Monthly Archives: June 2011

Ingenious Repurposing…Unusual Kitchen Islands and Printers Drawers

The only big house project that looms on my horizon is renovating the kitchen here in Ocean Grove. Always an expensive proposition, I don’t want to undertake it lightly. Basically everything has to go – flooring (bad yellowish linoleum), appliances (almond!), and cabinets (1970s) – but I want to replace them with things that feel both special and as if they might have always been here. The key to it all is coming up with a special island that is not from a kitchen cabinet company, whether it be a baking table or my favorite, some kind of repurposed item.

I am not sure what the island in this Swedish kitchen is made from, but I love it and the whole room.

A friend across the street uses an old butcher block that belonged to her grandfather as a small island, much like the one in the photo below.

On the right side of Rachel Ashwell‘s Malibu kitchen, she uses some sort of old counter or bar as an island, with baskets holding supplies on a lower shelf.

Speaking of shabby chic, this painted work table is another favorite.

Striking a completely different note, Darryl Carter‘s kitchen with its gorgeous marble-topped antique table is to die for, although clearly a bit too formal for a beach cottage.

I do love a marble topped island though…The DIY master, Jenny Komenda at Little Green Notebook, has used an old dresser and the marble top from a vintage coffee table to make one of the most stylish (and inexpensive) repurposed islands I have seen. Check out her other recent projects, including the most amazing reupholstery tutorial here.

In my ongoing hunt to complete my house, I spent a full day up at the antique stores in Red Bank, NJ. There are numerous multi-dealer shops with great merchandise, and I’ll be doing a full “Shop Talk” post on them soon. At Monmouth Antiques Shoppes I saw this red industrial cart which would make a funky but functional island.

And while surfing, I did notice this great desk turned island over at Remodeleze.

But the piece I have been obsessing over is this vintage printer’s table currently on eBay. It has an amazing thick slab of a marble top and a few shelves and cubbies.  It even still has its original letter drawers!

I think it would be perfect in creating a kitchen with the feel of Kristen Buckingham’s, but no matter how many times I measure, it is just too big. Unlike her huge beauty, my entire kitchen is only about 9 x 12…

And speaking of the printer drawers, I saw them everywhere at the Point Pleasant and Red Bank antique shops. They have always charmed me, but have really come to my attention of late.

My friend Jamie Edwards, a former Tokyoite, is making these adorable display cases for children from vintage printer drawers, lined with washi paper and custom colored to suit your decor. You can find her EllaBeanBoxes on Etsy.

And another friend mentioned that her mom uses one flat in the narrow top dresser drawer to store jewelry. I found this photo of a great storage solution in my files too.

Ingenious, no?

Image credits:1 & 2. credit unknown, 3. via Cote de Texas, 4.via Elements of Style, 5.Elle Decor May 2008, photo credit: Simon Upton, 6. via Little Green Notebook, 7. via Remodeleze, 8, 11-14. me, 9. via eBay, 10. Elle Decor March 2009, photo credit: Simon Upton, 15-16 EllaBeanBoxes via Etsy, 17. credit unknown.

Estate Sales…An American Institution

My neighbor E. knocked on my door early this morning and offered me a little antiquer’s crack cocaine…a low entry number to an estate sale at a big house a few blocks away. Rumour had it that it was chock-full of furniture, books, memorabilia and a few generations of general accumulation. With four floors to cover, I was hoping for some great scores. While US flea markets are akin to shrine sales, I don’t think the estate sale has a comparable entity in Japan. And speaking of items made for the export market the other day, I was hopeful there might be some lurking in the 100+ years of stuff.

Unfortunately there was no luck on the Asian goods. As you might expect, the house was full of heavy Victorian furniture, like this massive Renaissance Revival bookcase and velvet covered chair.

Less expected perhaps, although less so on reflection, was this. Need a buffalo head anyone?

Most of the more valuable items were traditional antiques. There were a few tables covered in Wedgwood Jasperware, including this rare domed cheese dish. There were many other tables full of crystal and china.

