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26 May 2016

Some wonderful finds in Beijing

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I spent most of Tuesday with the other main antique dealer that I use in Beijing who continues to source a wonderful selection. These are mostly from Shanxi province but he also always has some lovely rustic tables from Henan along with the odd painted sideboard from Gansu and carved pieces from Shaanxi. The finish that he specialises in is very natural – not at all over-restored or heavily varnished – and my favourite pieces on each of our containers tend to be from him.

This time around I lined up plenty to go on our next container and probably the one after that, with the highlights being a gorgeous old altar table from Beijing, stripped back to its natural wood colour. At around 250 years old and with a beautiful deep grain in the elm wood, it oozes character. There are still old burn marks on the top – signs of its use to hold ancestor offerings – and the offset tenons that secure the table top are an indication of its age, as these are a feature not seen on later pieces.

An unusual and very elegant pair of side tables from Shanxi was another favourite. Also in elm, these each have three drawers and narrow, elongated legs that end in delicate ‘horse hoof’ feet. I also selected a couple of very old Shaanxi pieces with wonderful carvings. These are becoming few and far between these days and prices have increased considerably over recent years but they are beautiful items. The relief carvings on the drawers of one table in particular are stunning – showing four Chinese lions and stylised dragons.

There is still time to choose a few more pieces before I leave Beijing tomorrow evening, but I’m delighted with what we have lined up so far. As ever, I’m looking forward to sharing my finds with you on the website over the coming weeks and receiving everything soon for display in our showroom. We’ll be posting a few highlights on our Facebook page once I get back too so if you want a sneak preview of more of my selection be sure to ‘like’ us for updates.

25 May 2016

Antique hunting in Beijing

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I’ve been in Beijing for the past few days after saying goodbye to the team in Shanghai on Saturday. Whilst it is always good to see the people there and to check on the latest furniture coming out of production, I look forward to my time in Beijing as this is where I get to visit various showrooms and warehouses to select most of the Chinese antiques that we will ship to the UK over the coming months.

I’ve noticed a big difference in the antiques market in China over the past few years. When we first started sourcing and selling Chinese antiques twelve or so years ago, there was still a good selection both in Shanghai and Beijing. Nowadays suppliers in Shanghai have pretty much all dried up, whilst in Beijing the number of workshops restoring and selling antiques has dwindled down to just a few good ones. This is partly down to supply – it has simply become more difficult and more expensive to find good quality pieces from across China – but also due to many of the factories identifying new furniture aimed mostly at the domestic Chinese market as being the future for their business.

More recently, many of the smaller workshops have been forced to close in Beijing due to government policy. In an effort to tackle the serious pollution problem in the capital the government issued an edict last year that essentially means that most factories are no longer allowed to be located within the Beijing outer city limits. Faced with an expensive relocation to a nearby province such as Hebei at short notice, many businesses simply couldn’t afford to keep going.

Some factories saw the move coming and have used it to their advantage with some forward planning. One of my antique suppliers here moved their production to Shandong province a few hours’ drive to the south of Beijing about six months ago, where labour and rent is a lot cheaper. They still plan to keep a showroom in the capital, but are also building a larger one at the new factory and hope to tempt customers there in the future.

I wanted to see the new set up and check out some samples that they have produced for Shimu, so we spent a long day travelling down to Shandong. The fastest part of the journey was an hour spent on one China’s high speed trains (CRH), speeding through the countryside at around 300km/hour. Looking out of the window I was struck by how flat the countryside in this part of China is, with agricultural fields interspersed with industrial complexes. Arriving at the station in Shandong everything looked new, with four lane roads largely devoid of traffic – in stark contrast to Beijing and Shanghai centres.

As in other parts of China, the amount of construction is incredible, with new tower blocks, huge office complexes and factories sprouting up everywhere. The odd thing is that most of these seem to be empty, built perhaps to continue fuelling the economy and to provide employment but with little hope of being occupied in the near future.

Our supplier’s new factory is very well set up, with plenty of space and good facilities. They have also already started to build the large new showroom in the centre of the complex, so I look forward to seeing that completed the next time I am over here. I chose a few painted and lacquered cabinets for our next shipment from those they had just restored and refinished, but will visit their Beijing showroom tomorrow to view most of their current stock.

 

25 May 2016

More from my China trip: the food of Shanghai!

