Archive for the ‘Expat Life’ Category

french chairs

So I have been promising this story for ages and it is a good thing that I hadn’t told it as it developed a surprise ending yesterday. Design resources here in Doha are in some ways more limited and in other ways less limited than they were in Japan, but for everyone back in the USA, it really is a struggle to source items that you all have in such abundance of selection. This story might have been part of a larger post on decorating as an expat – entitled “Getting Lucky or Making Do” perhaps? – but now I think it is entitled to its own show.

Those of you who have been reading along with me these past months know from this post and this post that I snagged 3 French style fauteuils for free early this fall. They have been an integral part of my design scheme for our dining room, which has been proceeding nicely.

dining room progress

Along with the chairs I also got a huge marquetry desk with gold mounts and an inlaid leather blotter. It may sound potentially ugly and it certainly is a bit over the top, but it arrived on my horizon as if it had been an answer to a prayer. As you may also know, I’ve been working on redesigning my elder daughter’s bedroom. Her Pinterest board is full of Moroccan shaped upholstered headboards in interesting fabrics, monogrammed hotel linens, simple night stands and gourd/vase-shaped porcelain lamps. Basically, it is a look that is super popular right now and in her case, Ashley Whittaker has been her go-to designer for inspiration.

Ashley Whittaker House Beautiful bedroom suzani

Circumstances make it such that like the Whittaker room below, we too bought the IKEA Malm 3 drawer dresser to use as night tables. There are not a lot of other choices to be had and its simplicity and large storage capacity is unbeatable. We discussed using mirrors and O’verlays to create our own IKEA hack and make the Malm look like the dressers above, but decided we were perfectly happy with it on its own.

ashley whittaker bedroom HB

The trouble for me in all this was that the room had become too full of bright white furniture and was starting to feel childlike or worse perhaps, have that blogger-on-a-budget look. It needed some weight, some gravitas, some wood to ground it. Had I been at home, I would have trotted off to some antique/consignment/thrift shop and picked up an interesting wood desk in an afternoon. That isn’t possible here so I thought a bit and realized that what might be perfect – and more importantly available – would be a French style desk. As I have mentioned before, decorating here has a tendency to run to the super ornate brocade/damask/gilded avenues, but a piece or two plucked out and used in a tongue-in-cheek manner in a different environment could be perfect. And certainly a little OTT can be just right for a teen’s room. I mentioned it to my family that night at dinner and my daughter thought it sounded like a fun idea.

The very next day I was visiting a friend over at her large compound (think gated community if that word is just too weird) and as we were taking a walk we passed a villa (glamorous sounding but basically a house) that is used for compound storage. In the open car park stood a bunch of washers and dryers, metal bed frames and other detritus, but more importantly a huge desk in full Continental style with ormolu mounts and dark blue leather top. It was so exactly what I had been thinking of that I couldn’t believe it. Even the leather blotter was blue! It was covered in sand and dust and had just been sitting out there getting ruined. Tucked in a corner under cover were the three chairs, so dusty you couldn’t see the color of their upholstery. While not antiques in any way, they were good pieces of furniture with definite potential and needed saving. My regret from that day is that I didn’t think to snap a photo so you could see how trashed they were getting.

My friend proceeded to call her compound manager and over the next few weeks they determined that nobody needed or wanted the furniture and they gave it to me gratis. Because they were free I was particularly satisfied with them – one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth after all! I spent a good day cleaning them and I worked on the desk with some lemon oil and slowly it emerged. Since the room is in no way finished, I don’t have real photos, but here is a quick snapshot. We are planning to turn the tall vase into a desk lamp and be sure to note my small IKEA hack – I painted the legs of the Snille desk chair with old gold spray paint to make the modern chair integrate with the antique looking desk. The room was really beginning to come together.


So the closing of this post should have been some kind of musing on fate and luck. Instead, I got a call yesterday from the aforementioned compound manager. It turns out that the furniture didn’t actually belong to the company that leases all the properties and is actually the personal property of the Sheikh who owns the compound. And guess what? He wanted it back! So as of today, I no longer have accent dining chairs and my daughter’s books and papers are on the floor of her room. I feel a bit paralyzed about going forward. Do I look for just the same things? Do I try something different? I love the serendipity of the find and now that has been snatched away. Your thoughts?

Related Posts:
(Fabric) Bordering on Obsession
Tussle at the Antique Jamboree…or the Never Wait Rule

Image Credits: Ashley Whittaker photos via Ashley Whittaker and House Beautiful

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“In English the trifore is a triple arch, and is also known by the name “Lebanese window” and is identified with the typology of the central hall house that was common in Lebanon…This is a decorated wooden window characterized by three arched openings supported on the sides by engaged stone columns in the wall and in the center by separate columns that are mainly made of marble. The column consists of three components: a base, column and capital. The carpentry details include a wooden lattice that adorns the upper part of the window and a folding double-wing window element on its bottom part. The trifore also occurs next to the balcony – in these instances the middle unit in the trifore is constructed as a door. “

One of the joys of change is how it can alter our vision. Moving to Qatar has turned my eye towards parts of the world I didn’t think about much while I was living in Japan. I have written effusively about designer May Daouk’s Beirut home featured in Architectural Digest before, in particular the amazing arched windows in her great room. What I hadn’t quite realized was that this layout and design is not unusual and is in fact a classic style Lebanese house, with roots that stretch back through the Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans, Venetians and others. I’m not going to show the other photos of May’s house again, so be sure to visit them in the post or the magazine. They are truly that good!


