Here’s my long promised follow-up post on tansu at home, only this time not from glossy shelter magazines, but instead photos submitted by readers and friends. I always like to say that every space has its own voice and use that adage pretty religiously in my decorating for myself and others. Since each and every residence has its own needs you might find it surprising how tansu can be so completely adaptable to different environments and styles. Keep in mind that while they can seem large and monumental (which makes them ideal for filling the over-sized volume of new American construction), they are most often made of two completely separate pieces, stacked one on another to give the appearance of a single larger item. They can be used in any room of the home (I even have a tiny one in my front hall powder room), which I hope was well illustrated in my previous post Where Do You Tansu? And depending on what they are mixed with, they can take on many personalities, from formal to casual, global to local, modern to traditional, etc.
For some, especially those who own a lovely antique store filled to the brim with goodies and treasures, it is easy to furnish an open airy country home with excellent tansu, as well as other classical Japanese antiques. Mizue Sasa, proprietor of Okura Oriental Art, has done just that in her Yamanaka lake home. To cut down on volume she will often use a shallow katana (sword) tansu or only half a tansu….
…or split one into its two pieces and place them side by side to reveal open window views.
To deal with low ceilings and a smaller room volume, she does the same thing in her city apartment. In both places she mixes dark woods with warm colors, Turkish flatweave rugs and pillows with some lightweight and visually unobtrusive tables. The mix is warm and elegant at the same time. Be sure to note the lithographs by one of my favorite modern hanga artists, Keisuke Yamamoto, on the walls. They are from the “Beyond the Doorway – Mysteries in Monochrome” CWAJ Associate Show I co-curated in 2007. More recent views of his work can be seen here and here.
The next apartment of my reader LT is truly worthy of being featured on Todd Selby’s innovative and influential quirky interiors blog The Selby, and I may well submit it to him. When she wrote to invite me to photograph her place, a much more typically sized Japanese apartment than most expatriates live in, she commented, “there are actually EIGHT tansu, in an apartment the size of the average American two-car garage.” Rather than fight the smallness, or the wood wrapped walls, she went straight to overstuffed and cozy, scooping up flea market treasures to hide clutter as attractively as possible, creating a layered richly colored environment. Like Sasa-san above, she mixes in warm colors with her tansu, two of which can be seen in this photo. With lack of wall space, she has even hung art on the kitchen cabinet doors.
Greenery abounds everywhere, on the windowsill and stacked along this kaidan (step) tansu.
Using an antique “office divider,” the equivalent of a modern-day cubicle wall, she has carved a writing niche out of the deep windowsill. Note the kilim pillows again here.
The iron strapwork makes this isho (clothing) tansu stand out from the wall.
And half of a large mizuya (kitchen) tansu serves to hold the television and all its electronic accoutrements.
Clutter is tucked away in porcelain and lacquer receptacles wherever possible. Check here for an earlier photo of her jewelry storage. These photos don’t manage to show all 8 of her tansu as the apartment was small enough that there were some shots I simply couldn’t manage to take!
Houses in American pose the absolutely opposite problem, often having vast square footage, huge rooms and often hard to deal with volume of space, particularly in newly built neighborhoods. Big tansu can be amazingly adaptable to these spaces and in my opinion, are chronically underused. Double height ceilings and entry ways can be the norm, but how to fill them attractively and give warmth can be difficult.
In a project I am helping with in Atlanta, the owner bought a series of different tansu to do just that. This shopkeepers tansu, with its glass display doors is already full man height. The colorful storage inside and the map framed by sconces elevate the arrangement to fill a large blank wall in the living room.
The breakfast room uses a typical mizuya tansu for its original purpose – to hold kitchen goods. Note all the other Japanese accessories, such as the senbei jars and giant glass bottle used on top of the already tall tansu for additional height. And the milk glass and iron chandelier, another wonderful find, is not specifically referential to Japan, instead having an unidentifiably global feel. Easy care washable slipcovered chairs soften the woods and provide comfy spots for hanging out. The room is painted Farrow & Ball’s Day Room Yellow for warmth, but may not be staying that color…
In another American house, the placement of a kaidan tansu mimics the actual house steps. The irony lies in the fact that a step tansu is called that because it actually once served as the steps in a Japanese home – there would never have been space for two sets of steps side by side.
So far, all the photos have shown tansu used with very warm colors, which tends to be the more traditional pairing. But tansu can be just as effective with cool tones too. This icy blue dining room in Westchester, NY really plays the dark woods of the Japanese tansu and the Balinese dining table and chairs off the cool tone stripes of the upholstery, the white sheers, the silver vases on the table and the white-painted chandelier, an ancient Dara Caponigro trick from her House Beautiful days in the early 1990s that I have used over and over again.
Again, a classical and quite solid tansu, played off very modern furniture and cool toned aquas and greens in this lovely contemporary apartment.
And finally I come to one of the more unexpected juxtapositions in this post, Japanese antiques mixed with modern Belgian style. A long time reader living in Tokyo, with a home back in Belgian, began putting together a collection of Japanese antiques, including this lacquer crested tansu and blue and white porcelain, shown here as she had it styled in her Tokyo apartment.
An unexpected move sent her back to Belgium and the challenge of completing a renovation there as well as mixing in her many purchases. This is where the same tansu lives now, with a giant modern floral painting serving as a perfect counterpoint to the delicate maki-e (golden sprinkles) lacquer.
The side view reveals the light woods and simple pedestal table. Once again, note the senbei canister with its glass floats in the windowsill.
And here is the full room view.
My final photo is from a reader back in the US who sent me a very personal photo of a tansu she bought over 16 years ago for $200. Hanging above it is a painting of her teenage son at 16 and she changes out the small display items on top quite frequently. Her simple Sendai region tansu still has its old red lacquer. As she says, “It is a bit rustic. In three small drawers, which are behind a door, I store stamps, address stickers, tape and other small items. The larger drawers have writing paper, boxes of assorted note cards and invitations, and photographs which are not in albums. It’s a very useful piece of furniture which I could imagine working in nearly any part of a home.” I think that about sums up this post perfectly…
Image credits are all mine or my readers. Please contact me for re-use or posting.