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I said I’d tell you more about the restaurants of Shanghai, and it’s certainly a more interesting topic than traffic!

I am always very well entertained and well treated on my visits. Food is such an important part of Chinese society and business relations and I am certainly happy to be the benefactor! There is such a wide variety of restaurants and dishes as each part of China, even down to districts within a region, has its own particular cuisine.

The vast majority of Chinese food that we are used to in the UK is based (quite loosely) on the cuisine of Guandong near Hong Kong and is quite sweet compared to the more robust, salty food of the north or the spicy, piquant food of Szechuan in the South West. It amuses me that when I am sat with staff from our suppliers, who usually hail from many different parts of China, they will often comment that the food we are eating is not hot enough for them (Hebei natives) or too sweet (Shandong natives) and they will always claim that the food in their region is the best!

I have to say that Shanghai food is one of my favourites – I love the shrimp and pork dumplings that the area is known for but on this trip I have also had some delicious fish, pork belly, seafood and countless other dishes (including frog – and yes it does taste much like chicken).

On a footnote, my Chinese has unfortunately improved very little over the years as there is usually at least one person around who speaks good English and will translate to everybody. However, last night we found ourselves in a situation where, between four of us, there was very little common language. The solution? Lily, one of the staff I was having dinner with, Facetimed her boyfriend who currently works at a restaurant in London, so that I could chat with him and he could act briefly as interpreter from thousands of miles away! Quite a surreal experience and one that I’m sure Lily’s boyfriend wasn’t expecting.

23 May 2016

An update from Shanghai: part 1

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I’m in China this week, sourcing antiques and checking on the workshops which make our handcrafted ranges.

It has been a rainy few days in Shanghai but good to catch up again with old friends and check on progress for our next shipment – a 40 foot container due to leave here at the beginning of June. The supplier we use in Shanghai for much of our new furniture including our Classical Chinese range has moved recently to a larger factory, so this was the first opportunity for me to visit the new premises.

Compared to many of the workshops I have seen in China, particularly many of the little ateliers in Beijing, it is roomy, light and well equipped – a good balance between handcrafted, traditional techniques and modern efficiency.

I was very pleased with the quality of everything I saw, particularly the finish on the pieces that were already completed as the factory is using a new, more hard-wearing lacquer for the range and this is the first time I had seen the results. It gives a lovely, silky finish that is nice to the touch but is more durable than other lacquers.

Whilst some of the 150 or so pieces of furniture that will go on the container were already finished other than having hardware fitted, the majority were completed only to the woodwork stage. This gave me the chance to inspect the quality of the carpentry on the furniture, including several ‘made to order’ presold pieces.

I love to see much of the traditional Chinese joinery still in use in our furniture, although these days the carpenters also use some more modern techniques such as machine cut dovetail joints on some of the larger drawers for added strength.

Between visiting the factory and checking out one or two of the local markets in Shanghai much of my time here has been spent, as ever, either sitting in traffic or sitting at a restaurant table. The traffic here never ceases to amaze me and, despite fairly stringent restrictions by the local government on granting new car licenses, is only getting worse as a few more thousand cars enter onto the roads every month.

Shanghai has an excellent and cheap underground system that I tend to use when I’m out and about by myself but my contacts here will always drive. I can’t help but wonder at the hours, days and weeks that mount up sitting in gridlock that could be spent more productively.

Anyway, enough of traffic. In my next post, I’ll tell you a little more about my time spent at the restaurant tables of this city….

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20 May 2016

Summer blooms are always in style

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Florals needn’t be fusty and old-fashioned. Forget chintzy prints and boring pastels and go bold with blooms. Here are some of our favourite ideas from across the web.

flowers1

There’s nothing shy and retiring about this floral wallpaper! Go to the dark side with this amazing print and team with simple white wood to keep the look modern.

Image credit

brights

Bright blooms look super modern against neon furniture.

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fl1

If you’re of a creative bent, why not paint your own bold floral wall for a totally unique look?

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panel

If an entire floral wall is too much for you, why not take a tip from Shimu and try a framed panel? These gorgeous wall panels are hand painted onto silk and backed with rice paper and feature exquisite detail of flowers, birds and butterflies.

They are ideal for bringing bring a touch of oriental style into a room without having to paper an entire wall. Find more silk panels and floral wall art on the Shimu website.

