The Wicked Truth About Wicker

Processing makes some wicker furnishings very inexpensive and others very pricey.

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By Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, Scripps Howard News Service

Why are some wicker furnishings very inexpensive and others very pricey? It is all in the processing. Virtually all wicker and rattan products originate in Southeast Asian countries, mainly Indonesia and the Philippines, so both the low end and the high end furnishings have equal beginnings.

The first step for a manufacturer of quality wicker and rattan to do is buy the frames from a reputable source. Reputable is the key word because there are literally hundreds of overseas companies who decide to make frames today, but then change their mind and are gone tomorrow.

Seeking a financially stable, long-lasting supplier is a chore in itself. Finding a company that has been and will continue to be in business for a long time helps ensure the continuity of the product.

Once the supplier is found, the manufacturer must spend time and money sending production staff and furniture designers to Asia to update styles and insure the continued quality of the frames making sure the best raw materials are used.

Rattan is a type of palm. It grows wild in Asian jungles, reaching heights of more than 100 feet. Workers cut down poles and inspect them for color, density and quality. The best poles are then used in structural as well as decorative elements of the furniture.

After the poles are cut and categorized, they are sanded, then heated to straighten or bend them as need requires. Once assembled, or at last partially assembled, the frames are ready to be shipped to the United States. The U.S. manufacturer then completes the construction process of the furniture.

Sound like we're finished? No. There's lots more work to be done. The U.S. manufacturer must meticulously hand-sand and torch the wicker to rid it of its fine "hairs," leaving the frames with the smooth surface needed for painting or staining. Often support blocks are added to increase strength. Decorative trim is also added.

The degree of comfort of the wicker or rattan product further distinguishes its quality. The superior product is by far more comfortable than the affordable - but not necessarily desirable - furniture.

A full suspension system instead of a hard seat will give you that comfort and of course, that added price. The imported, yet made-in-America product will have the correct seat depth and pitch making the seats ergonomically correct, therefore supportive and comfortable.

Now, add the designer fabrics and there you have it - superior rattan fit for any home, sometimes costing a king's ransom, but often within reasonable budget.

(Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, an interior designer in Naples, Fla., is author of Mystery of Color, available at Barnes & Noble Booksellers and online.)

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