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Introduction to Bamboo and Faux Bamboo Furniture

Introduction to Bamboo and Faux Bamboo Furniture

Bamboo and faux bamboo style furniture is timeless. The open fretwork and Asian inspired design can lighten the formality of even the stodgiest of interiors. It can also energize and add charm to boring spaces as well.

Bamboo and faux bamboo were introduced to the West by way of the Silk Roads and trade with China in the 17th century.  The Chinese have been making faux-bamboo furniture since at least the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644. By the 1850's, the demand for Chinese export furniture was booming in Europe and America. Furniture manufacturers in France and England at that time were copying and manufacturing Asian-inspired works of their own. This style is often referred to as Chinoiserie which was coined by the French, which means Chinese-esque, or in the style of Chinese. It is the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic motifs and traditions.

Among those manufacturers, was Thomas Chippendale who was one of England’s most famous of cabinet makers. However, he did so much more from designing and building some of the finest and most recognized occasional pieces in Rococo style that the world has ever seen, to composing, architecting and decorating a wide range of interiors, commissioned by wealthy aristocrats looking to re-design huge spaces with high ceilings. Of his many works in furniture design, Chippendale fashioned his own version of Asian-inspired faux bamboo furniture in carved wood and lacquer. These ornate, open fretwork pieces such occasional tables and accent armchairs have since become known as the style of what we refer to today, as Chinese Chippendale.

While Chinese furniture could be bought from stores on the streets of New York in the 1880’s, its availability grew scarce over time. In a New York Times article titled “Where East Meets West” published on September 13, 2002, Wendy Moonan describes the then-current scarcity of antique Chinese and Chinoiserie furniture in the late 20th Century. In that article, she highlights one of the most important antique pieces of faux bamboo furniture that was coming up for sale at Christie's Auction House, as well as its provenance from one of the most important collections at the time.


The 17th C. piece was a low-slung Kang table of huanghuali, a prized hardwood, which was on display with the other lots scheduled for sale on September 20, 2002 in The Dr. Yip Collection of Important Chinese Furniture at Christie's gallery at 20 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. Lot No. 32 was described as a single panel top set within a wide frame with double-molded edge cleverly carved to simulate bamboo wrapping around the bamboo style corner legs of thick circular section, and spandrels also carved as bamboo. With dimensions measuring 11 inches high, 37 inches long and 24 inches deep, it would make for one of the finest coffee tables of its kind. Its initial appraised value estimate was between USD $25,000 to $35,000. Lot No. 32 was sold for USD $33,460 in an auction that fetched over  USD $2.9M that day.

Dr. Shing Yiu Yip was a Hong Kong dermatologist who had been collecting classical Chinese furniture since the late 1970's. Most of his pieces were acquired from Grace Wu Bruce, a renowned dealer specializing in Ming and Qing antiques, with galleries in Hong Kong and London. As one of the world’s most important classical Chinese furniture collections, it has been featured in 17 exhibitions of Chinese furniture including the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

In an interview with Dr. Yip, he explains to Moonan that he is selling only half of his collection which is comprised mostly of duplicate pieces. The 68 lots included beds, bookshelves, three pairs of chairs, sixteen tables, three screens, several cabinets, a footrest, and variety of stands used for basins and censers. Most of the pieces were huanghuali, and many of them were in a less ornate style which is generally favored by most American and European buyers.  

He shared his story of how he sought out Timothy Sammons for guidance in organizing his sale. Sammons is an Englishman who was with Sotheby’s Chinese department in New York and Hong Kong for 14 years and left to become an independent agent working on behalf of art sellers and private collectors. Sammons advised Yip to sell through Christie’s which held one of the largest sales of Ming furniture at auction fetching USD $11.2M eight years prior, with 107 lots from the former Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture in Renaissance, Calif., in 1996.

While the market and availability of antique 17th and 18th Century Chinese Furniture is thin today, its classic design and workmanship can still be acquired from custom furniture designers such as Kenian Rattan Furniture and David Francis Furniture. Using rattan and hardwood, they are creating quality indoor and outdoor furniture pieces in the timeless style of Chinese Chippendale.