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Archive for January, 2011

Interior View, Royal Pavillion by John Nash

While imported goods from the China Seas trade had influenced furniture design in Europe throughout the 18th century, from Thomas Chippendale to the chinoiserie of Louis XIV at Versailles, the popularity of Asian inspired furniture and design reached a peak with the John Nash designed Royal Pavilion at Brighton, completed by the Prince Regent between 1817 and 1822. Furniture designed to resemble bamboo had appeared about 1750 in England and it was used extensively throughout the Pavillion. But by the 1840s, Brighton  – both the place and its related design – was out of style.

Fast forward a few decades to the London International Exhibition in 1862, the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris and the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, all of which created a craze once again for all things exotic and of Asia, particularly Japan, as it had just been opened to the West in 1854. Bamboo furniture had a quirky lightness that was a real counterpoint to the heavy Rococo Revival styles of the early Victorian era. An industry making “faux bamboo” furniture sprang up, as real bamboo was only suitable for very lightweight pieces. Golden stained birds-eye maple and pine were shaped to resemble bamboo stalks as the decorative detail on more substantive pieces. Large suites of furniture, particularly for bedrooms, including beds, armoires, wash stands, night tables, chairs, etc., were manufactured in great numbers in England, France and America. According to a 19th century decorating magazine, their characteristics made them perfect for furnishing “morning rooms, bed chambers, summer houses, and cottages.” R.J. Horner of New York City produced some of the finest examples made in America.

Antique faux bamboo continues to be extremely desirable in the furnishing of vacation homes today. This Southampton bedroom, designed by the late Jed Johnson for Maureen and Marshall Cogan, has long been a talisman room for me. It has one of the most beautiful groupings of faux bamboo, including a number of R.J. Horner pieces, such as the dressing table and chairs. For all the elaborate detail on the furniture, the simplicity, calmness and lightness of the room makes it look like floating on a cloud. The owners wanted their country house to feel “nondecorated” – to be soft and cozy, informal, with nothing off-limits to grandchildren, in the true spirit of a Hamptons great house.

This is the other side of the room. In order to keep all the detail, I did not join the photos. Note the simple pale upholstery and the cheval mirror, which is a particularly fine and rare piece.

Here’s a compressed view of the whole room. The bed is what I call the “English” shape – with rectangular detail along the headboard. I cannot decide if the bed is a reproduction as it looks to be king size, but it is so finely made that I can’t be sure.

Unfortunately Jed Johnson died in the prime of his life and career on TWA Flight 800 to Paris in 1996. Architectural Digest has a poignant memorial to him written by Paul Goldberger, in which he writes, “Johnson seemed always to be able to hear the objects that he loved speak.” I just love that idea!

I always find this Upstate New York home and bedroom a bit unexpected as it belongs to avant-garde American poet John Ashbery. Why a modern poet shouldn’t live in a William Morris papered 1894 Victorian I can’t really say. But the pairing of contemporaries – the arts and crafts wallpaper with the faux bamboo bedroom set – is a perfect combination and a cheery mix of rugs and objects adds to the appeal.

Rosanne Wasserman has written a great personal account of John Ashbery’s home on Rain Taxi, which has many additional, less styled photos of the house and as shown below, the guest bedroom. Wasserman writes, “I found John’s house a perfect antidote for what I like least about museums: that they are not lived-in spaces. John’s house, filled with objets d’art and arranged into subtle, funny, and magnificent scenarios, is also always a place where people live and visit, sleep and dine, watch TV, wash up dishes, sit in chairs. Long may they do so.” No way to say it better than that.

For a house that falls stylistically somewhere between the two above, I turn to Joan Davidson’s Hudson River manse Midwood, featured in Martha Stewart Living. Here, a pair of faux-bamboo twin beds that were found at the Armenia Church Auction are part of a set of 8 pieces.  They were also made in 1888, the same year the house was built. This set is ebonized and it makes a strong counterpoint to the richly colored paisley in the bedding and rug. Warm white beadboard walls complement.

The dressing table has a lovely form.


