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29 Apr 2015

Feeling Blue

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

As you know, we’re currently in love with the colour blue. Our new Beijing Blue collection is the focus of our devotion – handcrafted from chunky reclaimed pine with distressed powder blue doors, each piece is totally unique. In this blog post, we thought we’d find out more about the colour blue and in particular, about its meanings in Chinese tradition and culture.

So, what about blue? It’s the colour of Earth’s largest creature, mosquitos love it, and Joni Mitchell wrote a song about it. It’s the colour of the sky, the sea and if you paint a room it, you’ll be more productive. We talk about ‘feeling blue’ or things happening ‘once in a blue moon’, and a ‘bolt from the blue’.

Although there is now a separate word for ‘blue’ (蓝) in Chinese, it was traditionally grouped with green under the name ‘qing’, whose character (青) derives from the idea of sprouting plant life. The traditional Five Elements Theory classes black, red, ‘qing’, white and yellow as the standard colours, corresponding to the five elements of water, fire, wood, metal and earth. Before the Five Elements Theory, there were only two colours: the opposing yet complementary shades of black and white – yin and yang.

Blue is a colour of mixed meaning in China. Traditionally, some family members wear blue to funerals in China, in the same way that the western world wears black. Generally though, blue is seen to represent nature and renewal, and demonstrates vitality. It’s the colour of spring, and represents vigour and growth. Even during funerals, blue is not seen as a colour of mourning because many Chinese believe that the body is just moving onto a different state.

‘Qing’ is closely linked to historical buildings and clothing, like qing bricks, and qing pattern porcelain. Antique blue and white Oriental porcelain has been highly prized in the West since the 17th century and commands great prices at auction.

In Feng Shui, decorating in blue will bring longevity and harmony. Blue establishes calm, and as it’s the colour of sky and sea, it gives a sense of vastness. Decorators who are feeling depressed should avoid this colour, as should those who feel the need to be more sociable. If you want to generate increased income, incorporating blue can stimulate wealth. Blue colours are said to bring water energy into your home, and money into your life. Simply painting your front door a rich blue (but only if your home faces southeast, north, east, or southwest) will help to start the flow of wealth into your home.

Blue stands for healing, relaxation, exploration, trust, calmness and immortality. Perhaps we all need a little more blue in our lives?

20 Apr 2015

More gorgeous Chinese antiques sourced and ready to ship from Beijing

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I’m back at the Shimu showroom in Yorkshire today after a great trip to China, with the last week or so spent in Beijing visiting our various Chinese antique suppliers, perusing the markets for unusual accessories and discussing future projects with one or two of our suppliers.

The main purpose (and most enjoyable part) of my Beijing visit was to select the Chinese antique furniture that we will include on a container due to leave in the next 3-4 weeks. As some of you who read our blog regularly may know, the number of good quality antique pieces available in China has dwindled over recent years, largely as so much of it was shipped out to America and Europe. Whilst it is therefore more difficult to find genuinely stand out pieces, it can still be done. It is just a question of knowing which suppliers still have access to the best pieces for restoration and then being able to pick these out from the slightly more run of the mill refinished antiques.

Over the past 12 years of running Shimu I think I have visited almost every one of the main antique dealers in Beijing (several of whom are no longer around) and have a good knowledge of what each one is likely to have available, as well as the quality of their restoration and finish. I therefore now tend to buy from just three or four companies, each one of which offers something slightly different in terms of the type of piece and the style of restoration and finish.

Buying in this way means that I can usually achieve a nice mix of antique furniture that will appeal to different tastes and budgets. My own favourite pieces tend to be from a supplier who is still able to source well preserved, beautiful elm furniture from Shanxi province and whose speciality is to restore these sympathetically, keeping the original colour and with little refinishing. Another supplier will often refinish pieces with a new lacquer and varnish, often using colours that are more ‘trendy’ than the original to suit a more contemporary setting. Their skill is being able to breathe new life into a piece of furniture whose potential could otherwise be easly missed.

