Lee also shares the growing interest in and demand for Oriental art and furnishings, and his idea of a perfect weekend.
Options: Tell us a little about Lucky Home Collections.
Oliver Lee: My business partner Alex Tan and I have been avid collectors of Chinese furniture, curios and art for over two decades. We began thinking of starting a business together sometime towards end-2019 and decided it should be something we were both passionate about. So, just before the first Movement Control Order hit, we opened our first showroom in February 2020 in Eko Botani, Johor Baru.
What sparked this interest in antiques and chinoiserie?
I have always felt that the monochrome, black-and-white colour scheme favoured by most modern homes is a tad too dull for my tastes. I have many expatriate friends whose houses seem to be eclectic and colourful, a medley of curios, furnishings and decorative pieces that span Eastern and Western cultures. I thought this is something that could be introduced and would appeal to the Malaysian market and beyond.
What advice would you give people who are just starting to collect?
Start small and always with something you truly like. A collectible must be able to delight you in many ways: by sight or tactile sensation. The item must also speak to you on many levels. If you are unsure about a piece or if it is expensive, it is advisable then to consult friends with knowledge or who are in the industry before making a decision.
Do you feel the demand for antiques and rare collectibles is growing?
Yes, absolutely! Antiques and collectibles have proved to be a good hedge against inflation. Art is intangible and can be priceless. So, be it rare and precious wood used in furniture, fragrant wood for incense kodo or pieces of jade — all these have proved to appreciate over time, and even become rare due to scarcity and dwindling supply. One positive trend I have noticed is what I would term the ‘Oriental renaissance’. This applies mainly to Malaysian millennials who have shown a growing interest in chinoiserie, finding it chic and trendy. This is in comparison to folks from the older generation who feel such decor may be too gaudy or anachronistic for the modern world.
What is your own home or workspace like?
My entire house is filled with ebony blackwood and rosewood furniture, creating a consistent oriental theme. Since I have quite a collection of teaware and censers, I surround myself with Japanese lacquer boxes, porcelain, zisha, teapots and other tea paraphernalia, as I make tea regularly as a way of entertaining friends. Incense and censers are never far away from me as I derive joy from discerning the various nuances of natural fragrances that emanate from wood, resin and blended incense.
Where do you like to travel to source for things?
Mainly China and Japan but also Tibet, Mongolia and Vietnam.
Now that the world is opening up again, where will you be headed to first?
Given a choice, I would certainly need to visit China and Japan first — for business but also to meet up with my counterparts who help us find rare collectibles. But if China remains closed to the world, I may just have to console myself by flying to London to look at the museum exhibits.
What would you consider to be your most cherished possession?
There are too many to list. But if I had to pick just one, I think it would be a pair of Japanese folding screens depicting tigers by Kishi Kangu, a revered artist from the Edo period. The artwork was done in the 1820s and, as far as I know, there are only two surviving sets in the whole world. One is at the Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo. The other belongs to Lucky Home Collections in Kuala Lumpur.
What are you reading right now?
Zhang Wu Zhi, a Chinese book written by Wen Zhenheng, a Ming Dynasty scholar. In it, he details his observations of material life and luxurious living the ancient way, from the design of a tea room to the plants and stones used to decorate an interior space, the right artwork and furniture to select, as well as various tools, garments and accoutrements. In a way, it is a little like what we do at Lucky Home Collections — but from an ancient perspective.
What books would you recommend people read to improve their knowledge of antiques and collectibles?
There are many books out there on the various collecting spheres that include wood-carving, snuff bottles, teapots, tea leaves and even scroll paintings. Find something that interests you and just start reading. Another way to grow your knowledge is by seeking out other people with similar interests and begin interacting and sharing.
What are you listening to right now?
Recently, I have been very much into the modern rendition of some Japanese chants from the Koyasan Shingon tradition by Kanho Yakushiji on YouTube.
Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
Waking up naturally to the sound of cheerful, chirping birds in my garden. This would be followed by a hearty brunch with my wife and daughter, after which I would invite friends over for a gathering over cups of tea and home-cooked food.
This article first appeared on Mar 21, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.