Shimu Logo
Return to Shimu website

« Older Entries Subscribe to Latest Posts

25 Nov 2015

Some favourite Chinese antiques from my recent trip to Beijing

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I have finally had a chance to draw breath after my trip to China earlier this month, so I thought now would be a good time to share some of the favourite antique pieces I selected from our various suppliers in Beijing when I was over there.

I should say first of all that it has become more and more difficult over the 12 years since I started Shimu to find good quality antiques. Ten or fifteen years ago there were many workshops across the city that would source furniture from their own network of suppliers throughout northern China, or buy from the unrestored antique furniture markets in Beijing, before carrying out restoration and selling on for export. Nowadays most of these workshops have either disappeared or now only produce new furniture, as the supply of antiques has dwindled. Particular styles and types of furniture that were easy to come by when we started up are now quite rare.

The situation is partly down to lack of supply, as there is only a finite amount of quality antique furniture available, particularly as so much was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. As the amount of unrestored pieces has diminished and they have become fewer and farther between, it has also become harder and more costly for the network of suppliers out in China’s regions to gather these items ready for sale to the restorers. This means that fewer people are interested in this line of work, particularly compared to the perceived potential riches of an alternative job in one of China’s rapidly growing cities. Despite this it IS still possible to find good quality pieces, and on each visit so far I have always managed to find a few standout items that I can’t wait to ship back to the UK.

We now work with three or four small workshops that still have a good source of antiques and are skilled at restoring them. The finest pieces, in the most original condition, are usually finished so as to show the old colour and details as much as possible. Other pieces might be stripped down and given a completely new lacquer finish, essentially breathing new life into an old, possibly unloved piece of furniture.

The red lacquer two door cabinet shown here is typical of a piece that used to be reasonably common but has now become rare. Antique furniture from the central province of Shanxi, where this piece originated, is well known in China for its quality and, at one time, abundance. Cut off from much of China by mountains and rivers, Shanxi suffered less than other parts of the country during the Cultural Revolution and so the beautiful painted armoires and cabinets that it is famous for survived the ravages of that period better than most. Nowadays though, it is rare to find a cabinet like this one, particularly one with its old lacquer and such beautifully detailed carvings on the base. These include delicate flowers and birds as well as a bat at each side to represent good luck.

The pair of large elm doors are one of several pairs available through one of our regular suppliers. I have often thought that these would make a fantastic, imposing entrance mounted in a modern setting, or even used just as decorative elements on a wall. I’ve also seen many of them converted into large coffee tables. You’d need plenty of space to make this work but the old iron handles, large heavy studs and weathered elm wood provide real character.

Camphor chests used to be plentiful when Shimu started up around twelve years ago. I remember our first few shipments of Chinese antique furniture all included a few of these and they always sold quickly. Over recent visits to Beijing, though, I’ve seen fewer and fewer. Used throughout China for storing clothes and bedding, camphor wood has a menthol-like aroma that acts as a natural insect repellent and the wood has a lovely tone and character. The chests are great as toy boxes or blanket trunks in a bedroom, and are also often perfectly sized for use as coffee tables with handy storage space inside. This particular chest also has its original brassware, including the front clasp and studded side brackets.

Lastly, the pair of mutidrawer chests in blue lacquer shown here is a good example of the ‘new from old’ furniture that I mentioned earlier, where an antique piece has been adapted and refinished to produce something more practical in a modern setting. These two chests started life, again in Shanxi, as one large medicine chest used by a Chinese apothecary. The original chest was cut and put back together as the two smaller pieces seen here, which were then refinished in a more modern shiny blue lacquer. Whilst the result bears little relation to the original piece of furniture, the new chests would look wonderful in a modern home office or bedroom.

These are just a few examples from the eighty or so antiques that I selected over in China and which we will be shipping over the coming weeks to arrive here in our showroom in the new year, so look out for the full collection soon in the New Arrivals section of our website. We’ll also post photographs on our Facebook page as soon as we have these so, if you haven’t already, please ‘like’ us to get a an early view of what we have lined up!


