Introducing our VIP club

This week sees the official launch of the Shimu VIP club. It’s aimed at customers who have a serious interest in Chinese antiques and a passion for Oriental styling. Members will get first views of new pieces, invitations to events, expert advice, sale previews, special offers and bonus gifts based on regular purchases.

To launch the scheme, we’re giving members a free subscription to Homes & Antiques magazine if you spend £1000 or more before the end of September (as well as the usual free delivery). Simply enter ‘VIP Club’ into the box that asks for your reason for buying when you order online or call us to place your order personally.

As another VIP bonus, we’ll shortly be publishing our ‘Guide to Chinese Antiques’  and will email all VIP club members with a link to download it free of charge before anyone else.  Other things to look forward to are the launch of a new range of accessories, which we’ll invite VIP members to view online first, and advance notice of our summer sale.

We’d also love to know what YOU think we should offer VIPs! What are you interested in? How can we help you indulge your passion for Oriental antiques? And how can we improve our service to those who shop with us more regularly? Please do give us your feedback!

If you’d like to join our VIP club, email now.

 

Eagerly awaiting our next container of Chinese antiques

We will be taking delivery of another container of Chinese antique furniture from Beijing in a couple of weeks from now and we can’t wait to get hold of the new pieces. You can already see and order the vast majority of these on our website, so I thought this would be a good time to pick out one or two of our favourites, along with others in our current collection.

Red Lacquer Altar Table, Shanxi
Red Lacquer Altar Table, Shanxi

We are often asked by customers to find Chinese altar tables that would fit into a modern home as a console. They make fantastic focal points and display surfaces for family photos and ornaments and, with their upward turning flanges, are highly distinctive. The issue is often the size of the tables. Traditionally used in the main reception room of a Chinese home for use as a shrine to ancestors, most altar tables were sized at well over two metres in length – not always practical in a western home. These days it is becoming harder to find even larger antique altar tables in good condition, let alone ones with more manageable dimensions.

The altar table shown here and currently sailing over from China is shorter than most similar pieces at around six foot long, with narrow proportions that would be ideal for a hall or living room. It comes from Shanxi province in central China and shows many features that are so typical of this type of table. The everted flanges are evident, as are the recessed legs that show beautiful open carvings of flowers, both inside and out. The legs are topped with symmetrical ‘cloud head’ spandrels to the front and back. The dark brown finish on the table top is original, whilst the deep red lacquer on the legs and apron appears to have been added more recently.

Painted Black Sideboard, Gansu
Painted Black Sideboard, Gansu

With similar proportions but very different in style is a large sideboard in its original, now faded black finish and with paintings on the central doors. Although it was also sourced from Shanxi province, its early life would have been very different from the altar table. Rather than being a valued piece of furniture used for religious purposes, this solid, thick framed chest would have stored foodstuffs such as grain or flour. It would have opened through a removable plank in the top, since sealed, and what have now been converted into four doors would have been fixed panels.

The matching decorative paintings of flower vases on the central doors originally would have been in bright, vibrant colours – greens, golds and oranges that would have contrasted beautifully against the deeper black lacquer. Now faded into more muted colours, the paintings still add a character and focus to an otherwise very simple design. This is a lovely example of a practical, vernacular item of furniture that has been recycled and repurposed for the modern day – in this case an unusual, very striking sideboard that would suit a dining room or reception area.

Blue Lacquer Low Sideboard, Qinghai
Blue Lacquer Low Sideboard, Qinghai

Very different in style but similar in that it has been heavily adapted to create a more practical item of furniture is a low sideboard in blue lacquer. This cabinet was sourced from Qinghai province in western China and, in its original form, would have been typical of furniture from that region. Unsurprisingly, the distressed blue lacquer which adds a bright, fresh feel is new. This has been applied over the old, worn red which is still visible underneath in a few areas. Blue just wasn’t a colour used for furniture in China, being either unavailable as a pigment or unpopular, and in Qinghai cabinets like this it would almost always be in a rich red, created using a cinnabar pigment.

