Made in Asia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 12:00am

No matter how often you visit Altfield Gallery in Princes Building, the chances are you will always find something new and different.

With co-owners Amanda Clark and David Halperin travelling several times a month to China to source furniture, and to Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia to find sculptures, the displays are changed every Friday in time for the weekend's browsing.

Altfield Gallery has been in Hong Kong for 21 years and last year opened shops in London and Bangkok. Its focus is on 18th to early 20th-century Chinese furniture, and it boasts a range of stock that attracts not only local collectors but dealers from the United States and Europe as well. Some 17th-century pieces are also available, although these are becoming rarer.

The buyers source mainly from the Shanxi region in northern China, where it is still possible to find some of the precious furniture lost in the larger cities during the Cultural Revolution, but they also seek out pieces in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hebei and Zhejiang.

'There are some more interesting finds in the country areas,' says gallery manager Patricia Potter. 'We prefer simple rather than elaborate design, as it goes with Western, Chinese or modern decorating styles.'

Cabinets, side tables, coffers (old sideboards), low daybeds (coffee tables) and altar tables remain the most popular items, and there is always a waiting list for desks.

Before it arrives in Hong Kong, each piece is sent for restoration to the gallery's workshop in China. Repairs are to be expected in furniture of this age, but it is the quality of the work that counts.

'We always tell the customer what work has been done, in addition to giving them a full description of the style, type of wood, age and which province the piece came from,' Ms Potter said. Every piece of furniture comes with an antiquity certificate.

'Some clients prefer furniture in mint condition, others like the distressed look. Either way, we always try to keep the finish in as original a condition as possible.'

Antique wooden furniture will naturally move and crack, so it is important to preserve your investment by coating it well with natural beeswax every two or three months, especially in April/May and November, when there is drastic change in humidity.

This little bit of effort will be rewarded, Ms Potter says. 'I always tell clients to buy with their hearts, not their heads - but at the same time, the value of a good, authentic piece will never go down.'