Saturday, July 26, 2008

Oh So Giddy About Style For A Good Deal

So I surfed around Antiques by Zaar for a bit after referring to them below. Someday I will be overcome with my Chinese furniture obsession and will purchase from them. That is inevitable! For now, this table caught my eye:

I love it, and I already have two under our living room windows. It's a perfect spot for plants, and of course for cats. But I wouldn't pay well over $1,000 for a real vintage or antique table and then expose it to cat claws. With the tables being under windows, cats are on them every day. Just the other day, I saw our newest little guy, Chaai, hanging by his claws on our Chinese writing table because he tried to jump on it and missed a bit. But I wasn't fazed. Why? Because we got our Chinese writing tables for $100 each! We took pictures of Chinese writing tables on our most recent trip to Thailand a few years ago, and we made a special side trip to Baan Tawai, just south of Chiang Mai. Years ago on our first trip to Thailand, we tread carefully through one of those very expensive shopping centers by The Oriental. We loved what we saw, but could not afford it. It's the kind of place where you watch your elbows and you look behind you before you back up. Can't afford to pay for anything inadvertently broken! A woman in one of the shops told us to go to Baan Tawai, where everything is "cheap cheap cheap." That year we spent much time in Chiang Mai (why we were there so long is another story, and a long one, for another time, let's just say it involved visiting the U.S. Embassy many times, and sitting under John Ashcroft's picture made me shudder) and we did a little shopping in Baan Tawai. Her words "cheap cheap cheap" were correct and we've never forgotten them.

So a few years ago we were in Chiang Mai again, and we were prepared with plans and pictures of furniture we wanted to make. I read the book The Treasures and Pleasures of Thailand -- I recommend this book for anyone shopping in Thailand. While the authors are higher-end shoppers, the tips and strategies they share are right-on and appropriate for shopping in any environment there. For example, during our first visit in Chiang Mai, our hotel arranged a minivan and shopping guide to take us to Baan Tawai. They kept speeding past places we wanted to visit, and stopping at crappy shops. We didn't understand at first. But after our last stop of the day when something overcame us and somehow we walked out of a shop with over $150 worth of gifty things we really didn't want (and that was a lot of Baht in 2001), and we saw the guide settling with the shop owner, we finally got it. The next day, we asked the tuk tuk driver who hung around outside our hotel to take us to Baan Celadon for our big dinnerware purchase. He played chess outside with his daughter while we loaded up on celadon plates and bowls, and I think all our boxes weighed more than the tuk tuk and the four people in it! It was a precarious ride back to the hotel.

The Treasures and Pleasures of Thailand book recommends you do your research, be prepared, and travel on your own. So in 2005 we decided to not be dependent on others and we rented a car. We had plans to make and purchase quite a bit, and ultimately the car rental saved us money because we could negotiate better. We had many things made for us, including reproduction Chinese writing desks just like the photo above. Each was $100, made of teak and finished with a very dark espresso stain. They have the slimmest drawers. We didn't bargain the business owner down much, instead we emphasized that we wanted old wood, well-seasoned wood, and we were willing to pay for quality. The shop did an excellent job. We took measurements and pictures with us, and they made the tables to the exact measurements we wanted. They included all the details in the photos. The tables have cracked just a little over the past few years in the adjustment from Thailand's humidity to our dryer Illinois air, especially in winter. But it just makes them look older, and that's OK.
Another great Thailand shopping resource are Nancy Chandler maps for Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Here is our gorgeous girl Seesa, a bluepoint Siamese Snowshoe, lounging on one of the tables.

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