10 Nov 2015

Fluffy dogs and hairy crabs in Shanghai

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I arrived in Shanghai last Wednesday in time to check on the final container of our Classical Chinese Furniture due to leave before Christmas. Whilst some pieces were already finished, others were still at the woodwork stage. It’s always interesting to see our furniture in the various stages of production, as well a good opportunity to check the quality of workmanship and joinery before the final finish is applied.

The workshop we use is fairly small, so the production of our furniture is very much a traditional, cottage industry. The carpenters are producing individual pieces by hand as far as possible, aided by cutting tools and other machinery to ensure accurate and tight fitting joinery. Unlike other factories, the workshop produces only Chinese style furniture, so the carpenters are all very familiar with the designs and construction of the Shimu style.

It was good to meet some of the workers and see our furniture in production. In particular I was able to view and check on the various ‘bespoke’ pieces that will be included on the container – most of these were finished to the woodwork stage so I’m looking forward to seeing photos of the final pieces in the next week or so.

On Friday afternoon a couple of the guys here offered to take me out of Shanghai to an ancient town close by called ZhuJiaJiao. Built over a river and network of tributaries, it provides a stark contrast to the high rise hustle and bustle of central Shanghai. Busy with tourists but still feeling calm and tranquil as boats slowly ferry back and forth along the waterways and under the many arched stone bridges, the town gives a glimpse of an older, slower China that I rarely see on my visits.

I very much enjoyed ambling along the riverside, checking out the various stalls and wooden framed shops that offered everything from the usual jade, stone and  jewellery aimed at the passing tourist traffic to food stalls displaying their wares of pigs trotters and crayfish. We stopped at a tea house by the river and soon afterwards headed for one of the little restaurants for a meal of ‘hairy crab’ – a seasonal delicacy in this part of China in October and November – and other delicacies.

It was a nice way to finish my Shanghai visit as, after a final brief trip to the workshop on Saturday morning for some final checks, I flew on to Beijing. This second part of my China trip is mainly to select the next container of antique Chinese furniture to ship, along with discussions on some future reproduction ranges. More to follow soon on what I’ve lined up so far.


30 Oct 2015

The transformation of Talliston House & Gardens

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments


The exterior of Talliston House & Gardens

We were thrilled and intrigued when we discovered the story behind the recent purchase of a cabinet and some birdcage lamps.

Our customer John Trevillian is the mastermind behind Talliston House & Gardens – a three bed ex-council semi which he purchased a quarter of a century ago and then set about transforming. Talliston means ‘the hidden place’, and this once ordinary house now hides thirteen rooms, each set in a different time and place.

Over 25 years, John has painstakingly deconstructed each room back to the brickwork and rebuilt from scratch. Now the project is complete, not one square centimetre of the original house remains. John only used professional tradespeople when essential to comply with building regulations (structural, electric and gas), and the rest of the skills (from carpentry, bricklaying and garden landscaping to basket weaving and gold leafing) were learned and contributed by ordinary people.

John estimates that over 100 friends, artists and volunteers have helped him to transform the house. In a recent interview with The Guardian he said: “Everyone thinks I’m independently wealthy or that I’ve got a degree in interior design. But all I had was these stories in my head. I was the kid who’d run around castles, dreaming. This is the house I was meant to have.”


The voodoo kitchen

The rooms include a 1950s New Orleans-style voodoo kitchen, a New York detective’s office, a gothic haunted Scottish bedroom, a Cambodian treehouse in the attic and a moveable tipi. Each space is full of objects from around the globe, sourced from antiques traders or auctions, or gathered on research holidays.


The starhouse

The input of Shimu was in the Starhouse, a recreational arkspace melding Oriental tea house and Art Deco styling, where we contributed an antique Chinese cabinet from Shanxi province and birdcage lanterns.

