We love to share our knowledge of Chinese culture with our customers and readers of the blog. You’ll already be aware of the importance of festivals to the Chinese, and one of the most significant is celebrated over the next couple of days – the Mid-Autumn Festival. So what do we know about its history and origins?
The term ‘Mid-Autumn’ first appeared in the book ‘Rites of Zhou’, written in the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). But it wasn’t until the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127 AD) that the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was established as the ‘Mid-Autumn Festival’.
From then, worshipping the moon was established as a traditional custom. Ancient Chinese emperors worshipped the moon goddess as they believed that this would bring them a plentiful harvest the following year.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 AD), the Mid-Autumn Festival was as popular as Chinese New Year. People celebrated it with many different activities, including burning pagodas and performing the fire dragon dance.
Worshipping the moon would sometimes involve placing a large table in the middle of the yard or garden under the moon, and putting offerings such as fruit and snacks, on the table. The sacrificial offerings would include apples, plums, grapes and incense, but mooncakes and watermelons (pomelos in the south) were the most important. The watermelon skin would be sliced and opened up into a lotus shape when offered as a sacrifice.
The tradition of eating mooncakes during the festival began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), a dynasty ruled by the Mongols. At the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the Han people’s resistance army wanted to overthrow the rule of the Mongols, so they planned an uprising together. But they had no way to inform other Han people who wanted to join them of the time of the uprising without being discovered by the Mongols. The military counselor of the Han people’s resistance army, Liu Bowen, came up with the strategy of using mooncakes. Liu Bowen asked his soldiers to write “uprising on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival” on slips of paper, put them in mooncakes, and then sell them to the other Han people.
When the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival came, a huge uprising broke out and the Han people succeeded in battle. From then on, people ate mooncakes every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the uprising.
Today, it is still an occasion for friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, which is a symbol of harmony and unity. The festival is celebrated with many cultural or regional customs, including burning incense in reverence to deities, performing lion dances and carrying brightly lit lanterns.
We’ve been busy again at Shimu, not only sourcing a fantastic new set of pieces for our collection of antique Chinese furniture, but also developing a new range of dining tables, benches, coffee tables and cabinets that we think you will love. Each item in the new Kayu range is made from solid, reclaimed wood – either poplar, elm or pine – and finished with a rustic, chunky look that is right on trend.
To create the new range we’ve mixed natural wood and darker stained cabinets and tables produced near Beijing from recycled poplar and elm beams with gorgeous dining sets produced here in the UK from old scaffold boards. These are set on either wooden or iron legs, the iron bases being crafted in Rajasthan.
What each piece has in common is the wonderful texture and beauty of the thick, natural wood. The table tops are produced from chunky boards, with a lovely grain and character. Some of the furniture has a hint of the oriental style that Shimu is so well know for, but others are more simple and modern in design.
Amongst our favourites are this lovely rustic coffee table, which is made with a thick poplar wood top. The edges of the squared surface are rounded and sit on curved marble legs and the natural finish of the wood blends beautifully with the patterned, cream marble. We think it makes a perfect focal point in a contemporary living area and if you prefer a smaller size or shape we can produce that too.
We also love the Kadara Iron Dining Table, made from reclaimed scaffold boards mounted on industrial iron legs and with matching benches. Heavy and hardwearing, it’s ideal in a rustic kitchen or dining room. The thick boards each have an individual character that makes every table unique, with built in wow factor. Or for a more country look choose the Lonwe Trestle Table, available in three colours and either with or without a shelf. It’s easy to dissemble and store away if you need space, or to move outside on a sunny day for outdoor seating.
Each item in the Kayu range is produced by hand, made to order on request. This means that you might have to wait a little longer than normal for your furniture (typically 12-16 weeks) but we’re confident you’ll agree it’s worth the wait.
View the full Kayu reclaimed collection on our website now and look out for more designs as we will be expanding the range over the next few months.
