Monthly Archives: January 2012

Hands On Tokyo…A Taste for Volunteering 2012

With the tag line “Be the change. Volunteer,” Hands On Tokyo addresses the critical needs of the community by partnering with other organizations focusing on educational and social issues in Tokyo as well as disaster relief in north-eastern Japan. By collaborating with partners to create projects designed to meet their needs, [they] provide numerous volunteer opportunities for any individual or corporation looking to make a difference in the community. Currently, Hands On Tokyo has over 3,100 registered volunteers, arranges over 300 volunteer activities a year, and has given back more than 21,000 aggregate volunteer hours to the Tokyo community. 

Tokyo Jinja is proud to have donated this amazing rare and valuable glass senbei (rice cracker) canister from the early 20th century with raised glass lettering and original lid to the upcoming event “A Taste for Volunteering” in support of Hands on Tokyo.

There is still time to sign up and attend as well as bid on this senbei jar and a host of other prizes!

DATE:  Friday, February 3, 2012
Reception: 6:30 Party: 7:00-10:00 PM
LOCATION: The Capitol Hotel Tokyu
COST: ¥20,000 per person
DRESS: Semi-Formal

Hands on Tokyo has been doing incredible work in Tohoku and I was lucky enough to have helped on a project to feed 600 people in Iwanuma last June. We made and packaged some of the desserts while having fun together. If you can’t make the event, I highly recommend signing up for some of their volunteer activities which you can do by clicking here.

For more on vintage senbei canisters, see Country Kitchens and Rice Crackers…a visit to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The senbei canister sold for 73,000yen last night! It was the HOT item of the night. I am so pleased!

Wabi-Sabi Essence in Brooklyn, Courtesy of Nightwood

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you the Brooklyn apartment of Aya Yamanouchi Lloyd, designed by Nadia Yaron and Ry Scruggs whose design firm Nightwood specializes in refurbished vintage pieces, deconstructed furniture and handmade textiles. Their philosophy is to “design and build with a down to earth yet airy aesthetic and sensibility to convey a modern rusticity that emphasizes hand crafted one-of-a-kind works of functional art… Old things, primitive practices, creative reuse and natural materials inspire us both.” Nightwood never use the term wabi-sabi on their website, but I think their work is the very embodiment of it. For a reminder, the Wikipedia definition is quite good: “Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.'” Ironically, the apartment’s owner is Japanese  – with a name like Aya Yamanouchi, I can’t imagine that she is not – but again, I don’t think there was any deliberate link to the idea of wabi-sabi.

Many of the vintage pieces were sourced locally, including the bench and column in the entry.

The living room is full of recycled and reimagined pieces, such as the coffee table which had its old laminate top switched out for marble.

Visible upholstery tacks are part of the charm.

Each quarter stool is covered in a different fabric. Such fantastic floorboards too!

I am loving the birdcage and faux shadow painted on the wall – so whimsical!

Ry Scuggs built the frame and Nadia Yaron wove the fabric used to cover the chair.

The settee cushion is covered in kimono fabric, a great juxtaposition with the wire filigree.

The little night table lantern is so creative. I think it makes a great way to use some of the small Japanese milk glass fixtures we find here.

The Nightwood duo don’t have that many other full projects under their belt, although they have been collaborating on pieces since 2003. But there are a few highlights on their website including this Williamsburg loft, which is darker and smokier…

…and more industrial feeling…

…as well as this simple and bright brownstone.

Ladders seem to be a constant feature in their designs.

I couldn’t resist sharing! I’ll be back with more Chinese New Year posts next.

For the full article and more photos, see The New York Times. There are also some great photos in their sneak peak over at Design Sponge.

Related Posts:
Thoughts for 2012…We Are The New Victorians

Image credits: 1-8. The New York Times, January 25, 2012, photo credit: Trevor Tondro, 9-12. via Nightwood.

The Altar Table Reimagined…From Worship to Workhorse

So after you had their portrait painted, where were you going to worship your Chinese ancestors? At your very own altar table of course! Now truthfully, many of the larger pieces come from shrines and temples, but individuals did own them, and they were considered the most important piece of furniture in the home. Portraits and scrolls were hung above them on the wall and offerings such as food or flowers would be placed upon them, as well as decorative objects. During the Cultural Revolution, traditional Chinese furniture became a liability – a connection to the old ways – and much of it was destroyed or carted off, only to be rediscovered and deemed desirable by, you guessed it, westerners!