Kevin Sharkey (a powerhouse behind the whole Martha Stewart brand) writes in his Home Tour column about the house, “I believe that a truly beautiful room is one that hasn’t been decorated at all, but rather considered…There are no absolutes. You just have to be inspired, passionate and informed. Then you take it and make it your own. That’s really where beauty comes from.” Many other photos of this beautiful property can be found there.

Besides sets of antique faux bamboo furniture, these homes have something innate in common. Whether created by designer or homeowner they are all somewhat undecorated and fluid. Wasserman writes about her view of the Ashbery home as “only one stage in the evolution of his house, some rooms of which have, since then, been further embellished, or reimagined, or pulled apart and are still being put together.”  Cogan says about her Southampton home, “These are living places, and they need fussing with.” I don’t have the entire article on the Davidson house, but I am somehow sure she’d say something similar. I find it slightly ironic that such spaces have “matched” bedroom sets, as little else in these houses is “matchy.” In general, matched furniture sets are not a look that I like, nor the current mood in decorating. But somehow, groupings of faux bamboo just work.

As you might expect, Martha Stewart Living has featured bamboo and faux bamboo many other times as well. This charming green room was an in-house style feature, not a real residence, but I love some of the details, like the curtain valances, sheers and bamboo matchstick blinds. It feels exactly like a summer-house should. This headboard has the “French” shape with two crossed bamboo poles in an inverted V and small newel posts at either end and a straight footboard. It is very common to see French armoires with the same shape too.

This side view shows the raised bamboo decoration found on the side rails.

Here is a view of an antique French armoire in a Brooklyn bedroom of my design. While the bed can be partially seen reflected in the mirror, the inverted V of the headboard is cut off. You can really see the beauty of the birds-eye maple on this armoire. John Robshaw hand painted pillow on the chair.

In this bedroom by Peter Dunham, featuring his hemp and cotton fabric “Jaipur” on the walls, curtains and bed coverings, we can see a very similar French maple bed, only larger, perhaps a double. There is a dresser and a mirror too, although they do not look antique.

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He shows an additional view on his website, with the bed against a different wall. Faux Bamboo pieces also look wonderful with Indian block prints and crisp white linens – they play off the “British Colonial” feel.

Here is a similar bed in a room designed by Martyn Lawrence-Bullard for Nick Steyne. This bed and nightstand are not antique – they are his design. Again, there are Indian block prints and white linens.

But this pine bed in another room by Martyn Lawrence-Bullard does look to be antique. Here the bed and room are dressed very differently, with a formal french toile, ticking stripe and paisley coverlet. Perhaps little too formal to live with all the time, but I would love to sleep there for a few nights, imagining I was in France.

While I love the antique beds, sizing can be an issue. Twins tend to be somewhat standard, but most of the larger size beds are US double size at best. They can be converted to queen or another option is to use only the headboard and not the side rails and footboard, both of which I have done.  For those who don’t relish all the hassle or cannot live without their king size bed, there are many reproductions on the market, such as the one in the first Martyn Lawrence-Bullard photo and those following.

Starting at the top end of the market, here Suzanne Kasler uses a Michael Smith bed from his line with Jasper Furniture in a bedroom she designed in Atlanta. I don’t know the list price on this, but I imagine it to be hefty.

Leonards offers this meticulous copy of a 19th century English bed resized for the modern home. A king retails for $8300 and there is a matching marble top stand.

The Williams Sonoma Hampstead bed retails for $3550 for a king size. There is a matching nightstand and two different dressers and it also comes lacquered in white.

And of course Martha made one in her furniture line for Bernhardt called “Bali Coast,” which listed for around $1500, but unfortunately seems to be out of production. Craig’s List anyone?

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But before rushing out to buy a new set, I heartily recommend searching out the antique pieces. While dealers in the Hamptons keep a steady supply around, they often come with big price tags. On the other hand, there are quite a few dealers who import large containers from France, filled with reasonably priced beds, armoires and night stands. Or you can always use it as an excuse to visit les puces….

