There are two general types of wicker furniture: natural and synthetic. While both still use weaving as the main construction method for the pieces, the final products differ greatly.
Natural wickers can be made out of rattan, willow, sea grass and raffia. For a time, wicker was even made from spun paper about the size of pipe cleaners [source: Gonyea]. One of the most popular materials, rattan, is the stem or trunk of a climbing palm. The plant uses its spines to climb and wind itself up nearby trees [source: Miller and Widess]. The rattan can grow up to 600 feet (almost 183 meters) in length [source: Adamson]. The outer layer is called cane, and the inner bark is reed [source: Saunders]. It's important to note that one piece of furniture may incorporate many different types of materials.
Natural wicker furniture has been popular for years because of its feel and look. Due to its woven nature, wicker furniture offers a certain amount of elasticity. Steven Cyr, owner of CottageWicker.com says, "They [his clients] find the chairs especially comfortable because wicker gives a bit as compared to a wood chair. It gives you that feeling that you are settling in."
Along with the feel, natural wicker also has a large potential for creativity. Not only do the different patterns offer possibilities, but the natural hue of the wicker furniture can also be customized. According to Wes Spryshak, vice-president of sales for Ficks Reed, the natural fiber of the chairs is much like unfinished wood. After being sanded and sealed, the chairs can be stained or painted in an array of colors. "There's a beauty, depth and warmth that you can't achieve in any other way," says Spryshak.
While the look and feel of natural wicker may be appealing, most of these products are made to be enjoyed only indoors and out of direct sunlight. Some companies are offering moisture-resistant or weather-resistant coatings to make natural wicker pieces more screened- or covered-porch friendly.
To maintain your natural wicker, Cyr recommends dusting the pieces and then cleaning them using a diluted solution of Murphy Oil Soap and water. This is meant to give the furniture a slight glossy shine. For brittle pieces made of willow or reed, a soak with water will help the piece gain back some of its supple nature [source: Saunders].
Now, let's take a look at the newer type of wicker furniture, synthetic wicker.