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Why Every Home Should Have a Touch of Vintage Bamboo

Hadley Keller
Photo credit: Betsy Pash, Meg Braff

From House Beautiful

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

In our latest series, Elizabeth Pash, designer and owner of Elizabeth Pash Interiors & Antiques, will be sharing one item you should be on the lookout for when shopping for antiques. Get to know our Girl on the Ground, just in time for your weekend shopping!

I love finding interesting pieces of bamboo and rattan furniture in my travels. Although vintage rattan seems to be having a moment (it was EVERYWHERE last time I visited the Paris Flea Markets), rattan and bamboo have been around for a long time.

The word bamboo is derived from banwu, a term from southwest India that was transported to Indonesia by Dutch explorers. The material began to catch the attention and imagination of Westerners when travelers to the Far East came back with tales of a mysterious plant or thick reed.

The bamboo plant is technically a type of grass. In fact, it's the largest member of the grass family, and it grows in pretty much any type of climate, from cold mountain regions to hot tropical areas.

Bamboo and rattan have always conjured up feelings of whimsy, travel, and pleasure. We think of leisurely afternoons on a covered porch or traveling to a faraway, exotic place. That is one reason I love to collect these pieces and incorporate them into interiors.

It is important to draw a distinction between bamboo and rattan. So what is the difference?

For one, bamboo does not bend. It is harder than mahogany, and cannot be curved. Rattan, however, is flexible. It is quite strong, but can be shaped into intricately designed furniture. An easy way to determine if your furniture is bamboo or rattan is to see if any of the canes are bent or curved. If so, it is rattan!

During the late 19th century, bamboo became popular as trim or supports on furniture inspired by Asian design. It was not strong enough for cabinets, so cabinet makers began crating wood to resemble bamboo. For me, faux bamboo is just as good (if not better!) than the real thing. There are so many wonderful pieces made of real or faux bamboo and we can find it everywhere—small tables, chairs, beds, headboards, nightstands, wallpaper and even flatware. The key for me is good design and quality craftsmanship.

Here are some of my favorite bamboo pieces I have found in my travels:

Photo credit: Elizabeth Pash
Photo credit: Elizabeth Pash

Wondering how to use bamboo in the home?

For our Designer Showhouse in the Hamptons, we used this Silvered Faux Bamboo Etagere—light and airy, perfect for a beach house!

Photo credit: Elizabeth Pash

I'm hardly the only designer who loves using bamboo, either.

“Bamboo pieces blend naturally with porcelain of all kinds, chinoiserie pieces, and even French antiques," says Locust Valley, Long Island-based Meg Braff, another bamboo devotee. "Bamboo has a place in almost every setting, from a coastal beach house to a sophisticated New York apartment, traditional or modern. I think of bamboo like I think of sisal—it’s a grounding force that makes everything feel a bit more at ease.”

I love how Meg skillfully added a bamboo side table here:

Photo credit: J. Savage Gibson

And these bamboo dining chairs in a beach house designed by Meg add texture and warmth to this cheerful dining room

Photo credit: Tria Giovan

New York Designer Ashley Whittaker says that bamboo is a favorite material in her interiors "because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. A Chippendale style chair made from bamboo is a playful take on serious 18th century furniture—but it’s anything but casual. It can easily take its place among important antiques in the most formal of rooms.”

The best part? You don't need spend a lot to find a piece or two of bamboo or faux bamboo. Get started by scouring your local antique shops, flea markets, or online vendors like Chairish or even Craigslist. There's bamboo to be found out there, and it's an easy way to add some personality and whimsy to a room, indoors or outside. Happy hunting!

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