- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Wicker these days is whatever the buyer wants it to be.

Technically, the word wicker is an umbrella term that applies to a weave and not just to that old summer furniture staple usually made of natural rattan from a tree found in the tropical areas of China, Singapore and Indonesia.

Such pieces are classics in some homes, but they are vulnerable to changes in the weather and often require repair.

The range of styles and materials available on today’s market has gone beyond the Victorian pastoral look. Contemporary wickerwork’s versatility is giving new life to items more often regarded as decorative porch or garden pieces. Wickerwork can be seen as elegant indoor-outdoor furniture. Interior designers have no qualms about mixing wicker with upholstered furniture pieces in a formal living room.

New colors, new materials and more inventive designs account for the trend. The most avant-garde designs combine materials including nylon mesh and synthetic wicker on an aluminum frame. Thanks to such innovations, the patio is becoming an extension of the house.

“People come to us interested in outdoor furniture and then use a lot of the same designs indoors,” says Philip Mitchell, owner of Park Place, a garden and furniture retail store in Northwest.

“The materials in some cases are different, with different finishes,” he says. Most wicker for indoor or screened-porch use is all-natural rattan, while some manufacturers promote rattan for outdoors that is dipped in a special paint containing ultraviolet light inhibitors and other protective materials. One company dips its pieces five times, Mr. Mitchell says.

Two manufacturers’ showrooms at the Washington Design Center in Southwest feature wicker’s new look. Brown Jordan and Century both sell to the trade — which means all purchases are made through accredited interior designers — but welcome public visits to their displays.

“People come by and are surprised. ‘Oh, you have wicker,’ they say,” relates Katrin Pope, manager for Century, of the reaction she sometimes gets when talking about wicker’s new look.

The surprise, too, can come with the prices. A wicker love seat or chaise that costs up to $2,000 can cause sticker shock. Such furniture is built to last because much of it is a hardy, weatherproof synthetic on sturdy aluminum frames. Laneventure, a division of Lane Furniture Industries that makes both natural and synthetic wicker, offers a lifetime guarantee on some of its frames, depending on their use and upkeep.

Even well-known fashion designer Oscar de la Renta is getting into the act by putting his name on a group of pieces for Century furniture, as seen in a fancy magazinelike catalog titled “Luxury for the Home.” In it, he sweeps the viewer to his Caribbean home to admire a collection that an accompanying promotion sheet calls “oversized and luxurious in scale… each piece is a hand made work of art.”

The word wicker doesn’t appear in his catalog — wicker conveys too humble an image in some minds. In its place is the trademarked name Hularo, a synthetic rattan made entirely of resin, Mrs. Pope says.

The light blond Hularo lounge chair, ottoman, game table and bar stool shown in the catalog are built for an exterior setting but could be used anywhere, says interior designer Randy Jacques, who bought a dozen Oscar de la Renta pieces for his two-level patio outside his Arlington home.

He says his choice was “a little eclectic for me” because it has what he calls “a modern edge.” He found it works well with traditional styles because, unlike metal-framed aluminum or vinyl mesh weave, “it has some warmth without heaviness.”

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