The Ultimate Guide To Vintage Bamboo Furniture

The Ultimate Guide To Vintage Bamboo Furniture

Pro Tips for Identifying and Maintaining Unique Vintage Bamboo Pieces for Your Retro-Inspired Home

The Ultimate Guide To Vintage Bamboo Furniture

Bamboo furniture from the mid-20th century marries exotic retro charm with eco-friendly durability like few other materials can. With roots in Asian craftsmanship and a surge of popularity in the 1950s and 60s, these vintage bamboo pieces impart warmth and casual style perfect for relaxed contemporary living.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discover what makes bamboo furniture special, how to identify true vintage bamboo, proper care and maintenance tips, the disadvantages and advantages of bamboo wood, and key considerations before incorporating vintage bamboo into your home.

So whether you’re an avid collector or simply appreciate sustainable retro style, this overview will help you confidently curate your dream midcentury-inspired space and keep your vintage bamboo looking beautiful for generations.


  • The History of Vintage Bamboo Furniture
  • Identifying Authentic Vintage Bamboo Pieces
  • Care and Maintenance of Bamboo Furniture
  • Choosing the Best Oil for Bamboo Furniture
  • Application Tips for Oiling Bamboo Furniture
  • Pros and Cons of Bamboo furniture
  • Related questions
    • Is Bamboo Naturally water-resistant?
    • How long does bamboo furniture last?

The History of Vintage Bamboo Furniture

While bamboo has been revered in Asian art and culture for thousands of years, it first gained widespread popularity in Western interior design in the 1940s and 50s. This marked the beginning of the vintage era for standout bamboo pieces.

Post-World War II interest in exotic Polynesian themes coincided with influences from traveled designers to drive demand for tropical furnishings. Troops returning from the Pacific theater after WWII brought an affinity for the native rattan and bamboo crafts of the region.

As midcentury modern style flourished in the 1950s, the neutrally-hued, gently curved forms of bamboo fit seamlessly into casual living spaces. Tapered legs and Scandinavian-inspired shapes complemented the clean-lined furniture and architecture of the day.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, bamboo represented the pinnacle of sustainable exoticism and practicality. Durable dining sets, sideboards, shelving units, chairs and tables soon appeared in countless suburban homes.

Top vintage manufacturers like Heywood Wakefield, Zeeuw and Kent Coffey meticulously crafted furnishings from bamboo stalks at their prime 5-7 year maturity. Details like rattan accents and maker’s marks help date pieces from the 1940s through 1960s vintage heyday.

While demand cooled briefly in the 1970s, the 1990s and 2000s saw resurgence in interest as sustainable design returned to the forefront. Once again, the laidback retro charm of midcentury bamboo made it a coveted addition for any space.

Identifying Authentic Vintage Bamboo Pieces

With the popularity of midcentury modern furniture, ample new mass-produced bamboo items replicate retro styling. So how can a vintage hunter confidently discern true antique bamboo amidst countless convincing reproductions?

These are the subtle telltale signs that a bamboo piece genuinely hails from the 1940s, 50s or 60s era:

  • Signs of Age – Look closely for natural signs of use and age like minor wear, light scratches, small dents, faded areas, or other flaws acquired over decades. Quality vintage bamboo has a lovely patina while new bamboo appears perfect.
  • Manufacturer Marks – Search for an original ink stamp, metal tag, or paper label from brands like Heywood Wakefield, Meinke, Zeeuw, or Kent Coffey who were manufacturing during the vintage heyday. New pieces lack these authentic retro manufacturers marks.
  • Traditional Joinery – Examine how the legs, surfaces, and drawers are joined together. You’ll find vintage bamboo used traditional wood joinery like dovetails and mortise and tenon joints, rarely modern metal brackets or screws.
  • Retro Styling – Gently tapered legs, smooth rounded edges, subtly curved shapes, and an elevated platform base reflect quintessential midcentury influences. Avoid bamboo with chunky overlaps or busy modern designs.
  • Look and Feel – Heft a corner and smell the bamboo. Vintage bamboo feels solidly weighted and has an aged, musty odor versus new “green” bamboo’s lightness and fresh grassy scent. Real bamboo ages to a mellow blonde versus dark modern stains.
  • Provenance – Knowing where and how the piece was acquired can help confirm its origins. Purchasing vintage bamboo furniture from trusted collectors, reputable shops, and those who know its history helps ensure authenticity.

