How did your collection of Chinese furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties begin?
Zhang Liping: Initially, it was just for fun. In 1991, I got married and moved to Hong Kong, and my husband and I started shopping for our new home. Compared with the contemporary furniture from some high-end brands, I preferred furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties for its delicate craftsmanship and minimalist design which is, in fact, very modern. At the time, I was looking for furniture in specific sizes based on the space available in my apartment. I never thought that the value of the furniture would increase; I just wanted to use it.
How did you start collecting Chinese export silverware?
I started buying huanghuali [yellow rosewood] furniture. Then naturally I needed something to put on it. I think silverware looks especially beautiful on huanghuali furniture. I could have put traditional wooden objects on the traditional wooden furniture, but silverware lights up the whole setting. You find the influence of both Chinese and western cultures in the motifs and styles of Chinese export silverware. More than 20 years ago, I visited New York with my husband, and saw a 19th-century cup in a famous jewellery store. The craftsmanship was amazing. The small cup was decorated with intricate and high-relief engravings. Before then, I thought European silverware was the best you could get. After purchasing that cup, I saw how brilliant the craftsmanship of Chinese silverware could be. So I started looking everywhere for it and became totally addicted.
I buy antiques in order to use them. I think you should buy something if you like it
How do you display your collection?
Silverware is easily oxidised when left out, so I clean my collection regularly. My housemaid helps, but I always clean the fragile pieces myself. All the silverware in the cupboard, including a tea caddy, is for daily use. I take my furniture with me, no matter where I live. I buy antiques in order to use them. I think you should buy something if you like it. For me, that is enough. It would be very tiresome to have to think about something as an investment.
Is your husband your collecting partner?
When we were dating, we always went to furniture and carpet stores together. Nowadays, visiting antique stores all over the world is the main reason we travel.
Do you and your husband ever disagree on what to collect?
We basically like the same styles and rarely argue. My husband travels a lot with his job, while I look after the children at home, so he sees more than me. He sometimes sends me photographs and asks for my opinion. I usually tell him, ‘If you have the money, go for it. But don’t turn collecting into a burden.’ He’d rather spend money on antiques than on himself. He has been collecting since the 1970s.