We were delighted to able to help John with his amazing project. He commented: “Building Talliston I have worked with innumerable companies, sourcing pieces from all across the world. As the deadline loomed I knew I would not be able to travel personally, and was looking for singular unique pieces. Everyone at Shimu excelled at helping me with questions and details on a number of items before we found the exact right combination. I wish all of my experiences could have been that helpful and professional.”

John says his favourite rooms are the haunted bedroom, as its construction was the most complex; and the office, as he has written three novels here and believes it embodies the feeling of escape that Talliston represents.

The Talliston project was completed earlier this month and was opened to the public over the weekend of 18th October. John is now planning a well-deserved break and hopes to return to writing, as well as securing Talliston’s future and financial independence.

9 Oct 2015

Time to hibernate

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Not long now until the clocks go back and although we are looking forward to the thought of an extra hour in bed, we also know it means that winter is coming. But why be gloomy? The change in season is a great excuse to turn your home into a cosy haven as you snuggle up and spend more time indoors.

Medium lotus lampUnfortunately we can’t actually hibernate, but here are a few hints and suggestions to snugify your home. Be warned – if you follow all our tips, you may not want to leave the house until spring…

Lack of natural light during the shorter daylight hours means that it’s vital to ensure cosy lighting indoors. Think about where you’ll be sitting to work out where your light sources need to be positioned and use table lamps and spotlights to create pools of warm lighting.

For a warm and inviting atmosphere, keep overhead light usage to a minimum in bedrooms and living rooms, choosing lower-level wall, floor or table lamps instead.S lamp cream



We have a gorgeous collection of soft furnishings including luxurious faux fur throws like the grey Marilyn one featured below to snuggle up on the sofa with. For maximum comfort, surround yourself with an array of cushions.

When choosing soft furnishings, go for tactile fabrics and cosy textures like velvet, fur and chenille. Update your summery blinds with heavy curtains and consider adding rugs to hard flooring.

Now sit back with a steaming mug of your favourite hot drink and resolve to remain in your winter retreat until spring arrives!cushions


24 Sep 2015

Chinese Carved Wooden Panels

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

As you know, we’re big fans of the antique carved wooden panels that we source in China and sell online and in our showroom. Our customers generally buy these intricately carved panels as unusual wall art, but in this post, we want to share a little of the history of these pieces, and look at how they would have been used in a traditional Chinese home.

A little background to Chinese wooden architecture

A fundamental achievement of Chinese wooden architecture is the load-bearing timber frame, a network of interlocking wooden supports forming the skeleton of the building. This is considered China’s major contribution to worldwide architectural technology.

Unlike western architecture, in ancient Chinese wooden architecture, the wall only defined an enclosure, and did not form a load-bearing element. Buildings in China have been supported by wooden frames for as long as seven millennia. The emergence of the characteristic wooden Chinese frame emerged during the Neolithic period. Seven thousand years ago mortise and tenon joinery was used to build wood-framed houses. (The oldest are at Hemudu site at Zhejiang). Over a thousand of these sites have been identified, usually with circular, square or oblong shaped buildings. During the Yangshao culture in the Middle Neolithic, circular and rectangular semi-subterranean structures are found with wooden beams and columns. Wooden beams or earth supported the roofs which were most likely thatched.

wooden panel

A major feature of Chinese homes were the carved wooden lattice panels either used as room dividers or internal and external window covers (like the more modern shutters). It’s this type of piece that you will find in the collection at Shimu –  in a modern home they are a great way to add interest to any interior wall space.

For example, the carved wooden panel on the left was once part of the interior of a Chinese house in Shanxi province, but today would make an interesting decorative element hung on a wall, or could even be fitted with glass to create an unusual mirror.Pair of wooden panels

The pair of wooden panels on the right date from 1900 and would once have formed part of an internal dividing wall in another Shanxi home. The central lattice panels are made with mortise and tenon joints, still secured with the original nails.

