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Archive for September, 2011

I am having another round of selective perception. Do you know the feeling when you notice something once and then next thing you know it is just everywhere? That has been the case with vintage Japanese maekake, the heavy cotton aprons, usually dark indigo in color, historically worn by staff at small manufacturers and breweries. These days they are retro-chic with the young set, being worn by staff at cool izakayas (simple food and bar restaurants). They have almost a denim feel and the waist ties are a thick woven double-sided cotton, often bright orange. Their simple but strong graphics caught my eye again and again at the Heiwajima Antiques Fair last week.

Many are around the fifty year old mark. You can often tell more specifically by the old-fashioned telephone numbers or styles of writing.

One idea on how to reuse the maekake, besides the obvious original intention, is to turn them into visually graphic pillows like these in Paul Ludick’s living room made from simple kamon (japanese crests) banners.

But the best idea by far is one I don’t have a photo of. Aaargh! Much to my chagrin, I was too busy talking to a lovely gentleman at the fair about his handmade maekake tote bag that I forgot to take a photo. (Hmmm….seem to be doing a lot of that lately). Anyway, he (or actually his wife) had sewn a bag out of a vintage apron and it was great looking. The zipper pocket in this one got me thinking about making one for myself – perfect for a cellphone or a couple of bucks (or should I say yen?). I didn’t end up buying any but went home stewing on the idea.

A few days later the Kawagoe market was full of aprons too.

I found a fabulous and unusually colored faded green one too, but another young woman browsing seemed to want it so desperately that I gave it to her. I found more joy in her happiness than I would have had in purchasing it.

My favorite dealer was wearing one exactly as it should be worn! I noticed other dealers wearing the sturdy aprons too.

So if fate was surrounding me with aprons, then I was clearly meant to buy one. I found a really cute small one with an outside pocket and a great design. I am pretty sure it is from a sake brewery.

Stay tuned to see the finished project!

Speaking of indigo bags, my friend Jane Farrell has been sewing absolutely beautiful patchwork and sashiko totes. I am going to try to have her work for sale sometime soon!

And speaking of selective perception, the aprons are not the only things that have been clubbing me over the head. Remember those great vintage shoyu (soy sauce) bottles I just wrote about?  I had never particularly noticed them before either, yet I saw them everywhere at the Oedo fair with Peri Wolfman and also at Heiwajima. Definitely different bottles and different dealers too!

Continuing off the topic, but still kinda on it, hop over to the post I wrote this summer about Wedgwood jasperware cheese keepers. Had a huge spate of selective perception there too so I added a big addendum to the post!

Image credits: all photos mine with the exception of the Elle Decor December 2006, photo credit: William Waldron, and Jane Farrell bags courtesy of the artist.

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The Oedo Antiques Market is a jewel. While it lacks the charm of being on the grounds of a temple or shrine, it makes up for it by being held in the shady courtyard of the Tokyo International Forum at the convenient junction point of Hibiya, Marounouchi and Yurakacho. While it tends to be higher along the antiques food chain and thus higher priced than a conventional shrine sale, it makes up for it by having some of the best quality merchandise to be found. Held on the first and third Sundays of the month, and the fifth Sunday is there is one (like there will be this October), it is one of the most pleasant antiquing experiences to be had in Tokyo.

Luckily for me, Peri Wolfman of Wolfman-Gold & Good fame was in town visiting her niece, my friend D. For more on Peri, see my previous post. This past Sunday I took them to shop the Oedo market and we all had a wonderful time and bought lots of goodies. The entire day was colored by Peri’s aura, meaning it was black and white. We looked at and bought nothing frou-frou or fancy. No blue and white porcelain, nothing gilded. Everything was simple, streamlined, functional and lovely because of it. I did mean to take so many more photos chronicling the day. Photos of what we looked at, what we liked, you name it.  But sometimes you have to live just to live, not live to blog, and Sunday was such a day. I was too engaged to even remember to pull out my camera half the time, so I can only show you a record of what we actually bought.

