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23 Sep 2014

Sourcing some beautiful antiques and a trip to the Summer Palace

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

After a great visit to Shanghai with plenty of food for thought for future products, it was a short hop to Beijing on Tuesday to start the second part of my trip. This involved meeting up with a few of my favourite furniture and antique workshops – mainly to choose the pieces that we will ship prior to Christmas. In fact we already have one container lined up to ship from Beijing in a month or so – as soon as some more of our ‘Chinese Country’ range is completed here, so the next container will follow soon afterwards. This will be made up mainly of the antiques I chose during my visit this time around, along with more additions to our new ‘China Seasons’ range.

First on my list was the company that supplies many of our Chinese antiques, and who specialise in a classical, shiny lacquer finish that perhaps people in the UK are most familiar with when they think of Chinese furniture. Their collection always includes some great quality painted pieces from Shanxi and Gansu that still have much of their original finish and detail intact. These are treated with care – maintaining the aged detail but resealing each piece with a new varnish. Where the original finish on an old cabinet or table is either severely worn or perhaps unattractive, it will be stripped back and then refinished – often in red but also in more unusual lacquers such as blues and creams that give a fresher, more contemporary lift to these beautiful old pieces.

I also caught up with a new supplier that I had met for the first time at the Furniture Fair in Shanghai. Unlike most of the workshops in Beijing these days, this one still deals mainly in restoring antiques rather than concentrating more on producing new furniture. When I met up with them here and visited their warehouse I was pleased to see both that they had a large selection of antique furniture, and that the quality of the restoration and finish was excellent. In contrast to the other two suppliers that we tend to ship from in Beijing, their offering includes many elm and walnut pieces in a brown finish, mostly from Shanxi and Gansu, rather than painted or restored to give a natural, matt look.

They also have one or two quite rare and expensive pieces. This is not the ‘hanghuali or zitan’ furniture that I mentioned in a recent post, but rather unusual painted cabinets that are beautifully preserved with their original paintings. One example was a wonderful little display cabinet from the city of Pingyao in Shanxi province, with an upper open shelf and two doors. The style of the paintings on the doors is particular to furniture from Pingyao, depicting various figures set on a backdrop of traditional Chinese houses in faded creams, pinks and blues. The cabinet also featured a wonderful bottom panel in carved relief, its original heavy hardware and the old shelf and hidden compartment for valuables on the inside. Whilst not being the type of antique Chinese cabinet that would fetch tens of thousands of pounds at Sotheby’s, original pieces from Pingyao are becoming very rare these days – many having been shipped out of China years ago. As such this particular cabinet is one that will become increasingly sought after over the coming years.

I spent most of the following day with another of our main suppliers for antiques, which always has a great selection particularly from Shanxi, Qinghai and Gansu. This workshop’s speciality is in restoring antiques as sympathetically as possible. They choose only good quality pieces to start with and will then repair them as needed, but always keeping the original finish if possible and never use a thick, heavy lacquer or varnish. They will sometimes resize and refinish an antique if they think it will improve the final ‘look’, but even then will use natural, more subtle colours and matt finishes. In my view this maintains the old character and story behind each piece and the furniture we buy from them often turns out to be amongst my favourites in our own collection.

Along with their antiques we have been developing a small collection of newly produced furniture with them in a distressed blue and black finish. I was able to see the first finished pieces during my visit, which I was delighted with. We will be shipping these next month to arrive mid-November so look out for the new range on our website soon afterwards.

Over my final days here in Beijing I spent a morning at Panjiayuan flea market to pick up accessories to ship next month – mostly stoneware but also a few bronzes and some beautiful ‘Miao’ embroidery.

Lastly, having had a hectic but productive ten days or so of work, I managed to get out to the Summer Palace here in Beijing for a spot of sightseeing on my final day. It had been about 12 years since I last visited the palace, which was originally built by the emperor Qianlong in 1750 to honour his mother and then rebuilt by the dowager empress Cixi in 1886 after the Anglo-French alliance had destroyed most of it in 1860. The last time I came was during winter and the huge lake that it overlooks was frozen solid. It was great to see it at a different time of year – the lake busy with leisure boats zipping back and forth and flitting underneath the many beautiful pagodas and bridges.