While we no longer use them for ritual worship, they tend to be incredibly functional and attractive in modern-day homes. The tables could be made of hard or soft woods, sometimes lacquered on top and often having upturned flanged ends. Bamboo pieces like this one tend to come from the Shanxi region of China. Long and narrow, set up higher than a dining table, altar tables fit well in a variety of spaces, perhaps nowhere better than an entryway, where they can hold display pieces, corral shoes and serve as an all around command center for the home. I love the items on display and the high contrast in this photo. All the accessories are linked back to the color black painted above the white beadboard. The fine bamboo table and the floor runner provide just the right amount of warmth.

Perfect along a long narrow hallway, this bamboo piece has a lacquered top. The mullioned window panes seem to mimic the shapes in the bamboo.

I would normally consider painting an antique bamboo altar table to be heresy, but this one looks so fresh against that great Florence Broadhurst peacock feather wallpaper.

I love the mix of the very sharp and spare lines of this simple table with the curvy Thonet stools below. Altar tables are perfect for stashing extra seating in the entry…

…as seen here again. Their height also makes them perfect for holding lamps.

Moving on to the redoubtable Miles Redd, I cannot help but admire the extraordinary combination of color, style and period in this dining room with the bamboo altar table providing the visual anchor amidst all that paleness. It also makes a great buffet, able to hold dishes, cutlery and numerous serving platters along its 7 foot or so length.

Tablescaping is an art that achieves perfection on an altar table, as the height and breadth give it stature while the space below is perfect for tucking just about anything. The contrast here between the symmetrical arrangement on top and the asymmetric one below is genius.

From a practical perspective, they make great bars! Note the blue and white porcelain hibachi, or maybe a fish bowl based on the painted motif, being used as an ice cooler…

…and here again, a lacquer one being put to the same use.

One of the best places for an altar table is running along the back of a sofa as a console table, perfect for holding lamps, books and magazines in easy reach. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos illustrating that so you’ll have to use your imagination. I do have a few more unusual placements, like this example of a very wide one being used as a kitchen island…

…and this small narrow one being used in the bathroom as a dressing table.

Have you noticed a bias towards bamboo examples in this post? That is because bamboo altar tables from the Shanxi region of China are my favorites as evidenced by this late 18th century one in my home. One piece of advice I give often is to buy less, but buy better. This table was one of my main purchases when I lived in Hong Kong – I was very young so I scraped and saved to buy it. There has never been a moment since in which I did not love it and I know I will have it forever. When I came to Japan 7 years ago I assessed every house and apartment I saw for placement of the table as it is over 7 feet in length and didn’t fit in my NYC apartment. Now it has the pride of place and you see it immediately upon entering.

I hope you are enjoying these Chinese New Year week posts!

Image credits: 1.via Eclectic Revisited, 2. via decorpad, 3. Domino September 2006, photo credit: Corey Walter, 4. Elle Decor March 2006, photo credit: Pieter Estersohn, 5. House Beautiful September 2007, photo credit: Pieter Estersohn, 6. House Beautiful April 2011, photo credit: James Merrell, 7. House Beautiful September 2007, 8. House Beautiful November 2009, 9. Markham Roberts, credit unknown, 10. House Beautiful May 2010, photo credit: Thomas Loof, 11. Elle Decor June 2010, photo credit: Simon Upton, 12. me.

To Ancestor Painting or Not?…That is the Question

In honor of Chinese New Year, I am going to be writing about Chinese antiques this week, starting with one of the more unusual items – ancestor portraits. Commissioned by loved ones of the deceased, they were privately displayed and worshipped as the Chinese believed (and continue to believe) that the spirits of their ancestors could bring them health, long life, prosperity and children. Funerary statues and art date back to early Chinese history, but most of the surviving portraits date from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). During the 20th century, westerners began to buy up old portraits as photography became the medium of recording departed family members. In particular, Richard Pritzlaff, a reclusive horse breeder from New Mexico put together an extraordinary collection throughout the 1930s and 40s, which were then acquired by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC in 1991. But it was the exhibition Worshipping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits there in 2001 that sparked a changing viewpoint of the portraits as works of art and interest in them rose tremendously as a result. The museum continues to display the portraits fairly regularly, with an exhibition Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court just having closed.

Tear sheets of Virginia Witbeck’s apartment from the early 1990s were saved by me in great part for this small image of her in front of an ancestor portrait with a pair of stacking Japanese lacquer tray tables by her side. My interest in them was piqued. When I moved to Hong Kong in 1997, they were not yet that talked about and quite readily available for reasonable prices at many of the antique stores there. Copies and fakes had not become the problem they are today, nor had prices for the real deal risen as high as they have now. But there was great debate about whether or not it was appropriate to hang them as art in a stranger’s home. I had many friends who argued against them, feeling it was a form of sacrilege, while others wanted them for their incredible decorative potential. I was always torn by this argument and decided against one. I think I may rue that decision today.

