How to refurbish rattan and wicker furniture

Recently it was my sister’s birthday and I was at a loss to know what to buy. More smellies for the bathroom? Another utensil for the kitchen? More things that she really didn’t need or want? Luckily she came up with the perfect solution – my time! My sister presented me with some very tired old rattan furniture, a pile of fabric pieces she had been hoarding for years, and some old cushions and pillows. She then challenged me to do something with them.
Rattan chair beforeThe rattan furniture, similar to the one in this picture, was in desperate need of a little love and care. It was basically sound, but had been kept in the garden and was now sad and discoloured and very sorry for itself.
I started the refurbishing process by washing it down thoroughly with warm soapy water – using a toothbrush to get right into those difficult places. Not only did this instantly have the effect of improving the colour, but it also had an added bonus of helping to re-tighten the rattan seats that had become a little loose over time. Cane chairs have an irritating tendency for the cane to stretch when used a lot; this can result in a sagging seat. When you wet the canes they seem to stretch even more, but don’t panic because as they dry they shrink and tighten up again and the seats look as good as new.
I then gave the furniture a quick sanding with a fine grade sand paper and then applied a coat of exterior varnish to bring out the colour of the cane. You can just use a clear varnish, but I chose a pine tint to add a little more warmth.
Finally I used the remnants of fabric to make simple cushions. I found a plain fabric in a coordinating colour to back all the cushions, which made the material go further and brought out the colours of the main fabric.
Result – my sister ended up with a present that she really wanted and will use and it didn’t cost me a penny, just my time.
rattan furniture after1

Instructions for making simple cushion covers.

Instructions for Renovating Rattan Furniture

You will need

  • A Bucket of warm soapy water
  • Sponge
  • Toothbrush for getting into those awkward places
  • Fine grade sandpaper
  • Exterior varnish – tinted or clear
  1. Wash the item of furniture down. Be careful with rattan that you get right into those awkward spots or otherwise you could be left with a two tone chair.
  2. Allow to dry
  3. Go over the entire piece with a fine grade sandpaper
  4. Apply a coat of varnish to bring out the natural colour of the cane. A tinted varnish will give it extra warmth.
  5. Leave to dry thoroughly before using.


  1. Rebecca says:

    As the sister for whom this furntiure and cushions were given a makeover, I just want to say it’s one of the best presents ever! It’s given my verandah a long overdue facelift and everyone has been enjoying sitting out there this summer. For me the gift of time on these types of projects is far more valuable than a bought present. Unfortunately, I did not inherit the Blue Peter gene from my mother, just the ideas and the ability to tell people what needs doing! Aren’t I lucky to have a sister who can make these things happen?! xx

    • Clare Flynn says:

      Lucky you Rebecca – Hilary sets a very high standard for us mortals to follow!
      Your point about made presents is so right. They mean so much more because they are personal and represent the gift of people’s time – which these days is probably the most valuable commodity.

  2. Linda says:

    Did you or your sister not notice that the before chair and after chair are different chairs? Either that sand paper really did the trick or this refurbishing is trickier than described or why not show the actual results?

  3. Hilary Bruffell says:

    Hi Linda, You are right they aren’t the same chairs which is why I said the before chair in the pic is similar to my sister’s chairs.

    I did take lots of step by step photos, but unforutnately my son erased them from the camera before I downloaded them. Hence why I only had the after pictures. In fact my sister’s chairs were in a much worse condition, but a simple job of rubbing down and re varnishing them breathed new life into them. It really is a very easy job to do that can perform miracles!

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