Image credits: 1. artrepublic.com, 2-4. Architectural Digest, November 1990, photo credit: Scott Frances, 5. Architectural Digest, June 1994, 6. Rain Taxi, photo credit: Ahndraya Parlato, 7-8. Martha Stewart Living, September 2001, 9-10. Martha Stewart Living, date unknown, photo credit: Simon Watson, 11. R. Michaelson, 12. House Beautiful, November 2010, photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 13. Peter Dunham, 14. Elle Decor, December 2005, photo credit: Tim Street-Porter, thanks to So Haute, 15. Martyn Lawrence-Bullard, 16. House Beautiful, April 2008, photo credit: Frances Janisch, 17. Leonards, 18. Williams Sonoma Home, 19. Bernhardt

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As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on antiquing in Nishi-Ogikubo, I wanted to devote a little more airtime to a wonderful shop, selling mainly porcelain, called Les Yeux Noirs. Owner Haruko Hasegawa has assembled one of the prettiest and most cohesive collections of antique Japanese porcelain that I have seen. She seems to buy and stock nothing ordinary – everything felt special and unusual, whether it was the motif, the shape or the pattern.

One of the things I really liked about the shop was the diversity of styles and periods and therefore prices.  While she had her very valuable Edo period karakusa (Chinese winding grass or arabesque) pattern pieces locked in a cabinet, she also had the largest most diverse collection of inban (transfer printed porcelain) I have come across. As mentioned earlier, mass-produced transfer printing did not become popular in Japan until the Meiji period, even though it had been produced extensively in the West for more than 100 years prior. In transfer printing, a pre-made image is inked with dye and then pressed against a blank surface. The dye is “transferred” (thus the name) and the item is then fired in the kiln. There is none of the hand-painting that you find on all the other types of antique porcelain. But the transfer prints have their own distinct charm and a following. At shrine sales you can often see piles of these small round plates, in a few basic patterns. Hasegawa-san had an extraordinary display with great depth and variety. They are great fun to collect – often being more affordable that other porcelain – and wonderful to mix and match.

Take a close look at this scenic, almost map-like plate and the charming momiji (maple leaf) patterned covered bowls. Both are fairly rare shapes for transfer printed pieces.

We had great fun arranging pieces into groups, perhaps for wall display. Looking closely you’ll see everything from wisteria to peach to our good friends sho-chiku-bai (pine, bamboo, plum). Quite a few of these patterns were new to me.

On the opposite side of the shop prices went up, with gorgeous pieces of Imari, like these giant display plates. Don’t let the small photos fool you – they are enormous - and would be a real focus in any room. There were also lots of  hard to find small hibachi – great for little planters.

There is also a branch of Les Yeux Noirs in the lovely mountain town of Karuizawa.  That shop is open from April 20 – May 25 and again from July 20 – November 25.  What is currently unclear to me is whether or not that means the Nishi-Ogikubo shop is closed during that period. I’ll update that here as soon as I have an answer.

The most difficult part about traveling to Les Yeux Noirs is that they are open tokidoki (sometimes) from roughly 12 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. It might be best to call ahead.  But well worth the effort!

  • Les Yeux Noirs, 4-1-22 Nishi Ogikubo: telephone 03-3395-5509
  • Les Yeux Noirs, Karuizawa: telephone 0267-42-1534

For more on antiques in Nishi-Ogikubo see Shop Talk…Discovering Antique Treasures in Nishi-Ogikubo.

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While not quite on par with Dixie Highway, relaxed Nishi-Ogikubo in Tokyo’s western suburbs has a grouping of 60+ antique and vintage shops gathered near the train station. Situated along the Chuo line, Nishi-Ogikubo (nicknamed Nishiogi) was a counterculture hotbed in the 1960s, then receded from notice, only to become popular in recent years as the “slow life” movement has gained steam in Japan. It seems like just the kind of place one would find a collection of quirky and individualistic antique shops.

Conveniently, a free map of the stores is available right in front of the koban (police box) on the left side of the station right outside the North Exit. The map seems fairly current but things can change overnight, so think of it only as a basic guide. Most stores do not open before 12p.m., they all seem to have variable hit-or-miss opening days, and there is not much spoken English to be had, but it is a lovely way to while away an afternoon. Hopefully this post will help steer you in the direction of the best shops!

Organized into four zones, NE, NW, SE and SW on the map, I’ll say right off the bat that the South side of the station has much less to offer than the North side, and can be skipped entirely when pressed for time. The NW zone is by far the best for traditional antiques, so I will start the tour headed in that direction, counter-clockwise around the rough rectangle the walking tour makes.  The shops are numbered numerically on the listing pages, but do not always appear in numeric order on the map.

