The special magic of rattan, the furniture which almost forces you to recline languorously and have fun

A new book extols the virtues of rattan — and Giles Kime is absolutely sold.

‘Decoration, to me is about making people look prettier and feel happier,’ wrote Nicky Haslam in Sheer Opulence. Like so many of his pronouncements, it’s spot on, from ‘We have a duty not to become stuffy’ to ‘Every room should include something ugly and something red’. Of course, it should.

What’s true of good decoration in general is true of good furniture in particular. It’s hard to imagine anyone feeling euphoric in the sort of 20th-century furniture so beloved of Modernists that tends to be a triumph of ergonomics over aesthetics and succeeds in making an Old Sparky look positively inviting.

Conversely, there’s furniture that makes you feel almost instantly relaxed, such as fathomlessly deep, down-filled library chairs. Then, of course, there’s rattan, the woven furniture that’s the subject of a new book by Lulu Lytle that will be published by Rizzoli next year.

Mrs Lytle is the co-founder of Soane Britain, the company specialising in furniture inspired by the past that’s made to exceptionally high standards, which has succeeded in preserving craft skills.

When Britain’s last remaining rattan workshop, Angraves of Thurmaston, went into administration, Mrs Lytle bought its machinery and re-employed its most experienced weavers, establishing an apprenticeship programme to train a new generation. She has breathed new life into the craft, with an exciting new range that demonstrates its sculptural possibilities.

Would the beach scenes in Some Like It Hot have worked without rattan? Of course not...

Would the beach scenes in Some Like It Hot have worked without rattan? Of course not…

Her research has unearthed archive photographs of the great and the good, in which rattan is the common denominator, notably featuring Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor.

‘The extraordinary thing is that you very rarely see anyone doing anything serious or boring in the company of rattan — just reclining languorously and having fun,’ she says, noting the exception of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin engaged in debate at Yalta.

Last month, Soane Britain launched the Cobblers Cove collection, named after the Barbados hotel owned by Hugh and Sam Godsal, where Mrs Lytle has given a distinctive new look to a number of the rooms. The collection demonstrates that rattan creates furniture that doesn’t just look supremely elegant, but also feels comfortable in that wonderfully yielding, creaking way.

The texture and simplicity of the designs make it as suited to the tropics as Tribeca and Nicky Haslam will doubtless approve of the fact that there is no celebration of rattan’s old-world charm. As he said: ‘I don’t do nostalgia. The phrase “the good old days” never passes my lips.’ Amen.