Liz: In the art, antiques, and accessories that we carry, we look for rarity and beauty—but in both cases, those ideas are subjective. Neither of us are experts, or claim to be, but we know Asian markets so well, and a lot of the items are very familiar to American consumers by this point. We look for things that make us say, "What the hell is that?" Odd agricultural or ceremonial pieces, for instance, or unusual jewelry that's so big and gorgeous it could be a decorative object on its own.
Jose: And every year we try to buy one or two huge and absurd things. One year it was a 7,000-pound marble Buddha. One year it was an entire 30-piece antique gamelan orchestra. One year it was a huge hand-dug teak wooden canoe. One year it was a crazy old bicycle taxi from Java. That is the spirit of Two Buttons—indefensible beauty and wonder!
On their favorite items...
Liz: Gosh, there have been so many things we love! Somewhere in the market in Bangkok there is still (maybe) an antique book of holy writings in Sanskrit that we somehow neglected to buy. But it's rare that we let anything great get away because we know we will never see it again. One thing we have always wanted is an entire Balinese house here...piece by piece, but we can't fit one in a shipping container. We have settled for a 20-foot-long hand-carved stone wall telling the life story of the Buddha, which now sits beautifully outside our building. It's probably our nicest buy ever.
And how can someone tell if Asian art or antiques are authentic or fake?
Jose: Honestly, we can't always tell the old from the fake-old. You have to understand that many Asians are excellent at "making" antiques. In Bali, you will see signs on the roads in front of wood shops that boast, "We Make Antiques!" We have always wanted to buy one of those signs, in fact. We have many things in our shop that we believe to be quite old, but we can’t promise it. A real appraiser could tell, but we promise nothing...
Liz: ...except to solemnly swear that all our objects are authentically gorgeous.