Elm Storage Cabinet, Shanxi
Elm Storage Cabinet, Shanxi

Perhaps less obviously, the larger doors to the right and left would originally have been fixed panels, the storage space behind them accessed only through the much smaller central doors. This seems an odd, highly impractical design to the modern furniture buyer but was far from uncommon in Qinghai cabinets one or two hundred years ago. The idea behind the design was that, at a time when modern locks weren’t available, it would make life difficult for any potential thieves looking to get their hands on the valuable items held inside. The carved apron and side spandrels, which taper down to the feet from an extended top, add a fluidity and elegance to what was a fairly provincial piece and, with the recent adaptations, the cabinet now would make a wonderful TV stand.

Lastly, we absolutely love the large elm cabinet from Shanxi province shown above. The style, with open panels in the upper doors decorated with lattice work, suggests that its original purpose was to store food and it would make a stunning kitchen or dining room cabinet today used to store cutlery and crockery. The old dark lacquer finish has mellowed to leave soft, rich brown tones and a beautiful patina. The hardware is new, a replacement for the original that has been lost over the years and, as with the Qinghai cabinet, the two outer doors have most likely been added recently, but this is a lovely, unusual cabinet that is definitely one of our current favourites.

These four pieces should be arriving with us on the 17th July, along with another eighty or so other antiques, plus pottery, stoneware and other accessories. If you would like to see the latest collection then pay us a visit at our West Yorkshire showroom for a coffee and a browse. We look forward to seeing you.

Take a virtual tour of our showroom

Have you visited the Shimu showroom in West Yorkshire yet? Don’t worry – with our online tour you can take a trip around Shimu HQ at Albion Mills, Greengates without even leaving home!

Explore the roomy and light-filled showroom space, with its high ceilings and industrial heritage, and see our handcrafted furniture, stunning Chinese antiques and unique accessories, as well as our stylish roomsets.

Come in and make yourself at home!  We’d offer you a cup of tea, but unfortunately the virtual world doesn’t yet allow that, so you’ll have to visit us in person too…

Click below to enter, or find us in real life at Albion Mills, Greengates, West Yorkshire, conveniently located between the Leeds and Bradford ring roads.

Virtual tour

 

Choosing the right rug

Medina rug

Rugs are the final piece of the puzzle in a room, seamlessly pulling the look together at a single stroke. They’re more than just another accessory: they’re practical, offering both comfort and warmth; they’re pieces of art, introducing colour and pattern to your space; and they provide a quick yet dramatic update for your interiors without the need to completely redecorate.

Here’s all you need to know about using rugs around your home.

WHY ARE RUGS BETTER THAN CARPETS?

Because they’re not attached to the floor, rugs can be a lot more versatile than carpets. You can use them to disguise old floorboards or even worn-out carpet with minimal effort.

Scorched carpet in front of an open fire? A rug will hide the mark while protecting your floor from further damage. Cracked tile in the hallway? Rugs or runners are perfect for covering up these little imperfections. Rugs are also easier to clean than carpets, and can be rotated for even wear-and-tear, making them a much more affordable and durable alternative.

Wooden or laminate floors are a stylish and popular flooring choice, but come winter, they can make rooms feel bare and cold. A rug is an easy way to add warmth under your feet, and introducing one will instantly make the room feel more inviting.

WHAT EXACTLY DOES A RUG ADD TO A ROOM?

As well as hiding less-than-perfect flooring, rugs can be used to draw attention to an important piece of furniture, such as a coffee table, sofa or dining table, or a feature such as a fireplace or a floor-to-ceiling window.

Rugs can act as an anchor for the rest of the pieces in the room, highlighting or complementing accent colours or patterns on other soft furnishings to make the room feel unified. Think of a rug as art for your floor. If you’re decorating a space from scratch, why not choose a rug as your starting point and then choose everything else around it?

