Chinese furniture, food and feet
I’m writing this at the airport after a couple of busy days in Shanghai and having just about got the better of some serious jet lag. It has been a productive time so far, with a day spent touring around a few antique specialists and markets looking mainly for interesting smaller pieces for our showroom, many of which will also find their way onto the web in the next couple of months. Some of these are one off pieces – old boxes and baskets, but others are new pieces that we will be able to hold in stock and resource, including some stoneware, lamps and resin items from a supplier based in Guilin, southern China, who has a showroom in Shanghai.
As well as the smaller items I couldn’t resist a few larger pieces of antique furniture. We tend to source most antiques from a few suppliers in Beijing as I find the choice there is a little wider and prices more competitive. Shanghai also tends to have slightly more pieces from nearby Zhejiang and other southern provinces, which I personally find less attractive and less interesting than the furniture from more northern and western regions. The materials used are more commonly fir, cypress and other less expensive woods compared to the elm and walnut of furniture from Gansu and Shanxi and the paintings less interesting. Having said that, there are always some gems to be picked out. This time around I chose a few cabinets, including a wonderful double cabinet from Shanxi, unusual in that it is still in just about in an entirely original state, including the lacquer, paintings and the internal configuration. This includes shelves with front boards that hide ‘secret’ sections, as well as internal drawers. It is now quite unusual to find old Shanxi furniture like this in such excellent condition so it was impossible not to take it. I also found some very nice wall carvings – in particular one lovely carved window panel taken from a home in Fujian province. We will need to wait until these pieces are shipped to the UK before we can get some good quality photos taken so it will be some time before they are up on the web but if you would like a sneak preview contact me via the Shimu website.
Yesterday was spent with a visit to our silk wallpaper supplier to catch up with their latest developments. They are working on some new sample books showing photos of some of their recent projects along with the patterned wallpaper used so we will be able to get hold of some of these ourselves in the next few weeks. They have also been busy working on other silk products include a lovely range of silk cushion covers and bedspreads – embroidered by hand and superb quality. Again, these are pieces that we hope to be able to offer soon, both in the showroom and through our website.
After that is was over to the furniture workshop on the outskirts of Shanghai for discussions with the production team and to inspect our latest container of Classical Chinese furniture. This is due to be loaded and shipped next week so most pieces are already finished and ready to be packed, with just the final touches needed on the remaining items. As usual there are a quite a few ‘made to order’ pieces along with the standard furniture, so it was good to see these personally. Usually I only ever see photos as they are shipped and delivered straight out to our customers. This time around the ‘bespoke’ pieces include a pair of large red and gold cabinets, along with additional two door cabinets to go on top. These type of pieces were commonly used in sleeping quarters in Shanxi and other regions of China from hundreds of years ago, used to store clothes and bedding. Like our new pieces they were almost always made in pairs. The one nod to modern practicality for our pair is that they include wooden hanging rails as well as shelves, as the customer will be using them as wardrobes. The pieces are designed to sit side by side and overall are well over two metres in height – beautifully finished with gold leaf decoration, the end result is stunning.
I’ve had little time to myself as the evenings have been spent with Mr Zhang, the workshop head, and his assistant Anita. I’ve worked with these two for at least six years (longer in Mr Zhang’s case), and it is always a pleasure to catch up. We had dinner together on each of the past two nights – always enjoyable although as Mr Zhang usually orders for us all there is always some trepidation over what will arrive on the table. I find the best policy is to eat first and ask questions later and I have to say that in the vast majority of cases the food is excellent, even if it sometimes looks very different from what we in the West are used to. Last night we went to a fantastic place that I had not been to before. The decor was traditional Chinese, with the entrance hall a replica of an old house, down to the ornate beams and antique carved window panels around the outside walls. Three mynah birds were there to greet us with shrill squawks and Chinese phrases much better than my own.
I was also treated to a foot massage, now usually the case on my visits to Shanghai. I’m sure the masseuse was very gentle compared to her usual customers, but to my pathetically soft western feet there were still moments of serious pain! One part of the foot in particular caused me grief. As each area of the foot is supposed to correspond to another part of the body I asked which area this was linked to. This caused much hilarity and I never got a straight answer so I dropped the subject. I may be wrong but reading between the lines, maybe it’s just as well I’m not planning on having any more children!
I’m due into Beijing this evening and tomorrow will be spent visiting our main antique supplier, starting to put together our next shipment of antique furniture. Looking forward to seeing what is available – more to follow soon.