We are delighted to introduce a huge new range of lighting, soft furnishings, ornaments, gifts, tableware and more to our ever expanding collection of furniture and homewares. The new items are part of the Nkuku brand – one that has a strong ethical focus and that fits in perfectly with our own passion for beautifully designed home decor using reclaimed and recycled materials. They are produced primarily in India and the Far East, produced by skilled craftsmen using time-honoured techniques. The suppliers are often small independent businesses or co-operatives that are part of fair trade schemes, providing them with sustainable employment and income as well as support for their community.
Materials used include a wide range of recycled and natural materials such as jute, hemp and rattan. You’ll find journals and albums in leather recycled from other industries and with pages produced using recycled cotton. Photo frames and lamps are made from recyled aluminium and other metals, giving not only a unique, characterful finish but meaning less energy used and fewer emissions during the production process.
It’s hard to pick out our favourites from such a wonderful array, but we particularly love these soft Talani cushion covers. Made from a combination of cotton and denim, they come with lovely patterns and styles, block printed and hand stitched with colourful threads. Each one is available in two shapes and they are perfect mixed and matched to bring a really cosy, natural feel scattered on a bed or sofa.
Beautiful kitchen and tableware includes stoneware bowls and jugs, handmade in Morocco and decorated in blue or black with authentic African designs. In this section you’ll also find lovely bowls and trays in sustainable mango wood – perfect for a rustic style kitchen.
Bags and baskets in palm leaf, rattan and jute are great for shopping and storage, with the larger ones being ideal for holding toys or as log baskets, whilst strikingly patterned rugs in jute and hemp are hard wearing as well as eye-catching.
You’ll also find a lovely selection of vases and pots in metal or recycled glass, including brass and aluminium vases, hammered into shape by hand and beautifully etched with traditional designs.
We think the new range fits in perfectly with our existing collection of oriental furniture and homewares and we are sure you will find something to delight you and to add that final, beautiful touch to your own living space. We are continually on the look out for new items that we think our customers will love and we will be adding even more home accessories in the near future. Look out for more in the Nkuku collection soon, as well as our own unique pieces just arrived from China on our latest container.
This week sees the official launch of the Shimu VIP club. It’s aimed at customers who have a serious interest in Chinese antiques and a passion for Oriental styling. Members will get first views of new pieces, invitations to events, expert advice, sale previews, special offers and bonus gifts based on regular purchases.
To launch the scheme, we’re giving members a free subscription to Homes & Antiques magazine if you spend £1000 or more before the end of September (as well as the usual free delivery). Simply enter ‘VIP Club’ into the box that asks for your reason for buying when you order online or call us to place your order personally.
As another VIP bonus, we’ll shortly be publishing our ‘Guide to Chinese Antiques’ and will email all VIP club members with a link to download it free of charge before anyone else. Other things to look forward to are the launch of a new range of accessories, which we’ll invite VIP members to view online first, and advance notice of our summer sale.
We’d also love to know what YOU think we should offer VIPs! What are you interested in? How can we help you indulge your passion for Oriental antiques? And how can we improve our service to those who shop with us more regularly? Please do give us your feedback!
We will be taking delivery of another container of Chinese antique furniture from Beijing in a couple of weeks from now and we can’t wait to get hold of the new pieces. You can already see and order the vast majority of these on our website, so I thought this would be a good time to pick out one or two of our favourites, along with others in our current collection.
We are often asked by customers to find Chinese altar tables that would fit into a modern home as a console. They make fantastic focal points and display surfaces for family photos and ornaments and, with their upward turning flanges, are highly distinctive. The issue is often the size of the tables. Traditionally used in the main reception room of a Chinese home for use as a shrine to ancestors, most altar tables were sized at well over two metres in length – not always practical in a western home. These days it is becoming harder to find even larger antique altar tables in good condition, let alone ones with more manageable dimensions.
The altar table shown here and currently sailing over from China is shorter than most similar pieces at around six foot long, with narrow proportions that would be ideal for a hall or living room. It comes from Shanxi province in central China and shows many features that are so typical of this type of table. The everted flanges are evident, as are the recessed legs that show beautiful open carvings of flowers, both inside and out. The legs are topped with symmetrical ‘cloud head’ spandrels to the front and back. The dark brown finish on the table top is original, whilst the deep red lacquer on the legs and apron appears to have been added more recently.
