Meeting Jemma Page in the Kings Road showroom of Orchid Furniture, I was pleasantly surprised to find that their selection of Chinese antiques and furniture speak perfectly to my own natural affinity for clean, unfussy furniture. This opportunity to discover new styles and eras is one of the things that I truly love about meeting traders within the antiques industry, and I’m constantly amazed at how much more there is for us to learn and explore! Orchid’s space is bright and colourful and the furniture, both old and new pieces alike, is strong and surprisingly simple. The rich, deep tones of the woodier pieces are complemented by pops of mustard yellow and blue – lots and lots of blue. So much blue in fact, that Jemma tells me it’s their bestselling colour by far.
Founded in 2002, Orchid Furniture is the brainchild of Jemma Page and her Swedish co-founder Mimmi Waugh. With a background in marketing and time spent living in the Far East, Jemma felt certain that there was a niche in the UK market for the simple lines of Chinese furniture. Paired with Mimmi’s natural Swedish sense of design and style, the two have ensured that Orchid has been at the forefront of a growing interest in Chinese furniture and antiques. A few recent notable successes include furniture cameos in the James Bond movie Skyfall, supplying furniture to Knightsbridge’s Buddha Bar and working with a number of celebrity clients (including two Kings of the Jungle no less!).
Whilst it is against the law to take older Chinese antiques out of China, Orchid deals in vintage Chinese furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties or what is known as ‘country furniture’. These pieces from the late 1800s through to the mid 1900s are characterised by a clean, strong style. As well as these antique pieces, Orchid also sells furniture manufactured in China today, including a range designed by Jemma and Mimmi themselves.
So, how did you get started?
Mimmi and I lived next door to one another (and still do!) and at the time, we were both looking for dining furniture. Having lived in the Far East, I was constantly going on about the amazing pieces you could get in China. Being Swedish, Mimmi has that innate sense of design and quite a minimalist look and I knew that this style would really appeal to her.
We’d had this same discussion on a number of occasions over a bottle of wine, until we finally decided to just go for it. We took a weekend in Hong Kong and I showed Mimmi around all of my favourite shops and suppliers over there.
We then spent a full year looking at the UK market to see what was around and finding out what the right price point would be. After that year we opened Orchid in Hampshire in April 2002 and within 3 months we had to go back to China to buy another container load, it just really took off!
What did you do before this?
I lived in the Far East for 12 years before moving back to the UK to work in marketing, advertising and sales in London. After a while, I relocated from London to Hampshire which is where I met Mimmi.
Mimmi is a three-day eventer from Sweden and when we met she was riding for her country. She was training over here for the Olympics and spent a lot of time riding and looking after her many horses.
Where do you source your antique pieces from?
We buy primarily from China, but we have some accessories that come from Mongolia and Tibet. We have a large consignment arriving next week of brass accessories from Thailand.
We take a great deal of pride in understanding the culture behind each of our pieces. Lots of buyers really care about the story and the history of the piece, and this plays a big part in their decision to buy something. Each individual vintage piece has a story and that’s an important part of the process.
Has it been a big learning curve?
Absolutely huge, but so enjoyable!
During out very first trip to Hong Kong we met the manager of what is still one of my favourite stores and he remains one of our closest friends out there. He has just been an absolute gem and we feel so lucky to have met him first, he has accompanied us to exhibitions and introduced us to suppliers.
When we first started buying in China we were rather suspicious because we would speak to someone who said that a piece of furniture was antique, but there would be six pieces that were all very similar. Now, we understand that in the provinces of China each village would in the main have had one carpenter. This village carpenter had his particular way of making a sideboard and then there would have been the one, local painter doing the decoration and he liked painting in a particular way. So that’s why there are six that may be almost identical!
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How often do you go to China?
It varies, we have just returned from our fourth trip this year. Sometimes we need to be there to meet with people and other times we go just purely for buying. On this most recent trip we took one of our staff from the London showroom with us, it’s very important that everyone on the team knows exactly where things come from and understands how we source things.
Can you speak any Chinese?
I can get by in Cantonese from my time living over there, but we travel all over the country and the dialects change so dramatically from North to South so it’s difficult to just learn one language.
Is it different doing business in China?
They have a very strong etiquette of when you do and don’t talk about business. They are also very keen to establish friendships and like us they want to build long-term business relationships which is very refreshing.
When all is said and done we probably both recognise that there are big differences between our cultures! But we are each respectful of the other and so we have built some great relationships that way.
Do you have a lot of international customers?
We do a lot of international deliveries and at the moment we are shipping to Germany, France and the Middle East. We’re actually just about to ship a cabinet to Singapore! So that’s done a bit of travel.
Why did you choose to open your premises in each of your locations?
We opened first just outside the little market town of Stockbridge near Winchester in a 200 year old 3,500 square foot barn over three floors. We purposefully opened there because we knew that the audience was right and we had done a lot of local advertising. People started coming to us from Cheltenham, from Hertfordshire, from London and so after four years we exhibited at a London Fair just to see how people in London might react. Everyone was just absolutely delighted by the pieces. So a year after that we opened our Kings Road showroom which gives us a much easier, stronger showcase to the press and credibility within the design industry.
Where else can we see your pieces?
We recently completely kitted out a super-luxury resort in the Caribbean which I’m not allowed to name. It only has twelve exclusive cottages that are frequented by A-list celebrities and it’s extremely expensive! We also put 41 pieces in Skyfall, the James Bond film. We’ve supplied furniture to the One & Only Hotel in Prague, the Buddha Bar in Knightsbridge, the list goes on and on.
What do you do when you are not working?
At the moment I’m working very hard on my house. I’ve been stripping beams, painting and getting the heat-gun out. I do a lot of gardening and I walk my dog Alfie. He’s a lurcher and he often comes to work with me and sleeps under my desk.
I’m a keen sailor – in the early 2000s I sailed all the way back from Hong Kong in a 56ft Swan which is pretty much the Rolls-Royce of sailing boats. In the three months that it took to get home, the longest sleep I had was an hour and a half!
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