Bear in mind the rug you select should be large enough to accommodate the furniture that will be placed on top of it (as a rule, rugs under dining tables should still include the chair legs when the chair is pushed out from under the table). A rug that’s too small will unbalance the proportions and create the illusion of a much smaller space. If in doubt, always go bigger.

WHICH RUG IS BEST FOR EACH ROOM?

AinslieThe style, size and material of your rug will be heavily influenced by its location in the home. For spaces with heavy footfall such as a living room or hallway, choose a hard-wearing rug made from heavyweight material with a pattern in dark colours (so that marks don’t show up easily), like this Ainslie Wool Rug. With a stylish, bold stripe design in contrasting tones, this rug will enhance any modern room setting.

TajFor a dining room, a rug with a flatter weave is better so the chair legs don’t snag the pile. Our gorgeous Taj Agra rugs are one-of-a-kind, hand-woven rugs that come in a variety of floral motifs. The designs echo the traditional Moghal style of central Asia and are made from 100% antique washed wool and available in six sizes (bespoke sizes can also be ordered).

BeauticiousFor a bedroom, pale colours and a deeper pile offer the most warmth and comfort for the space (and your bare feet) like the Beauticious pure wool rug. Its super smooth threads give a sumptuous, wonderfully soft feel. It’s available in a number of colours and in three standard sizes.

BelleOur Belle rugs feature intricate striped patterns in creams and greys and are perfect in a contemporary setting. An understated graphical design brings a modern sophistication to the living room. Made from 100% wool and available in two standard sizes, bespoke sizes can also be ordered.

You can view the entire Shimu rug collection online and order a free sample of any rug.

Collecting Chinese furniture

Fans of Chinese antiques will have spotted some of the more unusual pieces in the latest additions to the Shimu website.

All our antiques are sourced from China by Shimu Director James Cottrell, who makes regular trips to Beijing and Shanghai. Occasionally, he finds some absolute showstoppers, which as well as looking amazing in any home, we would expect to increase in value due to their rarity.

Antique Chinese family shrine

For example, the extraordinary family shrine on the right dates from 1750 and is in wonderful condition, the beautiful hand carved decoration on the upper panels still intact along with the delicate carved panels on the doors.

The ornate upper carvings are of flowers, while above the sloping roof are Buddhist symbols flanked at each end with a dragon. The once bright colours are now in a softer palette of reds, browns and blues. This is a beautifully made, quite rare piece of Chinese history, and extremely well preserved.

Not everyone has the space or the budget for an antique shrine, but how about this imposing yet practical elm cabinet, dating from 1770?

It would once have been used in a temple in the central Chinese province of Shanxi. It has some beautiful, intricate carving on the panels above the four doors and carved front feet.

Antique Chinese temple cabinet

The four doors are panelled, set within rounded frames and mounted into the cabinet on wooden dowels. The cabinet is still in its original lacquer finish. This would once have been a more vibrant red, but has worn and faded over the years to a more subtle reddish brown with a wonderful crackled patina. This is a rare and unusual piece and with its impressive proportions the cabinet would provide a huge amount of storage space.

It’s pieces like these which we hope could make a wise investment. It’s becoming harder and harder to source Chinese antiques in original condition, meaning prices are always going up.

Hardwood furniture from China has been a big thing for the past decade, with some yoke-back armchairs and screens bringing top prices at auction. However, many pieces are fakes. About 30% of the furniture sold as “antique” in Hong Kong, for instance, is new furniture made to look old. The remainder has been restored to various degrees.

If you’re interested in finding out more about collecting Chinese antiques, why not make an appointment with Shimu Director James Cottrell, who can discuss what pieces might be right for you? Simply email to set up a meeting.

Gorgeous elm wood in a beautiful example of our bespoke service

If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing through our website you’ll be aware of the wide range of furniture that we sell. Our collection of Chinese antique furniture includes well over 300 pieces, the vast majority of which are held here in the UK, and our reproduction furniture ranges extend to a similar number.