Yin Yu Tang at the Peabody Essex Museum

At the Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts, the amazing spectacle of a 200 year old Chinese house can be viewed. Named ‘Yin Yu Tang’, the Huang family ancestral home was brought to America and reassembled. Looking around the house, either by taking the interactive online tour or in person, allows a rare perspective on Chinese art, architecture, and culture.

The house was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by Huang, a prosperous merchant. It was a stately sixteen-bedroom house in China’s southeastern Huizhou region.Chinese house

The house was oriented in the village according to principles of feng shui to ensure a harmonious relationship with the landscape and was constructed according to local building traditions and customs. Coins were placed under structural columns to bring prosperity to the home’s inhabitants. The first floor bedrooms have intricately carved lattice windows that look out onto two fish pools in the central courtyard. These details tell as much about the aspirations, identity, and creative expression of the Huang family as they do about the architectural heritage of the region.

The family’s well-documented genealogy and the accumulation of furnishings passed down through eight generations offer the opportunity to understand historical changes in China as they affect individuals in their daily lives and cultures on a global scale. If you ever get the chance to visit Massachusetts, we’d strongly recommend a visit to the Peabody Museum to see Yin Yu Tang – it’s certainly on our bucket list!

For now, why not visit the Shimu website for a stunning selection of antique wooden panels and screens sourced from across China. All are made with great craftsmanship and would make a beautiful talking point in any modern home.


11 Sep 2015

Feasting for the Moon Festival

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

The Chinese Mid-Autumn or ‘Moon’ Festival is traditionally celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month , so this year will take place on Sunday 27th September. The Mid-Autumn festival is the second most important festival after the Spring Festival, and this is recognised with a two day public holiday.


The full moon is a symbol of peace, prosperity and family reunion. The moon is supposed to at its brightest and fullest on the night of the festival. The tradition is for people to return home from wherever they are in China or the wider world to eat with their their family, admire the full moon and eat mooncakes.

Mooncakes are traditional Chinese pastries, made of wheat flour and usually with a sweet stuffing. However, they are made in many different flavours and each region has a different style. Fillings depend on local eating culture and tradition. The most popular variations include Cantonese, Suzhou, Beijing, Chaoshan and Ningbo, and modern moon cake flavours include green tea and ice cream.

The moon cake is a symbol of family reunion, and the cake is traditionally cut into pieces that equal to the number of family members.

Mooncakes are named after the moon goddess and in ancient times, were a kind of offering to the moon. In Chinese culture, roundness symbolizes completeness and togetherness. A full moon symbolizes prosperity and reunion for the whole family. Round mooncakes complement the harvest moon in the night sky.

The mooncake is not just a food, but a profound cultural tradition held deep in the hearts of many Chinese. During Mid-Autumn Festival, people eat mooncakes together with family, or present mooncakes to relatives or friends to express love and best wishes.

Other delicaies which are traditionally eaten during th festival are pumpkin (for good health), river snails (to brighten eyes), wine fermented with osmanthus flowers (for a happy life), duck and hairy crab. To find out more about these Mid-Autumn Festival culinary delights, visit this page on the China Highlights website. In the meantime, we wish you a happy Moon Festival, however you choose to celebrate it.


28 Aug 2015

Coastal chic for your home

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We may dream of living by the coast – fresh sea air, long walks on the beach, sound of the waves – and for most of us it is a world away from our fastpaced everyday lives.

But forget relocation, why not just bring a bit of the seaside into your home?

Zen matters

Encourage relaxation by embracing and reflecting natural surroundings. Evoke the undulations of sea and sand by choosing furniture with curved edges, like chairs with horseshoe backs, circular mirrors and round tables.

Antique horseshoe chairs from Shimu with gently curved backs

Antique horseshoe chairs from Shimu with gently curved backs

See your home as one calm and flowing space, with the eye easily moving from room to room, mimicking the constant motion of the tide.

Let in the light

Consider these key elements when creating your space. Think about how it feels to be beside the sea and the emotion that evokes within you.