After several days and many miles walked through warehouses and showrooms over the course of last week I had selected well over a hundred antiques, all reserved and ready to ship in May. Some may have to wait for a later container but I’m already looking forward to getting the majority of these pieces in our showroom soon, and to sharing them with you on our website even sooner. We should have the first set of antiques up on the site within the next 2-3 weeks so look out for these under our ‘new arrivals’ section.

Amongst these pieces, as ever, are one or two that really stand out for me. These include a gorgeous Shanxi armoire in its original red lacquer and still with it original hardware on the doors and with the old ‘miao jin’ gold paintings intact, now feint but clearly depicting a Chinese peacock and peony flowers – symols of high rank and wealth. Also a wonderfully well preserved medicine chest, also from Shanxi province and dating from the early 19th century. Unusually the chest still has its original hardware, as well as the old labels on each of its 21 drawers describing what would once have been held inside. Lastly, a simple but beautifully proportioned elm desk from around 1850, decorated with stylised dragon carvings on the front, back and sides – a sign that it would have belonged originally to someone of very high status.

Look out also in the coming weeks for new accessories on our website, many of which I picked up at Beijing markets during my trip. These include more stoneware, including buddhas, horses and figurines, tibetan artwork, and some beautiful bronze vases with silver inlay.

 

 

13 Apr 2015

In Shanghai to check on the first shipment to leave the new factory

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

My latest trip to China started with a quick catch up with our production manager, Michael, over dinner last Wednesday evening after checking into my hotel here in Shanghai. We met again the next morning to head out to the factory on the outskirts of the city that produces our Chinese Classical furniture. At the end of last year our production unit here moved to a new location, not far from the previous facility but with bigger and better premises. This was the first chance I’d had to see the new site and I was pleased to see that everything seemed to have settled in very quickly.

The factory move took more than a full week to complete, and included moving the workers’ own personal possessions as well as machinery and materials. The vast majority of carpenters and other staff (including cooks and cleaners) live on site, returning to their home provinces sometimes hundreds of miles away for Chinese New Year and other public holidays. A move like this therefore provides even more of a logistical challenge than it would do in the UK.

A few months after the move (and after the long New Year holiday), the new factory is very much up and running. With just one or two exceptions all of the workers from the previous factory made the move, so the skill base and experience in making Shimu furniture has been maintained.

I had timed this visit to Shanghai so that I could inspect the pieces that are to be included on our next container, due to be loaded on Wednesday this week and shipped a few days later. Most of these pieces were already finished, other than the final hardware being added and last minute checks. As always we have several ‘made to order’ items due to ship out on this container. These pieces were all finished to the woodwork stage so that I could make final checks myself on the designs, and discuss the finish to be applied where this was not standard.

It was great to be involved at first hand at this stage of the production process, a chance I rarely get as I am normally in the UK relying on photos and communication from the staff here in Shanghai. Along with Michael and the head of the ‘lacquering’ staff I was able to make specific tweaks to a lacquer, adding small amounts of yellow, red and black to the original grey colour the factory had produced. The objective was to achieve a particular colour (Farrow & Ball ‘Mole’s Breath to be exact), that one of our interior design customers has specified for a client’s TV cabinet. After forty minutes or so of repeatedly mixing lacquers, loading into a spray gun and applying the colour to a wood sample, we had managed to reach something very close to the paint sample provided by the designer. Allowing for the fact that a last polish and layer of varnish will darken the final colour slightly, we should be able to get an almost exact match.

It was great to see the various stages of the production process – everything from the woodwork completion to sanding, sealing, polishing, all the various stages of lacquering and finishing, right through to adding the brass hardware and final touches. By the time this blog post is published everything will be finished, checked and packed ready for loading in a day or two.

I spent the next couple of days checking out some new designs and a huge array of accessories with Michael and other staff. The factory here provides furniture for the internal Chinese market as well as for Shimu, and as a fairly recent venture the owners have launched a new brand together with an interior designer to offer a broader selection of products for the home, with showrooms being set up in Shanghai and other major cities around China. Over the coming months and years we plan to offer many of these products as part of the Shimu range in the UK and Europe, so look out for the new collections of lamps, ornaments, wall art and other home décor later this year.