Thousands of tourists walked around the huge complex of extraordinary temples and palace grounds that include Cixi’s living quarters and the awe inspiring Tower of the Buddhist Incense. Built high on a hill overlooking the lake and dominating the palace grounds, the tower houses one of the most valuable antiquities in China – a five metre high golden Buddha cast in the 16th century.

It was good to have some spare time to do what I rarely get to do on my visits out here and see more of the wonderful culture and history that Beijing has to offer. A great way to end a very rewarding trip.

17 Sep 2014

Final Checks and Container Loading in Shanghai

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I arrived in Shanghai on Friday, with a few days planned to catch up with everyone at the workshop, check on our latest container of furniture before it leaves and visit the annual Shanghai furniture fair.

I had timed this particular visit to China so that I could personally check a shipment of elm furniture from our Chinese Classical range, along with several bespoke pieces that we have had made to order for customers, before everything was loaded into a container to be shipped this week. This is something I try to do from time to time in order to ensure the quality and consistency of what the workshop produces and to raise any issues directly with the team in Shanghai. This time around we are shipping a 40’ container, so there were around 150 pieces in total to check before they could be packed and loaded.

As usual the guys here had done a great job, but it was still useful to discuss some of the finer points in terms of the finish and detail on the furniture, as well as to make a couple of last minute adjustments to paintings on a couple of pieces to get them just right. From my point of view it is also great just to be able to view everything myself – particularly the bespoke items. Normally we rely on photos taken out here in China and the furniture goes straight out of our warehouse to customers without being unpacked, so we rarely get to see the final results of our discussions with customers and the designs we draw up.

A couple of examples are shown here. The first is a simple blanket trunk fitted with shiny brass hardware and finished in a smart grey lacquer, the colour actually being based on a Farrow and Ball paint that the customer asked us to match. The second is a beautiful pair of wardrobes in cream lacquer, with the inside of the doors and rear inside panel finished in an oyster colour and painted with butterflies and flowers in silver and gold – the pattern based on one of the cabinets in our ‘Canton Colour’ range.

After spending a day at the Shanghai Furniture Fair (more on that later) I visited the factory again the next day for last minute checks on a few items and to witness final packing and loading of the container. This was the first time in 12 years that I had seen the loading process and it was impressive to see the buzz of activity as various workers carried out final checks, fitted any remaining hardware, secured shelves, cleaned and polished the furniture, packed, labelled and finally loaded each item. What seemed a cavernous space when the container was first opened soon started to fill, with each carton carefully placed into position to make full use of the available area like a giant 3D jigsaw.

I had left by the time the container was finally full, with just a few items left over that will go on our next container. The actual loading process took around three hours and the container then left ready to sail in a couple of days from now, arriving in the UK around four weeks later. I won’t see the vast majority of these pieces again before they find new homes with our customers around the UK, so it was great to have the chance to witness this particular part of their journey.

9 Sep 2014

Record prices for Chinese pieces at auction

Posted by James Cottrell. 1 Comment

It is fair to say that we are big fans of antique furniture and ceramics here at Shimu, and although we have some hard to find pieces, nothing in quite the same league as some of the items we have spotted at auction in the last few months.

Chinese antiques, although always popular, really do seem to be having a moment. The value of rare pieces is going stratospheric, in part down to wealthy Chinese collectors looking for investments. In the past decade, a wave of wealthy Chinese have entered the market. Many focus on the Qing period, with an emphasis on the reign of the great Qianlong emperor from 1735 to 1796. This is where some of the most stunning prices have been made, such as the famille-rose double-gourd vase that sold to the Hong Kong-based collector Alice Cheng (shown left with the vase) in 2010 at Sotheby’s, for $32m (which represents a staggering £20m).