First up were these bowls by ceramicist Ando Masanobu. As I am not familiar with his work, I did a little research and found this description in the online edition of Kateigaho magazine (which you should be reading if you are at all interested in Japanese arts and culture). “Perhaps the most fitting description of his pottery, reflecting a balance of sensibility and philosophy, is the word refinement. The striking forms of his solid white or black semi-matte vessels bear minimal ornamentation.”  No way to say it better than that. I do wonder how these bowls ended up down in Tokyo, but the karma was perfect because they were meant for Peri. As a pair, they also display one of her golden rules, which is never buy “onesies”. Multiples are king!

Ando also runs a gallery called Momogusa in an old minka (farmhouse) that he moved to in Tajimi and rebuilt. Besides his own work he exhibits ceramics, glass, washi, textiles, and so on by other artists. Looks like it is worth a visit!


These were quintessential Peri – a group of Edo period pottery stacking bowls – albeit the largest one was the size of a golf ball. Scale is hard to show in this kind of close-up but consider the grain of the matting underneath and it gives you a sense of their tiny-ness. Peri is currently developing a line of tableware for Restoration Hardware –  the reason for her visit – and stacking items are definitely a part of it.

We almost overlooked the military dealer – you know the one who has all the Japanese army uniforms and sometimes other creepy stuff – there is always one like that at every market. Luckily these caught our eye and we stopped. These are old mess hall dishes made of white ironstone from the days before plastic. The small deep bowl is meant for tea.

And of course it wouldn’t be Peri without some white ironstone pitchers.  These look French, but the marks are actually Japanese. Wonderful shapes! And shown perched on one of a pair of rustic children’s chairs bought too.

We both got amazing little black and white woodblock prints. One for her…

…and one for me.

These metal clip on sconces may not look like much here, but let me tell you they are dynamite! Painted green metal with wonderful patina and best of all, they don’t require any holes drilled to hang them (which is a big issue in Japanese rentals, let me tell you). Just clip ‘em where you want ‘em.

Imagine them like these in this dreamy Jill Brinson designed bedroom.

Simple bargain frames made of sakura (cherry) and bamboo came home with us too. Peri thought the speckled paper under the glass of the rectangular one was so pretty it could be used as a tray instead.

Peri is all about storage (just peek back at that Oprah magazine article) and both D and I got some of these charming vintage apothecary drawers to stack on my desk and in her entryway.

What a great day! Peri looking fabulous in her usual black and white while I look as goofy and over excited in this photo as I felt.

Oh, and last but not least, I need to report that the marble-topped pastry table in Peri’s earlier kitchens was sold along with the house…

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Well I know I have written about unusual kitchen islands here before, but I have never shown you my favorite kind of island, let alone my actual favorite one! For many many years I have been tracking the kitchens of the uber-talented Peri Wolfman and her husband Charles Gold, both out in the Hamptons and in their New York City loft on Greene Street.  Through the 80s and the 90s they owned one of the most influential design stores in Soho – Wolfman-Gold & Good - full of simple white tableware stacked and displayed to highlight its beauty.  I think they, along with Martha Stewart, radicalized how people displayed collections of functional objects and turned white ironstone into a fetishised and collected object. I know for me, walking in there, newly married and looking for direction (and some white dishes), my vision would never be the same as a result. And to this day, I am still using those white dishes…

Their earliest kitchen out in the Hamptons that I know of is this one, and it begins my tale of obsession. The wideplanked floorboards, dark cabinets with white marble counter, the open shelves laden with simple white shapes and of course, this French pastry table used as an island. I can’t figure out the date or what magazine published the spread, but it was early 90s and dear to my heart. I am not sure that I have ever moved on from this kitchen, and if you think about the kitchens we see all the time today that are constantly blogged about – Sally Wheat’s, the kitchen in Something’s Gotta Give - they all have their roots here. As I now have a late 19th century kitchen that desperately needs remodeling, I have a chance to take some lessons from the Wolfman-Golds and put them to work. Starting work on my kitchen continues to rest on finding the perfect island.