With similar proportions but very different in style is a large sideboard in its original, now faded black finish and with paintings on the central doors. Although it was also sourced from Shanxi province, its early life would have been very different from the altar table. Rather than being a valued piece of furniture used for religious purposes, this solid, thick framed chest would have stored foodstuffs such as grain or flour. It would have opened through a removable plank in the top, since sealed, and what have now been converted into four doors would have been fixed panels.
The matching decorative paintings of flower vases on the central doors originally would have been in bright, vibrant colours – greens, golds and oranges that would have contrasted beautifully against the deeper black lacquer. Now faded into more muted colours, the paintings still add a character and focus to an otherwise very simple design. This is a lovely example of a practical, vernacular item of furniture that has been recycled and repurposed for the modern day – in this case an unusual, very striking sideboard that would suit a dining room or reception area.
Very different in style but similar in that it has been heavily adapted to create a more practical item of furniture is a low sideboard in blue lacquer. This cabinet was sourced from Qinghai province in western China and, in its original form, would have been typical of furniture from that region. Unsurprisingly, the distressed blue lacquer which adds a bright, fresh feel is new. This has been applied over the old, worn red which is still visible underneath in a few areas. Blue just wasn’t a colour used for furniture in China, being either unavailable as a pigment or unpopular, and in Qinghai cabinets like this it would almost always be in a rich red, created using a cinnabar pigment.
Perhaps less obviously, the larger doors to the right and left would originally have been fixed panels, the storage space behind them accessed only through the much smaller central doors. This seems an odd, highly impractical design to the modern furniture buyer but was far from uncommon in Qinghai cabinets one or two hundred years ago. The idea behind the design was that, at a time when modern locks weren’t available, it would make life difficult for any potential thieves looking to get their hands on the valuable items held inside. The carved apron and side spandrels, which taper down to the feet from an extended top, add a fluidity and elegance to what was a fairly provincial piece and, with the recent adaptations, the cabinet now would make a wonderful TV stand.
Lastly, we absolutely love the large elm cabinet from Shanxi province shown above. The style, with open panels in the upper doors decorated with lattice work, suggests that its original purpose was to store food and it would make a stunning kitchen or dining room cabinet today used to store cutlery and crockery. The old dark lacquer finish has mellowed to leave soft, rich brown tones and a beautiful patina. The hardware is new, a replacement for the original that has been lost over the years and, as with the Qinghai cabinet, the two outer doors have most likely been added recently, but this is a lovely, unusual cabinet that is definitely one of our current favourites.
These four pieces should be arriving with us on the 17th July, along with another eighty or so other antiques, plus pottery, stoneware and other accessories. If you would like to see the latest collection then pay us a visit at our West Yorkshire showroom for a coffee and a browse. We look forward to seeing you.
Rugs are the final piece of the puzzle in a room, seamlessly pulling the look together at a single stroke. They’re more than just another accessory: they’re practical, offering both comfort and warmth; they’re pieces of art, introducing colour and pattern to your space; and they provide a quick yet dramatic update for your interiors without the need to completely redecorate.
Here’s all you need to know about using rugs around your home.
WHY ARE RUGS BETTER THAN CARPETS?
Because they’re not attached to the floor, rugs can be a lot more versatile than carpets. You can use them to disguise old floorboards or even worn-out carpet with minimal effort.
Scorched carpet in front of an open fire? A rug will hide the mark while protecting your floor from further damage. Cracked tile in the hallway? Rugs or runners are perfect for covering up these little imperfections. Rugs are also easier to clean than carpets, and can be rotated for even wear-and-tear, making them a much more affordable and durable alternative.
Wooden or laminate floors are a stylish and popular flooring choice, but come winter, they can make rooms feel bare and cold. A rug is an easy way to add warmth under your feet, and introducing one will instantly make the room feel more inviting.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES A RUG ADD TO A ROOM?
As well as hiding less-than-perfect flooring, rugs can be used to draw attention to an important piece of furniture, such as a coffee table, sofa or dining table, or a feature such as a fireplace or a floor-to-ceiling window.
