As we left off last time, Creature Comforts had opened in Seattle on Post Alley & Spring Street, the warehouse on Bainbridge Island on Madi-son Street had opened for three days a week, and I had a retail space at the Bainbridge Athletic Club also on Madison Street. And we had just bought a 40-acre piece of land in Hansville on Twin Spits Road.
I manned the warehouse solo on Bainbridge Thursday - Saturday and worked in the Seattle location on Monday – Wednesday. I had a store manager, Wendy, and several salespeople for the Seattle store. One of the salespeople was a lovely Scottish man, Gavin. He charmed the customers, always able to hold lively chats & keep everyone smiling. However, sometimes his chatter would have a client leave with a grin on their face as they walked out completely forgetting why they had come shopping in the first place!
We left for Thailand in early February of 1990 with a return at the end of May. I have prepared not only for looking for antiques, and artifacts, & seeking out Thai artisans but I am also ready to design a series of animal-shaped furniture & hand-carved wood Northwest creatures. I collected images for the carvers to use for carving creatures that they hadn’t ever seen before. This worked out well, but there were exceptions. Like the moose standing 4’ tall whose antlers were carved in reverse. The folks who bought him were enchanted by the mistake! Since they were building their log home at that time, they built the moose his platform high on a wall in their living room. He was the main attraction. We had quite an adventure this year! We filled 3 forty foot containers instead of just one. It took a long time to source out the goods we wanted and start production on my new designs. It would take longer for all our ordered goods to be hand-crafted. We started what would become our standard pattern. After our orders were placed, we would go adventure traveling for a month or more. Sometimes this would involve finding new goods but often this was play time for us.
Here are some of the types of goods we ordered:
Chantika, on the right, one of the many princes in Thailand, was a furniture designer in Bangkok. When we heard about his Pure Design company, we went knocking on his door. He introduced us to the world of high-end rattan and water hyacinth furniture and became a treasured friend.
Wood carvings, both creatures & architectural statements were our two strongest sellers. Consequently, the percentage of these goods in the containers was high.
In addition to rattan, we fell in love with the hand-carved teak & monkeypod cabinets, chests, chairs, and stools.
Pottery is a staple craft in Thailand. We initially focused on hand-painted container pots but we didn’t ignore dishware, cups, or vases.
Some villages specialize in handmade mulberry or “saa” paper, weaving hemp animals, batiking, & paper mache.
Most of our batik pieces had Creature Comforts batiked on the cloth for sarongs, tote bags & scarves.
The bronze foundries we worked with were in Bangkok. We stayed with Mr. Ek in his oasis home in the middle of Bangkok. Once inside his gates, he had a paradise of water features & jungle vegetation. We figured every insect, amphibian & bird lived here. At night the sounds of these creatures were deafening! We loved his antique bronze lion door pulls & knockers. He was willing to take them off so we could reproduce them at our foundry. The originals even said made in Siam!
Handwoven silk is a huge industry in Thailand. We bought most of our silk goods from Anita Thai Silk in Bangkok. We became good friends with Anita, a graceful woman much older than us. She taught me a lot about Thai culture & people. Her silk-covered boxes & men’s silk ties were very popular in Seattle back in the 1990s.
We looked up a woman she told us about, Naiyanee, who was known for her hand-woven silk shawls and throws. Naiyanee studied the weaving & dying techniques of villagers in the Surin province. Her weavings gained notoriety because, unlike the poorer villagers, she could afford to weave in heavy gauge silk, creating unique luxurious pieces. Naiyanee was a perfectionist, pointing out invisible flaws while viewing her work.
Many of our sources became close friends. We would travel with Naiyanee & her husband Pete in later years.
And this couple, Tu & Tum, became our “people” in the antique business in Chiang Mai. They both trained in Chinese Medicine & acupuncture in China where they met. We met them as antique dealers but many years later, they opened a healing arts center that has grown substantially over the years. Tu would call me her “dew” friend because she likened me to morning dew! As the years went on, they would collect antiques for us between trips. We loved gongs & would come back each year to a fabulous array of these grounding pieces. We would joke about dirt or dust on an antique piece, saying “It was old dirt from Burma”!
In the next blog, I will pick up about the adventure travel I alluded to earlier. 1990 was the year of my 40th birthday. Our travels honored that special year of my life.