More to follow soon as I head to Beijing to catch up with our suppliers there and to source Chinese antiques for our next container.

 

2 Apr 2015

Heading out to China for another antiques hunt

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

After a short break over Easter I will be heading off to China again next week to meet up with suppliers and to source more antiques and home accessories to be shipped on our forthcoming containers. First stop will be Shanghai, where I have timed my visit so that I can check personally on a shipment of elm furniture in our Classical Chinese range before it leaves a few days later.

It is now twelve years since I first visited the workshop that produces this range exclusively for Shimu. Whilst their business has changed to focus more on the internal market over that time, they still retain a core number of highly skilled carpenters and ‘patina’ workers that have worked on our furniture over many years and who understand the nature of the product. It’s always good to see these faces again each time I visit Shanghai and, as well as making sure the quality of our standard pieces remains consistent, going at this time means that I can also check on the ‘bespoke’ items of furniture that will be shipped in a couple of weeks, ready for delivery to customers around the end of May.

From Shanghai I fly to Beijing to spend several days visiting the various suppliers and warehouses where I source the antique Chinese furniture that has become such a big part of Shimu’s offering. Again, I’ve known some of these business owners and their staff for many years so it’s great to catch up with their news and views on the antiques market – often over a meal cooked on site using some of the produce grown in the factory grounds.

We already have about 20 or 30 antiques lined up from when I was last over in China, but I’ll be looking to select another 60 or so pieces to ship with these around the beginning of May, along with some reproduction furniture and more accessories. I try to mix antiques from different parts of China to provide our customers with the widest choice of style and finish.

Different antique restorers in Beijing tend to have their own contacts for sourcing antiques from around China, so they will each lean towards antiques from specific regions. One of my favourite suppliers always seems to have superb elm and walnut pieces from Shanxi province in central China that others can rarely match, and restores these in a very natural way to maintain the beautiful original character. Another always has a good choice of painted furniture from Gansu in the west, which they restore with a new, shiny varnish that brings out the vivid colours and designs.

On each visit recently I’ve tried to find at least one piece that, whilst not being the type of museum quality hardwood furniture that sells these days at Sotheby’s or Christies for tens of thousands of pounds, is still very special. The Chinese themselves have become far more interested recently in good quality ‘vernacular’ antique furniture in elm and other woods that they previously felt were of little interest. As a result prices for these items have dramatically increased over the past few years.

Once such example is a huge, imposing painted armoire that we shipped on our last container and have just added onto our website. This now has pride of place in our showroom and I can admire it as I type this post. It dates from the mid nineteenth century and stands at around four and a half feet wide by well over seven feet high! Four of us struggled to unload it off the container and bring it up the few steps into our main showroom, but the effort was definitely worth it after we removed the packaging.

The armoire is from Shanxi province, and is in a wonderfully original condition – the once bright red lacquer and paintings of flowers, birds, butterflies and blossom now softened over the years to lovely autumnal reds, browns and oranges. This style of piece, with an open shelf section above the doors, is referred to in China as a display cabinet (or ‘wanli’). The top section would have held the owner’s prized possessions for display, whilst books and other personal items would have been stored behind the large doors. The shelf in this case is framed with some wonderful open carvings that include a central long life symbol, along with carved bats at each corner to signify good luck.

As well as the beautiful design, the cabinet’s impressive size and proportions – finished off with the old, heavy brass door hardware – make it the ultimate statement piece, although you will need a large space to house it! We’re not in a rush to find it a new home as this type of unique, good quality piece will only increase in value, but it’s well worth an admiring look if you’re passing the Shimu showroom any time soon.

19 Mar 2015

Shabby chic: the trend that refuses to die

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

The phrase shabby chic was coined in the eighties by British designer Rachel Ashwell in an interview with the newly-launched World of Interiors magazine.

In 2014, shabby chic was the most popular search term on eBay in the Homes and Gardens category, and last year, more that 3,000 shabby chic items sold every day on the auction site.

Shabby chic is a thrown together, vintage style. Furniture shows signs of wear or layers of paint, fabrics are faded and accessories are quirky antiques. Hues are generally muted (white floorboards are popular) but brighter tones can be added for a more eclectic mix. Done well, it creates a comfortable, bohemian feel in a modern home.

