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Every piece Soane creates, whether furniture, lighting or fabrics, holds a story, from its historic design influences to meticulous manufacturing by our skilled British craftsmen. At Soane we thrive on exchanging these stories – they capture our imaginations and enrich our daily lives. The Journal offers an opportunity to take these conversations further and delve into other subjects that excite and inspire us. We warmly invite you to share in our musings

Lulu Lytle

Founder & Creative Director

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    On the Veranda

    Verandas immediately summon thoughts of relaxed living and colonial elegance in our Western consciousness. It is such a delight to be entertained on a generous veranda, whether travelling to tropical destinations or to North America, where the covered porch is often the focus of summer living. A shady veranda offers the joy of being outdoors without the fuss of packing up picnic food, drinks and tablewares. Add the sights, smells and sounds of a luxuriant garden filled with birds, a view of a palm-fringed beach or a tranquil lake backed by mountains and for many it is heaven.

    Verandas are closely associated with the days of the British Empire, when colonists in the tropics built homes designed to best manage the hot and humid weather. Covered outside areas provided airy retreats from the scorching sun, as well as shelter from seasonal downpours. Old photographs recall a time when civilized traditions of serving afternoon tea or pre-dinner gin and tonics on the veranda were everyday events for British expats.

    The popularity of rattan furniture in the late 1800s had its beginnings in the colonies. As trade opened up with South East Asia, natural plant products such cane were imported to Britain and ways of working with these cheap and wonderfully malleable materials developed. Chairs and tables were created by British weavers and shipped to colonial homes and clubs where wicker furniture was coveted for its ability to withstand high levels of humidity and resist insect infestation. It was also lightweight so easily moved around to accommodate social gatherings, airy, comfortable and delightfully decorative. Little wonder that the Victorians, with a love of all things exotic, adopted rattan in their homes in Britain.

    By the early 20th century, Leicestershire was established as Britain’s rattan weaving region, mainly thanks to Arts and Crafts Movement enthusiast Harry Peach, who founded Dryad Cane Furniture in Leicester in 1907. Other wicker furniture companies followed, including Angraves, the company that Soane Britain bought a century later (by which time it was the last surviving rattan weaving workshop in the country). The demand for rattan across the 20th century has waxed and waned, with marked peaks of enthusiasm, from Mies van de Rohe’s tubular steel and rattan chair design of the 1920s to the extravagant rattan peacock chairs of the 1960s and 1970s.

    In recent decades, notable wicker enthusiasts have used rattan with great panache, demonstrating the material’s timeless appeal and ability to transcend trends. The publication in 2014 of ‘Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan’, reveals rattan furniture inhabiting numerous stylish houses owned by the glamorous, wealthy Italian. She uses rattan everywhere, from dining rooms to bedrooms, as a way of lightening the atmosphere of her grand homes. Agnelli explains that, “Both Gianni and I felt we needed something defiant to counterbalance the presence of so much antiquity”. The recent Sotheby’s sale of the estate of New Yorker Bunny Mellon – whom Jackie Kennedy attested was her greatest style influence – revealed her similar passion for rattan, again for its relaxed, informal style. Sale lots included masses of wicker gardening baskets (used decoratively as well as practically) and a distinctive basketweave Louis XV style commode that a number of rattan loving designers were eyeing on this side of the Atlantic (it achieved an astonishing sale price).

    At Soane, we are always excited to work with designers who share our appreciation of rattan’s unique, atmospheric charm, especially in America where clients such as Mark D. Sikes are great advocates of chic wicker furniture and verandas are as popular as ever. From our London desks we like to imagine which Soane rattan designs we would choose for our dream veranda.  Here are some thoughts…

    Clockwise from top left: The Croquet ChairThe Gourd Table LampThe Angostura TrolleyThe Armadillo Hanging LightThe Hurlingham Chest of Drawers and The Rattan Halma Man Table.

    Top image gallery: Old Indian photograph of an Assamese man and European man tasting tea on a veranda, c1903; Veranda by Amelia Hendegan; Oscar de la Renta’s veranda at his Palladian-style villa in Punta Cana, photographed by Michel Arnaud for House & Garden; Marella Agnelli’s home in Rome.

    For more inspiration images, see Soane’s ‘Verandas and Terraces‘ board on Pinterest

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