Actually the first few shops don’t even seem to be listed on the map. After peeking in grape, a small but charming vintage kimono shop with two other locations in the area, our first stop is not Japanese at all. Filled to the brim with lanterns, poufs, silvered mirrors and embroidered slippers, Morocco Marché is one-stop shopping for adding a bit of middle-eastern flair to your decor.

Weaving up and down the small side streets along the main road, we pass a few small shops, including Baby Doll (#60), which is not open, but full of antique and vintage toys and dolls. Moving back towards the main road we come to Les Yeux Noirs (#42), the unquestionable star of the tour, deserving its own individual post (coming tomorrow). Owner Haruko Hasegawa has one of the best eyes I have seen for choosing unusual and rare pieces of porcelain. We were very excited and spent a long time (and quite a bit of money) in her shop. If you are interested in porcelain, this is one of the main attractions and it is well worth the train ride for this store alone.

As we continue along the main road we pass mood (#45), full of groovy 60′s looking used goods. We try to stop into Quilt & Old Textiles (#44) way hidden in a back lane, but they are closed – perhaps to go to the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival. At the turn in the main road, we come to Kido Airku (#59), a great mixed shop full of smaller tansu, porcelain, textiles and odd and ends. Unusual things there include vintage spool threads, great for using as plant stands or display props. A collection of old iron tea kettles looks great on these.

Some modern shibori dyed textiles.

One of the most interesting finds for me personally were wood blocks, used to print patterns on textiles. I have been scouring eBay for Indian wood blocks for a DIY project I am planning this summer, but hadn’t considered using Japanese ones.  Frankly, I hadn’t realized that in addition to all the stencils, tie-dying and resist techniques used here, that wood blocks are too.  Definitely something to look into more.

Numbers 48,49 and 54 were all the same named shop, Antiques Jikoh, with mainly used modern furniture. The branch at the #49 location was full of heavy oak Victorian and Arts & Crafts era furniture.

My friend H spotted a gorgeous blue and white porcelain “umbrella stand” that she loved there. I was so sorry to have to let her know it was actually a late 19th century urinal. Needless to say, she could not look past its original use.

The next two shops were eureka! moments for me. I have been searching for the perfect vintage milk glass ceiling fixture for the bathroom in the beach house, passing up many individual pieces at shrine sales. Imagine my delight at stumbling across the Teardrop Club (#53). I’ll be dragging my patient husband back there soon. If you too are interested, please note they are open 12-6 and not on Wednesday. More photos here and here.

Rakuda (#51) which means camel, also had numerous vintage light fixtures in addition to ranma (transom) panels, old doors, stained glass and cut glass…

Turning the corner right after Rakuda completes the NW zone. The tour continues east, crossing a small river. Other than the charming Le Midi (#37) full of imports from the South of France, not much else was open. Any visit to Nishi-Ogikubo comes with that risk.

Continuing to the next major intersection the tour turns right to head south back to the station. Most of the shops along this NE section seem to specialize in vintage clothing and used goods. Perhaps because we were getting hungry, they didn’t hold our attention. In the grand tradition of antiquing outside of Tokyo, we ate Indian food for lunch at Ganesha Ghar, right near #31 and the bridge over the river on the map. As would be expected, it was packed! And following shortly thereafter was Amy’s Bakeshop, which billed itself as “NY Style Sweets & Things”. Of course we had to stop!

If you arrive hungry, it might be easiest to head the opposite direction (clockwise from the station) and eat first as shops don’t open until lunch time or afterwards.

We skimmed the shops listed on the map on the South side, but many were closed, perhaps permanently. None stood out this visit but perhaps they merit a second chance.

Nishi-Ogikubo is very easy to get to and quite close to central Tokyo. It is only 16 minutes from Shinjuku and 18 minutes from Yoyogi on the Sobu Chuo line. Taking the Toei Oedo line from Azabu Juban and changing at Yoyogi took a total of 32 minutes. I’d love to hear from anyone who goes, especially if you discover a gem I haven’t mentioned. Happy hunting!

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