Rattan furniture reformed

Leaving your shoes at the entrance, you will feel like you have stepped back in time. Treading the cool cement floor of Rattan Art Handicraft House, it is hard not to notice that the whimsical shop is in stark contrast to the city’s rigid concrete and steel.

Located along Jalan Ampang, the showroom sports an array of rattan wicker furniture, just like homes in the 70’s.

“We are from Muar, Johor. I’m the fourth generation of this close to 100-year rattan business in my family. We have been the manufacturer and supplier of rattan furniture for many years. Twenty years ago, my parents thought it was time to create our own brand and widen our market,” Rattan Art Handicraft House director Tay Cek Xin tells

The expansion plan was the right move, because today, Rattan Art is one of the few industry players still active in the market today.

“There were easily thousands of players last time, because rattan wicker furniture is very practical and commonly used in almost all the households back then. However, the market demand has become less and less when buyers are spoilt for choice and have higher income,” Tay says.

This is the main reason only a few rattan furniture sellers are left in the market today, he adds.

One of the keys to keeping Rattan Art afloat in this sunset industry is its carefully-planned marketing strategy, which Tay’s wife, Anna Tan, helms.

“While my husband modernises the design of rattan furniture, I modernise the way of doing business. It is an old school business, but the old way no longer works. We set up our website and social media platforms to reach out to more potential buyers. We also started the online shopping service recently,” says Tan, who takes the position of sales manager in the company.

Tay Cek Xin

The couple works painstakingly to reform the old and tired image of rattan wicker furniture. One of their innovations is the introduction of mix-and-match options.

According to Tay, Rattan Art is the first manufacturer to create modernised rattan wicker furniture products.

“We got inspired at international furniture fairs and exhibitions. We made the first rattan wicker chair with black steel legs, giving the chair an elegant, clean look while retaining the traditional hand woven seat. It is something different from the typical rattan chair made entirely with rattan in the early days,” Tay recounts.

The most flexible furniture material

Rattan wicker is well known for its strong and long-lasting, yet flexible features.

“Just give us a hand-drawing of the furniture design in your mind. We will make it for you,” Tay says confidently, supported by a company with almost a century’s rattan wicker furniture-making experience, as well as 20 skilful craftsmen.

Anna Tan

“We have quite a few designer clients. They told us we are the only one willing to try something different. Other craftsmen are not comfortable with doing something new.

“In fact, rattan is a very flexible material. It can be crafted into different shapes and sizes and even mixed with different materials and painted with different colours to make it a completely different furniture piece from what your grandparents used to have,” Tay enthuses.

He adds that his clients today are more of corporate and furniture designers than individual clients.

“We can’t depend on individual clients, because rattan wicker furniture is so lasting that it is very difficult to make them come back to you more often,” he quips.

“That’s why we opened up to the corporate market. Many corporate clients buy our furniture as a display piece in their offices. There are also restaurants and cafe owners who buy for practical use,” Tay says, adding that Rattan Art also repairs old rattan furniture.

Rattan Art Handicraft House

He explains that rattan wicker furniture is very easy to maintain. It is waterproof and heatproof, making it highly suited for outdoor use, while also being lightweight and airy enough for indoor use, especially for a tropical country like Malaysia.

Commenting on pricing, Anna Tan says it is true that rattan wicker furniture is not as modest as many think, due to its high labour cost.

“Every single piece of our products is handmade. We cannot replace the work with machines because every piece of raw rattan is different. We need someone experienced to know what can be made with every raw rattan,” Tan notes.

She adds that a simple rattan wicker chair will take two to three days to complete, while a custom-made piece will usually take two to three weeks, depending on the design.

“Rattan is a very flexible material and is suitable to make almost all types of furniture — chairs, tables, wardrobes and even bed frames."

This story first appeared in the pullout on Sept 21, 2018. You can access back issues here.

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