“For Chinese looking for investment potential, the Qing market offers volume, and the fact that these pieces have age, and were difficult to make adds to their appeal,” says Patti Wong, the chairman of Sotheby’s Asia.

“The word ‘investment’ is crucial among mainlanders”, says Kate Bryan of London’s Fine Art Society and previously of the Cat Street Gallery in Hong Kong. “With people from Hong Kong, you can talk about the art, but with mainlanders the conversation is all about the investment potential.”

Interestingly, Chinese buyers often shun earlier works, but this is also changing, with a great deal of interest in Ming and Song works, and a growing market in archaic bronzes, jadeite carvings and huanghuali and zitan furniture, as well as textiles and Buddhist sculpture.

At Shimu, we are particular fans of huanghuali furniture. Huanghuali is literally translated as ‘yellow flowering pear’ wood and is a member of the rosewood family.  The finest huanghuali has a translucent shimmering surface, with abstract patterns clearly visible in the grain – traditionally, those appearing like ghost faces were highly prized. In colour, hunaghuali ranges from reddish-brown to golden-yellow.

It is believed that there are less than 10,000 pieces of huanghuali furniture left in the world. Because the wood is nearing extinction, and is now a protected species, supply is very limited. Matched with the rapidly increasing demand for Chinese antiques, prices for huanghuali furniture have skyrocketed over the past five years. Recent huanghuali pieces sold at auction include a Ming dynasty chair which went for $9.3 million, and the exquisite bed pictured right at almost $7 million.

Huanghuali was recently recognized by the National Museum of China as worthy of more attention, and given its own display alongside the museum’s more celebrated ancient bronzes, paintings and porcelain.

The exhibit has assembled some stunning pieces, such as a late Ming geshan, or paneled screen room divider, as well as a Ming dynasty mirror stand with screens and a carved kirin dragon motif (visit the museum’s website here.)

The interest in the West in Chinese furniture has certainly played a role in building a new following in Asia, according to people in the business, but the market is more reliant on a Chinese audience. “Chinese are the key players in collecting and showing Chinese furniture these days,” said Feng Langquan, an agent in the classical furniture business. “But both Westerners and Chinese enjoy the beauty of huanghuali.”

We have no huanghuali in our collection but we do have this huge, exquisite carved antique screen (left), made from the panels that would once have formed an interior dividing wall in a wealthy Chinese home. Each panel is inset with beautiful relief carvings of flowers and figures from Chinese legend.

As is the case with antique huanghuali or zitan furniture, it is currently impossible to ship this type of piece from China due to an export ban, and for the time being at least the screen is not for sale. However we do have many other amazing antiques on display in the showroom and available for purchase online. They include this pair of elm wood yoke back chairs from Shanxi circa 1880 and this beautiful black cabinet dated around 1800 decorated in green and red with peacocks and dragons (both shown below).

If you want to chat about oriental antiques then please do get in touch. I’ll be making another of my regular trips to China later this week and can source pieces at your request, so please just ask. Discovering an extra-special antique is quite a thrill and one of the best bits of the job, so I’d be delighted to help!

Sources: The Art NewspaperThe Wall Street Journal – China Real Time

11 Aug 2014

View our Beijing Stock for the latest extra special Chinese antiques

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Over the past few days we have been busy adding around 70 new Chinese antique cabinets, tables and chests up onto the ‘Beijing Stock‘ section of our website. If you are not familiar with this part of the site, it is a section where we showcase items that are held with one or two of our suppliers in Beijing. Whenever we ship a container of antiques, we will usually include some of these items anyway, but the majority will end up being sold by our suppliers to other customers or antique dealers in the USA and other parts of the world.

