Wicker moves into stylish interiors Home: Woven furniture is no longer just for porches and rustic rooms. Designers have made it more comfortable and more fashionable.

June 30, 1996|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

A new wave of weaves is making its way into the home.

Classic wicker furniture, made of rattan, is being joined by chairs, beds and tables woven from less familiar reeds like sea grass and water hyacinth. Along with the traditional wovens, these new weaves have textural interest. And that's challenging designers to shape both new and old wovens into dynamic hybrids that are changing the way we think about this genre of furniture.

Wicker still conjures romantic images of turn-of-the-century porches. But inside the home, in sun rooms and parlors, bedrooms and breakfast rooms, the wicker chair doesn't exactly stand as an icon of comfort.

What's distinctive about today's woven furniture is its emphasis on comfort.

"People are looking for softness, relaxation, friendliness, not hard design statements," said Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, a designer recruited by the 50-year-old McGuire Furniture company to add to its extensive rattan, cane, wicker, teak and bamboo lines.

The latest woven designs are sink-in comfortable, stylish and sometimes urbane.

Consider the generously proportioned armchair designed by Dakota Jackson. Some have described it as resembling a praying mantis or a nun's habit. A sort of shawl wraps around its shoulders and folds out like a napkin. The collar roll extends all the way down its front, ending in delicate, tapered feet.

L The chair, which sells for $1,575, was designed for comfort.

"We're no longer prim and proper," Jackson said. "The way we use chairs -- people slouch, they like to pull their legs up into them. They turn catty-corner in and throw their legs over the sides. Besides, chairs must fit a whole range of body sizes." The designer feels the wicker chair can suit contemporary or traditional environs.

John Hutton also made a statement with his Merbau chair for Donghia, where he is principal designer. "I wanted to do something that was formidable," said Hutton, "to really bring wicker into the living room of a New York City or Chicago apartment."

The Merbau chair takes its name from the native Indonesian woods from which it is made. Its long straight arms are hand-crafted from a teak-like grain in a color suggestive of mahogany.

Hutton points out that it's still unusual to find a hardwood frame teamed with wicker. Several years ago Ralph Lauren opened our eyes to such a marriage with an exquisite mahogany and rattan collection. Lauren continues to include wovens in his furniture collections. His most recent club chair, the swanky Barrymore, has twisted sea-grass sides and racy polished mahogany arms; it's $3,485.

"Wicker long was relegated to more disposable furniture," said Hutton. "I like the materials so much, it was refreshing to do something different with it."

Hutton sees the chair, which lists at $2,522, as suiting a variety of settings. "It might be placed in an ethnic, exotic, primitive room with Nubian sculptures, things from Tahiti, African thrones, masks, hand-woven or batik textiles, nothing on the floors but wood."

Or it could stand out "in a steel-and-glass contemporary home with a fantastic city view and marble or sisal floor."

Diaz-Azcuy, a designer known for his high-end nonresidential furniture, created a grouping for McGuire Furniture that includes an inviting lounge chair called Umbria. The elongated sweep creates a dramatic profile. The back, side panels and front seat are handcrafted of tightly woven split peel rattan in a natural finish. The upholstered back panel and arm rests are joined by a plush back and seat cushions, while the design terminates in tapered bundled rattan legs. It sells for $3,150.

There is precedence for contemporary weaves. "Mies Van der Rohe designed a woven cane chair that was very beautiful," said Diaz-Azcuy.

Frames with a more sinewy or curvilinear form also are being explored in wovens. Another upholstered collection designed for Bernhardt's Flair division is wrapped around water-hyacinth frames. A 98-inch crescent-shaped sofa has inviting rayon chenille cushions.

The Bernhardt collection has a fresh, modern look with classic proportions. Even more traditional chair styles are taking on new dimensions in wicker. A wing chair is an example. Such a marriage of form and material is in itself a departure. But Palecek has added another style point: pattern, in a handsome plaid. Shades of a natural caramel are teamed with dark brown to create a wide grid. In addition to the comfortable look that the wing style evokes, the plaid design also layers in the texture of the weave. The chair is $698 without the cushion.

Another classic, the sleigh bed, has been interpreted in rattan peel woven into a solid wood frame in Grange's Casa Blanca collection. The group also includes a shapely bombe chest.

All of these new sophisticates, with their great shapes, attractive nubby textures, subtle colors and pattern are drawing a new audience to weaves. Whether it's rattan, reed, sea grass or water hyacinth, these weaves are here to stay.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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