26 Apr 2016

Global fusion style for your home

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

image

Since air travel became popular in the seventies, global chic has been a perennial trend. And the internet age means we can mix treasures picked up on our own travels with exotic furniture, accessories and art purchased from around the world at the click of a mouse.

Designs from Moroccan bazaars, Mediterranean markets and Stockholm studios are at our fingertips, but with so much variety it’s important to take care in putting this well-travelled look together. Here are some tips on how to master global fusion.

1) Keep things fresh and contemporary with a neutral colour palette, especially if your ethnic goods are bright and colourful.

2) Incorporate pieces that tell a story about your life. Whilst on holiday, be sure to look out for special artefacts and the work of local artisans.

3) When it comes to flooring, choose natural materials like wood, brick or tiles. If you want carpet, pick a hand woven rug perhaps from Morocco,  China or India.

4) Have fun with textiles and incorporate them into every room of your house. For instance, a dining room looks wonderful with a table-runner made from bright Japanese kimono fabric.

5) Get creative with accessories. Ethnic jewellery such as our Miao silver necklaces look stunning on their stands, Chinese silks add drama when framed and antique window panels make unusual wall hangings.

6) Add pizzazz to dinner by serving food on a mix of exotic crockery.

7) Mix contemporary furniture with simple lines with accent pieces like dramatic Chinese cabinets in bright lacquers.

Image by shutter fly.com

24 Mar 2016

Easter entertaining

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We can’t believe that Easter is here already. It doesn’t seem a moment since we were getting excited about Christmas and the Chinese New Year! But it does give us a great excuse (not that we need one) to plan a beautiful table setting for a scrumptious family feast.

First, the basics. At Shimu, you’ll find a great range of dining tables and chairs online, from black lacquer to rustic elm to quirky antique. We also have some show-stopping sideboards, which are great for giving a dining room the wow factor. Pictured below is our Ming dining table and chairs, decorated to great effect with a minimalist arrangement of white hydrangeas and anemones in a  simple fishbowl.

table

Whether your style is minimalist, boho, chic or rustic, set the right tone for your Easter gathering with an unforgettable, easy-to-make tablescape. If the weather’s good, why not take your dining table and chairs outside and dine alfresco? In the table setting below, florals are combined with citrus accents to create an elegant Easter tablescape that harks to spring.

Alfresco dining

If the weather’s not up to it (and let’s face it, alfresco dining seems unlikely), bring the outside in with beautiful spring flowers to add colour to your table (see left).

For a theme harking back to the winter months, try the simple yet dramatic tablescape pictured right.

Fill a tall clear glass vase with manzanita branches for a dramatic statement. Decorate with blue eggs and accessories to make impact against the stark white tableware.
spring inspiredsimple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a more eccentric arrangement, we love this setting of pears in delicate floral glass teacups. The green shade of the pears contrasts beautifully with the duck egg garland, and the gently illuminated bunny adds a quirky finishing touch.

nature inspired

Once the table is set, all that’s left to consider is the meal. We think there’s nothing better than delicious spring lamb, and we’ve found this foolproof recipe by Delia Smith to make things easy for you. Enjoy this mouthwatering recipe for spring lamb cooked in butter and herbs, with redcurrant, orange and mint sauce.

Happy Easter everyone!

Delicious Spring Lamb

Ingredients
1 leg of lamb, weighing about 4 lb 8 oz (2 kg)
1½ oz (40 g) butter, at room temperature
2 level tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 level tablespoons chopped fresh curly parsley
1 level teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 level teaspoon salt
freshly milled black pepper
For the gravy
1 level dessertspoon plain flour
3 fl oz (75 ml) dry white or red wine
10 fl oz (275 ml) vegetable stock
salt and freshly milled black pepper
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons authentic redcurrant jelly (one with a high fruit content), eg Tiptree
zest 1 orange (use a zester)
1½ level tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Method

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 375°F (190°C). Begin by chopping all the herbs as per the instructions given in the ingredients list, then mix the butter, herbs and garlic together, adding a level teaspoon of salt and some freshly milled black pepper.

Now stab the joint in several places with a skewer, and rub the herb butter all over the upper side – this will allow the butter to run into the joint during cooking.

Next, wrap the joint loosely in foil, allowing a bit of space to let air circulate, then fold the edges and seal well. Now place it in a large roasting tin and cook for 2 hours on the centre shelf of the pre-heated oven, then open out the foil and cook it for a further 30 minutes, so that it browns nicely.