The section is a fantastic resource for us and our customers in a number of ways. Firstly, it allows us to offer a much larger range of antiques and furniture than we could possibly hold in stock in the UK, giving our customers a much wider choice. Because we tend to update it every two or three weeks there is also always something new to see and it is often the first place for you to view some of the items that we have lined up to ship on our next container. And finally, included amongst the antiques shown are a few unusual or high end items – antique Chinese sideboards, cabinets or tables that we wouldn’t normally ship unless it was to meet a specific customer request. These pieces include some particularly old cabinets and armoires, or perhaps very large pieces. They will usually have a higher price tag to match their rarity or size, but you are unlikely to find similar pieces available anywhere else in the UK.

Just a few highlights from the current stock are shown here. They include a superb pair of large red lacquer armoires from Qinghai province in western China, still with the original, very detailed, gilded paintings of various figures set against a backdrop of trees and mountains. These cabinets date from the mid 19th century and are in beautiful condition – still with the old decorative hardware on the doors and internal fixed shelves. It is rare to find such beautifully preserved cabinets still together as a pair.

Also amongst my favourites are a wonderfully carved coffer table in elm from Shanxi province, the side spandrels made up of intricately carved dragons and the drawers and lower apron in deep carved relief. A tapered elm armoire dating from the early 19th century, also from Shanxi, and a tall Chinese medicine chest in cream lacquer with each drawer labelled in red characters – something or a rarity these days, are also particularly special.

You can order these and any other items from our ‘Beijing Stock’ online – the only difference to ordering from the main part of our site is that we don’t take online payment for these pieces. Instead we will call you back once we have confirmed availability of your item with our suppliers and at that stage take a deposit so that the item can be reserved for you and included on our next shipment. You may have to wait a little longer than normal to receive your antique (typically around 10 – 14 weeks) but I hope you agree it is worth it to own one of these stunning, unique heirlooms.

Look out for all the latest in our ‘Beijing Stock‘ as we regularly update the site as new pieces become available.


4 Jul 2014

The Tour de France comes to Yorkshire!

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

As you know, we are proudly based in Yorkshire, so imagine how excited we are about the Grand Depart tomorrow. Yes, the Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire, and passes just a few miles from our door!

The opening ceremony took place yesterday at Leeds Arena and all 198 riders travelled through the city on their bikes. The race begins at 11am tomorrow in the city centre and Stage 1 takes a route to Harrogate passing through Otley, Ilkley, Skipton, Harewood and Grassington.

Stage 2 on Sunday is York to Sheffield, and again, passes within a few miles of both the Shimu showroom and my home. The weekend will see the riders pass through some breathtaking countryside – the race really will showcase what Yorkshire has to offer. Around 2 million people are expected on the streets to wave the peloton by. Personally, I’ll be watching the race with my children and a few friends in Ilkley on Saturday and then heading over to Howarth village for Stage 2 on Sunday to watch the riders come up the famous steep, cobbled high street. I wonder what Howarth’s most famous residents, the Bronte sisters, would have thought of it all! If you want to see some of the beautiful places the route passes through, I’ve created a Pinterest board of some of my favourites.

If you’re coming to Yorkshire for the Tour, please do call in to our showroom at Albion Mills in Greengates and say hello. We will be open on Saturday from 10:00 – 4:00. We’re situated just off the Leeds and Bradford ring roads and within easy reach of both those cities.

You’ll be able to see pieces from all our collections of hand crafted furniture, including our Classical Chinese furniture in black lacquer and elm, and gorgeously lacquered and painted Chinese cabinets, each one handcrafted and finished using traditional techniques.

We currently have 30% off all in stock pieces from the Canton Colour Collection. These brightly lacquered cabinets come in every size and have hand-painted interiors decorated with traditional Chinese designs. Each one is signed by the artist and is completely unique.

You can also see our fantastic range of oriental antiques in the showroom. It’s not always easy to show the scale and drama of some of the larger pieces online, so if you’re considering investing in a Chinese antique, it really is worth dropping by. We also have a wonderful selection of accessories, lighting, wall art and soft furnishings.

We’re proud that the Tour de France is coming our way and if you are heading to Yorkshire for the weekend, we wish you a wonderful stay in our beautiful county.

