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Moderneages...Coco Bongo Rattan

VINTAGE RATTAN...From a Historical Perspective & Today.

Rattan The First Modular Furniture?

By Dan Oliver/CEO/Moderneage

There are many misconceptions when it comes to Rattan or what I refer to as 30's and 40's Tropical Deco for its streamline design and tropical flavor. Primarily found in warm climates such as Florida and California, rattan has found a exclusive clientele because of its casual elegance. In fact you can find vintage rattan in the homes of high profile celebrities such as Bruce Willis and Demi Moore to Madonna.

Today many people see Rattan and bamboo in the same light. In reality the difference is great, while Rattan is solid, Bamboo is hollow. A better description is as follows.

Rattan... Several hundred species of rattan flourish in India, Southeast Asia, China and Indonesia; all have long fibrous stalks covered with tough bark. Technically a palm, rattan grows more like a vine; its leaves have long, barbed tips that allow it to cling to other trees, reaching heights of 500 to 600 feet, though only 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The process rattan, the bark is removed and cut into long, thin strips for cane seats and chair backs; the pithy interior is then cut into reed for wickerwork. Sometimes the entire"pole" is used to make furniture - it looks like bamboo but is much stronger. Rattan is strong enough to be its own frame and can be fastened as securely as wood; when steamed it will bend into a variety of shapes without cracking.

Bamboo...A member of the grass family bamboo grows occasionally to a height of 100 feet. Like rattan, bamboo has a tough outer coat that can be stripped off to make cane. It also resembles rattan in that its stalks are used in furniture construction, sometimes as framing for wickerwork. But because bamboo is hollow, it isn't as strong as rattan (which is solid); also the joints of the bamboo stalk are susceptible to moisture and should be sealed.

Rattan speaks a language all its own. It is as strong as steel when braced, but when heated with steam becomes as pliable as a garden hose. Designing in rattan is unlike designing in any other medium, as the structural features always remain in evidence.

Coco Bongo Rattan creates historically accurate modern interpretations of 30's and 40's rattan and is still unexpectedly but decidedly one of comfort, stability and style. The sturdy widespread , strong gracefully curved arms and ladder back support on the chairs bespeak masterful construction and livability.

As a matter of record, I find rattan one of the most interesting collectibles because much confusion and little accurate documentation exists due to the fact that it is rarely labled. Therefore it is difficult to determine specific manufacturers or designers. For example Paul Frankl one of Americas foremost modernist was probably the first major designer to utilize rattan in such distinctive applications and modern design. Because of Frankl's design influence the most desirable rattan is referred to as Frankl rattan, square pretzel or godfather rattan for its appearance in the Godfather movie. In reality, little Frankl rattan is undefiable and therefore nearly impossible to accurately identify.

The finest rattan I have discovered was created by Baughman in the 30's and 40's and incorporated 8 and 9 band arm chairs and included items not seen anywhere else such as console planters, executive desks, file cabinets, lawyers bookcases, etc. Having historically accurate catalogs along with my own personal collection of what I am most proud of and may be considered one of the largest collections of rattan in the world has allowed me to re-issue accurate designs of items that are virtually impossible to find today. Fundamentally, their is nothing inherantly different between rattan today versus rattan 70 years ago, and I sincerely believe that our finishing techniques will allow for a more polished look without the headaches of re-finishing rattan in disrepair. Other companies that we have taken a page from include Tropitan, Empire and Ritts.

Frankl's book, "Space For Living" exhibits several items of rattan including a square pretzel sofa. Because this design was incorporated by other rattan manufacturers it is often referred to as his design. Frankl incorporated a nine band arm with a five band stack base that is extremely rare. He also takes credit for the square pretzel design with the cross bracing which became popular in the era. Several variations tend to show up at auction or in the marketplace, these are generally the desireable six band armchair or sofa with eight to ten band stack base. Usually a ten band base would indicate 30's, nine band 40's and eight band 50's.

Prior to the thirties rattan had been used primarily for outdoor and garden furniture only. The reason for this is that most of it has been poorly designed, roughly made and covered in materials unsuited for indoor use. For a modern home of the thirties and forties there is a definite place for furniture of this type if designed and executed to perfection. In this furniture the rattan is selected for their quality. They are heavier than those seen prior to 1930. They are nearly as flawless as steel tubing, but unlike steel their wax-finished surface is pleasing to the touch and their bamboo like color agreeable to the eye. The design of rattan is entirely developed out of the nature of the material, typical of the material that lends itself to bending without breaking.

Today rattan, is works with all types of decor and to me demonstrates a casula elegance unrivaled by anything before or since. With the introduction of Coco Bongo Rattan items rarely before seen are now accessible and custom designs may also be produced.

An interesting tidbit...As a matter of record Gilbert Rohde is often credited as creating the first modular furniture for Herman Miller which could serve to accommodate small spaces, for apartments and could be utilitarian in that the furniture could be used as both living room and dining pieces. Sectional sofas that could be put together or wrapped around the corner or separated by a common corner table, many variations give a variety of options by creating various options as well. Therefore due to its timeframe it is likely that sectional rattan came before Rohde's designs for Herman Miller and is therefore potentially the first modular furniture.

It was not unusual during the period that rattan was seen in the dining room or intermixed with upholstered furniture. Today people often see the furniture as that for a sun room but during the 30's and 40's a sun room was considered any room with windows that allowed the sun to come through. Today you have the option to intermix with your modern designs or do an entire room setting in a multitude of products.

A wide variation of furniture items were produced in the 1930's and 40's and today through Moderneage...Coco Bongo Rattan has re-issued such staples as a variety of seating alternatives from Frankl style 6 and 9 band arms to curved sofas, Spiral arms and Fan arm sets (seen in the Golden Girls TV show) in addition a multitude of coffee tables, screens, desks, beds, dining tables and chairs, sideboards, servers,bookcases, nightstands, dressers. and wall shelves are available as well as custom pieces and commissions such as pool tables and kitchen cabinets etc. The possibilities are virtually unlimited.

Consistency is a virtue that applies to decorating as well as everything else in life. It is often not so important what we do, but that we are consistent in doing it. Coco Bongo Rattan is nearly indestructible and intermixes well in any contemporary, deco, moderne or eclectic interior.

Please email your requests to learn more about Tropical Rattan and how we may serve your needs.




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