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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…

 

26 Mar 2014

I’m heading for Beijing today

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

I’m leaving today for another of my regular trips to China, visiting suppliers and sourcing antiques to ship back to the UK. I’ll fly in to Beijing where I’ll stay for a few days, then travel on to Shanghai.

Beijing

Beautiful Beijing

I have lots of meetings set up and will be visiting the family-run workshops where much of our furniture is made. Many pieces are made from reclaimed elm, generally the local elm known as ‘northern elm’ (or ‘yumu’ in Chinese). It’s been used in furniture-making since the Ming era and it’s a great privilege to see our craftsmen working with it. Whilst in the workshops, I’ll also be checking out our latest pieces and talking through my ideas for future additions to the range.

As you all know, my great passion is Chinese antiques, and I have some interesting meetings arranged to look at some lovely pieces ‘in the flesh’. Although I have a schedule of visits to warehouses and workshops, I will also make time to scour the back streets and perhaps find some interesting discoveries to bring back with me.

Bronze horse

As usual, I’ll also visit some of the local markets to pick up accessories, like pottery, ceramics, stoneware, jewellery and decorative ornaments.

As it’s the Year of the Horse, I’ll be on the look out for equine-themed pieces, like this bronze Tang horse on the right which I sourced on a previous visit (and which is available on our website).

I have a list of furniture and other items which my customers have asked me to look out for: if you’re looking for something special, it’s not too late to ask! Email me now with details of what you’re after and I’ll try and hunt it down for you.

I’ll be aiming to update the blog whilst in China, so keep reading for more information on my travels, including any interesting pieces I discover while I’m there.

26 Feb 2014

A beautiful ‘nanmu’ book cabinet – furniture with its own back story

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Our latest container of Chinese antique furniture arrived this week, and with it the final pieces that I selected on my last visit out to Beijing. I’m really pleased with the collection we have right now. It’s a nice mixture between stripped down, understated cabinets and tables in beautiful woods and natural finishes and more striking lacquered and painted pieces. As ever, there are one or two particular gems – rarer items in styles or materials that I don’t often come across on my visits to the many antique warehouses of Beijing or Shanghai.

Amongst the rarer pieces on this latest container is this lovely book cabinet from Shanxi province in central China that dates from around 1800. It was designed specifically to store books, which would have been stacked one of top of the other as was the custom in China rather than being stood on their ends as we tend to do in the West.  At first glance it doesn’t look that special – the original dark lacquer is quite worn and the style is a classic ‘square-cornered’ box like design. It has a set of doors at the bottom, three small drawers in the middle and an open space above with a single shelf. But there are a couple of elements that make this quite a special find.

Nanmu Book Cabinet

Nanmu Book Cabinet, Shanxi, circa 1800

Firstly, whilst the majority of furniture from Shanxi was made from elm wood, pine or sometimes walnut, this piece is made from a wood known in China as ‘nanmu’. Part of the laurel family, the wood naturally has a lovely olive brown colour, quite similar to walnut, and  has a fine, smooth texture. It grows predominantly in South-West China and is highly resistant to decay – ideal for furniture making.

As it was a rarer wood in China’s northern provinces, and because of its colour and texture, nanmu was quite highly prized and tended to be used in furniture made for the upper echelons of society. Whilst it was certainly not as valued or as expensive as the tropical hardwoods like zitan or huang-huali that were used for the court, nanmu was considered a step up from the more regular elm or other soft woods. Anyone able to commission a piece of furniture like this book cabinet would certainly have been fairly wealthy.

Secondly, the doors of the cabinet are each inscribed with two Chinese characters in red. The characters on the left essentially read ‘history books’ while those on the right very loosely refer to a ‘reading room’. So this tells us that, not only was the owner rich enough to be able to order this item in nanmu wood, but it was commissioned for a specific purpose – to store his set of books on history, and to be placed in a room that was set aside as a library. So it is possible to imagine that the owner was not only wealthy but also liked to think of himself (and for others to think of him) as something of a scholar!

Nanmu Daybed

Nanmu Daybed, Shanxi circa 1800

One other piece in nanmu wood that is currently on display in our showroom is a beautiful, low daybed, also from Shanxi and dating from the same period. While the majority of daybeds I’ve seen are quite rustic in appearance – made from elm with large, chunky frames – this one is much more elegant. Narrower than most daybeds, it has some fine carving around the aprons and beautifully shaped little cabriole legs. Again, this is not an item that the common man in China would ever be able to afford, but would certainly have belonged to a well-to-do family.

