Are your holiday finds worth bringing home?
While on holiday overseas, many of us, at least fleetingly, imagine what it would be like to live in a rambling Tuscan palazzo, a flat in Paris or a Malaysian shophouse. Although making such dreams a reality might be near impossible, bringing back a token of our trips, in a piece of furniture or a lamp, is a great way to add something new to our homes.
For vintage pieces hard to find in these parts, the markets of Europe have a lot to offer. The Clignancourt flea market in Paris is one of the most famous, with so many stalls you'd need days to see them all. But also try the less well-known Porte de Vanves, for fewer tourists and better bargains. In the south of France, Isle sur la Sorgue has a market every Sunday. The streets are also lined with shops selling everything from beautiful French linen to old chateau doors.
Britain's highly successful Midcentury Modern fairs, held in October and December this year, host dealers selling furniture from the US and Europe, including pieces from young British designers.
It's worth noting that if you buy in Britain and have the items shipped directly from the retailer you don't pay Value Added Tax of 20 per cent. Depending on what you are buying, this can often cover the cost of shipping.
Have a look at online retailers such as The White Company, which is renowned for great-quality bed linens, but also offers beachy hammocks and outdoor furniture at good prices.
If you're visiting the United States this summer, head to New York for everything from chairs to beds to mirrors. Take a look at the eclectic mixture at The Future Perfect, or go for timeless, hand-crafted pieces from stores such as BDDW, where the shop's high-ceilinged loft style is an inspiration in itself.
On the west coast, Downtown in West Hollywood is great for antiques and reproductions. It will also custom make furniture for you and ship to Hong Kong. Berbere World Imports is a warehouse that decorators and designers head to for Tibetan, Balinese and Moroccan treasures at a fraction of prices elsewhere.
Shipping can seem daunting, especially for larger pieces, so do your research or find a reputable shipping agent such as Hedley's Humpers. It ships to and from locations worldwide and will provide quotes, organise collection from vendors, pack and case your purchases, load them onto a container (for sea freight) or send them to the airline (for air freight), and organise customs clearance and delivery in Hong Kong.
If your travels take you to India, Chor Bazaar in Mumbai is a densely packed flea market where you can buy everything from Raj-era steamer trunks and vintage crystal to antique silver and old Bollywood film posters. For decorators and designers, the first port of call is Taherallys, one of the best stocked and well-organised shops in the bazaar. Outside the bazaar, try Phillips Antiques for stunning antiques and unusual vintage items; and for beautiful block-printed bedding and linen try Soma. There is also the seriously chic and quirky Bungalow Eight, with everything from industrial-style vintage lighting to plates and wicker chairs.
Catherine Trotman, director of Hong Kong-based Inside, advises buying from reputable dealers to be sure of quality, and checking that the item does not require a permit to be exported.
'Luckily, the days of paying for goods with a promise that they will be shipped, to then receive nothing, are mostly gone now,' she says.
Her advice, if buying furniture in India, is to stick to teak, which doesn't attract woodworm. 'If buying newer pieces in shisham, mango or acacia, check that the wood is properly treated for insects and is kiln dried to avoid warping and cracking.'
If you're buying in Asia, you are often shipping items from a similar climate. Penang in Malaysia has colonial-style furniture that has survived the humidity for years. China Joes, in a traditional shophouse in Georgetown, has great pieces of reupholstered Chinese furniture, colourful kimono and pretty porcelain. Also worth a taxi ride is Rustic Heritage.
In Bangkok, the aptly named Incredible has an eclectic range to rummage through, and sister store Eligible, next door, can make furniture to order. If it's vintage you're after, take a trip to Papaya - four floors crammed with everything from mannequins to pinball machines and, in particular, a great stock of '60s and '70s kitsch.
In Vietnam, the choice of lacquer, furniture and lighting is huge and well priced. In Ho Chi Minh City, The Lost Art has a mixture of art deco, French colonial and repro Chinese furniture, as well as silk lampshades. It custom makes orders and ships to Hong Kong. Verlim is also worth checking out for the lacquer, lamps and furniture. In Hanoi, you can get modern, well-made pieces at reasonable prices from Module 7, which also designs to your specifications and ship here.
If you buy lighting, be aware of the voltage differences between where you're buying and Hong Kong. Dora Siu at Kitchens + Interiors says: 'Though you may be getting a bargain abroad, you may end up paying more when you get home to adapt or repair what you've bought.'
Siu also stresses the importance of finding out about the company you're buying from. Make sure you ask, for example, if they use non-toxic paints on their furniture. 'We import furniture from Europe because they follow certain standards which they don't have locally or in China.'
But it's not all dodgy knock-offs in China. Lost & Found in Beijing produces furniture inspired by local classic pieces. It commissions a small local factory to make versions of originals in teak or catalpa, which are bound to stand the test of time. In Shanghai, take a look at Nest, which is attempting to champion intelligent green design and responsible manufacturing in China. You can pick up bamboo kitchen items and non-toxic cardboard and plywood furniture.
'Through sourcing furniture abroad I am able to bring to my projects high quality products but also the unexpected in terms of both finish and design options,' says Debbie Oppenheimer, of Deborah Oppenheimer Interior Design.
So as you rummage through the local market on holiday, have a look for something you won't find here, but keep in mind that buying in your hometown has its advantages too.
Berbere Imports: berbereworldimports.com
Bungalow Eight: bungaloweight.com
China Joe's: straitscollection.com.my/Retail_ChinaJoes.htm
Clignancourt Market: marchesauxpuces.fr
Eligible: (next door to Incredible, see below) tel: +66 2662 8053
Incredible: 116/4 Sukhumvit Soi 23 tel: +66 2260 9690
The Lost Art: elephantguide.com/thelostart
Lost & Found: lost-and-found.cn
Mid-century Modern Fairs: modernshows.com
Module 7: module7design.com
Papaya: Soi Lat Pharo 55/2, Lat Pharo Rd, Wang Thong Lamg, Bangkok 10310 tel: +66 2933 0661
Phillips Antiques: phillipsantiques.com
Rustic Heritage: rusticheritage.net
Soma Shop: somashop.com
The White Company: thewhitecompany.com