In addition to these antiques and standard items though, we also offer a made to order service, which allows the customer to specify their own furniture designs for our suppliers to produce in China. In most cases this involves a tweak to one of our existing pieces of furniture – perhaps a change of dimensions to suit a particular space or use, or maybe an alternative finish. Occasionally however, we are given a slightly more complex brief, essentially to produce a completely unique, one of a kind piece of furniture to take centre stage in a customer’s home.

Bespoke Kitchen Cabinet
Bespoke Kitchen Cabinet

One of my favourite recent projects was a large cabinet that we produced through one of our regular suppliers in Beijing a few months ago. Our customer loved the rustic, natural look of our Chinese Country Furniture range but wanted a large cabinet to use in the kitchen, including an interior that would hold bottles and jars inside the doors as well as standard shelving and drawers. Over a couple of weeks we discussed the exact requirements and details, producing scaled drawings to show the dimensions and internal configuration.

With the final design agreed we put the order for the cabinet through to our supplier who put it into production. The cabinet was beautifully made by their carpenters using solid, reclaimed elm wood with a gorgeous natural finish. You can see the final result in the photos here, taken in Beijing before the cabinet was packed up for shipping. The light, pale elm wood has a beautiful, deep grain that was made more pronounced and picked out in black as part of the finishing process.  The doors were mounted on hinges fitted internally so that they were almost invisible on the outside, giving a very simple, sleek look that was perfectly complemented by the antiqued brass circular hardware. Along with the cabinet, the customer also ordered a pair of Square Trunks in the same finish, as well as several standard pieces from our Chinese Country range to match.

I hope you will agree that the final cabinet was stunning. It was installed along with the other items ordered at the customer’s home in Devon recently, though at nearly 2 metres high and in solid wood it took some delivering!

If you have a particular project in mind or would like to discuss changes to one of our standard items of furniture then get in touch and we will be happy to see if we can help. There is an additional cost involved in ordering a bespoke piece and it does take a little longer as we need to fit it into our production schedule and ship it with one of our regular containers. However at the end of the process you end up with a completely unique piece of furniture like this one that you can enjoy for years to come.

 

The Dragon Boat Festival in Saltaire 5-7 May

Dragon boat

This weekend sees the 3rd Bradford Dragon Boat Festival held on the river Aire at Roberts Park in Saltaire, just down the road from Shimu’s showroom, and this year it’s bigger and better than ever. It starts today (Friday) with the Youth Championships, and Saturday is the Bradford Charity Dragonboat Championships where teams from across the north will race for the prestige of being recognised as 2017 champions.

The final day, Sunday, is the Corporate Championships, where local companies vie against each other for victory. All weekend there’ll be fun for the family with food stalls, rides and entertainment. We will be open on Saturday as normal so why not tie in a visit to Shimu with the activities in Saltaire – well worth a visit in its own right as a World Heritage Site.

Dragon boat racing is a fast growing and exciting water sport. It’s now so popular in Britain that there is a national association, the British Dragon Boat Racing Association, which has information about local teams and events.

Dragon Boat Racing — from legend to sporting event!

Chinese dragonDragon Boat Racing has ancient Chinese origins and its history has been traced back more than 2000 years. The first participants were superstitious Chinese villagers who celebrated the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Racing was held to avert bad luck and encourage the rains needed for a good harvest. They worshipped the dragon of Asia as it was traditionally a symbol of water and was said to rule the rivers and seas and dominate the clouds and rains.

Over the years a second story gained popularity and came to represent the festival – the saga of Qu Yuan. Legend has it that the poet Qu Yuan was from the kingdom of Chu and, following the king falling under the influence of corrupt ministers, spent many years wandering the countryside and composing great poetry. On learning of his kingdom’s defeat, he leapt into the Mi Lo river holding a rock in a display of his heartfelt sorrow. The people loved Qu Yuan very much and raced out in their fishing boats to the middle of the river in a vain attempt to save him. They beat on drums and splashed their oars in the water, trying to keep the dragons away from his body.