With these cooking times the lamb will be slightly pink. If you like it well done, give it a little extra time in the foil before opening it out.

When it is ready, remove the joint to a warm serving dish and keep in a warm place while you make the gravy. Empty the juices from the foil into the roasting tin, then tilt the tin slightly.

You will see that the meat juices and fat will separate, so spoon off most of the fat into a bowl and discard, and leave the juices in the tin.

Now place the tin over a medium heat, and when the juices start to bubble, sprinkle in the flour and work it to a smooth paste, using a wooden spoon, then cook for a minute or so, to brown.

Now pour in the wine and let it bubble, then gradually add the stock by degrees, to make a thin gravy. Taste and add seasoning, if it needs it, then pour into a jug.

Place the redcurrant jelly in a small basin, break it up with a fork, then mix in the orange zest and mint – and that’s it. This must be one of the quickest sauces in the world, and it’s absolutely delicious.

Pour it in a jug and serve with the lamb and the gravy. Bon appetit!

For a more eccentric arrangement, we love this setting of pears in delicate floral glass teacups. The green shade of the pears contrasts beautifully with the duck egg garland, and the gently illuminated bunny adds a quirky finishing touch.

9 Mar 2016

Some lovely new additions now in off the latest slow boat from China

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

It has taken a long, long time but our latest container from Beijing finally arrived this morning, chock full of antiques, elm furniture and accessories that I selected on my last visit to China. We managed to have the shipment load and leave Beijing at the end of Janury before the Chinese New Year holidays, but delays at sea and an offload in Rotterdam before finally docking in Felixstowe has had us impatiently waiting to get our hands on the latest goodies.

Shanxi Low Sideboard in Red Lacquer

Shanxi Low Sideboard in Red Lacquer

There are some gorgeous Chinese antiques on this shipment, most of which have been available to order through our website since earlier in the year and many of which have already been snapped up by eager customers. Just unpacked and now on display in the showroom is this stunning low sideboard from Shanxi province in western China. The double doors and panels are set within rounded frames – a style common in the region – and delicately carved side spandrels under the extended top surface taper down to the feet. As well as the elegant shape, what we particularly love about this piece is the rich, deep red lacquer that combines with the dark wood where it has worn away to give a wonderful patina. With dimensions that are highly practical as a small sideboard or TV unit, we don’t expect this cabinet to be sitting in our showroom for long.

Another new favourite is the simply styled cabinet in elm wood shown below. Dating from the late 19th century, this piece is also from Shanxi but is very different in style from the sideboard – solid, square shaped and with little decoration other than the brass hardware (which includes the original drawer handles). The doors are set centrally with fixed panels at either side and below, mounted on traditional wooden dowels rather than metal hinges. This gives a pureness and simplicity that sits well in a modern environment and which also helps to highlight the beautiful wood itself, with its attractive, wave like grain.

We are also busy unpacking the many smaller accessories that have arrived with this container, many of which we will be photographing and adding up onto our website over the coming weeks. Look out for new stoneware, bronzes (including the lovely pair of horses with silver inlay shown above), pottery and a large array of stone, jade and silk tassels – all ideal complements to our ever expanding range of furniture.

 

26 Feb 2016

Fresh ideas for a Spring update

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

As the days become longer, with the promise of sunshine to come, our thoughts turn to our homes. Specifically, how to bring some spring into our worn-out winter colour schemes.

When it’s dark and cold, we want our homes to be cosy and warm, but as the season changes, we want colour and light. Here are our tips on how to effortlessly transition into spring.

Whitewashed hues

Try bleached-out tones, natural wood and shades of blues to bring a touch of coastal chic to your interior.

Coastal chic

 

 

Side table

Side table in elm

Tang horse

Bronze tang horse

Blue distressed stool

Blue distressed stool

 

Springtime motifs

What better way to herald the arrival of spring than a sideboard with motifs of butterflies and flowers adorning every surface?

Butterfly sideboard

Butterfly sideboard

 

Silk panels

Silk panels

Painted antique trunk

Painted antique trunk

Green lacquer sideboard

Green lacquer sideboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bright colours

Banish winter gloom and bring in the brights! We love intense shades of pink and green to mark the changing of the season.

 

pink

 

 

Silk shoes

Silk shoes

Orange lacquer cabinet

Orange lacquer cabinet

Pink lacquer cabinet

Pink lacquer cabinet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find lots more online at shimu.co.uk.