All of those giant bookcases were full of books. Even though I have taught my daughters not to judge a book by its cover, I am definitely weighing books for their physical appearance these days. I want my bookshelf here in Ocean Grove, which I have yet to find by the way, to be visually beautiful. That being said, I don’t want a bunch of fake things picked just for their appearance so I do try to pick up classics and others things that sound like they might be interesting to page through. I am sure my husband will be excited by Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln.

My house has no coat closet in the front so I have been keeping an eye open for a coat/hat rack. I had been thinking about a Thonet bentwood style, but stumbled across this simple Mission oak one at the sale. I think it will do to hold an occasional sweater and sun hats, if only it would warm up and stop raining, that is.

I also picked up a little silver plate and glass condiment basket to add to my bits and bobs of antique silver. There is nothing like the patina of old silver.

And no groaning, those of you who are bored with this topic, but for those who aren’t, I got this mid size glass fishing float for ten bucks. You know how sad I was to leave my big ones behind in Tokyo, but I think I can ft this one into my tiny bathroom. To give a sense of its relative size, I have put a few of my tiny ones into the photo. Still searching for the perfect basket or container for those, so styled photos yet to come!

Rumour has it everything will be half price tomorrow. Let me know if you want me to run back and get the buffalo head!

Made for Export and in My Basement…Seto Porcelain Garden Stool

As I wandered through the stuffed-with-junk antique stores here in New Jersey last week, I stumbled across this small Japanese Seto porcelain tea-cup and saucer. Based on its traditional Western style and shape, it was most likely made for the export market somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. This reminded me once again, that although I am a blue and white porcelain junkie in Tokyo, many of my best finds have been made abroad in the US and England. And those finds are not limited to ceramics, but also glass, silver and just about anything that could be exported.

Fine sometsuke (underglazed cobalt porcelain) has been produced in Seto City and Aichi Prefecture for about the last 200 years, although the region boasted one of the six old kilns of medieval Japan and produced pottery since the 14th century. I bought my first piece in Hong Kong 14 years ago, a square planter, drawn to the brilliance of the cobalt and the feathery painting style of the artist. Ironically, I got it for a great price as the Chinese don’t tend to value Japanese porcelain. That piece lives happily in my Tokyo living room with two siblings, found at shrine sales.

Over the years I have accumulated many more pieces, including these lovely jubako (stacked food boxes)…

…and this cricket cage and covered fan box.

Thanks to a recent Kawagoe trip, I now have 2 big fish bowls.

One of the most beautiful and rare Seto items are garden stools. A fixture in China for 1000 years, porcelain garden stools have become one of the basic staples of home decorating, but they were actually used in gardens originally. Some find them ubiquitous these days, but they continue to fill that niche between seat and table and their variety of color and design means there is a place for them everywhere. I could do a 20 photo post on amazing rooms with them, but I’ll limit myself to some blue and white ones. All Chinese as there are many more on the marketplace, and I have yet to see a Japanese one in a magazine spread.

A few posts ago, I featured the home of Brazilian designer Sig Bergamin, but did not include this photo. A blue and white garden stool sits at the edge, ready to hold a drink for the person lounging in the white chaise.

Jeffrey Bilhuber is one designer who uses them all the time to great effect. This one has lovely open fretwork on the side.

Back in 1997-1998 there was a pair of Japanese stools at a shop in Cat Street in Hong Kong that I couldn’t afford. I had never seen any like them and I fantasized about them for years. No photo of course, but they live in my memory as being hexagonal. In 2005 I found one on my first trip to Kyoto, not long after we had moved to Japan. I didn’t buy it then either, but I did take a photo! Not a great photo, but it shows you how seriously I was thinking about it. Although in retrospect, it wasn’t that great of a garden stool either.

So the tea-cup at the top of the post reminded me of the amazing find I made last summer, that somehow I had forgotten about in all the hullaballoo and busy-ness of my life.

I went down to the basement and found this. What do you think is in here?


I haven’t stopped to clean it or anything but am absolutely bowled over by it! It has so many of my favorite motifs – cracked ice, fan vignettes, open fretwork – and the form and painting is spectacular. And I had literally forgotten that I had ever bought it! My swiss cheese brain is starting to worry me….

Now the question is, how do I get it back to its family and friends in my Tokyo living room?

Related post: Colors of the Rainbow…Blue and White Porcelain is Neutral. And more on porcelain garden stools at Apartment Therapy.


