About Rattan

Despite being a popular material for in- and out-door furniture most people know little about Rattan. On the following pages we give you some "background" information about Rattan.


There are indications that rattan has been used since the early days of mankind for the production of furniture, though no exact historical data exists. It was originally exported from Indonesia, where it predominately grows, and eventually reached the shores of China. There, skilled craftsman built not only furniture but also baskets and other household items.

It is widely accepted that from China rattan then entered Japan where, within a short time, it became very popular too. It was the Japanese who honed the art of modern rattan furniture. Several production centers developed in Japan and rattan furniture was and remains highly popular in Japanese households.

Singapore, due to its proximity to Indonesia and the availability of skilled craftsmen from China, developed into South East Asia's rattan furniture production center. Until the late 1980s, Singapore was probably the biggest exporter of rattan furniture. Manufacturing came to a sudden end when Indonesia's government decided to stop exporting raw rattan. However, a lot of rattan is still traded and exported.

It is thought that rattan entered America through colonists who brought wicker and basket chairs with them. Paul Frankl was one of the first major designers to use rattan in modern design. Frankl's book, "Space For Living," shows several rattan items, including a square-pretzel sofa. Because this design was extensively copied by other rattan manufacturers, it is often attributed to Frankl.

It was not unusual for rattan furniture to be used in the dining room or intermixed with upholstered furniture. A wide variety of furniture pieces were produced in the 1930s and 1940s, such as sofas, (both one-piece and sectional), sofa beds, chairs, curved couches, coffee tables, screens, desks, beds, dining tables and chairs, sideboards, servers, bookcases, nightstands, dressers and wall shelves.
Rattan for American produced furniture usually originates in the Philippines which, after Indonesia, is the 2nd biggest rattan exporter.

The British and the Dutch, who held large colonies in South East Asia, were the early traders of rattan. Europe generally imported rattan as finished furniture from Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia. Europe itself did not produce any significant rattan furniture despite its popularity.
Rattan furniture is still very popular in Europe and demand for well crafted and well designed pieces remains constantly high.

Indonesia - Cirebon
In Indonesia, rattan is harvested in the jungles of Borneo, Sulawesi and Sumatra. Trading has been mainly concentrated on the island of Java. Over time Cirebon, a port city about 250 km east of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital city, established itself as the rattan trade center and subsequent rattan manufacturing center. It was probably Cirebon' s proximity to the island of Borneo that made it more favorable for rattan shipments than the bigger harbors of Jakarta and Surabaya.

Until 1987, almost all rattan was exported as a raw material to overseas markets and only a small portion of lower quality rattan remained in Cirebon. This was turned into furniture and house-hold products by small home-industries. During that time Indonesia only exported finished rattan goods, with relatively simple designs, on a small scale
When in 1987 Indonesia's government decided to stop exporting raw rattan, demand for finished rattan furniture soared and gave an impetus to Cirebon's rattan Industry. It was some while before larger factories were established and even today many rattan furniture exporters outsource their production to home industries and act only as intermediaries.

As a consequence, rattan furniture from Cirebon is sometimes considered to be inferior to rattan furniture from other regions in South East Asia, such as Thailand and the Philippines. Only few factories currently do their entire production in-house. Even fewer factories exist that employ their own designers, who are often highly skilled expatriates from all corners of the world.

Balagi Rattan is one of the few factories that does not outsource its production, thus ensuring a consistently high quality. Balagi Rattan's accomplished designers, enables Balagi Rattan's furniture to stand out from other Cirebon based producers.