Living Large in China with Chinese Classic Furniture

Classic Chinese Furniture used in China's new Luxury Homes

There is a rising interest by China's new wealthy in using Chinese traditional furniture. There has been a rejection of western style and an embrace of traditionally styled Chinese furniture antiques.
This article from China Daily quotes Zhou Rongling, the renowned connoisseur and collector of Chinese furniture. 

China Daily News Article Living Large the Chinese Way
By Xiao Changyan, China Daily, June 25, 2008
Chinese Style Interior Design
Above and inset:
Classic Chinese furniture of Ming and Qing dynasties style are most popular.
In today's modern world of home decor, it is quite easy to fall in line with new, shiny ideas and concepts of abstract art. But, that should not be the case for Chinese luxury homes, says Zhou Rongling.

The renowned connoisseur and collector of classic furniture says such homes should instead focus on showcasing traditional pieces. They should include proud decors, such as Ming Dynasty-styled chairs, ebony cabinets painted in gilt lacquer, gold-painted patterned arhat beds made of Huanghuali wood and high-waist sandalwood tables.

"This is the Chinese way of home luxury we should cherish, instead of blindly adoring expensive foreign designs," says Zhou, who has spent his life collecting and developing classic Chinese furniture. "Once you get more knowledge on our (Chinese) traditional furniture, you will be more amazed by its beauty."

With classic trends returning to interior furnishing in recent years, more people, especially the new wealthy class in China, share Zhou's ideas.

It is a luxury though that does not come cheap. Each item, even a small ebony stool, may match the price of a Mercedes Benz limousine. And, if they are authentic antiques from centuries ago, the value increases, exponentially.

Antique Chinese furniture today continues to create new price records in auction history. In the recent China Guardian 2008 Spring Auction, a red sandalwood side table that included carved Delilah patterns from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) broke the world auction record for classical Chinese furniture with a transaction price of 313.6 million yuan ($45.6 million).

Designer Xu Dong's home is more like a mini-museum of Chinese furniture and accessories. Zhang Wei Classic Chinese furniture archaistic of the Ming and Qing dynasties are often most popular.

"The classic furniture, once only found in nobles' residence, has now become the new highlight for modern houses to show the owners' distinguished taste and social status," says Zhou.

Established craftsman of classical Chinese furniture Wang Xiulin shares the same view. "In the past, the classic furniture had been regarded as a symbol of decaying feudalism that should be immediately smashed. Especially during the 'cultural revolution', numerous pieces of delicate furniture were destroyed."

At that time, many of Wang's peers were forced to change careers. One of his closest friends, who made the best sandalwood carving of vivid lotus, died of poverty.

Today, Wang has his own studio in Beijing's Aika Mahogany Building, where he repairs classic Chinese furniture. He says the business has done unexpectedly well.

But, there are some drawbacks, too.

"As the market booms, lots of manufacturers turn to make reproduction of the classic furniture to make money," Wang says. "But, they just copy the shape and seldom make an in-depth study of the tradition and craftsmanship."

Classic Chinese furniture, for example, should feature unique mortise and tenon structure.

"But, now many manufactures make their classic furniture with glues to save on production time, or because they are short of craftsmen with such skills."

According to Wang, classical Chinese furniture is characterized by the use of rare woods, concealed joints, exquisite carvings, balanced proportions and elegant structures with fluid lines.

Natural beauty has been the biggest attraction to the classic furniture. Woods used in the classic furniture include red sandalwood, Huanghuali wood, padauk, ebony and Phoebe Nanmu, which are hard, dense and resistant to decay over time.

The richly engrained hardwoods are finished with wax to showcase natural beauty. And, as the wood is caressed more frequently over time, the surface becomes even more lustrous.

The wood used for classic Chinese furniture is a rarity in itself. Because the trees grow extremely slowly, Wang says it can take hundreds of years for red sandalwood to even become available. Meanwhile, Huanghuali wood, which grows only in South China's Hainan province, is nearly extinct. As a result, the wood today is priced even higher than ivory.

"Thus, most authentic classic furniture is made of wood that has at least been saved for decades," says Wang. "And, many are even made up of numerous hand-size raw materials collected all over the country."

Though rare woods give classic furniture its luxury touch, it is the artistic component that brings added value - marrying the natural beauty of the wood with elegant carvings. Some pieces are even carved from top to bottom and have inlays of stone, pearls, porcelain, metal and enamel.

Exquisitely carved wooden handicrafts are often closely related to life and record Chinese history, culture and traditions. As a result, the aesthetic value is far greater than its practical value.

(China Daily 06/25/2008 page19)