Property: Chic and cheerful

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It's inexpensive, elegant and can go into the conservatory when you get a proper sofa. Rosalind Russell on wicker furniture

Wicker is a very obliging material. Furniture made from it tends to be cheaper than the sprung-interior sort. And when you have enough money to invest in some serious sofas, the wicker - or rattan, or bamboo - shuffles off dutifully into the garden or conservatory and takes on a new lease of life.

It also suits almost everyone's pocket and aspirations, from the pricey Marston & Langinger lounger, seen in all the classiest conservatories, to the astonishingly varied and very reasonably priced range from The Pier.

Marston & Langinger's collection, which definitely falls into the Old Rectory/small country mansion bracket, is made from English willow, handmade around a steel frame. The quality of the willow and the highly trained weavers account for their position at the top end of the market, according to the firm.

Thinner weave and inconsistent quality of rattan and wicker imported from abroad make rivals less durable. An M&L lounger costs pounds 410 (more if painted) and the matching footstool is a further pounds 200. The cushions cost another pounds 138 and pounds 121, in a stripe or plain fabric respectively. The total is pounds 869 (add pounds 90 if your taste runs to a Racing Green, or Duck Egg Blue paint finish).

More impoverished gents and ladies with shorter legs can buy a five-piece wicker suite in white from The Pier for pounds 395, including cushions in turquoise. The set includes two armchairs, a sofa, coffee table and end table and would look just as smart in a first-time buyer's sitting room as in a sun lounge. The Pier also sells white-painted bedroom furniture - very girly, but pretty - which includes a single headboard at pounds 85, an armoire at pounds 395 and a nightstand at pounds 85.

The Pier has also jazzed up wicker with strong colours in the form of a six-drawer storage chest. The frame is made of wood, while the drawers (either six, eight or four, depending on preference) are of wicker, painted orange, lime green, French blue and navy, just over 32 inches high: pounds 125.

The range includes everything from a Chow Chair, in various colours, at pounds 29, to a more formal and traditional hand-woven wicker and carved solid-wood sofa at pounds 395, including cushions.

Ocean probably has the most chic, contemporary look in wicker and metal furniture. Low, streamlined and very Club Class airport lounge (the next look on from loft), the Lux has curvy arms with close-woven wicker side panels following the wave. The sofa is pounds 495 plus pounds 295 for cushions (a choice of five colours), pounds 295 for the armchair (plus pounds 95 for cushions) and pounds 89 for a dining chair.

Most gardening catalogues now feature conservatory furniture too. In the Traditional Gardening Company's brochure, tucked between rotary scarifiers and rubber knee pads, are two styles of rattan furniture.

The high-backed President sofa costs pounds 365 plus pounds 79.95 for the cushion and the matching armchair is pounds 225 plus pounds 44.95. Just a bit cheaper is the Jakarta sofa at pounds 325 plus pounds 74.95 and matching chair at pounds 179.95 plus pounds 39.95.

Cheaper still, and cheerful, is the folding bamboo furniture from Windrush Mill. The table and chairs can be bought separately, or as a set for pounds 195. They can be packed flat for storage when the sun stops shining.

If you are considering buying any wicker, rattan or bamboo furniture with a view to taking it to a second, or retirement, home abroad, take note. The British Association of Removers warns that some countries look on imported cane furniture with as much enthusiasm as Britain does on a suspected case of rabies.

Quarantine authorities may insist the furniture is fumigated at your expense, which is quite costly. The BAR is happy to advise on what may and may not be accepted in various countries.

The other drawback to wicker furniture - usually the looser-weave style - is that in central heating, it is prone to creak like an old set of corsets. Which can be quite disconcerting if you are in the room by yourself and the opposite chair sounds as though it has an unseen occupant. But it is a small price to pay for imagining yourself on a balmy hotel terrace in Goa with a gin, lime and soda in your hand.

Marston & Langinger 0171-824 8818; The Pier mail order 0171- 814 5004; Ocean orderline 0800 132 985; The Traditional Garden Company 0870 600 3366; Windrush Mill 01993 770456; British Association of Removers 0181- 861 3331.

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