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Hong Kong Furniture shopping

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I am travelling to Hong Kong with my wife for first time on 31st October for 1 week before going on to Dubai for 5 days. We would appreciate any hints on shopping in these areas espescially for traditional (ie not modern) furniture. Also is it worth going on a day trip across the border into China ? Finally should we expect prices for furniture rugs clothes shoes etc to be cheaper in Hong Kong or Dubai. Thanks in advance

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    I live in Hong Kong and can make the suggestions below. I have been to Dubai often when I lived in Europe, but did not do any shopping for furniture or rugs there so can't say how prices would compare.

    1. First do a LOT of shopping at home to see prices. It is relatively easy to find Asian style furniture in the US these days, check the internet or the yellow pages. IMO unless you are buying a container worth of goods, it is really easier and not any more expensive really at this point to buy stuff in the US. I am AMAZED when I go to the US and see prices on new Asian furniture These places buy and ship in bulk and get very good prices. With the time to look here and with some judicious bargaining, prices are lower here, at least by 30% and probably more, but after you add on the shipping cost, and possibly US customs duties, then you are going to be losing the savings.

    2. If you live in a place with seasons, i.e., winter, and with central heating, which is quite drying, your wood furniture will most likely develop cracks over time, and cracks could be major or in very visible places that ruin the look of the piece. Most of Asia is quite humid and the wood absorbs a lot of water, and when you move it to an environment which is not humid, it starts to dry out. This is another reason to buy at home, as the pieces will have had some time to adjust and badly cracked pieces either won’t be for sale, or you can ask for a guarantee/return if the piece cracks within the first 12 months. Some shopkeepers here will tell you they can “treat” it by putting it in a special room, but that is frankly IMO a nonsense sales pitch, because the minute you get it into a non-tropical/humid environment, the problems begin. If you look at wood pieces that are not teak, you may be better off. Huanghuali is a very dense Chinese wood, albeit furniture made from it is very expensive. Rosewood, elm and mahogany are also used, and you can often find Chinese-style dining tables in rosewood or mahogany, very clean-lined like a Ming or Ching dynasty period. Also, if the teak is very thickly varnished, you may not have as much cracking. (When I moved my furniture from Hong Kong to Zurich for 4 years, a few of my pieces cracked quite badly)

    3. Figure paying the same as the purchase cost of the item to ship it. Make sure you arrange for point to point shipping, which means it will be delivered to your home and not to the nearest dock. Bargain quite hard on the purchase price and tell them that as you have to ship it, your purchase price has to be lower. Let the store you buy from arrange the shipping and pay by credit card; that way the store has an investment in making sure the item arrives. Arranging commercial shipping by yourself is not easy and is generally more expensive, and I have had some bad experiences with it (as opposed to having the store ship, where things turned up every time). Shipping to the US by boat takes between 3-6 weeks depending on where you buy it and where you need it delivered.

    4. You will mostly likely have to pay customs duty on it when it arrives in the US (I assume you live there). There is an exemption for some handicraft items. The Customs Service website may give info take a look at; otherwise the shipper receiving the item in the US will assess the customs duty and you will pay it as a condition to having the item delivered to you.

    6. For rugs, try to avoid shipping if you can, a rug that is 9 by 12 or less can actually be folded into a square (albeit a heavy one) and wrapped, and you can check it with your luggage. (Check the weight restrictions on your airline; you may have to pay excess baggage, but this should be cheaper than shipping..) It used to be that rugs made in Iran (i.e., Persia) could not be imported into the US. It appears that this ban has been lifted, see I am not sure how long the new rule will last given current events. If you buy a rug that is from Iran, you might want the seller should make out a sales slip that indicates that the rug is from another country, like Pakistan or Afghanistan.

    A fixed price store to look for Chinese rugs would be:

    China Arts and Crafts Department Store
    Star House, 3 Salisbury Rd. (Tsimshatsui)
    (at the Star Ferry Pier)

    This place might give you a starting point to use when comparing rug prices for Chinese carpets.
    In the area of the Pacific Place Mall in Central is Tribal Rugs Ltd, Admiralty Centre, 18 Harcourt Road, tel 2529-0576. They have mostly kilms.
    Harbour City, the huge mega-mall that spreads along Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon), is another good place to browse. The shops here include Carpet World, Shop 271 in Zone C (Ocean Terminal); and Chinese Carpet Centre, in shops 164-168 also in Zone C. A well-known and reputable shop for tribal rugs is Charlotte Horstmann & Gerald Godfrey Ltd at 104 Ocean Terminal.
    For furniture in Hong Kong, I would look in these areas/shops:

    1. Hollywood Road area in Central. This is a long road literally lined with antique shops and art galleries. Some reputable antique shops include Honeychurch Antiques (29 Hollywood Road) Zee Stone Gallery (47 Wyndham Street), Contes D'orient (26 Lyndhurst Terrace), Hobbs & Bishops (28 Hollywood Road). For antique maps and prints, go to Wattis Fine Arts (21 Hollywood Road, entrance is actually on Old Bailey Street). Some art galleries to try would be Grotto Fine Art (31 Wyndham Street), Schoeni At Gallery (21-31 Old Bailey Street) and Karin Weber Gallery (20 Aberdeen Street). I think you may find most art galleries will carry only contemporary art, as that is what is selling here; so for antique art IMO you should go to antique shops. Most shops on Hollywood Road are closed on Sundays.

