As the trend for Oriental style continues to grow in the UK, it’s set to be huge in 2019. So, we caught up with Jemma, the founder and co-director of Orchid Furniture. After all, they are the UK’s leading specialist in Chinese antiques and Oriental furniture. Read on to discover the brains behind the brand and experience a snapshot of their exquisite furniture and accessories. You can also find out everything you need to know about this trend for the home.
Where did your interest in Oriental style come from?
My interest in and knowledge of Oriental style comes from living and working in the Far East. I was there for several years in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s – predominantly Hong Kong. However, I also lived in Bangkok, Thailand and the Philippines in a water sports resort in a bamboo house. Although I wasn’t working in interiors in those days, I hadn’t realised how much I loved the style. I also found that returning to the UK only highlighted this.
How did you and co-director Mimmi Waugh meet?
Mimmi & I are neighbours – literally – our houses are attached. I have a thatched cottage circa late 1600s, Mimmi’s is a later build (early 1900s). My house was originally the village bakery. However, this bakery caused a fire which destroyed what is now Mimmi’s house and was then being re-built circa 1910. This is just as well – at 6’1” tall, Mimmi couldn’t inhabit a cottage with low ceilings!
What inspired you both to set up Orchid Furniture?
We found the furniture on offer in the UK was so uninspiring – there wasn’t much online then either! So we trawled Hampshire & London antique shops on the hunt for beautiful pieces showcasing Oriental style but they were just too expensive. We even tried department stores and the few independent brands but couldn’t find anything original or inspirational. Then, over many weeks and bottles of wine, we mooted an idea. Why couldn’t we address the dearth of good quality, inspirational Oriental style furniture ourselves? I was endlessly enthusing over the styles, colours, textures and inspirational designs of the Orient. We visited China and were instantly hooked on their designs; both vintage and contemporary pieces. So, we researched the UK furniture market and made a decision to set something up ourselves.
Where did you open your first furniture store?
We opened our first Orchid Furniture store near Stockbridge, just outside Winchester, which is still our admin hub and biggest showroom. It’s in a 200-year -old barn on a beautiful private country estate in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. However, we initially spent three hard winter months stripping and re-fitting with the help of some local builders.
We worked on the brand and store launch during the daytime, visiting the press, buying local and regional advertising, securing stock and services for the company. Then, by night, we worked in the barn decorating, conducting photo shoots and planning the launch. More than 100 people came to the barn on the evening of April 18 2002 to celebrate the launch. Unexpectedly, we made many sales that evening, which, you can imagine, gave us great confidence! Originally Mimmi & I did the deliveries before and after work in her horse-box. However, we had no idea it would take off so quickly. We now work so far afield, throughout London and the home-counties in the South of England.
How does the Oriental style fit in with winter 2018/2019 key interiors trends?
Black is such a popular tone, which features strongly in both restored vintage collections as well as our signature Mandarin Collection. Of course, Chinoiserie is timeless and has such breadth in designs. So there always seems to be something, which works with current trends. Flora of course is still in and continuing into AW18/19 and continues to be popular in decoration on sideboards and storage cabinets. We are also finding orders for aubergine, a sophisticated take on the Millennial pink, are currently increasing. This beautiful shade is in demand with our seating, cabinets and accents, such as silk tassels, to add finishing touches & texture to a scheme.
Do you design anything yourselves?
We design our Mandarin Collection and the Chinese Classics. The Chinese Classics are based on recognisable lines of the Ming and Kang Dynasties. The incredible designs for these periods date back hundreds of years and could be awarded for contemporary style today. The lines are fluid and the shapes and curves are spectacular. Consequently, the craftsmanship is simple, yet extremely sophisticated, with fabulous attention to detail. This style includes pieces, such as the Wedding Cabinet; the large circular central pewter panel is intricately carved with 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac around the central panel. Did you know the wedding cabinet is traditionally delivered to the groom, from his bride, on the eve of their wedding? This cabinet is filled with linens and silks, which she has saved over her growing up years (as with our western “Bottom drawer”).
Our signature Mandarin collection is an elegant & sophisticated contemporary collection. It features perfect block colour lacquer (no distressing) with geometric solid brass hardware, clean lines but of course with a nod to its Oriental roots.
Tell us more about your bespoke service:
Our bespoke service produces our stock pieces to specific size, finish or colour. We will also change the form, by adding or taking away drawers, shelving or hanging rails. We make our low wooden cabinets with cable access in the back. They provide the perfect media unit to go under a wall-mounted TV, or to sit a TV on the top of the cupboard. Increasingly, we are supplying wooden cabinets for Hi-fi storage now that turntables and record albums are making a big come-back.