Image credits: All photos by me except 6. Elle Decor April 2011 photo credit: Simon Upton, 7. design by Jeffrey Bilhuber, Photo credit unknown.

Glass Insulators Can’t Protect Me From Jet Lag

Jet lag and general reorientation (disorientation?) have kept me from posting this past week, but not of course, from antiquing. I have managed to visit most of my usual haunts here on the northern New Jersey shore before even making it to the supermarket, which luckily for my children, I finally did today. The sad news for me is that I have not managed to find anything on my “need” list for the beach house, nor anything on my “just want” list, which means I will have to cast my net further afield. Hopefully that will yield some good posts too.

One item that did catch my eye at many of the shops I visited were antique/vintage glass insulators. I know I have a strong following of blue-green glass and fishing float junkies, so I thought these might satisfy an itch. I have seen them on occasion, but not particularly noticed them until I saw this group lying in a trunk amidst vintage rolling pins at the Point Pleasant Antique Emporium.

Once I noticed them, I saw them all over the Emporium…

…as well as other places, such as the Point Pavillion Antiques Center.

Historically used to insulate telegraph wires (glass does not conduct electricity well), these glass insulators are no longer in use and have become collectible. As you might expect, there are entire websites devoted to their study and sale. At The Insulator Store, some of the rarer pieces are described in language that makes them sound like diamonds or champagne; “An absolutely dazzling Roman Helmet, in a brilliant shade of green. This particular piece has loads of charm – a few faint amber wisps, great color variation and some light fizz in the ears.”

The beauty shown and described above is $173 at the Insulator Store, one of many unusual ones stocked there, including a Mickey Mouse shape! Most of the insulators I saw were basic blue or clear and quite simple, priced in the $3-$5 range.

What should you do with them, you ask? Well, one of the simplest ways to display them is along a window ledge, allowing the sun to shine through.

Turning them into small pendant lights seems to be popular too.

And another version with the insulator hanging upside down.

The Lamp Shop sells a conversion kit for glass insulators which I found in a post on Katy Elliot’s blog. There is also a link for cork sockets, perfect for turning glass jugs into lamps, so I plan on doing that to one of my great finds back in Tokyo.

And since I am now in New Jersey, why not show you how weird and wonderful it can be? Stanley Hammell has been collecting glass insulators for the past 15 or so years, but more importantly, he has been displaying them around his property in Pomona.

Trumps the windowsill display…

Image credits: 1-3 & 5. me, 4. via The Insulator Store, 6. available at Railroadware, photo via Remodelista, 7. via Retro Renovation, 8. via Weird N.J.

Colors of the Rainbow…Blue and White Porcelain is Neutral

I am a bit of a porcelain proselytizer, particularly of the blue and white variety. My faith lies firmly with the clear blue cobalt of Japanese Seto porcelain, and its more sophisticated cousin Imari, but I am open to decorating with blue and white of any kind, may it be Chinese, Dutch Delftware, English Staffordshire or any other. I preach the gospel often and have converted many to its charms. Sometimes my difficulty lies in convincing others of the true neutrality of blue and white and the undeniable truth that it can work with any color decor and any style of furnishings.

Having had this post living in my queue for months, adding a photo to it every now and then, I’d like to finally share a visual rainbow of the possibilities of color with blue and white porcelain. There are certain designers who could furnish the full spectrum on their own, but I have attempted to present a variety of styles and suppliers. For the most part, I have limited myself to porcelain from Asia and homes from America as it would be easy to trot out the stately homes of Europe and their incredible collections, but not that diverse.

Red – Mary McDonald

Orange – Mary McDonald

Yellow – Christopher Spitzmiller

Chartreuse Green – Markham Roberts

Hunter Green – Jeffrey Bilhuber

Laquered Cobalt Blue – Miles Redd

Blue Venetian Plaster – Allison Caccoma

Pale Blue – Milly de Cabrol

Lavender – Aerin Lauder

Pink – Mary McDonald

Brown – Ned Marshall

Grey – Grant Gibson

White and Modern -Kristen Buckingham

Rustic Elegance- Cathy Kincaid

Classic – Miles Redd

Glamorous – Daniel Romualdez

Have I converted you?

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