In terms of interiors, we are living out the halcyon days of caning and wicker. The rattan-based weaves are in the limelight and the hotspot: blogs, Instagrams, and Pinterests are flooded with the straw-like seat covers, headboards, ottomans, decor and objet galore. Despite its clear maneuvering into the mercurial throes of "trend," perhaps this surge in visibility for the classic furniture material is creditable to two main factors:
- The age of the image
- The accessibility of its interiors products through (more) mass market retail designs from the likes of CB2, Industry West, and even Ikea
Of course, explaining the relationship between these factors and "trendiness" could leave us toggling for days between chicken and egg. Regardless of the origin of its mass resurgence in popularity, what's important to acknowledge is the "re" aspect of the -surgence: caning as a technique and an aesthetic preference has been around a lot longer than our glorified-boho-chic interiors social feeds may let on.
Image courtesy @mrcigar, featuring Marcel Breuer's Cesca chairs (1928)
Image courtesy Loko Loko, a Spanish design team and inspiration blog
Image courtesy @viktoria.dahlberg, featuring pieces from Urban Outfitters' home collection
The actual material used in caning comes from rattan, a slender-stemmed, vine-like palm that's native to Southeast Asia (namely Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, as Wikipedia graciously reveals). To retrieve the weavable material that we recognize today in furniture caning, the vines are stripped of their bark. It's this malleable bark that then becomes material for seatbacks, headboards, and the like.
Depiction of a cane chair weaver, illustrated by Paul Sandby (1759) [source]
Image courtesy The Chair Repair, a custom chair restoration company based in Seattle. This design is a "hand-caned Scandinavian Captain's chair from the late 18th/early 19th century," with a ruptured seat in need of urgent TLC! [source]
The actual design process was pioneered before the turn of the first century. As interior design website Apartment Therapy has reported, Tutankhamun was buried c.1323 BC beside a caned furniture artifact; and hundreds of years later, a Peruvian princess was disinterred in a caned coffin, dated c. 750 AD. Additional decorative artifacts, tools, and more have been cataloged from thousands of years ago, helping illustrate the ways that people related to their land, its natural materials, their vocations and their home spaces. Likely evolved from basketry techniques developed across Africa and Asia, it wasn't until about a thousand years passed that caning reached Europe, and then finally the Americas. This was, of course, due to the complicated grasp of colonialism on places, people, practices, and products.
A caned look decorates the exterior seatback of this lush swivel chair, which Marie Antoinette would sit in on the grounds of Versailles for her beauty team to work their magic on her hair and makeup (c 1787). Image courtesy Getty.edu.
Excuse the drastic elision of time here, but moving into the 16th through 18th centuries, the Dutch and British were firmly establishing their trade routes and colonial control around and across Africa and Southeast Asia (complete with childlike pushes-and-pulls for colonial and maritime ownership, in part creditable to the respective, volley-like spoils of the Anglo-Dutch Wars). This is when caning's process, material, and aesthetic began trickling into the design work of Europeans and their schools – and it continued to infiltrate the looks attributed to some of their other colonized countries. As researcher and writer Sneha Mehta and collaborator Mallika Chandra note in their book Play Fare – on Indian colonialism through food and food spaces – to this day, private social and sports clubs "seem to have frozen in time in 1947 [when the British left India]: the cane furniture, the wood panelling, the archaic rules of a civilised people and the scent of elitism."
Photograph by Mallika Chandra of a caned chair at Bombay Gymkhana, a private club in Mumbai, India. Featured in Play Fare (2019).
Insanely popularized by the Thonet Bistro chair in the mid-1900s, this casual caned design migrated its way into commercial and hospitality centers across Europe and America. Not too long after, Bauhaus and other midcentury design entities and players concretized caning into the modern aesthetic, yielding master makers like Marcel Breuer and his Cesca cane chair, or Hans Wegner and his fleet of woven, woodworked chair designs.
The No. 14 Chair, or the Bistro Chair, was designed by Michael Thonet and introduced to market in 1859.
Hans Wegner Armchair, 1949. Image courtesy MoMA. As the Danish master designer once stated: "A chair is only finished when someone sits in it."
It's from these modern articles of furniture caning that today's saturated aesthetic has primarily derived. Whether it's a fleeting, interior design flight of fancy, whether it's because of a market run by knock-offs, or whether it's simply due to the inherent, wildly reiterative nature of our current image-driven age, the caning trend is present. And it's harmless. And, you know what, it's pretty, so let's enjoy it while we appreciate its history and predecessors alongside it.
Furniture retailer Industry West recently presented its new Cane Collection, which it distinguishes as a "contemporary reinvention of a well loved midcentury design." [source]