Rugs can act as an anchor for the rest of the pieces in the room, highlighting or complementing accent colours or patterns on other soft furnishings to make the room feel unified. Think of a rug as art for your floor. If you’re decorating a space from scratch, why not choose a rug as your starting point and then choose everything else around it?
Bear in mind the rug you select should be large enough to accommodate the furniture that will be placed on top of it (as a rule, rugs under dining tables should still include the chair legs when the chair is pushed out from under the table). A rug that’s too small will unbalance the proportions and create the illusion of a much smaller space. If in doubt, always go bigger.
WHICH RUG IS BEST FOR EACH ROOM?
The style, size and material of your rug will be heavily influenced by its location in the home. For spaces with heavy footfall such as a living room or hallway, choose a hard-wearing rug made from heavyweight material with a pattern in dark colours (so that marks don’t show up easily), like this Ainslie Wool Rug. With a stylish, bold stripe design in contrasting tones, this rug will enhance any modern room setting.
For a dining room, a rug with a flatter weave is better so the chair legs don’t snag the pile. Our gorgeous Taj Agra rugs are one-of-a-kind, hand-woven rugs that come in a variety of floral motifs. The designs echo the traditional Moghal style of central Asia and are made from 100% antique washed wool and available in six sizes (bespoke sizes can also be ordered).
For a bedroom, pale colours and a deeper pile offer the most warmth and comfort for the space (and your bare feet) like the Beauticious pure wool rug. Its super smooth threads give a sumptuous, wonderfully soft feel. It’s available in a number of colours and in three standard sizes.
Our Belle rugs feature intricate striped patterns in creams and greys and are perfect in a contemporary setting. An understated graphical design brings a modern sophistication to the living room. Made from 100% wool and available in two standard sizes, bespoke sizes can also be ordered.
Fans of Chinese antiques will have spotted some of the more unusual pieces in the latest additions to the Shimu website.
All our antiques are sourced from China by Shimu Director James Cottrell, who makes regular trips to Beijing and Shanghai. Occasionally, he finds some absolute showstoppers, which as well as looking amazing in any home, we would expect to increase in value due to their rarity.
For example, the extraordinary family shrine on the right dates from 1750 and is in wonderful condition, the beautiful hand carved decoration on the upper panels still intact along with the delicate carved panels on the doors.
The ornate upper carvings are of flowers, while above the sloping roof are Buddhist symbols flanked at each end with a dragon. The once bright colours are now in a softer palette of reds, browns and blues. This is a beautifully made, quite rare piece of Chinese history, and extremely well preserved.
It would once have been used in a temple in the central Chinese province of Shanxi. It has some beautiful, intricate carving on the panels above the four doors and carved front feet.
The four doors are panelled, set within rounded frames and mounted into the cabinet on wooden dowels. The cabinet is still in its original lacquer finish. This would once have been a more vibrant red, but has worn and faded over the years to a more subtle reddish brown with a wonderful crackled patina. This is a rare and unusual piece and with its impressive proportions the cabinet would provide a huge amount of storage space.
It’s pieces like these which we hope could make a wise investment. It’s becoming harder and harder to source Chinese antiques in original condition, meaning prices are always going up.
Hardwood furniture from China has been a big thing for the past decade, with some yoke-back armchairs and screens bringing top prices at auction. However, many pieces are fakes. About 30% of the furniture sold as “antique” in Hong Kong, for instance, is new furniture made to look old. The remainder has been restored to various degrees.
If you’re interested in finding out more about collecting Chinese antiques, why not make an appointment with Shimu Director James Cottrell, who can discuss what pieces might be right for you? Simply email to set up a meeting.
If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing through our website you’ll be aware of the wide range of furniture that we sell. Our collection of Chinese antique furniture includes well over 300 pieces, the vast majority of which are held here in the UK, and our reproduction furniture ranges extend to a similar number.
In addition to these antiques and standard items though, we also offer a made to order service, which allows the customer to specify their own furniture designs for our suppliers to produce in China. In most cases this involves a tweak to one of our existing pieces of furniture – perhaps a change of dimensions to suit a particular space or use, or maybe an alternative finish. Occasionally however, we are given a slightly more complex brief, essentially to produce a completely unique, one of a kind piece of furniture to take centre stage in a customer’s home.