Visualise that special kind of light you only get by the water… Now consider your home, and use the light sources you have to recreate those big skies. Position key pieces of furniture near windows so the space is flooded with light from sunrise to sunset. Accessorise with glass pieces and mirrors so light can reflect and illuminate. Glass panels in doors are also a nice trick to boost whatever natural light you have. Keep window coverings delicate, perhaps using voile or cotton.

Steer clear of too much polish, clutter and fussy detail. By keeping furniture to a minimum and including pieces that let light through, such as slatted or rattan chairs, you will boost a room’s sense of space.

Blue green ceramic jars evoke the sea and sky

Blue green ceramic jars evoke the sea and sky

There’s something enchanting about a completely white room; it has an immediate calming effect. Only a hint of colour is required: try accents in classic coastal shades of blue and turquoise to bring the space alive whilst also giving a subtle nod to sea and sky.

White-painted tongue and groove cladding instantly evokes the seaside. Use it on walls throughout your home, not just the bathroom.

To give a sun-baked look to floorboards, shelves and table tops, limewash the boards, or try the Scandinavian ‘white lye soap’ treatment: after sanding, apply caustic soda to open the grain then use  white lye soap to bleach the wood and give it a beautiful chalky finish.

Bring the outside in

Bring warmth to your scheme with natural textures, for example, a coffee table made from reclaimed elm evokes driftwood strewn on the beach. For soft furnishings, choose natural fabrics like cotton, linen and jute in neutral colours and touchable textures.

Coffee table from Shimu's Chinese Country collection handcrafted from reclaimed elm.

Coffee table from Shimu’s Chinese Country collection handcrafted from reclaimed elm.

Shells and coral collected from the beach make wonderful ornaments and bring back memories of happy times. Pieces fashioned from driftwood like candle holders and mirrors are perfect.

Try using everday items you would normally find outside to give a subtle hint of beach life. A vintage deckchair in the bathroom, a white-painted folding garden chair at a desk, an antique tennis racket on the wall or a aged zinc bucket as a bin.

To avoid the beach house clichés, mix new with old, high street with antique, natural with gloss. Let your personality shine through and who knows, your own unique take on coastal chic could refresh you as much as a fortnight in the sun!


23 Jul 2015

Restoring and revamping old furniture

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

If you have an unloved piece of furniture which needs attention, there is much to consider before embarking on the process of restoration. A valuable piece requires a careful approach, whereas a junk shop find can be treated with less reverence.

Consider these points before you begin:

– Is your piece out of the ordinary? Is it a masterpiece or classic example of craftsmanship? Make sure any restoration won’t diminish the value of your furniture.

– Was your furniture made by a notable craftsman or manufacturer, regardless of age? Look for any marks or labels that might indicate the origin on the bottom or back of the piece.

– Would it be more practical just to give the piece a good clean and make minor repairs?

What to consider before you start a restoration project

Anyone who’s watched Antiques Roadshow knows how poor restoration can affect value. But we’ve also seen success stories where unloved pieces were restored to their former glory.

Take some time to inspect the furniture for any labels or marks that might help you identify its origin. Look at the overall quality of the wood and craftsmanship, including any carvings. If it turns out to be a potentially valuable item, do no more than clean it. Any repairs on a piece like this should be left to a professional.

When embarking on cleaning, watch out for a hand-painted finish which resembles wood – some techniques rely on painting lesser woods to look like tiger oak or bird’s eye maple, for example, and those techniques add value when they stay intact over time.

Even if you are confident the piece isn’t a rare antique, it’s still best to be cautious. Start by cleaning drawers, cracks and crevices of accumulated debris and giving it a good dusting. Most collectors value an original finish and a patina (which translates into dirt and wear that builds up over time) that makes an item look old. Sometimes just a good clean and a little glue in the joints will be all that’s needed.

In many cases, you can bring an old piece of furniture back to life with minimal effort. Just be confident of what you are working on and its potential value before you begin.

What does ‘restoration’ mean?