    2. Another good place (albeit quite pricey) is the Prince's Building in Central at 10 Chater Road, quite near the Star Ferry pier and across the street from the Mandarin Hotel. There are a few shops here selling antique art, mostly mixed in with furniture, a very good one is Altfield Gallery.
    Altfield Gallery
    248-249 Prince's Bldg.
    10 Chater Rd.
    Phone: 2537-6370

    3. A very good place to go would be to the warehouse out near Aberdeen called Horizon Plaza. Shops are open every day, including Sundays (lots of expats out on Sundays). You can take a taxi from Central to this area in about 20 minutes, will cost about HK$200-250. (You could take a bus, a change or two would be required, the trip would take about an hour, ask your hotel.) There are about a half dozen antique furniture shops here that also have some art mixed in with the furniture. Get a printed directory from reception on the ground floor, it lists shops by category. The lifts in this building are quite slow, so have some patience. There is only one coffee shop in the building in the Shambala furniture store, so have a good breakfast or lunch before you go. All the shops will ship for you.

    Horizon Plaza
    2 Lee Hing Street
    Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong

    Furniture shops in Horizon Plaza I would recommend:
    Shambala 2nd floor (good rugs, not a huge selection, but good quality, good Tibetan furniture too)
    The Birdcage, 22nd floor, (small selection but excellent, Clarence will also take orders and ship items on to you after he locates them from sources in the PRC, he has very good prices)
    Artura (not sure of floor)
    Alyssa Liang, 10th floor (simply gorgeous reproduction furniture, she makes to order as well)
    Rimba Rhyme, 5th floor (mostly Indonesian but some very interesting pieces)
    Dynasty Antiques, 4th and 20th floors (two shops may two names)
    Another good furniture shop is Old Shanghai on the 15th Floor. Matahari on the 11th also has some interesting stuff, quite a jumble of furniture and artifacts, you need to hunt around. Their prices are a bit high, IMO.

    I personally don't think it is worth going to Shenzhen or someplace in the PRC. In the first place, the visa costs US$100 each, so between that and the cost of the train to get there, there goes some of the savings. Secondly, I don't know that I would trust anyone to ship from there, and of course would not trust any shop keeper's would that something was an "antique" (even in Hong Kong you can never be sure, so buy what you like, not for an investment or anything). However, the shopping in Macau is very good for antique furniture and reproductions (cheaper than Hong Kong and they ship to Hong Kong for free), which you may not be looking for; but also for junk antique stuff and souvenirs in street markets and shops. You can also find things like ancestor paintings. Generally the area around Rue de Sant Antonio and Calcada do Embaixador would be a good place to look. There are also a few interesting shops down in the village of Coloane.

    For shoes in Hong Kong, I would recco the following:

    LIII Couture
    Shop 75 Tower 2
    Admiralty Centre
    18 Harcourt Road
    tel 2136-9739

    First the good news on LIII: they make fantastic shoes in every material, color and style you can imagine. They have copies of designer shoes. They have copied shoes for me that are made better than the originals. They use very good quality materials and use leather linings and add arch paddings. They fit beautifully. They can copy from a photo. Now the bad news: they ain't cheap. The first pair will cost you a bit more than US$200, that is because they need to make a "last" that is, a mold of your foot. After that, subsequent pairs (in any style and most materials) will cost about US$160. These prices only apply if you can wait more than a week for the shoes, if you want them in 2-3 days you will probably pay a good bit more. Custom orders (not from their own models) may take more time. I believe they will ship, so you could order and them have them ship and pay the "cheaper" non-rush prices. However, I like to have a least one fitting to make sure the shoes are comfortable, so you may not want to just order them with no chance for a fitting.

    Shop 34
    Admiralty Centre
    18 Harcourt Road
    Wan Chai
    Tel: 2529-3312

    This is in the same small shopping mall as LIII Couture. I have not had this shop make me any shoes, but have bought some ready-made shoes from them. Their prices are very very cheap, like US$12 for a pair of leather shoes. I am not sure of the quality of their work, it may be fine; I think they may be what LIII Couture was before the expats of Hong Kong discovered them. May be worth a try.

    Mayer Shoes
    Mandarin Oriental Hotel
    5 Connaught Road
    Tel: 852 2524 3317

    Mayer Shoes also makes very good quality shoes, and will copy any bag you already have, just bring it along. They are even more expensive than LIII, but then they have to pay rent to the Mandarin. Shoes will run about US$300 to start, bags are about the same. They will also ship and item, so you don't have to be there to collect it when it is finished.

    Peninsula Hotel Shopping Arcade
    Salisbury Road

    Shop 114 Far East Mansions
    5-6 Middle Road
    Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowlon

    I have not had anything made at either place, but they have a good reputation in Hong Kong. I believe their prices are similar to Mayer and L III Couture.

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    Thanks Cicerone for your detailed reply , it is very much appreciated. We actually live in Scotland not USA but everything you say is very relevant except that prices of asian style furniture is more expensive in Scotland than in USA

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    Cicerone- What a great answer! Whe I have looked a furniture in China towns I can't believe I could buy and ship from China for less money. A local Oriental furniture place in St Louis, (we do not have a Chinatown per se) has frquent sales and will dicker as one buys more items. Again, thanks for the great answer.

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    Terrific response, Cicerone!

    To add just a footnote:

    If Chinese furniture is periodically waxed, it will preserve well and not crack.

    A good Chinese furniture store anywhere in the world will carry a product that works well on Chinese furniture, lacquered or not.

    A further note:
    Collectors are very fastidious about not having anything done to an old piece of furniture, cracks, gouges and all. Personally, I'm the opposite. I just found an excellent craftsman who refinished and redid a wood screen that had fallen over in the California earthquake in 1989. Hinges had torn off and pieces of the lacquer had fallen out as well. The refinished piece looks just like new and I'm very happy with it.

    Good luck on your shopping trip!

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