With a keen eye for these subtle clues and markers of age, seasoned vintage foragers can confidently identify genuine midcentury bamboo finds worth investing in from amidst countless new reproductions. Patience and due diligence pays off when curating a distinctive home collection.

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Care and Maintenance of Bamboo Furniture

With simple yet vital periodic maintenance, vintage bamboo furniture will retain its beauty and function reliably for generations. Follow these tips to help treasured pieces maintain their revived look:

  • Frequent Gentle Cleaning – Dust frequently using a dry soft lint-free cloth to prevent dirt buildup, especially in crevices. Every few months, wipe down with a damp rag and a small amount of mild natural soap and water to remove grime buildup without damaging the finish. Avoid using any abrasive cleaners or pads.
  • Moisture Protection – Immediately blot spills using a dry absorbent towel to prevent liquid from penetrating the finish, which could cause discoloration or staining. Avoid placing antique bamboo furniture directly next to appliances, plumbing fixtures, or other sources of excess moisture. Lift pieces away from puddles or spills rather than wiping.
  • Sunlight Precautions – Keep vintage bamboo completely away from prolonged direct sunlight streaming through windows and outdoor placement to prevent irreversible drying, brittleness, fading, and finish cracks over time. Small cracks make the piece more vulnerable to soiling and decay.
  • Careful Handling – Always lift and carry vintage bamboo furniture properly rather than pulling, dragging, or sliding to avoid placing strain on delicate joints. Remove doors, drawers, and legs during longer-distance moves to reduce stress on connections. Carry upright rather than flat when possible.
  • Protective Materials – Add felt pads, cushioned rug pads, or other soft protectors beneath all legs and bases to guard hard floors from scratches and scuffs during use. Use coasters, placemats, and tablecloths to protect surfaces.
  • Ideal Climate Control – Maintain indoor temperature between 60-75°F year-round and steady ambient humidity around 45-55% to keep vintage bamboo from extreme drying out or warping due to changes. Consult a humidity guide for ideal levels based on climate. Consider a humidifier.
  • Prompt Damage Repair – Repair any scratches, chips, cracks, or dents immediately to prevent additional wear and deterioration. Use a bamboo-toned filler stick or wood filler for cracks. Touch up color carefully with markers or stain pens matched to the finish.
  • Routine Rejuvenating Oils – Every 6-12 months, gently apply tung oil to moisturize, strengthen, and enhance the natural blonde patina of your vintage bamboo. Allow oil to fully absorb without over-saturating.

With vigilant preventative care and maintenance, even 70 year old vintage bamboo will maintain its structural integrity for many generations to come. Proper handling and oiling allows pieces to serve another 70 years easily while retaining their value.

Choosing the Best Oil for Bamboo Furniture

Applying a penetrating protective oil periodically helps nourish bamboo furniture’s finish and prevent drying out, cracks, and splits from developing over time. But with the variety of oils available, how do you choose? Here are tips:

  • Tung Oil – 100% pure tung oil, also called China wood oil, is the optimal choice for bamboo. Tung oil penetrates deeply into bamboo while providing a subtle sheen that maintains the gorgeous natural blonde patina. It also offers good water repellency.
  • Mineral Oil – Food-grade mineral oil is affordable and penetrates well, but doesn’t offer the same level of protection as tung oil. It needs reapplying more frequently on bamboo.
  • Danish Oil – This blend of tung oil, varnish and solvents offers moderate protection for bamboo. But the varnish can create a plastic-like buildup over time.
  • Linseed Oil – While used for some wood surfaces, linseed oil is not ideal for bamboo as it can discolor into an amber tone over time which alters bamboo’s light coloration.
  • Coconut Oil – Despite marketing claims, coconut oil is not recommended. It stays greasy, goes rancid quickly, and does not properly cure in bamboo.

