By Karen Parr-Moody
Throughout time, bamboo has remained fashionable in American décor. Key periods of style stand out in their embrace of it: Victorian, Colonial and Hollywood Regency. The Victorian incarnation was more about health than aesthetics, as bamboo was considered a hygienic material due to its breathability. It also didn’t collect the dust attracted by heavy, plush upholstery typical of Victorian style. This era gave us such ornate pieces as this bamboo cabinet, circa 1890, that is currently on display at GasLamp Too. Its top features a hand-painted array of deep coral florals ($1,200 at T-367).
During the British and French Colonial period, a mélange of subtropical cues and European roots intermingled in furniture design, following the overseas possessions and trading posts of England and France. This was when both empires extended into Asia and Africa, and the interior design style began to reflect these influences from abroad. Materials such as wicker, bamboo and rattan – with their light, yet sturdy, properties – were perfect for the verandas found in the warmer climes of colonies, such as India and Vietnam, as caning was cooler than heavy European upholstery. An example of such usage of bamboo is found in this folding chair from the turn of the 20th century ($125; Booth T-384). Found at GasLamp Too, it features turned bamboo legs and seat back supports.
Following the Victorian and Colonial eras, bamboo joined the Hollywood Regency movement of the 1930s, which was influenced by Asia, Morocco, Chippendale and European Art Deco, and its role became less practical. Interior designers of this period put real or faux bamboo furniture into the landscape by way of china cabinets, end tables and dining room chairs.
The Hollywood Regency aesthetic treated bamboo like a Kansas girl who had just stepped off a bus under the Hollywood sign: It took the raw materials, enhanced them with some fairy dust and put them in the spotlight with the new name of Chinese Chippindale. This timeless and versatile style continues to be seen in the iconic bamboo dining chair with a lattice back, which is at home in formal or eclectic settings. At GasLamp Too, a faux bamboo side table represents Hollywood Regency’s exotic chinoiserie mood enhanced by the glamour inherent in gilding ($145; Booth T-255).
As Hollywood Regency gave way to mid-century modern design, many bamboo designs came into view. Many were inspired by Michael Thonet’s No. 14 bentwood chair that was launched in 1859 and became the most famous chair made by the Thonet chair company. Also known as the bistro chair, No. 14 was a revolution in furniture design due to the steam-bending technology, known as bentwood, that produced it. This technique endured and can be seen in mid-century modern designs such as this swivel chair ($168; Booth T-195).
Another bentwood design, this vintage tri-fold mirror from Palm Beach gives bamboo a modern spin (T-375; $395). It could easily lend an air of mid-century modern style to one’s home as a beautifully handcrafted screen.
Bamboo was first recorded in the history of chair manufacture during China’s Sung Dynasty of 960 to 1279 AD. It has made an impression since then. With its casual insouciance, bamboo can pepper a sunroom, screened-in porch, living room or dining room with some Asian flair. We love the look and think you will, too.