Here’s a more distant view via the architect’s site, although the color is off…

The double sink (so they can cook together) is another signature Wolfman Gold detail that we see here. This is one of the earliest views of a front apron sink that I can recall too. And don’t the ironstone pitchers remind you of this more recent photo I have shown a few times on the blog?

I can remember my surprise in 2003, flipping through Country Living and stopping on this photo.  My mind jumped to attention and I thought “my beloved marble-topped island – what is it doing there?” I quickly realized it had not left the family, but that Wolfman and Gold had built a new house, similar, but also different from the original. In addition to the island, the shelves and the ironstone, the wide floorboards, double sink and general mood remained, while the overall space took on a more modern, less country feel. Note the quote…

You can see the bracket and beadboard detail over in the corner by the stove.

Fast forward to 2008 and Elle Decor featured yet a new house built for the Wolfman-Golds, designed in collaboration with Jack Ceglic, a collection of modern white corrugated-steel jewels. Here the country look has melded with industrial -  Peri and Charles have most definitely moved on, even if I wasn’t ready for them to. The kitchen island is basically a larger stainless steel version of the marble-topped island from the previous homes, albeit with more storage. But what I really want to know is where has that other table gone? No answers are to be found in the accompanying article.

Her beloved ironstone pitchers still line open shelves – that much has not changed. And again, even with all the more modern stainless steel, the overall feeling of simplicity remains.

And if you look closely at the terrace, the mismatched French iron chairs have made it over from their earlier home. I just want to sit here all day drinking copious amounts of iced tea.

I share another love with Peri Wolfman – galvanized tin containers (and hydrangeas) – only she has soooo much more storage space for them!

Going back in time, we switch to the kitchen in her Greene Street loft in Soho, an apartment I believe she and Gold have lived in for almost 20 years. This photo comes from a New York Times article about how a building developed right next to them made them lose some windows in their apartment, including one over the double sinks.  Instead of pouting forever, they ran the beadboard over the space where the window had been and extended their display shelves. It looks so amazing, you would never even believe a window had been there.  More goodies here include another French baking table (although without a marble top) and some kind of shop counter making up the other side of the kitchen. The copper pots are worth drooling over and I love the vintage screen door on the pantry.

I am pretty sure the cover of their 1999 book A Place for Everything is shot through that pantry door.

Again fast forward, this time to winter 2011. Here too, I believe she may have moved on although I am not perfectly sure. In this recent Oprah Magazine article from this past winter on this master of organization and storage, Wolfman seems to be in a newly designed kitchen which they refer to as being in her apartment. Now I don’t believe they moved, so they must have remodeled. Clean, sleek and white and more contemporary than its previous incarnation, her signature orderly display of everyday objects is still the key component.

Dishes are neatly stacked in the pantry.

Wooden cooking utensils make a glorious and simple bouquet.

So it just goes to show that in the Wolfman-Good world, the more things change, the more they also stay the same. But what I would really like to know is where that marble-topped bakers table in the older Hamptons houses lives today!!!

What makes this post so apropos right now is that Peri visited Tokyo this past weekend and we hung out!!!!! (Lots of exclamation points necessary) On Sunday we ravaged the Oedo Antique Fair together, shopping till we almost dropped and I got answers to many of my questions. Tune in to my next post to see what Peri bought and hear more about her philosophy.

Image credits: 1&3. unknown, 2. via Bogdanow Partners, 4-5. Country Living July 2003, photographer unknown, 6-9 Elle Decor June 2008, photo credit: Joshua McHugh, 10. The New York Times August 18, 2005, photo credit: John Lei, 11. via Amazon, 12-14. O, The Oprah Magazine February 22, 2011, photo credit: William Waldron

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