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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 www.shimu.co.uk, 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!

 

12 Jun 2015

Raku and antiques in the home of ceramicist David Roberts

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

David and his home

Recently we were lucky enough to visit the Yorkshire home of renowned ceramicist David Roberts, after he bought several pieces from our collection of Chinese antiques.

David is considered one of the most significant ceramic artists working in Europe today, with an international reputation as a leading practitioner in Raku ceramics. Raku is a pottery technique for small vessels which originated in the tea ceremonies of late sixteenth-century Japan. David is acknowledged as responsible for the introduction and promotion of modern, large scale Raku in Europe. A book by Lynn Green, ‘Painting with Smoke’, is devoted to his technique and his work is represented in public and private collections throughout the world.

As you can imagine, we were thrilled when David got in touch to discuss the purchase of antique furniture which could be used to display his work.

David lives in a beautiful stone barn in Holmfirth which he converted himself and which acts as both a home, studio and gallery space. As it’s in a conservation area, he was very limited as to what he could do with the exterior, which retains a traditional feel in old Yorkshire stone. However, once you step inside, it’s like entering a different world. The interior space is light and contemporary and employs clever use of Japanese-style sliding screens to compartmentalise areas and create rooms within rooms. The interior style of the house chimes beautifully with the Japanese heritage of David’s Raku pottery.

The Chinese antiques David chose act as a perfect foil to the delicacy of his ceramic art. Below you can see the beautiful Mongolian altar table with its intricate carving around the apron, designed to resemble bamboo. The table would originally have been used for offerings to ancestors, with the distinctive raised ‘flanges’ at each end of the table top denoting its religious use, but now makes a perfect display platform for David’s work.

Mongolian console

Antique Mongolian Altar Table

The beautiful carved cabinet purchased by David has a long history. Made from elm and at least 200 years old, it is a lovely example of the furniture produced in Shaanxi province in north central China, where the ancient Chinese capital of Xian is located. The ornate carvings on the two drawers, apron and on the spandrels that taper down to the feet, are very distinctive of furniture from that region.

Shaanxi cabinet

Carved Shaanxi Cabinet

The final two pieces chosen for David’s home were the beautiful and surprisingly modern-looking red lacquer console on the left; and the stunning painted temple cabinet on the right.

Red lacquer console

Red Lacquer Console

Temple cabinet

Temple Cabinet

The console originates from Shanxi province, and has been refinished in a rich, distressed red lacquer. Almost art deco in style, it works beautifully in the bright, contemporary space and draws the eye down to the final antique that David bought from us – the brightly decorated cabinet that fits snugly into an alcove at the end of the hallway. This piece is fron Gansu and still has its old paintings showing flowers around a central good luck symbol, as well as three bats – also symbolising good fortune.

David’s home is a perfect demonstration of how Oriental antiques can complement a contemporary home. I’m sure you’ll agree that the pared down Japanese aesthetic of the interior beautifully showcases both his ceramic art and the antique furniture on which it is displayed.

 

1 Jun 2015

Flowers in Chinese culture

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Flowers are a recurring theme in Chinese culture. Found in art and poetry, painted onto silk, carved into furniture, stitched into textiles, each bloom has its own meaning and symbolism. In the photograph below, a wall is papered with hand-painted silk wallpaper. The detail in the paintings, depicting flowers, birds and butterflies, is absolutely exquisite.

The symbolism of a flower is often based on its pronunciation’s similarity to another word. For example, lilies are popular at weddings as the word for ‘lily’ sounds like part of a famous proverb describing a ‘happy union for one hundred years’.

Orchids are another popular flower at Chinese weddings, as they symbolise love, wealth and fortune. They are also emblematic of fertility. Orchids have been loved by Chinese scholars since ancient times, and represent integrity, nobility and friendship, all considered the virtues of a perfectly cultured gentleman. The philosopher Confucius compared the orchid to a virtuous man.

Flowers represent each of the seasons, with iris and magnolia for spring, peony and lotus for summer, chrysanthemum for autumn and plum for winter. Plum blossom represents the value of endurance – as a famous traditional poem says: “the fragrance of plum blossom comes from bitterness and coldness.”

The peony is considered by many to be the country’s national flower and even has a festival dedicated to it. The peony symbolises riches, prosperity and honour. In art, it is also used as a metaphor for female beauty and reproduction. Pictured in full bloom, it symbolises peace. Vases and other ornaments are often decorated with peonies: the peony acts as an amulet, believed to bring good luck and happy feelings. Our peony vase in red resin and lacquer is pictured right. 

 

The daffodil or narcissus is native to China and is known as ‘the water goddess.’ The flower is said to have the ability to rout out evil spirits.

In Feng Shui, flowers are used to bring good fortune and success in the home. Healthy flowering plants manifest good Chi (or energy). It’s said that as the flower blooms, so does the intellect and spirit.

Chrysanthemums would be an excellent gift when visiting a home (but not white ones, as they represent death) and are used by Buddhists as offerings on the altars. They are thought to bring powerful Yang energy and attract good luck to a house.

If you love the symbolism of flowers, you’ll find audacious florals blossoming across our website. From antique cabinets painted with delicately faded florals to striking silk wallpaper adorned with cherry blossom, there are blooms to suit all tastes. You can also see more of the florals which inspire us on our Blooms Pinterest board.

15 May 2015

Real-life boho style

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We are big fans of boho chic at Shimu and we think our furniture, particularly some of the more unusual antiques, perfectly suit this relaxed, colourful aesthetic. Our customers obviously feel the same, and today on the blog we showcase the boho style of some real-life Shimu customers.

Boho is colourful, eclectic and highly personal. It’s a look associated with the 70s – with tie-dye and macramé – but the original Bohemians sprung up in France centuries before peace signs and flower power. Boho has inspired fashion and interiors since the late sixties and has never gone out of style.

Boho is an invitation to kick off your shoes and relax, to luxuriate in pattern, texture and colour. Textiles play an important role in the boho look and ethnic details feature strongly. Furniture is relaxed and careworn – distressed pieces with faded layers of colourful paint really suit the boho vibe. Accessories are quirky and fun, often antique.

We have two great examples of boho living – one a hotel by the highly regarded interior designer David Carter, and another a family home in Baildon, West Yorkshire, owned by Pippa Hamilton. Both David and Pippa are longstanding customers of Shimu and both – although totally different in their approach – show a real flair for relaxed boho style.

David is a highly influential interior designer who creates stunning interiors for clients around the world. His bijou hotel in East London, 40 Winks, was called ‘the most beautiful small hotel in the world’ by German Vogue. We created the the bespoke wooden window panels pictured above and below, and provided Oriental antiques for this flamboyant hotel.

David is a passionate exponent of a ‘grand’ design. Never bland or predictable, his work is driven by strong ideas and a conviction that a successful interior should reach out and touch our emotions.

Pippa Hamilton’s Baildon home is a more informal affair, with Chinese and Asian antiques bought from Shimu over a number of years. When we moved to our old showroom in nearby Saltaire over seven years ago, Pippa was one of the first customers through the door, and fell in love with a beautiful carved cabinet from Shaanxi province. This now takes pride of place in her main bedroom. Since then she has added to her collection with painted grain chests from Gansu and Mongolia, including the pieces shown below. She uses textiles – rugs, throws and wall hangings – to great effect and has created a gorgeously cosy family home.

Both David’s glamorous hotel and Pippa’s cosy rural home are perfect examples of how boho can work in a real-life setting. In our next blog post, we’ll feature pieces from the Shimu collection to help you achieve boho style in your own home.

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.

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