For the optimal bamboo finish protection and maintenance, look for 100% pure tung oil with no additives or solvents. Follow application directions carefully and allow to fully cure. Reapply every 6-12 months or as needed. Choose wisely to keep your bamboo furniture revived.

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Application Tips for Oiling Bamboo Furniture

Once you’ve selected a high-quality tung oil for your bamboo furniture, carefully following application techniques is vital to gain the full protection and conditioning benefits for the bamboo:

  • 1. Clean Surface – Wipe away any dirt, dust, grime, or existing oils from the bamboo using a clean lint-free cloth before applying fresh oil. Start with a completely clean, dry surface free of debris.
  • 2. Work in Sections – Only oil small sections of the bamboo at a time to maintain control and avoid misses. Apply a very thin, even coat of oil across the bamboo using a soft lint-free cloth or foam applicator. Avoid saturated drenching which can lead to tacky spots.
  • 3. Allow Absorption Time – Let the oil dwell for 10-15 minutes after application so it has time to thoroughly penetrate and soak into the bamboo fibers before wiping. Bamboo is quite absorbent so oil needs time to permeate deeply.
  • 4. Remove Excess Oil – After allowing absorption time, thoroughly wipe away any remaining excess oil with a clean dry cloth. You want the surface “dry” without any oil sitting on top.
  • 5. Cure Properly – Ensure the oiled bamboo furniture is not in direct sunlight and has adequate airflow during the 5-7 day curing period. Sunlight can inhibit curing and lead to stickiness.
  • 6. Do a Final Check – After a day or two of curing, inspect for any missed dry patches and apply a light extra coat of oil as needed, allowing additional cure time. Just a thin layer of oil is needed.
  • 7. Practice Caution – Maintain ventilation during application and curing. Avoid occupying the space until fully cured to prevent any odor inhalation. Take safety measures if needed.

With careful preparation, controlled oil application, and sufficient curing time, you’ll maintain the protective beauty of your vintage bamboo using tung oil. Follow these tips for success.

Pros and Cons of Bamboo furniture

Like any material, bamboo has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages to weigh when considering it for furniture and home décor. Looking at both the pros and cons helps provide a balanced perspective on bamboo’s suitability for different applications.

Advantages of Bamboo Furniture

What sets bamboo apart as a renewable, strong, and versatile furniture material?

  • Sustainable Resource – Bamboo is an incredibly renewable grass that can be harvested every 3-5 years without replanting, versus waiting decades for trees to reach maturity. And it regenerates without the need for fertilizers, pesticides, or intensive watering. This makes bamboo far easier to cultivate sustainably than traditional lumber.
  • Strength & Durability – Bamboo is extremely scratch and dent-resistant thanks to the dense, resilient fibers that develop as bamboo stalks mature over 5-7 years. Once processed into boards, bamboo rates very high on the Janka hardness scale, making it comparable to hardwoods like oak, cherry, and maple. This density enables it to withstand generations of heavy use.
  • Dimensional Stability – Bamboo is uniquely resilient and dimensionally stable, resisting warping, swelling, and cracking far better than natural wood when subjected to changes in temperature and humidity. This stability comes from bamboo’s structure and chemical composition. It will maintain its shape and endure environmental shifts that cause expansion, contraction, and cracks in standard lumber.
  • Stylish Versatility – Bamboo imparts a warm, casual vintage look that fits relaxed contemporary spaces beautifully. It’s globally-inspired vibe and neutral tones make it highly versatile to complement any style from bohemian to modern. Bamboo offers a friendly low-maintenance alternative to pricier hardwoods.
  • Workability & Craftsmanship – Bamboo is ultimately easier on cutting tools than many hardwoods, so it does not dull blades as quickly and has no issues with splintering. This makes bamboo an ideal material for intricate hand-crafted furniture and woodworking. It lends itself to detailed joinery and carving.

Bamboo really shines through for its all-around renewability, strength, stability, style, and workability. While no material is perfect, properly maintained bamboo makes an excellent ecologically-responsible furniture choice built to last lifetimes.