It’s generally better to restore a piece to its original state rather than totally change it or haphazardly patch it up. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, and at Shimu, we sell a mix of carefully restored antiques and others which have been refashioned for a modern home.Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 10.44.31

Above is a painted sideboard from our collection of antiques in good original condition. The old red lacquer is now worn and less bright than when first applied but well preserved. The beautifully detailed paintings of flower vases, brush pots and bronzes on the doors are still very clear, each set against a cream background that is framed in blue, orange and black.

Sometimes we alter the finish of an antique piece, perhaps stripping it back to original wood or giving it a new lease of life with a bright lacquer. Below on the right is a cabinet which we’ve refinished in a deep red lacquer and added a practical interior shelf.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 11.01.37

The distressed ‘shabby chic’ look is very popular with our customers and this can be a relatively straightforward finish to achieve at home.

DIY ‘shabby chic’

To achieve this look at home, start by prepping the surfaces to be painted. Remove any handles, hinges or metalwork, then strip off the paint or varnish with sandpaper or Nitromors.

Once stripped and sanded, get rid of any dust by wiping down with warm water and allow to dry. Next, consider whether you need primer, and if the piece is in good condition, apply two coats of paint instead of primer. For the ‘shabby chic’ look, oil-based eggshells are ideal as a water-based paint won’t sand well. When applying paint always go in the direction of the grain, keeping minimal paint on the paintbrush and applying in ultra thin layers. Allow each layer of paint to dry properly before adding the next.

Avoid painting outside on a sunny day as bugs find the gleam of fresh wet paint irresistible. Once they’ve landed they won’t come off without leaving marks. Keep hairy pets away for the same reason.

Leave the piece to dry for a minimum of 24 hours before distressing. Now comes the creative part! The amount of ‘ageing’ you apply is entirely up to you. Highlight areas where wear and tear would occur, for example on raised areas, edges and around drawers. Use 180 grit sandpaper – the trick is to sand in one direction repeatedly. Once you’re happy with the finish, either leave as is or add a coat of beeswax or varnish. This will help protect the wood, but apply sparingly as an overly shiny varnish will not look authentic.

10 Jul 2015

The tricky business of wedding gift-buying etiquette

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

The wedding season is upon us. You have the hat, but what about the gift? And what do you get the couple who already has everything? They have been together for years and certainly have no need for another dinner service or a pair of crystal swans.

Buying the right gift can be a headache. In years gone by, things were simpler, with a department store list to which you had to strictly adhere, or risk being crossed off the happy couple’s Christmas card list forever.

Turning up with a random present is generally frowned upon these days. Almost half of guests are now asked to donate hard cash in place of gifts. But what will that cash to be used for? Some couples choose a charity that is close to their hearts, but more likely, the funds will be used to contribute to a dream honeymoon or a flat screen TV.

After much research, we’ve come up with ten top tips for wedding gift buying:

Buddha head

Bronze Buddha head

1. If you’re invited to the wedding ceremony, you should always give the bride and groom a gift (and please stick to the list!) Reception only? A bottle of fizz will do.

2. What if the bride and groom specify ‘no gifts’?  Dilemma: did they really mean it? If in doubt, make a generous donation to charity (and be sure to let the happy couple know), or give gift vouchers for a popular store (in our experience, M&S vouchers are always gratefully received).

3. We know attending a wedding costs a lot, but buying a new outfit, travelling to Portsmouth and staying overnight in a Travelodge does not count as a gift. Be flattered you were invited (and choose the cheapest thing on the gift list).

5. But really, how much should you spend on a gift? Ultimately, you should give what you can afford, but a recent poll suggested the average spend should be between £40 and £59.

6. To save hassle for the bride and groom, consider giving the pressie a few days before the wedding. If it’s not too large, bring it with you, but never give it after the big day.

7. Are you the bride and groom? Always send thank you notes within three months.…

8. If you didn’t receive a gift from the about-to-be-weds when you got married, do you really have to give them a gift? Unfortunately the answer is yes.