 

 

8 Feb 2016

What will Year of the Monkey mean for you?

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Today we welcome the Chinese New Year, and 2016 heralds the year of the monkey.

The monkey is ninth of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac cycle. In Chinese astrology, as well as association with an animal, each year is also linked to one of the five elements: gold (metal), water, wood, fire, or earth.

Both the sign and the element of your birth year are said to affect your personality and destiny. 2016 means the year of the fire monkey, and people born in this year in particular are ambitious and adventurous, but tend to be irritable.

5798569-monkey-This-paper-cut-shows-the-monkey-is-one-of-the-Chinese-Zodiac--Stock-Photo

Monkey years are believed to be unlucky for people born in them and many consider it to be the most unlucky of all the zodiac signs. In a monkey year such as this one, superstitious monkeys will need to be particularly careful about their health, love lives, career, and investments.

Unfortunately, everything points to disaster for monkeys in 2016, so those who will be 12, 24, 36, 48 and onwards this zodiac year should tread cautiously. It’s not all bad though, and many Chinese believe you can turn misfortune to fortune by seeking the blessing of lucky stars.

Perhaps now is an appropriate time to mention all things auspicious for monkeys:

  • Lucky numbers: 4 and 9
  • Lucky days: the 14th and 28th of any Chinese lunar calendar month
  • Lucky colours: white, blue, gold
  • Lucky flowers: chrysanthemum, crape-myrtle
  • Lucky directions: north, northwest, west
  • Lucky months: Chinese lunar months 8 and 12

And monkeys should avoid the following::

  • Unlucky colours: red, pink
  • Unlucky numbers: 2 and 7
  • Unlucky directions: south, southeast
  • Unlucky months: Chinese lunar months 7 and 11

Personality traits of the monkey

People born in a year of the monkey are witty and intelligent with a magnetic personality. Traits like mischievousness and curiosity combined with a sharp brain mean they can be very  innovative but also a little naughtyMonkeys are masters of the practical joke, fast learners and crafty opportunists. Although they have enviable skills, they still have several shortcomings, such as an impetuous temper, a tendency to jealousy and an inclination to look down upon others.

Monkeys have many interests and need partners who are capable of stimulating them. While some enjoy the eccentric nature of monkeys, others do not trust their sly, restless, and inquisitive nature. Monkeys like to be challenged and generally prefer urban life to rural.

When it comes to their careers, monkeys work very hard and can easily adapt to different working environments. Good career choices for monkeys are accounting and banking, science, engineering, stock market trading, air traffic control, film directing and salesmanship.

A year of money for monkeys?

Although the outlook in 2016 is generally bleak, there is the possibility of unexpected fortune for monkeys in 2016. The best months for monkeys to make their fortune will be the second and twelfth Chinese lunar months, during which they should make full use of their time to invest and cash in. However, monkeys should avoid gambling, speculating, and collecting illegal or greedy gains, or they will lose everything they have, especially in the third Chinese lunar month.

Take care when crossing the road!

Monkeys will be plagued by minor illnesses this year, however, will not come to much harm if careful to follow medical advice. Common monkey illnesses are of the nervous or circulatory system. Their health horoscope is never above neutral, but worst in the fourth and tenth Chinese lunar months. Those born in a year of the monkey often spend too much time at work and should remember to protect their health by taking regular breaks and holidays. Monkeys should be particularly aware of road safety in 2016 and avoid taking risks when in a car or around traffic.

Monkey relationships in 2016

The love life of monkeys may be a little dull in 2016. The more they long for a relationship, the harder it will be for them to get one. They may find romance if they allow it to happen naturally, especially in the seventh and twelfth Chinese lunar months. A happy ending for monkeys is possible if they seize the right opportunities. Monkeys are not normally very quick to settle down, as they tend to be promiscuous and are easily bored. Since monkeys love to talk and are extremely sociable, they are open and easy to communicate with in a relationship.

According to the Chinese zodiac, compatibility in love takes into account the unique characteristics of each animal. Only those whose characteristics match each other well can be good partners. The monkey is best when partnered with an ox or a rabbit, and relationships with tigers or pigs are likely to be disastrous.

All that remains is to send our wishes that 2016 is filled with much luck and prosperity, whether you are a monkey or otherwise. 新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo) – Happy New Year!

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