Taiwan Furniture, Taiwanese Furniture
Han Chinese migrants began arriving on the island of Taiwan during the Ming dynasty, 1364-1644, and naturally brought with them the furniture traditions of the motherland, so that on the whole the furniture tradition in Taiwan mirrored that to be found on mainland China. What differences that did evolve chiefly concerned aspects of decorative effect.
Taiwanese period furniture is not quite as grand and imposing as the produce of Taiwan's Chinese cousins. Nevertheless, its relative simpleness and unassuming air give it a beauty and charm that are ground in the craftsmanship and materials that formed its nature.
Variations in style and use of materials arose from the characteristics of different areas in Taiwan, which resulted from the contrasting origins of settlers, patterns of development and local materials.
Taiwanese Furniture Decoration
One aspect that makes Taiwanese furniture distinctive is the widespread use of black-ink decoration that grace the carvings, engravings and fretwork on beds, cabinets, and chests. These monotone decorations were in the form of simple, "lucky", motifs that were thought to bring happiness and good fortune, or nature scenes in the tradition of Chinese landscape paintings, and were in harmony with the broader understated style which is typical of the Taiwan's traditional furniture.
Mother of Pearl Inlay
Some of the more luxurious types of Taiwanese furniture include pieces with inlays of opalescent mother of pearl, mother of pearl being commonly found off the coast of Taiwan. Makers of contemporary and modern Taiwanese furniture continue to employ this classic style of ornament.
Furniture with inlaid mother of pearl normally was made from Taiwan red cypress. Other types of furniture in Taiwan make use of a wide variety of wood from locally grown trees, among them being Taiwanese yellow cypress, Taiwanese incense cypress, camphor, Taiwanese fir and Michelia formosana. Stone, ceramic, bamboo and rattan are also found.
Bamboo is a very cheap material, but the techniques of employing it, whether annealing, joggling and weaving combined to produce stylish and elegant forms of furniture such as bamboo chairs, bamboo tables and cabinets. Bamboo is light while sturdy, and offers some relection of the identity of Taiwan in the natural environment. Bamboo furniture, with a soft, natural lustre, does not require finishing.
Ceremonial Wedding Furniture
Furniture has a noteworthy position in traditional Taiwanese wedding customs. Wedding furniture sets, called "gong po yi", which means bride and groom chairs, were important parts of dowries given to brides, and they were usually of a bright vermilion colour, this symbolising the happiness and good fortune of the marriage.
Such bridal furniture had a central position in marriage rites. Before the bride and groom sat down on the side by side gong po yi chairs, a pair of trousers would likely be draped over them, with one leg dangling from each chair. Having sat down, the happy couple would each put on one of the trouser legs, thereby representing their hoped-for future harmony and togetherness of their life. After the wedding, gong po yi seats would often take up pride of place at the head of the bed in the couples' bedroom.
Wealthy Taiwanese living in the times of the late Ching Dynasty sometimes had two and half metre high canopy beds decorated with gold-leafed carvings and ink painting. These Chinese style beds were normally decorated with carvings and paintings of lucky animal or plant motifs, as well as with scenes from traditional stories about justice, good behaviour and amity.
Other red colored four poster canopy beds were in the Japanese tradition of bed making. These canopied beds incorporated ink paintings of nature scenes, enamel inlays and enclosing panels with stained-glass patterns of Western-style or Japanese-style chrysanthemum and other flower pictures and designs, and paintings of gaily dressed ladies or European Baroque motifs.
Wood side tables made in Taiwan were often in a conventional rectangle shape. They were of course placed against walls or on either side of an altar and bedecked with flowers or other decorative objects. Side tables frequently saw use as dining tables.
Antique Taiwanese wooden tables and chairs were customarily plain and had a certain heaviness of form, while Taiwanese bedroom furniture such as beds, dressing tables and basin stands was brightly colored and had curvy lines and a wide array of decorative carving and painted patterns.
Official's Hat Armchairs
High-backed official's hat armchairs, called "tai shih yi", were the seat of honor in Taiwanese homes, put in the most prominent position in living rooms. The name comes from the fact that the horizontal part at the top of the high-backed chair typically bulges up in the middle, resembling the form of an ancient court official's hat and, in some minds, symbolizing the good fortune of having attained official rank. In some houses these chairs were put in the living room so as to give their sons a taste of what it would be like to be an offical and therefore encourage them to study hard and aim for a career in the public service.
High-standing altars were perennial and ubiquitous items of furniture in any home. While traditional type furniture of the Ching dynasty type, as well as Japanese colonial forms, are no longer seen in modern Taiwanese homes many still have traditional-style altars. Such altars have simple rectangular designs and hoof-shaped feet and are "waisted", that is, have indented side boards between the tabletop and a lower protruding flange. Some other of these are painted with colourful mineral pigments.
Other common items in the Taiwanese furniture tradition include dressers, vanity tables, hat racks, basin stands, peacock chairs, tableware display cabinets, and bookshelves.