Orchid's antiques originate from the 19th and 20th Centuries. Every piece, having been individually selected by Jemma and Mimmi, has been restored in China using traditional methods of craftsmanship.
These antiques are not “investment” pieces in that the value will not increase, however this makes them no less special. Using methods passed down the generations, each piece is painstakingly restored by hand, no piece is identical and every piece has a meaning through the colour, form and any decoration, making it a delight to own and bringing its own character to its new home.
The style of antiques favoured by Orchid are known locally in China as “Country Furniture” indicating that the designs are simple, often colourful and originate from provincial villages across China, Tibet and occasionally Mongolia.
The furniture is most often made from Elm, a hardwood which is used in for its durability and wide grain, however a considerable number of pieces are also made from Fir, Cypress and Camphor and very occasionally Walnut. Camphor wood of course has its own natural moth-repellent properties and has always been used to make Chinese trunks for seasonal storage of linens and clothing.
During the restoration process every effort is made to match wood to the original. The backs of cabinets and drawers are usually replaced, having deteriorated against the cold and damp walls of old Chinese country dwellings. Once the main body is repaired, attention is paid to hardware, which might be replaced due either to wear, or purely for aesthetics. Finally the lacquer and any decoration is cleaned and restored by a skilled artist, with final coats of lacquer - of which there are many – giving longevity and durability back to these beautifully striking pieces.
Every antique has a story to be told. A certificate of Provenance accompanies every antique purchased with a picture of the item and its known provenance. In the past each region or collection of villages would have its own furniture maker, resulting in many houses having virtually identical furniture. When the old village houses are replaced by modern developments the furniture is purchased in volume by restorers. When sourcing in China it is not unusual to see several antique pieces which are virtually identical in style, colour and decoration.
These old pieces become so much more interesting when the history is explained. Here is a basic guide to the meaning behind hardware, lacquer colours and hand-painted decoration on old Chinese country furniture.
Brass handles and locks are traditionally used on cabinets, sideboards and drawers. The brass can be polished to a gold, pewter, silver or antique finish giving a very different look to a piece.
The wedding cabinet was traditionally the Chinese bride’s dowry, presented to the groom on the eve of his wedding. During the bride's formative years the cabinet would be filled with silks and precious items, just as the western ‘Bottom Drawer’. The large brass circular panel spanning both doors is known as a ‘Togetherness Panel’, symbolising the joining of two halves. This is often elaborately carved and features ornate heavy handles. The traditional Chinese pin secures the double doors. Today these are fitted with removable shelves and a hanging rail, making striking coat and clothes storage and a cabinet which will be useful for a lifetime.
Many of the antique cabinets have wooden pivots rather than hinges, thus making cabinet doors very easily removable and offering maximum access to store media equipment, for example. The central spar, often found between double doors, is also most likely removable again making these cabinets very versatile with easy access for modern storage needs.
Here are the meanings of some of the more popular lacquer colours:
Red, the colour of life, brings good fortune and joy. The iconic Chinese cinnabar red, brings wonderful cheer and warmth to a room.
Green, also a colour of life, symbolizes family and fertility.
White symbolizes longevity, wisdom and purity.
Yellow is a lucky colour representing success and fame.
Hand-painted decoration not only looks striking, but each symbol has a meaning. Here are the meanings behind some of the more popular images carefully hand-painted on to furniture.
Animals Bats and butterflies are commonly used as shapes for brass backplates for handles on drawers
Bats symbolise good fortune in China
Butterflies are associated with longevity
Dragons symbolise male fertility, and are also a symbol of the emporer Fish - being a homonym with the word for abundance and affluence, the fish is believed to symbolise wealth
Flowers Peony – this spring flower is considered the queen of flowers and is an emblem of wealth and distinction
Lotus - this is the flower which symbolises summer’s purity
Bamboo – a winter plant, is the symbol of old age and modesty. Bamboo and plums together represent man and wife
Chrysanthemum – this flower signifies autumn and a life of ease and is thought to attract good luck in the home
Magnolia - this spring flower is the emblem of feminine sweetness and beauty Orchids are emblems of fertility and symbols of abundance and perfection. Focusing on the loveliness of this flower is said to open the flow of exotic beauty and prosperity in to our lives
Chinese symbols The Longevity and Double Happiness symbols often form the centre piece of further embellishment such as floral or geometric designs
The Endless Knot, one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism; this fascinating symbol symbolises long life and eternal love
Pagodas are said to contain sacred relics
Mountains- these are said to be a visual aid to help a search for spiritual enlightenment
Clouds symbolise good fortune and happiness, especially when in more than one colour
Vase - the word for vase is a homonym with the word for peace, giving the image a special significance
Bowls, shaped like a Buddha’s round stomach, are associated with enlightenment
Calligraphy writing brushes and ink stones are associated with scholars
Buddha Statues:There is a different Buddha for each of the seven days of the week as events in Buddha’s life are thought to have occurred on certain days. Knowing which day of the week you were born may draw you to a particular Buddha.
The bespoke Kimono Cabinet is ideal and fits perfectly into our home as do the Mandarin 6 drawer chests. The relaxed, informed and positive approach by Chris Kane ensured that everything went well. The Orchid website allowed us to be conversant with the products before we went to the King's Road."
Clive & Jacqueline Botting