Celebrating the curvy beauty of rattan
Treading carefully through the undergrowth, a small group of people makes their way through a thicket of tropical trees. Staring up at the tree trunks they point out what they're here for. A long vine twisting its way up towards the light. Raising a machete a man cuts through the vine, and it comes down leaving the tree untouched. This is where rattan comes from.
Combining natural materials with modern design, the STORSELE armchair celebrates the curvy beauty of rattan with a design that's so comfortable you don't need a cushion.
A timeless material
Rattan is a material that many of us might find familiar. Native to tropical Asia, there are hundreds of varieties and it grows much like a vine, reaching up into the canopy and then dropping to the ground becoming thicker along the way. People harvest it more or less the same way they have for hundreds of years by cutting it free from the trees that support it, leaving the tree standing.
Once cut and sorted into sizes and qualities it's ready to work with. Rattan has been used to make furniture in Asia for centuries and it became popular in Europe in the early 19th century for its tropical feel and graceful curves.
For STORSELE designer Carl Öjerstam it's also a material that's close to his heart.
"There's something about rattan that's timeless," he says. "I've been making furniture with it since the 90's and I love the possibilities you have using it."
A natural collaboration
In a world that's increasingly mechanised, rattan furniture is still made by hand because of the knowledge and skill needed to work with it, says Sebastian Svensson, who developed the armchair.
"To shape rattan you begin by boiling or steaming it, and after that you can bend it how you like," he says. "Once it cools down it hardens into shape. For an armchair like STORSELE there's probably around a hundred bends in one chair."
Travelling to the outskirts of Jakarta in Indonesia, Carl worked out the prototype for STORSELE while in the factory.
"Rattan is so hands on," he says. "It's more like you're sculpting a chair, and over the course of a week you work very close with skilled Indonesian craftspeople to make it together."
Creating a comfortable seat
When you think of what makes an armchair comfortable, it's often the cushion that sits on top of it. For STORSELE, the development team wanted to create comfort just through the design itself.
"If you're making a chair without padding it becomes extremely important to get the right seat angle and lumber support," Sebastian says. "We try to make the chairs curve follow the curve of the spine, so that you get support in the right way – all the way from the thighs up to your shoulders."
Carl too talks about getting the right shape.
"The seat curve is something I work on before anything else," he says. "Then I build the chair around it. After I worked on the design, we tested it out in the factory. Over the space of a week, you can't imagine how many times we sat on it and tweaked it before arriving on the final version."
An inviting place to sit
The result is a highback armchair that uses the natural qualities of rattan to create a gracefully curved design, with a comfort that needs no cushion. For Carl it's the armchair's inviting feel that is its biggest calling card.
"I think there's something about rattan furniture that just speaks to people. They have this classic shape that still fits in with everything whatever the style, and at the end of the day they're simply nice to sit in."