For more details about nanmu and other of the more unusual materials used in Chinese furniture, take a look at our information site at www.chinesefurniture.co.uk

12 Feb 2014

What does the horse mean for you?

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Year of the HorseThe year of the horse is well underway and is expected to bring powerful and dynamic energy. Of course, this power must be harnessed in the right way to bring success, and the year of the horse may bring unpredictable results. But, according to Chinese experts, what does it mean for you?

Those born in the year of the horse (check here) are considered energetic, bright and intelligent. However, if that’s you, 2014 may bring friction and fluctuation: you are entering your birth year and offending Taisui, the god of fortune. This might mean instability in your financial fortunes and suggests keeping a low profile at work may be wise. At least you’re in good company: Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney and Genghis Khan are/were all horses.

For the rest of us, the year ahead ushers in health and prosperity. It will be an excellent time to travel: you should take the opportunity to mingle with the locals, savour authentic cuisine and discover new cultures. You might enjoy reading these predictions by the Feng Shui Society, based on your own animal sign and how it interacts with the horse.

The twelve year cycle of animals which make up the Chinese zodiac interact with the five elements: wood, metal, fire, water and earth. 2014 is the year of the wood horse, taking over from the year of the water snake. Wood is seen as providing fuel for the energetic horse sign, meaning a fast year with the possibility of conflict. The later part of the year is ‘yin fire’, increasing the potential for clashes even more.

If you have a business involving wood or fire you will do well. Property and financial companies won’t be so lucky, and as the horse is a galloper, the potential is for prices and markets to gallop up and down through the year. Oh, and strong fire energy may mean countries in the southern hemisphere, like Australia and South America may experience heat from gunfire as well as volcanoes.

In Chinese culture, horses have always been significant. Terracotta statues of horses were considered a key part of the ‘mingqi’ or models of their possessions with which noblemen were buried. Many of the finest horse statues were created during the Tang dynasty (the ‘golden age’ of Chinese art). Fashioned in bronze or glazed in green, brown or cream, these graceful figures were created with great attention to detail with flaring nostrils and powerful arched necks.

The horse was thought to possess magical powers by the early Chinese and was second only in significance to the dragon. The horse carried the deceased through to the afterlife and the number of horses owned by an individual guaranteed his ongoing status in the next life.

Shimu stocks a number of stone, bronze and ceramic horses of all sizes, and you can see some of them here. If you’re looking for a particular piece, just get in touch for some advice.

With thanks to Travel China GuideIB Times and The Independent.

31 Jan 2014

An amazing spectacle – Chinese New Year!

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

Chinese New YearThis week tools will be downed in our Shanghai and Beijing workshops as our committed team clock-off for the biggest celebration of the year.

The festivities start today – the first day of the lunar month – and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest.

London will see the biggest celebrations outside Asia, as hundreds of thousands of people descend on the West End to mark the occasion. A colourful New Year’s Parade will pass through the city to Chinatown, with dragons, acrobats, dancers and singers. An official opening ceremony will take place tonight in Trafalgar Square.

In China, people traditionally spring clean their houses before the start of the festivities to sweep away any bad luck. On New Year’s Eve, all brooms and brushes are put in cupboards so that good luck cannot be swept away. Houses are decorated with paper garlands and scrolls with lucky phrases like ‘Happiness’ and ‘Wealth’.

On New Year’s Eve, families normally gather together for a festive meal. Depending on the part of China, they may enjoy djiaozi – a steamed dumpling – or in the south, nian gao – a sweet and sticky rice pudding.

Revellers will stay up until after midnight, setting off fireworks. The colour red is really important at New Year, as it symbolises fire, which will scare away evil spirits. People dress from head to toe in red clothing, red decorations are everywhere, and children are given red envelopes of ‘lucky’ money.

The new year ends with the lantern festival on the fifteenth day of the month. People hang glowing lanterns at the windows of their houses and carry lanterns under the light of the full moon. A dragon dance often takes places with a dragon made of paper, silk and bamboo.

We’ll be celebrating in a more low key way at Shimu, but we’re certainly looking forward to welcoming the year of the horse. More about that on the blog next week!

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