Q How can I tell if a cabinet has been converted? If it's been modified, is it still worth collecting? WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS: 'Generally, people use Chinese furniture, especially wedding cabinets, as entertainment centres,' says Karin Weber of Karin Weber Gallery on Aberdeen Street. 'Because of the depth of the cabinet, it's actually quite suitable for small to medium-sized televisions, and the doors open wide enough.' Although popular, Weber says the craze for wedding cabinets is a relatively new trend. 'It only goes back 10 or 15 years, when there was a sudden interest in late Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911) furniture. 'With the arrival of westerners and the popularity of Chinese country-style or late Qing dynasty furniture, the wedding cabinet suddenly has come to symbolise Chinese furniture,' she says. 'The moment you see one, you say, 'Yes, that's Chinese.' It makes such a statement - the red lacquer, the brass plate. And it almost looks modern.' MODIFICATIONS: 'When you open an ordinary Chinese cabinet, you'll have a middle shelf and then the bottom shelf, which you can usually lift up for storage space underneath it,' Weber says. 'The bottom shelf has a little puller or a hole that you can put your finger in to lift it, but clearly it's inconvenient if you store things on or underneath the bottom shelf. These cabinets were definitely not meant to have drawers.' According to Weber, the space under the bottom shelf has been converted into drawers in many cabinets. 'It makes perfect sense, but by then you've ruined the piece altogether, and you can no longer say it's a genuine antique. If you're looking for total practical use, I'd suggest you buy something newly made, with all the features you require, without damaging an old piece. 'Traditionally, large Chinese families would live together, so privacy was a problem. If you had a cabinet or chest, instead of having pins to close the doors they'd have locks,' says Weber. 'If you go through the markets, you still sometimes find very attractive antique locks. Unless they were kitchen cabinets or used for other specific purposes, they wouldn't have had drawers at the bottom, because they could be taken out to access the rest of the cabinet's contents.' NEW COLLECTOR TIPS: 'The majority of wedding cabinets were made from fir, which is common,' Weber says. 'If you can, find a piece made of elm, which is much nicer and heavier.' She suggests carefully checking the entire piece. 'Have a good look at the front and inside,' she says. 'The back of the cabinet is always made of inferior wood, because it was designed so it could be taken to pieces and reassembled. The best wood was used at the front because that was what you saw. 'If you can, look under the legs,' says Weber. 'An old piece would have stood on a dirt or tiled floor, and there should be signs of wear and tear. If it looks cleanly cut, that again is a tell-tale sign that it's new.' She also advises looking at the overall shape. 'Most of the wedding cabinets are very square,' Weber says. 'But sometimes you come across one that's just slightly A-line. It makes it look that much more attractive and interesting. If it's that little bit more unusual, it's reflected in the price. 'A wedding cabinet is a very common thing,' says Weber. 'Even an old one shouldn't cost more than $5,000 to $8,000. But I know in America, they can cost several thousand US dollars. Even if you add shipping costs, that's still a pretty high price.' She says door hinges are also good indicators. 'Most Chinese furniture doesn't have fixed hinges, especially wedding cabinets. When you see a wedding cabinet with sliding doors, that's definitely been modified or is new. 'A door has a peg that slides into the hole and, at the bottom, there's a slight dent. Usually, to cover up that hole, there's a scalloped design. See if it looks new or worn with age. It won't close perfectly flush because they've been used and opened so many times. Don't judge an old cabinet as you would a new piece of furniture.' RESOURCES: Chinese Classical Furniture by Grace Wu Bruce ($156; Paddyfield.com). Antiques trip in China with Karin Weber, YWCA summer programme, June 16-17 (tel: 3476 1344; www.esmdywca . org.hk). Karin Weber Gallery: G/F, 20 Aberdeen Street, Central (tel: 2544 5004; www.karinweber gallery.com).