We can make beds to any size so long as the customer can provide the mattress. In fact, we have made beds to many odd sizes! Our fretwork window panels make striking wall-mounted headboards, we will alter a vintage piece, or make from new. We can also match most colours as all our lacquers are hand-mixed for each and every piece of furniture. Incredibly, this exquisite attention to detail is done by eye.
What are the latest looks for bedrooms?
The latest looks for bedrooms still include the four-poster bed. Consequently, our Mandarin collection bed is either a King or Super-king, with or without the posts. Positioning a trunk at the base of the bed is a lovely look and proving popular, too. This versatile piece can make a useful perch for putting on socks whilst storing out of season linens and duvets. We use camphor wood to make many of our trunks, which is a natural moth repellant. We’re big fans of the continuing trend for bedside storage, which can be dramatic and colourful. The latest look calls for this furniture to be graced with sophisticated lamps. This way, you can bring colour and interest to an otherwise serene scheme, which is vital for a restful haven.
What makes a living room the perfect place for relaxing and entertaining?
The living room is often nowadays a zone and not always a separate room. The living area might flow in to a dining area or office area. Using either colour, texture or accents to link these zones is important for fluidity. There’s no need to necessarily sacrifice drama, but there needs to be links to make sense of a scheme. For example, a fabulous one-off vintage sideboard with obvious provenance can set the scene next to a more contemporary furniture design. This way, you can place the lacquered piece close-by, however perhaps feature similar hardware in a more contemporary form. We advise mixing one-off antiques with the modern Mandarin or Classics collections using texture, colour or hardware finishes.
Which furniture is currently your best-seller?
Our Oriental style best-seller is by far sideboards; both the one-off antique sideboards as well as our own reproduction cabinet designs. We are passionate about the colour blue. We find any shade of blue can be a calming, yet interesting, neutral; it’s just so stylish. It’s often easier to use than yellow/cream tones, which can be light-sucking as a result of our rather poor light in the UK. Hot on the heels of blue, and becoming increasingly popular, are our many shades of grey. Console tables closely follow sideboards as our best-selling pieces. Chinese furniture tends to be slim therefore it’s so much easier to use in smaller spaces or narrow hallways & landings.
Why is lighting important for the home?
Lighting is very important in the Feng Shui of a room. Light represents fire and this is one of the five elements that bring harmony and balance to every space. Feng Shui philosophy tells us that light has a profound effect on the home and its occupants.
Lamps are increasingly important accessories, not only for practical uses but offering colour, form, theme or a focal point. Always uplight a dark corner, perhaps with a hidden floor standing light. Our Oriental style Chantilly lamps with light-up bases, are extremely popular as the base can be lit alone. As a result, this offers a soothing evening light through the ceramic lace design. A good tip, when you can, is to always buy lamps in pairs. They are then more useful down the line, should you want to move them to a hallway, sofa or bedside.
How do you work with interior designers?
We work with interior designers on refurbishments, new builds, show homes and stylists for photoshoots, tv and film. We furnished an utterly fabulous (and totally secret) A-lister resort in the Caribbean, with only ten huge (3,500 sq.ft.!) rooms. Everything they required was bespoke and oversized, from the beds, side cabinets and wardrobes to the fretwork panels and accessories.
Another large and exciting project was supplying over 40 pieces for the James Bond film Skyfall. We actually worked with the set designer to fabricate the Macau hotel suite. This is where the rather romantic ‘shaving scene’ takes place with Moneypenny and Bond. Originally, we were delivering the whole container to Shanghai. But this moved to Pinewood Studios late in production which caused a panic!
Any celebrities come to your King's Road showroom?
We have welcomed many celebrities & public figures to our King’s Road store, including winners of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! In fact, this was a bizarre common theme for a few years. Members of popular bands including Take That and Westlife have also visited us. Other public figures to note include Anthony Minghella, Michael Cain, David Gower and Jimmy Wales. Supermodel-turned-presenter Lisa Butcher is a regular customer who loves our Oriental style.
Anything new coming soon?
I can reveal there are a few NEW furniture design ideas on the horizon. We will be continually adding materials, texture and styles which complement our Oriental soul. However, we are making the concept accessible to virtually any style of house, be it a loft apartment, a thatched cottage or uber-luxe Caribbean resort.