One of my favourite recent projects was a large cabinet that we produced through one of our regular suppliers in Beijing a few months ago. Our customer loved the rustic, natural look of our Chinese Country Furniture range but wanted a large cabinet to use in the kitchen, including an interior that would hold bottles and jars inside the doors as well as standard shelving and drawers. Over a couple of weeks we discussed the exact requirements and details, producing scaled drawings to show the dimensions and internal configuration.
With the final design agreed we put the order for the cabinet through to our supplier who put it into production. The cabinet was beautifully made by their carpenters using solid, reclaimed elm wood with a gorgeous natural finish. You can see the final result in the photos here, taken in Beijing before the cabinet was packed up for shipping. The light, pale elm wood has a beautiful, deep grain that was made more pronounced and picked out in black as part of the finishing process. The doors were mounted on hinges fitted internally so that they were almost invisible on the outside, giving a very simple, sleek look that was perfectly complemented by the antiqued brass circular hardware. Along with the cabinet, the customer also ordered a pair of Square Trunks in the same finish, as well as several standard pieces from our Chinese Country range to match.
I hope you will agree that the final cabinet was stunning. It was installed along with the other items ordered at the customer’s home in Devon recently, though at nearly 2 metres high and in solid wood it took some delivering!
If you have a particular project in mind or would like to discuss changes to one of our standard items of furniture then get in touch and we will be happy to see if we can help. There is an additional cost involved in ordering a bespoke piece and it does take a little longer as we need to fit it into our production schedule and ship it with one of our regular containers. However at the end of the process you end up with a completely unique piece of furniture like this one that you can enjoy for years to come.
This weekend sees the 3rd Bradford Dragon Boat Festival held on the river Aire at Roberts Park in Saltaire, just down the road from Shimu’s showroom, and this year it’s bigger and better than ever. It starts today (Friday) with the Youth Championships, and Saturday is the Bradford Charity Dragonboat Championships where teams from across the north will race for the prestige of being recognised as 2017 champions.
The final day, Sunday, is the Corporate Championships, where local companies vie against each other for victory. All weekend there’ll be fun for the family with food stalls, rides and entertainment. We will be open on Saturday as normal so why not tie in a visit to Shimu with the activities in Saltaire – well worth a visit in its own right as a World Heritage Site.
Dragon boat racing is a fast growing and exciting water sport. It’s now so popular in Britain that there is a national association, the British Dragon Boat Racing Association, which has information about local teams and events.
Dragon Boat Racing — from legend to sporting event!
Dragon Boat Racing has ancient Chinese origins and its history has been traced back more than 2000 years. The first participants were superstitious Chinese villagers who celebrated the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Racing was held to avert bad luck and encourage the rains needed for a good harvest. They worshipped the dragon of Asia as it was traditionally a symbol of water and was said to rule the rivers and seas and dominate the clouds and rains.
Over the years a second story gained popularity and came to represent the festival – the saga of Qu Yuan. Legend has it that the poet Qu Yuan was from the kingdom of Chu and, following the king falling under the influence of corrupt ministers, spent many years wandering the countryside and composing great poetry. On learning of his kingdom’s defeat, he leapt into the Mi Lo river holding a rock in a display of his heartfelt sorrow. The people loved Qu Yuan very much and raced out in their fishing boats to the middle of the river in a vain attempt to save him. They beat on drums and splashed their oars in the water, trying to keep the dragons away from his body.
In order to commemorate Qu Yuan, every fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people beat drums and paddle out in boats on the river as they once did to keep evil spirits away from his body.
Dragon boat racing is the most important activity during the Dragon Boat Festival. The wooden boats are shaped and decorated in the form of a Chinese dragon. The boat size varies by region but is generally about 20–35 meters in length and needs 30–60 people to paddle it!
Other traditions during the festival include eating sticky rice dumplings (zongzi), hanging Chinese mugwort and calumus, drinking realgar wine, and wearing perfume pouches.