By: Claire Locking
Many temporary residents of Hong Kong love to buy a piece of Chinese History as a memento of their Asian adventure, but how do you know what to buy and which pieces will be good long-term investments? We meet the owners of Oriental Home and discover the secrets to successful treasure hunting.
Turning a hobby into a business is a wish of many but not many actually take the risk of getting off the treadmill and doing something about it. Sam Lau and his wife Mary did just that back in 2006, when they both turned their backs on their careers and launched a new business specialising in Chinese art and antiques, Oriental Home.
“Sam has always had a passion for art and antiques”, explains Mary. “He has no formal training but was always reading books and had so much enthusiasm so we thought, why not! We started with a 700-square-foot shop in Horizon Plaza and now, seven years on, our showroom is over 10,000 square feet.”
Sam and Mary’s success seems to stem from Sam’s obsessive attention to detail. He demands the highest standards of workmanship from his 30 skilled craftsmen whether they are restoring an antique piece or creating something new. Also, restoration isn’t just a cosmetic job at Orient Home, as it is with many dealers in Hong Kong. Instead, they actually dismantle the entire piece, check for damage or woodworm, treat the piece and then put it back together, making sure to retain the elements of its history and its signs of age.
“We have a lot of clients from the mainland, Bejing and Shanghai, because they can’t find our level of quality there anymore,” explains Sam. “We also export over 50 percent of our pieces to retailers in Singapore, Europe and the US.”
The Oriental Home Showroom in Ap Lei Chau is a treasure trove of rare and covetable pieces, including beautiful Tibetan sideboards, Mongolian cabinets (very much a rising star in the world of Asian antiques) and a rare pair of stunning black medicine cabinets.
“We have a team of buyers who work exclusively for us in China,” explains Sam. “They buy directly from homeowners or village leaders. With the growth of internet shopping and the easier accessibility of places like Tibet, prices are rising all the time and available pieces are getting scarce.”
Oriental Home’s seven top tips for buyers looking to invest in quality Chinese antiques
Always look for something unique, something different. A plain red or black wedding cabinet is beautiful but carvings or original painted decoration would make it more valuable.
Try to buy something that has been left in its original state. Don’t buy a piece where the painting has been touched up as it will actually ruin the value. You are buying a piece of history so respect the ageing and the story of a piece.
Try to always buy a piece that doesn’t have any broken or replaced doors, drawers or carvings. Once a piece is damaged or has some element replaced, its value decreases.
The older the piece, the higher the value although it is becoming increasingly difficult to find pieces over 100 years old nowadays.
Look for matching pairs. These are very valuable as many got lost, separated or damaged during the war.
Find out where a piece is from. Most Chinese antique furniture is from Shanxi, Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces. Pieces from remote areas may have more value.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to furniture then consider ornaments and accessories. They are hugely popular with buyers and many pieces are quite rare.
Oriental Home, 20/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau 3542 5336.