Classic shabby chic style

The trend probably arose as a backlash to the grandiose style of the eighties, when homes were either swamped with swags of fabric and floral pelmets, or cold and minimal with magnolia walls and pristine black furniture. Shabby chic, with its relaxed, laid-back vibe, was an antidote to status-seeking eighties style.

The look has gone from strength to strength and shows no sign of fading. You no longer have to scour vintage fairs and junk yards for covetable items, but can instead buy pre-distressed pieces with that ‘worn-in’ look from retail stores and across the web.

Eclectic shabby chic

Shabby chic has much to offer a busy family. A house can evolve over time, with new pieces happily added to the mix. Unlike minimalism – a trend only for the keenly house proud – this style tolerates a relaxed approach to cleaning. It’s great for children, as any knocks, chips or bashes are easily integrated when your furniture is (or looks) ‘pre-loved’.

I’m a great fan of the style and my house is filled with a mix of Oriental antiques and modern pieces with that pre-worn feel. Our new Beijing Blue collection is a perfect example of furniture which is designed for a modern home and yet looks like it’s been around forever. Each piece is handcrafted from chunky reclaimed pine wood and finished with distressed black lacquer frames and contrasting powder blue doors. The finish is different on every one, making each cabinet, console or wardrobe in the range unique.

Shimu’s take on shabby chic with the new Beijing Blue collection

You can see the full Beijing Blue collection at our website, plus an extensive selection of antiques. Why not also check out our shabby chic Pinterest board for inspiration?

 

17 Feb 2015

What will the Year of the Goat bring?

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Today marks the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations, and ushers in the Year of the Goat. After the tumultuous Year of the Horse, many Chinese astrologers are predicting a calmer atmosphere, with a theme of renewal and creativity.

Those familiar with the Chinese Zodiac will know that as well as the 12 year cycle of animals,  there are five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) which are each associated with their own ‘life force’ or ‘chi’. In 2015, the corresponding element is wood, associated with spring and the renewal of life.

If last year was the horse’s year to gallop and take off, this year will be the year for contemplating and appreciating what has already been accomplished, to think about bringing goodness to others, to take a deep breath and calmly look at what’s ahead. A steady path, generosity, and keeping the peace are this year’s mantra, say many.

However, it’s not all good news. Couples are taking heed of a popular Chinese folk saying – ‘Only one in ten people born in a year of the goat finds happiness’ – and many have taken steps to avoid conception or to give birth in the year of the horse.  Although only a superstition, many believe that goats are destined for failed marriages, unhappy families and bad luck, and that babies born in a goat year will grow up to be followers rather than leaders.

There is also some confusion in the English-speaking world as to whether it’s actually the year of the goat at all. The symbol for the new year starting on February 19 is the ‘yang’, which is a generic term, and can refer to a sheep, goat, ram or even antelope. For example, a goat is a ‘mountain yang’, a sheep is a ‘soft yang’ and a Mongolian gazelle is a ‘yellow yang’. Both goats and sheep appear in Chinese new year paintings, paper-cuts and other festival decorations.

It is thought that the people born in the year of the goat are calm, gentle, polite, intelligent and kind, as well as artistic and creative. They are economical and approach business cautiously, taking great care to consider the feelings of others. Famous goats include inventors Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, both known for creativity and perseverance. However, goats can also be overly-sensitive and insecure, as they often misinterpret situations. Their need to be loved means they are sometimes unable to stand up for themselves. They tend to shy away from confrontation and are not confident decision-makers.

According to Chinese astrologers, luck within careers will fluctuate for those born in the year of the goat and their financial fortune will only be average. However, they are said to possess a power to turn their fortunes around – so when things seem bleak, their luck may change. This year looks good for health.

Whatever you believe, we wish you a happy and prosperous New Year!

Sources: Yahoo News, International Business Times

22 Jan 2015

Declutter your home this New Year

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

The start of the New Year is the perfect time to declutter. You’ve probably accumulated lots of new stuff over the Christmas period, so clear out the cupboards and assess what you really need.

