Taking it outdoors with the furniture manufacturer Rattan House

Finding out why synthetic rattan furniture is the best bet in harsher climes.
Rattan House’s outdoor furniture is hard-wearing, aided by the labour-intensive craftsmanship that goes into its manufacture. Courtesy Rattan House
Rattan House’s outdoor furniture is hard-wearing, aided by the labour-intensive craftsmanship that goes into its manufacture. Courtesy Rattan House

A tiny Hong Kong flat furnished entirely with second-hand rattan furniture provided my first taste of independent living almost 20 years ago. Rattan furniture was a feature of most homes I knew at the time, and had been popular, in various forms, in South East Asia since colonial times.

Fast forward two decades, and a visit to the Rattan House showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai offers a new perspective on this most enduring of materials, as I discuss trends, technology and all other things ­rattan-inspired with the ­company’s business development director, Shafiq Al Taher.

From a small workshop in Amman, Rattan House introduced rattan furniture to the Jordanian market in the early 1980s. It expanded its operations to Dubai 12 years ago, as the market for outdoor furniture began to take off, with an office and showroom space on Sheikh Zayed Road. Today, the company exports outdoor furniture across the Middle East, with retail outlets in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman, as well as Indonesia.

While the company still has the capability to create natural rattan furniture, its primary focus these days is synthetic rattan, which is made from a polyethylene-based material. A practical response to environmental challenges, synthetic rattan is far better suited to outdoor life in the UAE; the naturally grown variety is likely to be rendered useless in a single season if left out in hot and humid conditions.

The strength of this modern fibre lies in the composition of its material polymers and in the UV and colour treatments that it receives, which need to be carefully balanced to ensure durability and colour fastness. The resultant rattan is highly flexible and durable, and is spooled on to large spindles from which the weavers work.

Rattan House has chosen Indonesia as its primary production site, because, Al Taher explains, “there have always been weavers of natural rattan, which grows there, and production is very skilled. It has been in the culture for many years, so you can easily find artisans to produce a very good-quality product.

“It takes four or five days to weave around the aluminium frame of a three-seater sofa, and it is always just one person working on one piece at a time. The weave needs to be very tight for it to be strong. The beauty of [these pieces] is the craftsmanship; the process is not at all automated and each piece is 100 per cent handmade. ”

Outdoor furniture has long been developed with practicality and functionality in mind. However, increasing attention is now being paid to form, aesthetics and comfort, as people seek to “create an outdoor space that is seen as an extension of their living space, and is pleasing to the eye,” says Al Taher.

It’s therefore essential that outdoor furniture is built to endure (synthetic rattan, with the right care, should last several years), but it’s just as important that it looks good. Synthetic rattan is available in a wide variety of colourways and designs, ranging from ice white to soft grey and earthy brown, with whitewash and grey emerging as the most popular options. The fibre itself is produced in a range of thicknesses and shapes, so that weavers can experiment with designs. Some of this rattan even has a “natural” feel to it, with the look of a loose fibre that leaves you questioning whether it is actually man-made or not.

Rattan House is placing increased focus on design, says Al Taher, and recently teamed up with an international designer to broaden its product offering.

“We got a German designer on board, Oliver Kessler, who specialises in product design, and we told him that we wanted something inspired by the region. We had met Kessler a few times at shows in Dubai. He had designed a punkah fan, made from high-end peacock feathers; it was quite a product.”

The result of this collaboration was the Ablaq Collection, which references Islamic architecture and Arabic calligraphy.

“Kessler has done a beautiful job, maintaining a modern design suitable for anyone who wishes to create a taste of Arabia in their home,” says Al Taher. “The furniture can be further customised with a personal message in calligraphy, which, when combined with LED lights, can cast out shadows of poetry or prose across the wall.

“It is the first time we did the exercise this way, and it’s been so successful that we have continued with designs for another set of modular furniture for the contract business, which will be launched in September this year.”

This new range, Mina, is a response to feedback from clients in the contract and hotel businesses, where there was a requirement for versatile, modular furniture that could be easily moved around to transform the set-up of outdoor spaces. Mina allows a venue to adapt its pool area for evening use, for daytime drinks or shisha at sundown, thereby extending the function of that space and its revenue capability. The same pieces can be used as day beds or dining sets, are easily manoeuverable and can be compactly stored at the end of the season.

Whether intended for residential or commercial use, Rattan House’s furniture combines the strength and durability of synthetic rattan with hard-wearing acrylic-based fabrics for outdoor cushions and upholstery. Designed specifically to withstand sun, humidity and water, and to hold their colour, these fabrics, made by the likes of Sunbella and Etisilk, also come in a range of ­designs.

“Colours are driven by the trends coming from Europe, where they are inspired by fashion. For example, last year it was all about bright colours, orange, hot pink and lime green, and you can see this reflected in the outdoor areas, too,” says Al Taher.

Whether you have a skinny balcony or a full-blown majlis, if you want real-looking rattan, there are 21st-century permutations for every space, taste and pocket, allowing you to take your indoors, outdoors – at least as long as the weather permits.

weekend@thenational.ae

Published: February 26, 2015 04:00 AM

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