In addition to May Daouk’s home in Lebanon, I have stumbled across a few others and been amazed at the architectural consistency among them. Trifore, triple arch windows, or mandalouns as I have also seen them called, are the integral centerpiece to a great room with doors opening directly and symmetrically off to smaller chambers. Having just toured Pompeii and ancient Rome a few weeks ago, I can clearly see the links between the open courtyard centered homes there with these. The windowed axis provides cross ventilation in the summer months and copious sun for the colder months as well as views across the water or over the valleys, as traditionally they face outwards and often have a balcony. The triple window is almost always on the second floor, as we would call it, much like the Italian piano nobile that is so common to Venice. It seems very practical that the principal rooms for entertaining and living should be upstairs where the light and views are better.

trifore lebanese window via because i love sand

The vacation home of Kamal Mouzawak and Rabih Kayrouz, a Lebanese fashion designer, that was featured in The New York Times a few years ago has the same exact setup – a grand salon with a trifore window and doors opening off to the other rooms. This home was stripped to its bones and fully renovated after having been shuttered since Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s. It was very sensitively done – about 70% of the original stone floors were taken up, restored and replaced. The decorating here is the antithesis of that in May Daouk’s home, being as spare as hers was richly layered. But both versions work. My eye can’t help but be drawn to the oval tulip table in front of the windows, proof again that that table works anywhere. I am excited as mine is on the boat from Malaysia as I type.

lebanese salon NYTimes

From this angle you can see more clearly how the other rooms open directly off the great room. Inset transom panels were painted in the early 20th century by Lebanese painter Youssef Howayek.

Lebanese house central hall

It isn’t only in the central salon that the light is outstanding. This view of the dining room with the kitchen beyond shows the high ceilings and tall windows throughout the house. I love the colors and simplicity of this space.

dining room lebanon house NYT

Shoe storage for them seems to be just as much of an issue as it is in Japan. This antique console has been well repurposed as a shoe cupboard.

shoe cupboard antique console

On yet a third design note is fashion designer Elie Saab’s Beirut home, designed by Chakib Richani, also featured in Architectural Digest.  Saab’s house is unusual in that the central hall and main living rooms are on the ground floor, not the second floor, with an enclosed garden. The doors in the central arch open directly to the lushly planted space, rather than the more expected balcony.

Elie Saab AD trifore Lebanon house

The simple palette and minimalist upholstery is designed to set off the carefully placed antiques. The space is also broken into three sections with internal trifore, again similar to May Daouk’s home.

Elie Saab Chakib Richani Architects AD Lebanon LR

The arch motif and gothic tracery continues into the master bedroom.

Elie Saab Bedroom Beirut AD

I can’t resist this photo and its detail of what looks to be an amazing inlaid chest. More on inlay coming soon!

Elie Saab Beirut Lebanon inlay dresser

Are you as entranced by this extraordinary architecture as I am? I know it influenced me tremendously in the choosing of our Doha house, but I can feel it affecting me well beyond that choice.

Related Posts:
Living Lavender Dreams

Image credits: 1. Architectural Digest, photo credit: Simon Watson, 2. via Because I Love Sand, 3-6. The New York Times, photo credit: Bryan Denton, 7-10. Architectural Digest, photo credit: Marina Faust.

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doha corniche

So I have been here three weeks now and settling in fairly nicely. The house is getting unpacked, albeit more slowly than I might like. There is not an inch of hanging room left anywhere and three wardrobe boxes yet to unpack. Amazing that my much smaller Tokyo house had much better storage, isn’t it? The girls have found their way at school and both are happy – even the teenager has admitted (in front of me no less) that she is liking it here. My sweet husband is just so glad that we are all together again and brought me such joy today by surprising me with reversing the refrigerator and freezer doors so that they open the correct way. Such a small thing can make me happy, especially in these early days. And everyone said it couldn’t be done so trust him to make it happen!

The part that is taking longer is figuring out exactly how to start reinventing the Tokyo Jinja side of me – my blog, my business, my personal identity, so that I can grow but keep you all traveling with me. I’m not going to let go of the Japan side of things and if you pop over to the Shrine Sale/Antique Show Schedule, you’ll see that I have updated it. I’m timing this post so that all my devoted readers in Tokyo can wake up on Sunday morning to a fresh fall schedule. But as a shout-out to those readers – I can’t do it alone! I look forward to hearing from you about life at the sales, whether it be stories about favorite dealers, photos of finds or news on the ever-changing schedule front. You are now my eyes and ears and I am happy to spread the word. I’ve also updated the About Me page, which was long overdue.

On the shrine sale front I have to mention a few things, including what seems to be the closing of the beloved Oedo Antiques Market (more here, here and here) at the International Forum in Yurakacho at the end of 2013. Right now I don’t know if that is temporary or not and I will get back to you with the news as soon as possible. The smaller market in Yoyogi will still be taking place once a month on an irregular schedule and it is unclear to me whether all the dealers may flock there. Details in the new schedule, but let me know if you hear anything please!


Before I left Tokyo I had a few chances to visit one of the newest sales in central Tokyo, but never got around to writing about it. Mid-way along Kotto-dori a small and very decorative market has opened.

kotto dori market

It is mostly European and American vintage goods and collectibles, but sometimes you need a fix of those. You all know how I feel about vintage luggage…


…not as hot for the antler craze, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t.


So in many ways nothing has changed. I’ll continue to be out there at the forefront of the search for the antique, the handicraft, the artistic and the artisanal. Tokyo Jinja is a state of mind no matter where my body may reside and I hope you’ll stay with me along my journey.

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