Ming Style. An Enduring Tradition
Karen Schmitt; Solomon Chen

The classic Ming Period (1368-c.1644) was nurtured by the tastes and temperament of the Literati, the Scholarly Elite.   And the furniture they favored, characterized by simplicity and understatement, has set the standard for following generations of collectors and designers.

Ming furniture types include broad tables for poetry composition and painting, comfortable chairs with separate foot rests, gaming tables, elevated stands to display seasonal arrangements, and cabinets and bookshelves to house prized collections.   Within the Scholar's study,  pieces were arranged in perfect symmetry to reflect balance and order basic to Confucian society.  In this way, furniture assumed a significance not seen in preceding periods.   Since China enjoyed peace, prosperity and expanded trade at this time, exotic woods were readily available to construct elegant furnishings in keeping with the Literati's lifestyle.

Huanghuali, or "Yellow Pear Wood", was the preferred medium.  It is a dense hardwood ideal for constructing complicated joints that can withstand damp summers and cold winters.  In its natural state, Huanghuali ranges from a soft golden color to a rich honey hue.  Patterns in the grain of Huanghuali and other hardwoods suggest lofty mountains, rain-filled clouds or wild grasses bending in the wind, images cherished by the Scholar for their associations to nobility, endurance and flexibility. Huanghuali, once thought to be extinct, was rediscovered in Southeast Asia.  Old forests can be found in mainland China, but laws to restrict cutting have been issued to protect this natural resource.

Turbulent and less affluent times followed the age of the Literati, and it was not unusual that furniture, no matter how priceless, was often burned just to keep the family warm.  Consequently, authentic Ming pieces are rare and complete groupings are nearly impossible to find.

WOODY CHIC, Kaohsiung's newest furniture gallery, provides options for the discriminating buyer.  From their showroom, you can select exact Ming replicas recreated in China according to traditional methods.  Or, modern pieces inspired by classic designs and brought to life by skilled Tainan craftsman. Even the precious Huanghuali  is available along with other hard woods imported from Laos, Viet Nam and Thailand.   Costs are high, but so is the quality.   Since the furniture can be custom ordered, prices may be modified depending upon the type of  woods and finishes that are chosen.   Professional packing service is also available regardless if items were purchased from their gallery or elsewhere.


When I visit a gallery or a shop, how can I be assured of good quality?
There are three things to consider: Materials, Construction, and Style (in that order). Materials:  Determine the source of the materials used.  Specific regions are renown for their forest resources (see chart below).  Remember, not all woods are created equal; dense hardwoods are not only attractive, they are more durable.  Construction:  Tight joints are essential.  No matter how sturdy a piece appears in the showroom, its lifetime really depends upon how well the wood was cured and how carefully the joints were fashioned.  Ming craftsmen, recognized for their expertise, were able to construct extremely precise, scientific tenon structures that last!  Treatises documenting their methods still remain to guide contemporary furniture makers.  Style:  Personal preference dictates what is appealing, however Ming design reached unparalleled levels by comparison.  Because of its simplicity, it blends easily with other decor.  The Bottom Line:  The ideal piece of furniture should be functional, visually pleasing, and constructed of choice materials by expert craftsmen.
What types of woods are used in Chinese furniture?

Unusual patterns in the wood grain are desirable.  It takes hundreds of years of tree growth to produce the most interesting effects.  For example, Ji-chi-mu, "Chicken Wing Wood", resembles graceful feathers due to the tightness of the grain.  Fine wood always deserves special care.  In the home, place furniture away from direct sunlight.  A slightly damp cloth is all that's needed for cleaning; avoid over waxing.  Woods develop a beautiful patina with use and actually improve with age.
What are the furniture making centers in Taiwan?
Wood: lTainan lLukang lSanyi lMeinunglLiu Gwei
Rattan: lNantou lKuanmiao
How can I tell if a piece of "antique" furniture is as old as the shopkeeper claims, especially if there are no documents to validate authenticity?
First, note the method of joining.  If  nails were used, bamboo fittings predate those of metal.  Establish where the piece originated and then examine the hardware and trimmings carefully to detect if they are later additions. It's always best to do some research before making an important decision.  Chinese Domestic Furniture (Gustav Ecke, 1944 ) is considered the "Bible" of Chinese antiques.  Never stop looking...visit many shops to help train your eye and make comparisons.   Age is not necessarily the best criterion for selection.  Many customers elect to invest in finely made contemporary furniture rather than something "antique" knowing that their purchase will become heirloom.  Whether you buy old or new, always record the item with photographs of front, back and sides.
Woody Chic
"Preserving a heritage....inspiring a lifestyle"
#131 Chungcheng 3rd Road.  Hsin Hsing District
Telephone: (07) 215-8666   FAX: (07) 215-8112
Hours: Noon~9 PM daily
Woody Chic celebrates its Grand Opening on March 13th.
The showroom displays make for beautiful browsing,
and the staff is happy to share their knowledge.
Original artworks and antiques from mainland China, 
used as gallery accessories, may also be purchased.