The Asian antique business in the United States is being shaped by an increase in Chinese homebuyers.
By Kimberly Quevedo
In recent years, the relationship between China and the United States has grown, especially in luxury real estate purchases — according to a National Association of Realtors, for the first time buyers from China exceeded all other countries in terms of units purchased and dollar volume in 2015, purchasing an estimated $28.6 billion worth of property. Adding an Asian antique touch to luxury homes isn’t new, but the Asian antique business has changed in the last decade because of this growing relationship, including a change in who the buyers are.
“There certainly has been a transformation by the purchaser and I find that the wholesale business is non-existent,” says Randolph Rose, president of FEA Home (a company specializing in antiques from the Far East and South East Asia) about the last 10 years. “A lot of the retail stores that used to carry antiques no longer carry antiques.”
Asian antique buyers shifted from department and retails stores to luxury homeowners and interior designers who can purchase these items online. Additionally, these buyers are often in the top 1 percent of the population. “It used to be the middle class would buy antiques for their homes,” said Rose who has been in the antique business since 1972. “More recently, the market for antiques is for more sophisticated, older people that have the dollars to buy it.”
Asian antique buyers are looking for accent pieces, according to Rose. Chinese works of art draw the most interest of all the Asian antiques. “When Chinese buyers come to America from China they also want to have a piece of their history, so besides buying contemporary furniture they want to buy Chinese antiques or accessories to complement their house,” said Rose.
Purchases include simplistic, accent pieces. “A lot of people who have apartments in Manhattan need a place to keep their clothes and place to have a liquor cabinet,” said Rose. “So we have taken a lot of armoires we have found in Japan and China and converted them into bars and clothing chests. We also have hundreds of door panels we purchased that came from temples in India, China and Thailand. Buyers will take different door frames and put them on the fronts of homes or put them in an entryway of someone’s den or dining room.”
In addition to buyers with strong ties to China, Rose has observed an interest from people in South America. “There has been a major influx of wealthy people from South America who are buying these huge apartments in Manhattan,” said Rose. “A client of mine had an apartment that she spent over $30 million for, and she was collecting a lot of my terra cotta pieces that were 2,000 years old. She was one of many people buying these huge apartments in Manhattan who seem to want expensive, collectable accessories.”
Asian antiques are also expanding internationally. “We just had a whole container shipped to Peru,” said Rose. “We have orders going to Ukraine, Russia, Australia and all over the world. The demand for quality is all over the world.”
All photos courtesy FEA Home.
For more than 50 years, the FEA Home team has traveled throughout the world, curating an eclectic collection of the finest antiques, art and home furnishings. These assorted antique Chinese side and coffee tables, and altar tables, were found in Hong Kong.
A handcarved Chinese armoire with original wood carvings (originally used as a clothing cabinet).
An antique Burmese reclining seated Buddha with ivory eyes, which was found in Bangkok, Thailand.
A hand-painted antique Chinese cabinet, which was found in Mongolia.