25 Jun 2014

Some recent examples of our bespoke Chinese furniture

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Some of our customers have been kind enough to share photos of their newly installed Shimu furniture with us recently, including a few pieces that we made to order. This therefore seems like a good opportunity to let others view some examples of what we can produce on request. Each month we will discuss these kind of ‘bespoke’ projects with several customers, draw up designs and provide quotes to have their ‘dream’ furniture made. One of the nicest parts of the job is working with a customer to create something truly unique and then see it through to completion. Although there is a surcharge for bespoke orders, as all of our furniture is essentially made by hand and we don’t mass produce any of our standard designs, the additional price for something out of the ordinary often comes in much lower than expectations – often a pleasant surprise.

The two red lacquer, painted cabinets shown below were produced for Mrs Mary Kay, together with the beautiful carved Horseshoe Armchair also pictured. Mary came to visit us at our showroom in Greengates with her son, David, towards the end of last year to discuss having some pieces made and to judge the quality of what we can offer. Mary lost her sight several years ago and so relies on her son to be her eyes, but has also learnt to create a picture in her head of what things look like using her other senses. She spent a good couple of hours with us on her first vist, touching cabinets to get a feel for the size and proportions as well as the finish and paintings on some of our antiques and painted Shanxi furniture.

After several weeks of discussion, emailing designs and drawings to David, we confirmed Mary’s order for the two cabinets and armchair. The two cabinets were based on our Gold Decorated Wedding Cabinets and Shanxi Painted Cabinets, each one to be finished in a glossy red lacquer and decorated with a design showing children and a Chinese landscape. The one other important difference for Mary was that the paintings themselves, hand painted over gold leaf as standard, had to be slightly raised off the lacquered surface of the cabinet. This was so that she would be able to feel the decoration in order to picture it in her head.

The carved horseshoe armchair was more standard – exactly the same as our normal Folding Horseshoe Armchair but with a fixed wooden seat rather than the normal woven version.

The three pieces were included on our first available shipment and finally delivered to Mary a few weeks ago – much to her delight and to admiring comments from friends and neighbours. As she had promised, we received photos of the furniture in its new home earlier this week – the final touches having been added with one of our silk and stone tassels hanging on each cabinet.

The last cabinet shown here was produced recently for another customer, Mrs Marsland, who was so pleased with the finished result that she sent in the photo below as soon as her furniture was installed. Mrs Marsland also visited us to take a look at our Chinese Classical and painted furniture and we discussed the possibility of producing a low table based on a cut down version of our Ladies Cabinet. Finshed in black lacquer, the front of the table was to be decorated in gold leaf and hand painted with butterflies and I hope you’ll agree that the final result looks gorgeous! We are now producing a couple of side tables to match, which will be leaving China at the end of next month.

Although it can take longer to produce a ‘made to order’ item like these (typcially 10-14 weeks for delivery), our bespoke service means that you end up with a unique, hand made piece of furniture that exactly matches your requirements. You can find more examples and details here or give us a call to discuss your project.

9 Jun 2014

NEW! China Seasons, our latest handcrafted furniture range, now online

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We’ve further expanded our collection of handcrafted oriental furniture with the introduction of our brand new ‘China Seasons’ range, now available to view and order online. This beautiful new range is made up of an eclectic mix of lacquered and painted cabinets and chests, each item produced by hand using traditional methods and invidually finished.

Among the first set of pieces you will find fresh pastel lacquered cabinets and summery creams, as well as richer, autumnal hues. Most of the designs are based on the beautiful painted and lacquered furniture of China’s central and western provinces such as Gansu, but have been given a more contemporary twist with a palette of on trend colours. The painted cabinets are decorated with classic designs such as flowers, vases or Chinese landscapes – wonderfully detailed and given an aged look that adds character.

The first pieces for the new collection are due to leave China within the next couple of weeks, ready for delivery around late July, but you can already reserve any of these items through our website. We will be expanding the range further over the coming months so look out for more beautiful additions soon, as well as other new pieces in our ‘new arrivals’ section. As with most of our new furniture, if you see something you like but which is not quite the right size or colour, we will be happy to have a similar piece made to order to suit your requirements.

