Rattan Refinery

11 April 2017

Rattan Art Enterprise is one of the oldest rattan furniture makers in Malaysia. We visit their workshop in downtown Kuala Lumpur to see the artisans at work.

Rattan has a long and illustrious history in Malaysia ­­­­­– from the classic traditional furniture to rustic weaved baskets and the infamous rotan in schools. An old world climbing palm with slender stems known to grow up to hundreds of metres long, the rattan plant’s vine-like lianas grow through and over other vegetation, such as trees. Seventy percent of the world’s rattan exists in Indonesia, while the rest comes from Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

From a piece of rattan, the skin is peeled off to be used as weaving material while the core is processed for furniture making. Rattan makes for good furniture material because it’s lightweight, durable, weather-resistant and flexible.

Established in 1954, Rattan Art Enterprise is one of the oldest rattan businesses in Malaysia. Currently managed by Tay Cek Xin, the fourth-generation family business has withstood the test of time. Besides producing and selling rattan and bamboo products, Rattan Art Enterprise also specialises in repairing rattan furniture, on top of taking custom orders.

“Rattan furniture was particularly popular throughout the ’70s and ’80s in Malaysia. Almost every family had a rattan furniture set in their living room. But the introduction of cheaper synthetic materials affected business,” explains Tay.

“The younger generation don’t want to work here, there aren’t many traditional rattan makers left. However, over the past four to five years, things have improved. There’s a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and the aesthetics of rattan furniture. Many cafés and restaurants have commissioned furniture from us for their establishment.”

While Rattan Art Enterprise’s main manufacturing arm is based in Setapak, in 2015 Tay started a little workshop on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur to house some of the traditional rattan makers who have been working for the company for over 60 to 70 years. Here, rattan is processed traditionally, just like it was decades ago.

“This workshop is mainly for restoration works and high-level custom orders. The artisans here have been making rattan furniture since they were ten or 12 years old – that’s the only work they have ever known. I opened this workshop to preserve the art while providing some work for the makers at a pace they are comfortable with. They may be old, but they still have a lot to contribute and they still enjoy making furniture,” shares Tay.

Address: 343 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, 50100 Kuala Lumpur (017 622 2530). Open Mon-Sat, 9.30am-6.30pm. 

Text and photos by Chris Lim
Video by Shaun Ng



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