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23 May 2016

An update from Shanghai

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….


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.


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


Bright blooms look super modern against neon furniture.

Image credit


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

Image credit


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


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

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.


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

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


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.





Silk shoes

Silk shoes

Orange lacquer cabinet

Orange lacquer cabinet

Pink lacquer cabinet

Pink lacquer cabinet











Find lots more online at



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.


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!

29 Jan 2016

How the Chinese celebrate New Year

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments


It is unclear when the New Year celebrations in China actually started. There is debate between historians as to whether it was during the Shang Dynasty (1766 BC – 1122 BC) or whether it in fact started as early as the reign of Emperor Yao and Shun (2300 BC). In the beginning, the date of the celebration varied from mid-winter to early spring.

With the maturity of the solar base calendar, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 BC) established the first day of the first month as the beginning of the year, where it remains.

Red lanternsThe tradition of cracking bamboo also appeared at this time – bamboo creates a loud cracking noise when it’s put in fire and it is believed that the sound drives away evil. It was not until the Wei Dynasty (220 – 265) that fireworks were introduced and the tradition of Shou Sui (or staying up late to welcome the New Year) took shape.

According to legend, Chinese New Year is the result of a battle against a mythical beast called the ‘Year’. The ‘Year’ looks like an ox with a lion head and lives in the sea. On New Year’s Eve, the ‘Year’ would emerge from the sea and wreak havoc.

However, gradually people discovered that the ‘Year’ feared the colour red, fire and loud noises. This is why the practice of hanging red Dui Lian (left) in front of houses, launching fireworks and displaying red lanterns at the year end began.



In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, there is great activity: shopping, cleaning and hanging decorations, in preparation for the big event.

New Year’s Eve dinner is an important meal for the Chinese. It is considered a time for family and family reunion and is celebrated at home rather than in a restaurant.

During the dinner, fish will be served, and in Northern China, dumplings are an important part of the meal (both these dishes signify prosperity). New Year cake is also served: known in Mandarin as nian gao (“higher year”), eating a piece of this traditional steamed rice cake is supposed to improve your luck in the coming year.


At midnight fireworks are launched to celebrate the coming of the New Year and to drive away evil. It is believed that the person who launches the first firework of the New Year will have good luck.

During Shou Sui – meaning ‘after New Year’s Eve dinner’ – family members will try and stay awake during the night to fend off the mythical ‘Year’ beast by lighting fires.

Giving ‘red packets’ is also a Chinese traditionThese are red envelopes containing money ranging in value from one to a few thousand Chinese Yuan. They are given by adults, especially married couples, and the elderly to young children in the days following New Year. It was believed that the money in the red envelopes warded away evil from the children, kept them healthy and gave them a long life.

On New Year’s Day – people traditionally either stay at home or visit family, especially the older generation.

On the second day – some Chinese host a religious ceremony to honour the gods. It is also the custom for married females to visit their parents.

On the third day – people traditionally perform a ceremony to honour their ancestors.

On the fifteenth day – is the Yuan Xiao festival, also called the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the New Year celebrations.

In 2016 the Chinese New Year begins on Monday 8th February, and heralds the Year of the Monkey. Look out for next week’s blog post to find out what the Year of the Monkey might mean for you!


15 Jan 2016

Events to celebrate the countdown to the Chinese New Year 2016

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

We’re getting ready to celebrate and so wish you a (slightly early) happy New Year!

Chinese New YearThis is the first of three blog posts celebrating the traditional Chinese New Year. In this post, we highlight events happening up and down the UK during the countdown; next time we will look at how the Chinese celebrate; finally, we’ll investigate just what the Year of the Monkey means.

The Chinese New Year’s Day is the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar. The date is different each year when using the Gregorian (internationally-used) calendar, and falls between January 21st and February 20th. In 2016 it’s Monday February 8th.

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 in Trafalgar Square.

At the Magical Lantern Festival Premiere at Chiswick House & Gardens in London, the environment will be transformed into an extravaganza of lights, culture, art and cuisine. The festival is an outdoor event, and will be a wonder of light and illumination. Guests will enjoy a 75 minute cultural adventure and explore a picturesque garden trail through Corridors of Light leading to vividly themed zones.

Elsewhere in the UK, Chinese communities will hold New Year parades and public celebrations close to the first day of the Chinese year. These include:

  • Lion dances in city centres with a strong Chinese community
  • Performances of traditional and contemporary Chinese dance and music
  • Communal meals and tasting sessions of traditional Chinese and Chinese inspired foods
  • Short courses and lectures on Chinese history, language and culture
  • Exhibitions of art and crafts created by artists from China or of Chinese decent
  • Displays of lanterns and fireworks

Most events are open to the general public and are friendly and welcoming for people of all backgrounds to learn more about Chinese culture.

Why not leap into the Year of the Monkey with four days of spectacular celebrations in Manchester from Thursday 4th to Sunday 7th February? Happenings include an Asian food market, a giant Chinese Golden Dragon and the Parkour Monkey Runners.

In Leeds, this year’s event takes place on Sunday 14th February at Leeds Town Hall. The occasion promises to deliver an authentic Chinese experience, with dancing, music, a Chinese lion dance, Chinese calligraphy, kung fu and tai chi. There will also be stands offering Chinese food, crafts, beauty and face painting.

Grab the kids and head to Leeds City Museum on Wednesday 3rd February to make a Chinese creation of your own. Join artist Van Nong to make a beautiful lantern in celebration of the New Year during one of two workshops, which are free and open to adults and families.

Kung Hei Fat Choy are the Chinese New Year celebrations in the Glasgow Museum Resource Centre. This event takes place on 14th February and will include calligraphy and making Chinese lanterns as well as traditional New Year ceremonies and rituals for all members of the family.

In Birmingham, the Chinese New Year is always a huge event and generally attracts up to 30,000 people.  You can see in the Chinese New Year 2016 with a spectacular show in Wolverhampton as part of the region’s cultural line-up.  The University of Birmingham welcomes in the New Year with a free concert.

Join us next time on the blog for an insight into how the Chinese celebrate in their own country.





11 Dec 2015

What Christmas means to the Chinese

Posted by James Cottrell. No Comments

blog2Like most of Britain, we’re getting very excited about our favourite time of year. But what about China? We thought you might like to find out exactly what Christmas means to the Chinese people and how it is celebrated, if at all…

Christmas is not a public holiday in China as most Chinese people are not Christian (only 1% officially) and there is not much Christian cultural influence. However, along the coast and in the big internationally-influenced cities, it has been steadily gaining popularity and has been a big commercial success.

On the mainland, Christmas is celebrated in large cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, where a large number of expats live and Western influence is greater. However, in smaller cities and in the countryside of China’s interior, Christmas is a foreign concept, especially for the older generations.

It is a two day public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau, due to the British and Portuguese influence. In Hong Kong, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both official public holidays. In Macau, Christmas Eve is included as an official public holiday too.

Most Chinese people who celebrate Christmas do so as a happy occasion to get together with friends and family. In the major cities, Christmas trees, lights and decorations can be seen on the streets and in the department stores. Much like in Britain, you’ll hear Christmas music playing from the end of November. Christmas carols can be heard over the noise of the crowds shopping for the Christmas season sales and promotions.
A Chinese “Father Christmas” (圣诞老人 Shèngdàn Lǎorén /shnng-dan laoww-rnn/) helps complete the scene.

You’ll see many of the same decorations as we see in the UK: Christmas wreaths, Merry Christmas banners, colourful lights, and ornaments and baubles. Global trade means that many of the decorations bought in the West now originate from China anyway!


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