As the faces in the portraits were painted posthumously, often from verbal descriptions and sample feature books, they are usually impassive and quite similar looking, so it is the fabric of their clothing and the textiles they are seated on that catches my attention. By studying the motifs and details, the iconography of rank becomes clearly readable by scholars and experts. For instance, yellow robes were reserved for the emperor while embroidered badges with different animals and colorful hat knobs proclaim the subjects status and position at court. Ironically, there seems to be an over abundance of high-ranking officials, leading experts to believe that loved ones often fudged and had their ancestors painted with elevated status.

There are some examples of designers using ancestor portraits in their projects throughout the 20th century and Jennifer at The Peak of Chic has a great post showing them in numerous mid-century homes. More recently, they have become even more popular. In this living room designed by Miles Redd, the richness of the color and detail in the furniture and carpet corresponds directly with the paintings. I cannot imagine that he did not have a pair of ancestor portraits in mind when he started.

The same goes for this Santa Monica home designed by Michael Smith. The similarities between the two really stand out.

In paler spaces, the colorful images become vibrant additions, focal points, you might say…

…as shown in these two images from Julian Chichester‘s West London house.

This stylized Chinoiserie room by Michele Bonan uses what looks to be reproduction paintings very effectively. (And who else out there is reminded of my chartreuse dining room in Hong Kong? Wish I had a photo of it!)

Julie Murphy uses bright yellow chairs and a scrubbed wood table to create a casual and cheery kitchen – complete with ancestor portrait – in her home.

As a lover of all things pale and patina-ed, I think this faded portrait is wonderful in this softly subdued space by Kristen Buckingham.

This pair is actually a Korean couple, but I couldn’t resist including them as they also anchor a simple color palette in an elegant London living room. And while we are looking at Korean art in a celadon colored space, I can’t help but mention the Sackler’s current exhibition Cranes and Clouds: The Korean Art of Ceramic Inlay.

So, where do you stand on the issue? Is it disrespectful to display the ancestors of someone you don’t know as decoration? Would you hang one in your home?

For more on the Sackler’s collection and the challenge of restoring damaged paintings, see the fascinating article on conservation in The Book and Paper Group Annual.

Gung Hei Fat Choi!!!

Image Credits: 1. Portrait of Oboi, Collection of Freer/Sackler, 2. credit unknown, 3. Elle Decor March 2006, photo credit: Simon Upton, 4. House Beautiful April 2009, photo credit: Mikkel Vang, 5-6. Elle Decor November 2006, 7. Lonny July/August 2011, photo credit: Patrick Cline, 8. via Design Sponge, 9. via Kristen Buckingham, 10. credit unknown.

Tie Dye Heaven…Painterly Effects from Monique Lhuillier and Eskayel

I wasn’t due for another post yet, but the juxtaposition of this extraordinary Monique Lhuillier gown worn by Sarah Michelle Gellar to the Golden Globes last night and a half written post about Eskayel‘s new collection of rugs for Doris Leslie Blau sent me straight to my computer. While I have written about shibori (Japanese tie dye) before I have never seen such a literal and amazingly modern translation of this traditional art form as that dress. Say what you like, and I know some have put this on their “worst dressed” list (although many more on the “best dressed”), it truly is a spectacular show stopper!

Lluillier has some other dresses with that shibori feeling, but they also remind me of artist Shanan Campanaro’s amazing fabrics and wall coverings for Eskayel.

Having written about them before, it may come as no surprise to see them here again, although this time, translated into carpets for the floor in her new collection with rug doyenne Doris Leslie Blau.

Campanaro’s digitally manipulated watercolors have been re-colored in this new collection. You’ll need to stare closely at her Dynasty wallpaper hanging next to the new Dynasty rug to see that they are the same pattern, just colored and highlighted differently.

She also features some great new projects on the Eskayel blog, including this apartment from Jami Supsic Designs.

Those Wegner Wishbone chairs again.

They are everywhere and come in the most amazing colors these days…

This dark blue Samui Sunrise paper is so cozy and welcoming in the bedroom.

Another project by designer Sylvia Reyes uses Eskayel’s Aquarius wallpaper to great effect in this Puerto Rico apartment.

And guess what? Eskayel wallpaper is now available in Japan at Walpa. Walpa carries all the “cool wallpaper brands” and is looking to bring a new appreciation for patterned walls to Japan.

Related Posts:
A Little Shibori Feeling From Eskayel and Anthropologie

Image credits: 1. via temptalia, 2-5. via Neiman Marcus, 6. via Eskayel, 7. via New York Magazine November 2011, photo credit: Wendy Goodman, 8-9, 12. Jami Supsic Designs, via Eskayel, 10-11. Danish Design Store,  13-14. Sylvia Reyes via Eskayel

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