Here are our top tips for reducing clutter in your home:

1) Start small and set a time limit

Sometimes a task can seem overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to start small. For example, rather than thinking: I must clear the kitchen, just start with a single drawer. Another great tip is to set a time limit. Instead of telling yourself: I have to clear out my wardrobe, simply resolve to spend one hour pulling out things you don’t wear. If you haven’t finished in an hour, go back to it another day. Breaking down large challenges into smaller tasks with time limits means it feels more manageable and so makes it far more likely that you’ll get the job done.

2) Give away one item a day

Simply taking one thing each day to the charity shop can transform your clutter over a period of time. Working on a similar principle, give yourself the challenge of finding 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, and 12 items to be returned to their proper home. This can be a fun and exciting way to organise 36 things fast in your home.

3) Display the stuff you love

Go through your cupboards and ask yourself: Do I use it? Do I love it? If the answer is no to both, then get rid of it! If you love it but don’t use it, why not display it? Why leave it in a cupboard gathering dust when you could look at it every day? Kitchens and living areas are great places to display favourite pieces of china, glass wear, books and other decorative items.

Shimu has some great cabinets and shelving which are perfect for displaying your favourite ornaments. This circular display shelf is an iconic piece of Chinese design and can be used as two separate semi-circular units or as a single large shelf. It’s great for books and ornaments, and also doubles as an unusual and beautiful room divider.

4) Invest in gorgeous storage

If you’ve apply the rules in the tip above you’ll be left with things that you use on a regular basis but aren’t suitable for display. Don’t make the mistake of rushing to Ikea and buying plastic boxes in garish colours, or cheap shelving that you need a degree in engineering to assemble and which falls apart after a year. Instead, invest in storage to last a lifetime which is both practical to use and gorgeous to look at.

Shimu has a great range of clever storage, from Oriental sideboards which can house a TV and music system, to apothecary’s cabinets with drawers cunningly designed to be the exact size for CDs or DVDs. Below is a stunning piece from the China Seasons collection. This unusual sideboard is a combination of cabinet and chest, with two doors and five small drawers offering versatile storage space in a living room, bedroom or as a dining room sideboard.

5) Manage with less

Do you really need everything in your wardrobe? Could you live with less and wear the stuff you love a bit more? For example, Courtney Carver invented Project 333 to challenge people to wear only 33 articles of clothing for 3 months.

A similar idea is to identify the things you don’t wear by hanging all your clothes with the hangers in the wrong direction. When you wear an item, return it to the wardrobe with the hanger facing the right direction. After 3 months, you’ll have a clear picture of which clothes you can easily discard.

6) Be creative with antiques for storage!

It’s not just cupboards and shelves which can be used for storage. Get creative and use blanket boxes, trunks and suitcases. Antiques are great for this kind of unusual storage, so either browse your local flea market or take a look at our selection of Oriental antiques, both in stock and held in China to be shipped on order.

As well as cabinets and sideboards, how about an antique food carrying box, a cream lacquer rice carrying container, a painted birthday box or the stunning Tiger chests pictured below. They date from around 1850 and come from the border of Tibet and Qinghai in the far west of China. The fierce looking tigers on the front are meant to ward off evil spirits and intruders.

27 Nov 2014

Festive home style with a dash of Oriental chic

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

If you want to add a little Christmas sparkle to your home, let us inspire you with some of our favourite looks for stylish table settings, all with an added dash of Oriental chic.

We love this sophisticated combination of black and gold, with glamorous dark glassware, understated foliage and atmospheric lighting.


Recreate the look with our yoke-back side chair in black lacquer, birdcage table lamp and silk cushion in golden taupe. Add candlesticks at different heights and scented mirrored tea light votives around the room for a glowing warmth.

The Christmas table below again uses lighting to great effect, this time with accents of red for high drama.

We love the grand arrangement of burgundy hydrangeas and the glass nightshades, reminiscent of Chinese lanterns. You can add a touch of Oriental drama with red accessories from the Shimu collection. Below is our silk cushion in claret red, a silk and carved stone tassel for wall decoration (with a double happiness symbol to bring Christmas joy) and wire and canvas Chinese lanterns, each of which casts a gorgeous glow when filled with a tea light.

