Normally I would tell you to not get involved with anything related to opium. Except when it involves a table. A table styled like an opium bed.
The opium bed style is from Asia, and you would find these style of beds in opium dens in China and Southeast Asia. Beds were available for reclining in a way that a writer might try to romanticize with words like “lanquid.” I am not sure I’d romanticize smoking opium! But nowadays tourists like to collect the opium pipes and other paraphernalia when they travel to the Golden Triangle of opium dealers around Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Travelers have exported the look of entire dens, like this brocaded French opium den of the early 1900s, set up by people who returned from the Indochine colonies and brought their addictions back with them.
The reality is obviously far less beautiful. Like this opium den in Manila which is really sad.
I am only addicted to the style. I love those curvy table legs. And in fact I did bring an opium bed table back with me from Thailand! Way back in 2001. Please don’t think it was an extravagant thing to do. It cost us only $100! That is, folks, only $7.69 per year so far, for a large teak coffee table.
We ordered it custom made, about 3 feet by 5 feet, by a lady near Chiang Mai. We got to see it being made, under a tent on the family’s front lawn! It cost only a small fraction of what American retailers charge for a large teak table (including shipping) and we felt good about our money going directly to a family. Here it is in our living room:
Those are from a post from a year ago that gave you a peek into our living room. After almost 13 years, the table is a bit scratched and needs sanding and restaining, but I still love it and use it almost daily.
Can I entice you with more opium tables?
Here’s an antique Chinese opium coffee table from Mecox with nice old details, as it should as it’s from the late 1700s:
While it has a distinctive shape, this table can fit in many decor styles. It can be elegant and sophisticated, like in the photo above. But with woven cane in the middle, it is more casual. Paint it white and it can fit in a beach house. Could you see one in your house?
For a recent Throwback Thursday post, I shared a story about the time the wrong chairs were shipped to us from Thailand. Why would we go furniture shopping in Thailand and risk such things? Because we love style from Asia: Thai, Burmese, Chinese, Japanese. They have it all there in a village called Baan Tawai. A woman working in a very upscale mall in Bangkok actually told us about Baan Tawai. We must have looked shocked at the prices of antiques in her store, because she told us: “Go to Baan Tawai. Looks like this but new. Cheap-cheap-cheap.” So to Baan Tawai we went. (And from now on forevermore, whenever we talk about something cheap, we have to say three times, “cheap-cheap-cheap.“)
These are crates of furniture from Thailand that arrived in our garage eight years ago:
When we opened them, we were thrilled with nearly everything, except two Chinese style chairs we expected weren’t there. The chairs we received had interesting features:
Grapevine carvings on the backrest
Thick sticky yellowed plastic cushions
If you sat on the cushions with bare legs on a hot day, the plastic made you sweat and the cushions would stick to you when you stood up. Nice!
You might ask, why not ship them back? Each chair was fifty bucks. Not worth the cost to ship them around the planet again. And because I could do a makeover, we didn’t want to quarrel about a refund. It was our mistake to not give the shipping consolidator a better description of our purchase. Lesson learned! Mark your purchases and give pictures to the shipper.
STEP 1:Spray paint the chairs black
Pretty self explanatory! Good thing, because there are no photos of the spray painting. Which also means there are no “before” pics. This was so long ago, it was before this blog and the obsessive photographing of everything that happens when you blog.
STEP 2: Recover the cushions
Remove the sticky plastic from the cushions and recover them with leopard patterned suede. Yeah!!! While you might not think of “leopard” and “Chinese chair” in the same sentence any more than you’d think “grapevine” and “Chinese chair,” I’m likin’ the leopard. So does Chaai the Crafty Cat and because he supervises every DIY here, he has lots of experience to know these things.
STEP 3: First attempt to hide grapevines
Recovering the cushions was a big improvement. But the grapevine carvings still had to go. The backs of the chairs are curved, so I struggled with how to fix this area.
The first attempt to fix it, when I started writing this post way back in September 2011 (!!!), was to “upholster” the carved area with orange tiger striped suede.
I thought the leopard and tiger combo would make a cool “Chinese safari” effect. And for sure, I’d strike design fame and fortune with this innovative style mash-up!
Instead it looked just like what it was — tiger striped rectangles taped on the back of a chair, trying desperately to hide something. I could only imagine what HGTV Design Star judges would say about this tiger print band-aid:
Then during an insomnia-fueled brainstorm — because the most creative problem-solving happens for me at 2 a.m. — it hit. Sculpey! Why not fill the carvings with Sculpey? Then sand it smooth? I probably saw something Sculpey’d on Pinterest a few hours before that. That’s how this subconscious problem-solving works, you know.