Disadvantages of Bamboo Furniture

While bamboo has many advantages, it also comes with some potential drawbacks to keep in mind with vintage pieces:

  • Limited Supply – Only a finite number of quality midcentury bamboo furniture pieces exist, so vintage items are exclusive and can be difficult to source compared to newly manufactured furniture. Patience is required to find authentic pieces
  • Susceptible to Light Damage – When placed in direct sun over prolonged periods, bamboo can start to fade, discolor, and become brittle or dried out. Avoiding direct sunlight is key.
  • Prone to Surface Cracks – Small cracks and splits in the finish can develop over time when vintage bamboo furniture is allowed to dry out from low humidity. Some oil or lacquer maintenance is required.
  • Vulnerable to Excess Moisture – While bamboo resists water well, standing water or very high humidity can still cause swelling, marring, staining, or bleaching if left unchecked. Quick cleanup of spills is important.
  • Challenging Repairs – Bamboo can be more difficult to patch or repair than solid wood if damage occurs. Touch ups require careful matching of finishes. But repairs are still often possible.
  • Environmental Demands – Vintage bamboo requires reasonably consistent indoor temperature and 40-60% ambient humidity to prevent drying, deterioration, or mold. Climate control is optimal.
  • Careful Handling Needs – Moving or lifting vintage bamboo always requires extra care to avoid splits at joints and other stress damage due to its age and nature. Slowness and protection is key.

With preventative maintenance, bamboo’s weaknesses are minor compared to its many assets. But being aware of its potential vulnerabilities allows collectors to protect their investments for the long haul.

Related questions:

Is Bamboo Naturally water-resistant?

One of bamboo’s inherent advantages is its natural moisture-resistance compared to more porous woods. But vintage bamboo furniture should not be considered fully waterproof.

The tight bamboo fibers and protective silica naturally repel water nicely. Vintage bamboo stands up admirably to routine humidity and the occasional spill or rain shower when used indoors or seasonally outdoors. Over time, it will weather outdoor conditions better than less hardy woods.

However, prolonged direct contact with standing water or very wet conditions can still cause swelling, staining, brittleness and cracks as bamboo dries out. Vintage pieces should not be soaked or subjected to wetness long-term.

With prompt attention to wiping spills and overall care, bamboo’s moisture-resistant properties make it a wise wood furniture choice for kitchens, dining spaces, covered outdoor areas and anywhere furniture will see regular use in close proximity to moisture.

How long does bamboo furniture last?

Quality vintage bamboo furniture pieces like those by Heywood Wakefield can easily last 70-100 years or longer with periodic rejuvenation. Constructed from dense, mature bamboo rather than thin strips or pulp, these furnishings can rival old-growth hardwoods in durability.

The hardness and resilience comes from traditional Chinese craftsmanship perfected over centuries. Careful selection of 5-7 year old bamboo stalks at their peak density delivers maximum strength and stability. Time-tested joinery creates sturdy enduring joints.

Properly cured bamboo has a Janka hardness over 1000, on par with oak and maple. This density enables it to resist scratches, scuffs and dents for generations of use. And its immunity to changes in humidity prevent the swelling, cracks and splits that can compromise some woods over time.

While cheaply made bamboo furniture may fall apart after a decade, quality midcentury pieces will serve families for multiple generations if their unique care needs are met. This lifespan makes vintage bamboo a prized investment.


For furniture that blends exotic retro charm with eco-friendly durability, true midcentury bamboo pieces are unmatched. Understanding how to identify and care for vintage bamboo helps ensure your selections will serve your family for generations.

Beyond the style, the renewable nature and longevity of maintained vintage bamboo makes it a prize for collectors who appreciate furniture crafted to last. Let these stunning yet relaxed furnishings infuse your home with lived-in sustainable style that ages gracefully.

We hope this guide provided helpful insights into selecting, caring for, and decorating with vintage bamboo finds. Discover more about identifying quality secondhand furniture and designing a uniquely collected home by subscribing to our blog.