For our final look, we’re styling a table made from distressed wood, reminiscent of the reclaimed elm we use in much of our handcrafted furniture, with patterned ceramic rice bowls and dramatic gold highlights. You can match the look with pieces from our collection including our solid wood table in rustic elm from the Chinese Country range and our small white hand-painted ceramic ginger jars.

You can find all these pieces plus lots more handcrafted Oriental furniture and Chinese antiques online at shimu.co.uk. Why not also consider a visit to our West Yorkshire showroom, close to the Leeds/Bradford ring roads. It makes a lovely destination for a Christmas shopping expedition and we’d be delighted to welcome you.

All the table settings I’ve featured here (and more) can be found for your inspiration on our ‘Chic Christmas Style’ Pinterest board. You can also now follow us on Instagram.

6 Nov 2014

Our new website achieves recognition in the Good Web Guide awards!

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We are thrilled that our new website has been acknowledged in the Good Web Guide Awards 2014. Competition was fierce and although we didn’t make it the finals, we were pleased to make it onto the long list along with companies such i-escape.com and rudehealth.com. The final decision of the judges was to deem us ‘highly commended’.

The Good Web Guide Awards reward innovation and online excellence. Since starting in 2009, the awards have been supported by celebrity entrepreneurs and tech experts including Sarah Beeny, Jamie Murray-Wells, Julie Meyer, Alison Cork and Kate Russell.

This year, the overall winner of the Website of the Year award will be announced at a reception in the historic surroundings of The Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. The lucky winner takes home £2000 plus free advertising, a social media audit, PR support and cookery class for four people.

Last year, the award for best website was won by gandysflipflops.com, a social enterprise selling flip flops and at the same time helping children’s education and healthcare in India, donating 10% of profits to its ‘Orphans for Orphans’ mission, where it aims to build children’s homes around the world.

Of course, awards are great, but what really matters is the opinion of our customers. Since its launch earlier this year, you’ve given us great feedback on our redesigned website. You say it’s easier to navigate, with a clean design that showcases the product range.

The photography is clear and attractive and categories like Chinese Antique Furniture, New Arrivals and Bedroom Furniture on the Home page make it simple to find what you are looking for. The blog also takes a more prominent role, with latest posts now visible on the Home page!

So keep on telling us what you think. Awards are lovely, but it’s your opinion that really matters.

23 Oct 2014

Our horseshoe armchair stars in an advert with Mr Bean

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We were happy to help when Pinewood Studios got in touch a few months ago to request some furniture for an advert they were filming. Imagine how thrilled we were to learn that the advert starred the one and only Mr Bean, in a return to the small screen for Snickers!

Pinewood borrowed a number of items, and most visible in the video is the horseshoe chair which you can see on the left at the start. Luckily, the expensive looking vase which Rowan Atkinson breaks towards the end is not one of ours!

As Shimu is one of the leading specialists in handcrafted Chinese furniture and antiques in the UK, it’s not uncommon for us to be asked to lend furniture for film and TV.

Our last big screen outing was in the recent Keanu Reeves film 47 Ronin, for which we supplied 25 red lacquer folding stools which were used in one of the crucial scenes of the film (read more and take a look at one of the stools in a previous post).

Before that, we worked with the production team for Skyfall - the James Bond film with Daniel Craig set partly in Shanghai – to provide a wooden towel rail, several antique stools and reproduction tables, brass hardware to accessorise a number of window panels and most importantly, dozens of wire and canvas lanterns in all shapes and sizes.

If you’ve watched the film, you’re bound to recognise them, as they feature in a pivotal scene and make a huge dramatic impact. You can read more about our involvement with Skyfall in this earlier post.

We absolutely love working with production companies and theatres and are always happy to lend our expertise or our stock. We’re still waiting for our red carpet invitation to a star-studded New York premiere though! Fingers crossed it’s next time lucky….

Anyway, you can check out the full range of accessories, antiques and handcrafted furniture, including that very famous horseshoe chair, at our website.

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