So I sought out the Sculpey, and then found it must be oven-dried. Hmmm. I don’t know much about Sculpey but one thing I do know: These chairs aren’t going in the oven.
Thankfully nearby there was this stuff called Paperclay with magic words on the package: air dry. Really? I gave it a try …
STEP 4. Paperclay smooshing
I smoooooshed Paperclay into all the nooks and crannies of the grapevines:
I Googled Paperclay and found you can sand it and sculpt it after it dries. So I didn’t worry about making it perfectly smooth yet. Just smoooooosh it in there.
Let it dry overnight. I couldn’t get back to the chairs for a week. That’s fine. The Paperclay was dry. I sanded with a block. I don’t know the grit, but it was a coarser sanding block.
Sanding made a mess. If you sand this stuff, be forewarned.
After sanding the Paperclay, there was still a lot of unevenness. See:
While Googling, I found Paperclay can shrink and crack a bit while drying. No worries. You just smooooooooosh some fresh wet Paperclay in any cracks or uneven areas, and let that dry. It will stick to the first layer of Paperclay. Then sand it again:
You can see after this second round of smooshing and sanding, the finish is more even.
STEP 5. Paint the chairs black again
I’m not 100% happy with the finish. Ideally the “Paperclayed” area should be so smooth, it looks like nothing was ever carved in the wood. I don’t know if I’ll achieve that perfectionistic ideal. Now that we have a decent orbital sander with a vacuum, I might do another round of filling and sanding.
Also the Paperclay absorbs more paint than the finished wood around it. It probably needs to be sealed so you don’t get this weird two-tone effect:
So what did I do to fix it? This:
STEP 6. Throw textiles over the backs
Isn’t it easier to hide a mess than to fix it? Of course! Yes as a child I was the kid who, when mom told us to clean our room, I shoved my toys under the bed and called it clean. Some things never change. So, I draped some throws over the chairs:
A woven and beaded skirt from a tribe that lives in Laos and Vietnam, found at Arastan which was a store in Bangalore, India
The rug is silk (so luxurious for your feet!) that my husband got at auction many years ago. Back in the ’90s before we even met. The curtains behind the chairs are damask print curtains from Target. The things hanging on the walls are carved wooden combs found in India, and I DIY’d cute little museum style display shelves for them.
To round out this global style corner, I’m on the hunt for a small side table to put between the chairs. I can see a little Syrian/Moroccan/Indian inlay table here, something with some pattern on it.
If you’d like to add a flair of the Far East in your home, it’s actually really easy to do. There are a few distinctive details and one of them is hardware. Chinese hardware is often a burnished brushed brass color. Like a soft-looking metal. The brass can take many shapes, often with big dramatic backplates and dangling pulls. Let’s take a look …
(And, follow through to the end of the post where you will find my super-secret source for Chinese hardware which as of now, is no longer so super-secret.)
Here’s another red cabinet with typical simple Chinese hardware. You’re going to see a lot of red cabinets and sideboards because it’s pretty common to use red lacquer on Chinese furniture. I like how this furniture from the Far East is combined with strong simple shapes from other cultures around the world. Originally from House Beautiful:
From Apartment f15, tribal Afghan and Turkish jewelry hanging from Chinese cabinet hardware for global flair:
For a change of color, here etched brass door pulls on a yellow Chinese cabinet. Maybe the internet is getting over-saturated with images because it’s getting harder and harder to trace images to originals through my tried and true methods. If you know the source of this one, let me know:
So far, by analyzing these photos for visual patterns, you can see a big part of the look is the large decorative backplates, which can come in many shapes, and they can be etched with decorations or left plain.
This next one is a striking combo of very large backplate with two smaller door pulls. This super oversized look is my favorite. This cabinet was featured at Skona Hem:
From Golden Lotus Antiques, this is the coolest treatment of hardware. It’s like mesh combined with the traditional round backplate shape:
Source for Chinese Hardware:
As promised, here is my once super-secret source for getting this hardware: An eBay store called Chinese Brass Hardware. I share because I just like to share like that, and surely there’s enough of this hardware to go around!
Here’s a project I did where I used their hardware. I did a makeover on an old cabinet that was once Danish modern, and turned it into Chinese antique style. The post showing that process is here. I chose an oversized set of hardware, just because:
In the next post, I’ll share another, smaller project made using hardware from that eBay store!
If you like this Chinese style, there’s a lot more of this on my Pinterest Chinese Style Board: