Bamboo Rules in the Chicest Modern Homes
Tame the wild jungle! Bamboo, the bounty of the tropics, is fast becoming a wonder product used in everything from fabrics to tech gear and even motorbikes. Most commonly, when it comes to design, bamboo is associated with furniture from exotic, steamy locales. Today, though, the look has evolved into award-winning territory. Nest Casa takes a look at this fascinating material and its limitless uses and design capabilities.
What Is Bamboo?
The material known as bamboo takes its moniker from the fast-growing plant. It’s believed that the word “bamboo” was derived from the southwest Indian term banwu and reinterpreted by Dutch exporters to Indonesia.
Belonging to the subfamily Bambusoideae of the grass family Poaceae, it’s easy to mistake it for a tree due to its tough surface. Bamboo, a natural composite material, has a high strength-to-weight ratio, making it comparable to hardwood timber. Bountiful in Asia—especially in the South, Southeast, and East regions—it’s used as a construction material, raw product, and highly nutritious food item (via bamboo shoots).
Why Is It Considered Eco-Friendly?
Bamboo has a fast growth rate, with certain species climbing three feet in 24 hours. Due to this, bamboo is helpful in promoting afforestation, carbon sequestration, and climate change mitigation. This ability to grow at a weed-like pace and its plentiful nature contribute to its ecologically-friendly reputation.
Growing bamboo compares to growing grass, but without the need for complex fertilizers and pesticides. Most species require tropical or subtropical environments, though others can grow in cooler temps in high altitudes. Bamboo is self-regenerating from the roots and can thrive in even the most shallow, rocky soil. Additionally, compared to similar-sized trees, bamboo absorbs five times more carbon and produces 35 times more oxygen.
The History of Bamboo Furniture
Chinese culture is considered the first to have used bamboo for household items such as chairs, stools, and musical instruments like the flute. Because its strength made it popular for weight-bearing objects and structures, even a small footbridge can be made from bamboo. Plus, it’s inexpensive, widely available, light, and easy to pack. Because of this, the ease of exporting bamboo furniture and accessories contributed to its popularity in the West.
Adding to its appeal is its ability to remain unaffected by water, especially when treated with a finish to resist cracking. It’s commonly used to make seating, tables, bed and picture frames though it doesn’t lend itself to large dressers or cabinets. It was these practical considerations that helped it thrive in design.
In the late 1800s, as transcontinental travel increased, bamboo became a popular trim on furniture for adding Asian flair. King George the IV of England used bamboo décor when designing the Asiatic Royal Pavilion in Brighton while still Prince Regent in 1815.
Most commonly referenced is 1940s bamboo furniture with its large, rounded armrests on club-style chairs and sofas. (Think of the seating that one might find in Rick's Café Américain in the film Casablanca.) Funnily, most of these weren’t even made from bamboo. Rattan, for example, is often confused for bamboo. However, it comes from the palm plant, which makes it more pliable. Bamboo's strength makes it too stiff to bend, so to differentiate it from rattan, note whether the furniture consists of curved or straight lines.
Bamboo Furniture in the Modern Home
The current obsession with bamboo furniture has much to do with the trend for eco-friendly items. The second-hand market is ripe with quality bamboo furniture in a range of prices and styles. Shopping for vintage and antique bamboo is equal parts style hunting and participating in a feel-good, circular design ethos. Notably, the trend was strong in the Thirties through the Seventies. Modern designs also prevail in creating a piece constructed from bamboo in current styles without the signature knots. Not all bamboo furniture has to look like bamboo, so sleek, contemporary styles are possible.
The beauty of bamboo in its original form is the versatile range of interior styles that can accommodate it. Bamboo can sustain any aesthetic, from a casual beach house to a sophisticated city dwelling—and from an eclectic, retro-inspired mood to an ultra-minimal vibe.