It’s no secret that natural, woven textures have been dominating home decor trends in the last few years. My Instagram and Pinterest feeds are absolutely flooded with chairs, baskets, lamps, even art made from plant fibers—and my own home has several of these on display. While some of them are made specifically from material like sisal rope (from a species of agave plant) or seagrass, the most common terms used when referring to these kinds of pieces are: wicker, rattan, and cane.
These three terms are often used interchangeably, so you wouldn’t be alone if you thought they were the same. But they aren't. It can be particularly confusing to parse out the differences, especially when confronted with the slew of mislabeled items on the market, but we’re here to help. Below, we outline the major differences, and highlight some of our favorite examples of each.
Firstly, wicker is a method of weaving, not a material. Wicker items are often crafted with rattan (more on that below), but can also be made with willow, straw, rush, raffia, palm, and synthetic fibers. The weave is simple and sturdy—thick, vertical support pieces come together to create the structure of an item, and long, thin pieces are tightly woven through for support and decoration. The finished wicker piece can then be stained, painted, or sealed, leaving lots of room for customization. The most common wicker items you’ve likely encountered are chairs, end tables, and of course, baskets.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the genesis of the craft, although, according to Wicker Warehouse, the earliest examples of wicker were found in ancient Egypt, followed by ancient Rome and China.
The presence of wicker in the United States can likely be traced back to the earliest European settlers, who, traveling by boat, needed all storage, luggage, and furniture they brought along to be lightweight. Post the American Revolutionary War, wicker received another, lasting, boost in popularity courtesy a Massachusetts man, Cyrus Wakefield, who used all the discarded rattan (then used as packing material) from cargo ships to create wicker furniture.
1. Agen chair, IKEA
2. Wicker Laundry Basket, Crate & Barrel
Rattan includes over 600 different species of solid timber vine (different from a material like bamboo, which is hollow), native to tropical forests in Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and the Malay Archipelago. Rattan fibers vary greatly in length and width, depending on the species and time harvested.
Rattan isn’t just used for weaving wicker, though—some of the more popular applications include French bistro chairs, pendant lamps, and shelving units. Rattan is a popular choice among interior designers, because it adds warmth and vintage charm to any room.
1. Rattan rolling market cart, Food52
2. Fan-back accent chair, Target
Cane is actually a specific part of rattan, which is removed from the thorny outer skin of the plant. It’s naturally very light in color, somewhat shiny, and far less porous than other parts of rattan—making it exceptional at repelling liquid spills. You’re probably familiar with the two most common applications: cane webbing, in which cane is woven into a super strong octagonal pattern, and cane that's used like rope to wrap around portions of furniture to secure pieces together, seen on a traditional French bistro chair.
Furniture with cane webbing is also wildly popular, because again, the natural, earthy tones contribute warmth, while the intricate weave evokes the distinct impression of quality. It doesn't hurt, too, that cane webbing is exceedingly sturdy and long-lasting. Most frequently, cane webbing is used on the seats and backs of chairs, as an accent on dressers, and on decorative items like headboards.
1. Farmhouse wood headboard, Walmart
2. Ria room divider screen, Urban Outfitters