at Adourn in Chatfield. (Contributed photo)

There's nothing new about wicker, as it dates as far back as 4000 B.C., when the Egyptians made wicker baskets and coffins, but it was a Boston fellow named Cyrus Wakefield who introduced Americans to anything and everything made of wicker and rattan. Wakefield first used rattan that had been offloaded from ships, where it was used as ballast to keep the cargo from moving on the open waters, but as his designs became well-known, he began importing the material himself.

In 1855, Wakefield opened a factory to make wicker furniture, but he was not the only wicker maker — his competitors were the five Heywood brothers of Gardner, Mass., who later merged with him.

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According to the “Antique Wicker: Price Guide” by Heywood-Wakefield Company, pieces marked with “Wakefield,” “Heywood” or any of the name combinations leading to the modern Heywood-Wakefield Company are the most desirable. Other major manufacturers include American Rattan Company and Paine’s Furniture Company.

Rattan is not the same as wicker; it's a naturally renewable palm that grows in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Australia, and is used for furniture, handicrafts, and building material. Rattan continues to be an invaluable part of rural peoples' livelihoods in South and Southeast Asia.

In the 1970s, rattan was everywhere — chairs, baskets, patio furniture, and more. Most was confined to porches, since the vintage pieces were not waterproof, but today, new pieces and material make it waterproof.

Some pieces are easily found, such as Lloyd Loom wicker chairs, starting at $250. Some pieces were not always marked, and those that were not generally had a paper label (most have fallen off). With so many new pieces that are being reproduced to look like the aged wicker and rattan, more folks are using it year round and finding it within their price range.

A rattan vase and other rattan items on display at Adourn in Chatfield. (Contributed photo)
A rattan vase and other rattan items on display at Adourn in Chatfield. (Contributed photo)

With the new wicker being made in the old styles, it is easily mistaken for antique pieces. Age can be determined in various ways. For example, old pieces are usually heavier and sturdier than newer pieces, because they were built on hardwood frames. If a piece is made of reed, the material on your older finds is smooth, but the new reed is thinner and can look slightly fuzzy.

Wicker, rattan and even grass cloth furniture will remain classic for 2021, as shown in design magazines and specialty shops. And if you're thinking of the “Golden Girls”-style wicker and rattan, think again! Woven furniture is in style and versatile, with texture and warmth, which makes it easy to work with.

A green wicker chair with pillows from a previous sale at The Backyard Flea in Spring Valley. (Contributed photo)
A green wicker chair with pillows from a previous sale at The Backyard Flea in Spring Valley. (Contributed photo)

Carol Thouin, of Spring Valley is always on the lookout for wicker or rattan pieces.

“I then clean, paint, add pillows, and ask around $22 to $32 for chairs," she said. "I feel that anyone can collect and paint wicker and rattan.”

Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at life@postbulletin.com.