I hope you like the new range as much as we do here at Shimu!


16 Apr 2014

Back home, antiques and art shipping soon!

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I’ve been back from China over a week now and just about managed to catch up with everything here after a very successful trip. My last couple of days in Beijing gave me time to meet with one other contact there to talk about some possible projects in the future as well as to fit in a trip to Panjiayuan market to check out the usual huge selection of stalls offering ceramics, stoneware, art, jade, bronzes and just about every other Chinese artefact you could possibly imagine. The market is only open at weekends and is always packed with traders, locals looking to pick up a bargain, as well as the odd tourist. There are a few furniture suppliers with concessions around the market but most of these are aimed at the local market, offering hardwood pieces poplular with wealthy Chinese rather than antiques or elm wood furniture.

This time the market was even larger than before, having been extended out at the far end with dozens of new stalls. Amongst the usual stoneware and ceramics that is always good to top up our range of oriental accessories, I discovered a couple of new artists’ stalls including one selling some lovely original paintings. Look out for these in the coming months in our showroom and on our website. Brightly coloured and depicting various ladies at leisure, they are based on the works of the well known Chinese artist Shuai Mei and the style is a balance between classic and contempory.

From Beijing I moved on to Shanghai, where much of our production furniture is produced including our main ‘Chinese Classical’ range. This was a shorter part of the trip. As we have only just had a shipment of our furniture leave Shanghai it was mostly about catching up with the guys at the workshop and discussing future developments, but I was also able to meet with a new potential supplier for our silk wallpaper and to discuss a current project for a couple of our beautiful hand painted silk screens. As ever when I come to Shanghai, my visit also meant being treated to one or two delicious meals with the owners,  including one at their favourite little Japanese restaurant – very authentic and very tasty.

I’m delighted with the mix and selection of antique furniture that I’ve lined up for our next container and can’t wait for these pieces to arrive in the UK. We will be shipping this container in around four weeks from now (we have some production items on order to include as well) so hopefully we will receive everything towards the end of June. As usual, the vast majority of these pieces will be available to view and order on our website well before the container arrives. In fact, you can already view a small selection of these on our Facebook page and we will post more up there in the coming weeks as a sneak preview. I hope you’ll see something you like!

7 Apr 2014

Some great antiques lined up for our next shipment

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

My last few days in Beijing were spent selecting more Chinese antique furniture to be included on our next container, to be shipped in a month or so from now. I visited a couple of other suppliers that we regularly buy from, each of which has a certain speciality in terms of the pieces they hold or the type of finish that they carry out when restoring antiques.

The first of these has a fairly limited selection nowadays as they have moved more into hardwood reproduction furniture aimed at the Chinese market, but they still have some good quality painted armoires and cabinets from Shanxi province, as well as some nice carved furniture from Shaanxi (where the ancient capital of Xian and the terracotta warriors are located). In amongst the collection were also some now quite rare painted Mongolian pieces – with their distinctive palette of reds, blues and yellows.

The second supplier is the one that I enjoy visiting the most when I’m in Beijing. The majority of antique restoration workshops in and around the city tend to rely on other businesses that source old pieces from around China and sell them on in an unrestored state. This particular supplier prefers instead to source the antiques he restores direct from the countryside. As a result he is often able to find items that are unavailable in other warehouses – particularly old furniture from Shanxi in elm and walnut, simple in style but beautifully made. Some of the antiques he has available are of museum quality – Ming dynasty altar tables, daybeds or tapered cabinets – most of which he holds as his own private collection. However, even the mid-range pieces that he sells are often quite rare or unusual compared to the offering elsewhere. What I also like is the very natural restoration and finishing that he uses, resulting in an understated look that puts the focus on the beauty and form of the piece of furniture. Whilst there is certainly a place for the refinished, lacquered and shiny look that the majority of other suppliers tend to prefer, I think there is something about this more subtle, sympathetic finishing that really brings out the character of each original piece.