9. Even if the event is a second marriage or renewal of vows, you should still bring a gift.

10. If the bride jilts the groom at the altar, or vice versa, should the gift be returned? If you’ve chosen your gift well, you won’t want to part with it (and hopefully no one will ever notice).

We have gifts galore for discerning guests at, ranging from embroidered cushions starting at under £20, right up to a gorgeous antique wedding cabinet at almost £2,000. Be inspired, but please, remember the rules!

Some of the embroidered cushions available at our website from £20

Some of the embroidered cushions available at our website from £20

25 Jun 2015

Our pick of the Chinese antiques arriving next week

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We have another container from Beijing due to arrive with us next week, chock full of Chinese antiques and accessories for the home that I selected during my last visit back in April.

Most of these pieces have been up on our website for a while so you can already view and order your favourites, but we will be busy over the coming weeks photographing an extra dozen or so antiques off this container that weren’t photographed in China so look out for these soon. They include several beautiful elm and walnut consoles as well as some quite rare red lacquer Shanxi cabinets, all from a new supplier I came across in Beijing quite recently.

Along with furniture we will be taking delivery of the new wall art (some lovely new Chinese ancestor paintings and Tibetan art), stoneware, bronzes and carved wooden figures that I also chose during my trip in April.

With the new container nearly here I thought this would be a good time to pick out just one or two of my own picks – the more unusual or special items of furniture that will be arriving next week.

First of these is an old two door cabinet from Shanxi province, with a wonderfully carved heavy base and old brass hardware. For reasons I’m never entirely sure of, this type of piece is referred to these days as a ‘book cabinet’, even though it’s purpose originally would have been for more general storage in a bedroom or reception area. The cabinet would once have been one of a pair, with each one being made to sit on top of a matching, much larger cabinet to form a tall storage unit.

The upper part of the cabinet is quite simple in style, with recessed door panels, beading around the frames and traditional wooden dowel hinges. The base though, is decorated with wonderful deep relief carvings. The central recessed panel is made up of an intricate geometric pattern that includes seven swastikas – an auspicious symbol in both Buddhism and Chinese Taoism for good fortune and prosperity.

We have sold a few similar cabinets in the past and have a similar one in black lacquer also available right now, but the original red colour, brass handles and detailed carvings make this cabinet one of my favourites.

Also arriving next week is another cabinet that really stood out for me when I was over in Beijing. This one is a large sideboard from Gansu province in the west of China and what’s special in this case are the wonderful, original thick red lacquer and old paintings. The cabinet has been restored with a new shellac finish and adapted for use as a modern sideboard, but still retains all of its old character.

Originally the doors at either side of the central drawers would have been fixed panels, with the areas inside accesed by removing a half board lid in the top. Unusually, the restorer has kept the half boards intact rather than sealing them – something I think is a nice nod to the furniture’s original purpose and which adds extra charm.

The paintings on each door show detailed landscapes of mountains and trees, with figures picked out in the centre. I love the way that the once bright colours have been toned down with age, so that the soft cream background and darker colours of the mountains contrast beautifully with the deep red that surrounds them.

You’ll also notice futher paintings in monochrome on the central part of the cabinet, below the central drawer. Between this drawer and the two smaller ones above are the traces left in the lacquer by the old, heavy circular lock plate that would have been used to secure this part of the cabinet. You’ll also see the ring hardware above each door that once allowed the half board lids to be locked in place.

As a statement piece in a modern home you’re unlikely to find anything finer than this and the sideboard’s size and proportions make it ideal either as a dining room buffet or as an impressive stand for a large TV.

With this particular container due in we are already looking to ship the next – we’re just finalising the last few antiques to ship along with a few new reproduction pieces from a couple of our regular suppliers in Beijing. I’m hoping we’ll have photos of most of this new selection soon so look out for these in the ‘new arrivals‘ part of our website over the coming weeks!


  • Browse

© Shimu Ltd. 2010. All Rights Reserved.