In order to commemorate Qu Yuan, every fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people beat drums and paddle out in boats on the river as they once did to keep evil spirits away from his body.

Dragon boat racing is the most important activity during the Dragon Boat Festival. The wooden boats are shaped and decorated in the form of a Chinese dragon. The boat size varies by region but is generally about 20–35 meters in length and needs 30–60 people to paddle it!

Other traditions during the festival include eating sticky rice dumplings (zongzi), hanging Chinese mugwort and calumus, drinking realgar wine, and wearing perfume pouches.

Happy racing!​

China update: some special antiques chosen for our next shipment from Beijing

I’ve just returned from another one of my regular trips to China, where I’ve been catching up with our suppliers in Shanghai and Beijing and selecting chinese antique furniture to ship with our next consignment. It was a bit of a whistle stop tour this time but I managed to pack everything in that I wanted and have some wonderful new pieces lined up that I can’t wait to share with you on our website. The first set of antiques should be up on the site in the next couple of weeks and there will be plenty more to come – about 70 items of furniture in total as well as plenty of interesting and unusual accessories. All being well, the vast majority of these pieces will arrive with us in a couple of months from now.

Elm Tapered Armoire, Shanxi
Elm Tapered Armoire, Shanxi

I’ve pictured just a few of my favourites from this time around. First up is a tall, elegantly shaped ’round cornered’ cabinet from Shanxi province in central China. This style of armoire was common throughout northern China and has an ingenious design, with doors mounted on rounded dowels that slot straight into the top and bottom frame of the cabinet. This means that no metal hinges are needed, resulting in a beautiful, sleek, simple look made even more elegant by a taper from bottom to top. Taller cabinets that have long, full length doors rather than drawers at the bottom tend to be more highly valued and this is one is a lovely example.  It has the old fixed shelf with two drawers inside and the bottom apron still has the original open carvings intact, showing heavenly dragons.

Also from Shanxi but very different in style is a lovely little red lacquer cabinet – small enough to be used as a bedside table. Like the armoire, the finish is entirely original, a muted red that shows the ravages of its near 200 years of life. When it was first made the red finish would have been deep and lustrous and the paintings, now very faded but still visible, would have been in shining, bright gold leaf. This decorative technique was known as ‘Miao Jin’ and was seen on the more refined furniture of Shanxi. It reached its peak of popularity in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, used to decorate what were effectively luxury goods for the upper classes. These days it is rare to find an item of furniture with the Miao Jin paintings in their original state – they are almost always retouched. The more stable black base below the gold leaf tends to survive better than the gold and other lighter colours, as is evident in this case where the gold has largely faded away leaving subtle, dark outlines.

Another piece that stood out for me was a lovely desk, with a lattice shelf at the base in the familiar ‘cracked ice’ pattern that was commonly seen in window panels and dividing walls throughout China. Also from Shanxi, the desk still has its original dark finish and beautifully carved spandrels on all four sides. The carvings depict scrolling dragons – a sure sign that this piece would have been produced for a customer of considerable importance. The four legs each end with a scrolling foot, a motif that was common in the early Qing dynasty.

Some of my favourite Chinese antiques come from Shaanxi province (not to be confused with neighbouring Shanxi which lies to the North East). These are usually highly distinctive, with heavy, ornate carvings and iron hardware. Furniture from this part of China includes decorative coffers with drawers and cabinets with beautifully carved spandrels. These pieces are becoming more difficult to find and good quality, well preserved pieces have increased considerably in price over recent years. The table shown here is a lovely example, with heavily carved drawers and still with traces of the original, once highly colourful lacquer. It is made from elm wood and dates from the beginning of he 19th century. The deep carvings on the drawers include stylised dragons and a central good luck symbol on the lower drawer. This is a stunning piece in a highly original condition that, along with the other items here, I’m looking forward to getting over to our showroom in a few months from now.