After two or three hours carefully viewing the collection of around a thousand restored pieces, wandering the dozens of aisles of cabinets, tables, trunks and chairs, I ended up with around 30 or 40 items for our next container. Amongst my favourites is a beautiful book cabinet from Shanxi in elm and dating from the early 19th century. The bottom section of the cabinet has two doors, mounted on the original heavy brass hinges, whilst the top section has two doors and side panels in wonderful open carving – originally designed to show off the owner’s books or prized possessions.

I also selected a beautiful pair of side chairs, also from Shanxi and in elm and with an almost art deco look despite dating from the late 19th century. These are unusual in that the curved backrest is made up of four curved posts rather than the standard single piece of curved wood, whilst the supporting struts below the seat are rounded and delicately carved.

One further highlight is a wonderful cabinet in red lacquer from Shaanxi province – the upper drawer in carved relief being typical of furniture from that region. The doors are set centrally, each in a pale lacquer and decorated with a painted figure. Four smaller figures are shown on panels either side of the doors, each in traditional dress. The cabinet dates from the early 19th century and it is unusual to find a piece like this with the original paintings and finish still intact and in relatively good condition. I’m looking forward to getting this lovely cabinet in our showroom in a couple of months from now.

We should have photos for these pieces and all others that I chose in Beijing in the next few weeks so look out for the full selection on our website in the next month or so or check out our Facebook page over the coming days for more photos of some of my favourites.

More details to follow of my final days in Beijing and Shanghai …

1 Apr 2014

First days in Beijing

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

First chance to sit down and draw breath after a few very busy days in Beijing! I arrived on Thursday evening and straight to work on Friday with a visit to the factory of one of our main suppliers here, who produce our beautiful Chinese Country furniture. This style is very much their speciality, using reclaimed solid woods and producing high quality finishes that show the natural character of the material. As well as the elm used for our own furniture they work with pine, poplar other woods. The wood is old and well seasoned, taken from buildings mostly around Shandong or Hebei provinces. We discussed some new projects, including some samples they had produced specifically for my visit. The results look great – well constructed but still with the character that is unique to furniture that is handcrafted rather than machine made. I look forward to developing these pieces further with a view to adding them to our range in the near future. I was also able to inspect a couple of ‘made to order’ cabinets at the woodwork stage, due to be shipped for customers in a month or so.

As is the case with the majority of factories around Beijing, this particular supplier used to deal mainly in antique restoration and export but gradually moved over to production furniture over the years as the supply of antiques has dwindled. However, the owner still has a few hundred Chinese antiques available – some of which are at the higher end of the market and which he is sensibly holding onto as part of his retirement fund. I therefore took the opportunity to pick a few items for our next container, including one or two Mongolian cabinets (rarely seen with other suppliers) and a lovely round table in walnut.

On Saturday I met up with another of our regular suppliers. This one still deals mainly in antiques, although they are also developing an ever increasing range of reproduction pieces – mostly based on ‘Gansu’ style furniture – simple in design but in colourful lacquers or with various traditional painted designs of landscapes or flowers. As well as the more traditional black and red lacquers, they also offer more ‘trendy’ colours – powder blues, pinks and purples that give a modern twist to classic designs. Their standard finish has a classic, shiny look that they do better than other workshops around Beijing and that I like to combine with the more stripped back, natural look that some of our other antique restorers specialise in.

They still have a lot of antique painted pieces that originated in Gansu and nearby Qinghai province, as well as painted armoires and sideboards from Shanxi and trunks and cabinets from the northeast region of Dongbei. Whilst a lot of these pieces are refinished in red or blue lacquers, there were also a few still with the original paintings. In all I selected around 30 antiques for our next container and also discussed some of their reproduction pieces. I hope to be able to offer much of their production furniture on our website in the future and we will hold a few of these in our showroom for viewing from later in the year.

More to follow soon…


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