Collecting tips from those in the know Q What is kiri wood? I'd like to buy some furniture to store clothing but don't want any more Chinese pieces. Is a Japanese tansu a good way to go? WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: 'Kiri, also known as paulownia wood, is soft but durable, absorbs moisture and keeps everything inside dry,' says Lucille Vessa who, with her husband Glenn, established Honeychurch Antiques in 1973. 'Kiri also has a nice fragrance that's not as strong as camphor. 'Although earlier examples exist from the Edo [1603 to 1868] and Meiji [1868 to 1912] eras, most of them were mass-produced during the Taisho period [1912 to 1926]. There's a good reason why - there was a tremendous earthquake in 1923, followed by a fire that gutted all of Tokyo. Suddenly production was pushed ahead to supply Tokyo with isho-tansu [clothing chests] and cho-tansu [merchant chests],' says Lucille. WHEREVER I LAY MY KIRI TANSU: 'Bear in mind that these pieces were light enough to take away quickly because there were a lot of fires - they used candlelight next to flammable tatami and sliding screens. Almost all Japanese chests had special handles. There was always a pole in every corner of the house and when the alarm sounded they threw everything in the drawers, lifted the handles, the pole went through and they carried it out the door,' she says. 'The carpentry work was exceptional. The drawer liners were cut very thick, which is why the drawers move like butter, and obviously added to the cost. Today, you won't find a piece of kiri cut this thick.' Some pieces appear darker. Lucille explains: 'Many Japanese prefer kiri pieces that have been treated with lime and then a darker finish to bring out the grain. But the majority of tansu were left alone.' NEW COLLECTOR TIPS: 'Don't just take a superficial look at the front. Look at the sides and the back,' says Glenn Vessa. 'Sometimes as a cost-saving measure, they'd just make the front of the chest of kiri and use some lesser wood on the back. With Japanese furniture, unlike from other places, usually only the front was visible because a lot of it went into an alcove. It wasn't bad to have the case made of another wood because it wouldn't be seen.' He also advises looking at the locks. 'Some have double-action locks where the key is used to lock and open. The earlier Japanese system was a single action lock where you locked it by sliding it up and only used the key to open it.' Expect to spend between $5,000 and $25,000 on a kiri tansu. Amazingly, Japanese distaste for second-hand items and the high cost of workmanship means new pieces of lesser quality often cost more. Honeychurch Antiques Ltd (G/F, 29 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2543 2433, fax: 2541 3683) specialises in Asian artefacts, rare books and prints.