Over the next few weeks we will be adding these antiques onto our website along with dozens of others so keep an eye out for more details. You may also want to check our Facebook page for a few more sneak previews of what’s coming. More about my recent trip to follow soon …

James Cottrell, Director, Shimu

 

Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day)

Chinese festivals are truly fascinating and we love to share what we know with you.

One of many intriguing festivals is the Qingming Festival. It started during the Zhou Dynasty and has a history of over 2,500 years. In the year 732, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty declared that respect should be paid at ancestors’ graves on the first day of the Qingming solar term. From then on, sweeping tombs on the first of Qingming gradually became popular with both royal and common families. They offered sacrifices to their ancestors and beseeched them to bless the country with prosperity, peace and a good harvest. It is an important day of sacrifice for the Chinese people to go and sweep tombs and commemorate their ancestors.

Learn more about the death culture in China!

Various activities are observed during the festival,  including tomb sweeping, special outings to enjoy spring and kite flying. Placing willow branches on tombs and front doors is said to ward off evil spirits. Traditional pictures of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, often show her seated on a rock with a willow branch in a vase of water at her side. The goddess used this mysterious water and branch to scare away demons.

Qingming is also called the Taqing Festival – Taqing means a spring outing, when people get out and about to enjoy the warmer weather.

Kites
Flying kites for Qingming Festival

Flying kites is an important custom. Little coloured lanterns are tied to the kites or to the strings that hold the kites so when kites fly in the evening, the lanterns look like twinkling stars. In the past, people cut the string to let the kite fly freely as it was believed that this custom can bring good luck and eliminate disease.

The Chinese love food and incorporate different dishes for each festival. Food for the Qingming Festival is cooked one or two days before and eaten cold. Traditional foods eaten include delicacies such as:

  • Sweet green rice balls
  • Peach blossom porridge
  • Crispy cakes
  • Qingming snails

The 2017 Qingming Festival took place earlier this week on Tuesday 4th April when Shimu Director James was in China.

 

Indonesia inspired with our latest range of home accessories

We’ve been busy at Shimu over recent months looking for more new and exciting products to expand our range. Whilst our collection of Chinese antique furniture and accessories is constantly updated as we source and ship new pieces from our supplier network in Beijing and Shanghai, we have been looking further afield recently to find even more interesting and beautiful items to bring you.

The first of these new pieces have just arrived from Indonesia, and include some unique and unusual accessories for your home and garden. We’ve just added the majority of these onto our website so you can view and purchase online, or see them in person at our Yorkshire showroom.

Indonesian rice house
Indonesian Rice House
Large-Wood-Panel-ASC-CL-08a
Rice House Carved Panel

As with our Chinese and oriental accessories, many of these items are old or recycled and have a story behind them. The large wall panel shown here is from a ‘rice house’ in the Toraja region of Sulawesi – an area of Indonesia with a vibrant tribal culture and identity. These storage huts were  raised off the ground to keep the rice dry and to deter rodents. Rice growers would rest underneath, passing the time by carving decorative patterns onto the underside of their hut’s foor. Today these intricately carved panels make wonderful wall hangings.

Also from Toraja and from the islands of Java and Sumba are carved stone statues and figures, traditionally placed in homes in Indonesia to protect the family and to ward off evil spirits. Each one is hand carved and therfore unique, making unusual decorative objects.

Amongst the new collection you will also find shell necklaces from Papua, supplied with stands to take pride of place on a sideboard or shelf, as well as petried wood from the ancient teak forests of Java and Sumatra – with their wonderful, colourful patterned striations formed over millions of years.

Wooden Buddha
Wooden Buddha

We also have wooden and stone buddhas, vintage glass bottles and, for the garden lover, old teak planters, lava stone bowls and palm plant pots.

Over the coming months we will be shipping more beautiful and unusual pieces from Indonesia and elsewhere in the far east as well as from China. We look forward to bringing you an even wider range of sumptuous items for your home in the future. In the meantime, keep an eye out for these and all our other latest products in the new arrivals section of our website.