Shoestring Summer Decorating


I LOVE VINTAGE RATTAN FURNITURE so much, I once thought of opening a store devoted to it and calling it Bamboozled. I didn’t, for many reasons, but I’m still a sucker for the stuff. It’s sturdy, stylish, and cheap. (Rattan is not the same as bamboo — it doesn’t have divisions — so the store’s name would have been a misnomer anyway).

The problem is that the vintage rattan furniture you find at yard sales and thrift shops rarely has cushions. So my weakness for it often results in my buying something for a pittance that I then discover costs $1,800 to custom-upholster — like the 1970s Ficks Reed set I found on the street in Brooklyn, which now reposes, cushion-less, in my basement.


I’m very happy with the 1930s stick rattan sofa, above. It was in this house when I bought it, dark green. I painted it white and got cushions from Restoration Hardware that fit perfectly. (The seat cushions are actually floor cushions and not very cushy, but they fit.) It’s on the porch now, along with two wicker chairs and two wicker tables, bought for $5 each at a yard sale (cushions from Home Depot). My latest additions are two butterfly chairs with covers from Urban Outfitters in NYC, the only place I know to get them — fun ones, too (they have a great cabbage-rose pattern, but the graphic blue & white is more beach house).

Moving the stick rattan sofa to the porch left a gap in my living room that needed filling. Well, this morning I went to a nearby yard sale at 9AM and found….another vintage rattan sofa with no cushions, top. It’s a three-piece sectional with nice lines. Hard to pinpoint the era — possibly ’60s or ’70s. Anyway, it was $50 and I saw it would fit the space perfectly. Though mindful of the cushion problem, I snapped it up and brought it home.

Now it happens that I also have, sitting around in boxes from Crate & Barrel, four striped 20″ square floor cushions which I ordered on sale recently for these metal lounge chairs, below (I have four of them, found last summer near a dumpster in Napeague):


The Crate & Barrel cushions didn’t fit the metal chairs well; they were a couple of inches too small. It seems that furniture dimensions have changed a lot in the past 30, 40 years. Very rarely do the cushions sold by today’s catalogue companies match up with vintage pieces. I was thinking of sending them back, but now it appears I don’t have to.

I set my new sofa under the window where I envisioned it and tried three cushions. Too small. But then I tried all four cushions on the three sections. By jamming them in a bit (and cable-tying the three sections together for stability), I made it work. Keepers!


I still need back cushions, but that can be finessed.

Along with my $200 classic picnic table from Agway, below, which I love — it’s heavy enough not to wobble on my wood-chip “patio,” and surprisingly not uncomfortable — I’m ready for summer entertaining. Now all I need are a grill and some guests.


About cara

I blog for fun at, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here:
This entry was posted in COTTAGE LIVING, HAMPTONS, INTERIOR DESIGN, LONG ISLAND, OLD-HOUSE MAKEOVERS and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Shoestring Summer Decorating

  1. Astor C. says:

    Re the change in furniture dimensions: Do you think the large cushions sold today are to accommodate the increased butts of Americans today?

  2. Adrienne says:

    Try the Fabric Mill in Plainview, LI (on the south service road of the LIE) for custom cushions. I recently had a chaise covered by them with navy blue Sunbrella fabric for a few hundred dollars.

  3. cara says:

    Who knew? Thanks for the tip, Adrienne.

  4. kathleen says:

    Your latest find is very nice. Looks great with the new cushions.

  5. Hi, I like your posting on rattan furniture.
    Yes, I also found difficulty to find a complete rattan chair with its cusions. Hence, I decided to make it by myself.
    I think it’s interesting and also informative at the same time.
    Looking forward for your next smart postings.

  6. Carl says:

    Cara: I too have a soft-spot for rattan furniture. I had a great set from the 50s that I had the hardest time getting cusions for. I finally had some made and then ended up giving the set to my sister for her new sunporch in Chicago. Oh, how I miss that set.

    Have fun with yours.

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