It is 10 years years since Soane Britain launched its first rattan design. The Ripple Console was a strikingly sculptural table that, with undulating contours emulating draped linen, illustrated the plant material’s capabilities in creating three-dimensional designs. It became synonymous with Soane and today is part of our ‘Hero’ collection of designs. It is significant also for leading Lulu to a small team of craftsmen with the skills to hand weave this and the rattan designs that have followed – and ultimately to Soane owning the last surviving rattan workshop in Great Britain (to read more about this see our post, Craftsmen Lost and Found
It is fascinating to watch a Ripple Console or Ripple Circular Table in production, the process starting with the construction of a sturdy frame with steam-bent circular canes marking out the bottom edge of the table. The craftsman first weaves the flat rectangular or circular top, then fixes vertical rattan ‘stakes’ between that and the canes at the bottom. Turning the frame upside down, the weaver starts the intricate ‘randing’, pushing and pulling the rattan strands – softened by pre-soaking in water – between the stakes. To create the draped linen effect, he must skillfully adjust the scale of the contours as he weaves, also allowing for the shrinkage on drying. The more closely one studies a finished piece, the more appreciative one becomes of the incredible craftsmanship involved – and of the beauty of the immaculate, yet clearly hand-woven, work (Lulu believes that handmade designs are imbued with unique character).
Alongside such closely woven work, the Soane rattan collection (today numbering over 60 designs), includes more decorative, open rattan detailing. Lulu often turns to antique rattan company catalogues to draw inspiration for these details, a favourite motif being the lattice style that was immensely popular in the Victorian era. She explains, “I love how light interplays with rattan and especially how open lattice filters light and casts beautiful shadows.”
This year Lulu joined forces with fellow rattan enthusiast, American interior designer Mark D. Sikes, to create a new family of rattan designs. Mark is a great fan of using rattan indoors to bring a sense of relaxed elegance to a home, as demonstrated so successfully by Marella Agnelli in her house interiors (see our previous post, ‘On The Veranda’). As to working with Soane Britain, he explains, “I have an all-American aesthetic, but I’ve always been a huge admirer of Soane. The company’s work exemplifies impeccable craftsmanship and also has a sense of whimsy. It’s a complete art form.” A transatlantic relationship evolved, with Soane’s hand drawn and coloured development drawings travelling between Lulu in London and Mark in California.
The result is The Lily Collection, a family of six designs that bring together Soane’s signature skirting from the original Ripple Console with traditional latticework used in a bold, fresh style. The collection is a triumph of British craftsmanship, drawing upon a wide range of rattan weaving skills, from the precise steam-bending of cane to create The Lily Drum Table and construction of large scale lattice panels for The Lily Slipper Chair, to the meticulous weaving of the curvaceous Lily Armchair and Lily Sofa arms, skirting and finer lattice infill details. Chatting to Soane’s weaver Phil about the new collection, he is animated about the challenges it presents, for example, the need to carefully hand pick materials to make structural latticework. “Around 6mm gives a nice strength,” he explains, “the canes must have some give, but not break.” He thinks the most demanding task is weaving the Lily Armchair and Lily Sofa arms where they curve through ninety degrees at the top, “I lay the strands through the tight bends, rather than pull them, allowing the drying process to naturally tighten the weave here.” This deep understanding of rattan, a natural material with variations of size, colour and texture, is something that Phil and the team have developed over decades working with rattan and guarantees the best possible results.
Here are some close up photographs of designs from The Lily Collection revealing the ripple and lattice details – and the superb workmanship of the Soane craftsmen.
See Soane Britain’s Lily Collection Pinterest board here
Top image gallery: Two Lily Armchairs with cushions in Dianthus Chintz Lapis and a Lily Drum Table, all by Soane Britain; The Ripple Console in Soane Britain’s showroom with Ripple Oval Mirror, Croquet Chairs, Grissini Lamps, Double Petal Wall Lights and Palampore Blossom Blue and Brown wallpaper, all by Soane Britain; Coloured drawing of Soane Britain’s Lily Sofa shown with Dianthus Chintz Original cushions; Two Lily Slipper Chairs with cushions in Dianthus Chintz Original and a Lily Drum Table, all by Soane Britain.