In demand – Huanghuali furniture

With demand for Chinese antique furniture market continuing, one particular form is in demand, says online marketplace Invaluable and Asian Art specialist Joy Kwong from Clars Auction Gallery in California.

China has one of the strongest antique furniture markets today. Within that market, Huanghuali furniture is a highly sought-after type which first became popular in the late Ming dynasty. Huanghuali wood furniture is not only distinctive by the beautiful yellowish-red wood of the Huanghuali tree but also by the sweet aroma. Prices have increased largely due to the scarcity of the wood, says Joyce Kwong, Asian Art Specialist at Clars Auction Gallery, and determined collectors are prepared to bid high.

Is the desire to buy and collect Huanghuali furniture a global trend? Why is it particularly appealing?

Huanghuali furniture
Huanghuali altar cabinet, Qing dynasty

Joyce Kwong: The desire of Huanghuali furniture is not necessarily a global trend; it’s mostly limited to people interested in Chinese furniture. Huanghuali is one type of wood that has commanded interest and appreciation in China since the late Ming dynasty. Alongside the growth of the Chinese market, we saw the demand and auction prices of this type of furniture increase.

Huanghuali (Dalbergia odorifera), which literally translates to “yellow flower pear,” is a slow-growing, small-to-medium-sized tree. With little supply of wood, the availability of furniture made from it is limited. The highly figured honey-hued wood has long been appreciated for its mountain peak and ghost face patterns.

What was the most valuable piece of Huanghuali furniture sold at Clars?

JK: On March 16, 2014, Clars Auction Gallery sold a pair of Chinese hardwood and Huanghuali compound cabinets. They hammered at $260,000, and the price realized was over $300,000.

Do you have any tips for preservation for Huanghuali furniture?

JK: It’s relatively sturdy; just avoid extreme changes in temperature.

What’s the most popular type of Huanghuali furniture at auction? What are people most eager about showcasing in their homes?

JK: The types of Huanghuali furniture that most people can actually incorporate into their homes these days tend to be most popular. For example, cabinets and tables are sought after. On the contrary, canopy beds would require a clientele who can accommodate such high structures into their homes.

Some people like to create a more traditional Chinese vibe in their homes, while others choose to mix and match with their contemporary decor.

How does one begin to collect Huanghuali furniture? Do you have any recommendations for those starting out?

JK: One should start to study Chinese furniture and how to identify wood. A few good resources include “The Beauty of Huanghuali,” a book by John Kwong- Ming Ang (1986), as well as “Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties,” by Wang Shixiang (1986).

What’s the most common mistake people make when bidding for or buying Huanghuali furniture at auction?

JK: It’s really important to find out the condition of the furniture before bidding on it. Most people purchase late Ming or Qing dynasty furniture to collect, and those who want to actually use pieces in their homes tend to gravitate toward 20th century furniture, which is more structurally sound.

About Huanghuali Furniture

Chinese Huanghuali furniture is extremely rare and highly coveted, and refers to all furniture made from the yellowish-red wood of the Huanghuali tree. Huanghuali is a type of rosewood originally referred to as “huali.” “Huang,” meaning “yellow,” refers to the yellowish tone that is adopted by the wood after prolonged exposure to sunlight. Huanghuali wood furniture is not only distinctive by the beautiful color, but also by the sweet aroma.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties in Chinese history, the royal family and elite commissioned furniture in this beautiful variety of rosewood. Huanghuali furniture generally went un-lacquered and had very minimal surface designs in order to showcase the exquisitely translucent and shimmering wood grains.

Due to its popularity, however, the slow-growing Huanghuali tree now hangs on the brink of extinction and the creation of furniture from its wood is now forbidden. As a result, the demand and competition for the scarce existing items has sky-rocketed.

Quick Facts

  • The word “huang” has only been added to Huanghuali within the early 20th century
  • Huanghuali wood is only found in Southern China, on the island of Hainan, though similar species are found around the South China Sea area
  • While the surface of Huanghuali wood largely went unaltered, often the intricate wood grains created images of their own. Some seemed decoratively abstract, while others formed what appears to be figurative images and “ghost faces”

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One thought on “In demand – Huanghuali furniture

  • October 10, 2016 at 7:52 pm
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    Very informative! Huanghuali was a new term I learnt today after we picked up a stunning pair Huanghuali folding horseshoe armchairs at our antique furniture showroom, I am now looking for as much information as possible to find the right value for them. Christies sold a pair for just shy of £40,000!

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