Monthly Archives: November 2012

Caught in a Net…Ami Pattern on Porcelain and More

One of my favorite “so ancient and simple that it’s modern” Japanese motifs is ami or fish net pattern. I’ve been tracking blue and white porcelain pieces here at shrine sales and antique shops for years, like this beautiful sake cup washer and hire (like a small hibachi from a smoking set). The sake cup washer has a very linear version of the pattern, while the hire looks almost Middle Eastern in its curvilinear painting, reminding me of these floor tiles! The pattern is common, but rare at the same time, so I always notice it when I see a piece. Not an unexpected motif if you think about how much life in Japan revolves around fish!

Unlike the rounded pieces above, these rectangular dishes show the star-like pattern at the center of the nets and the larger of the dishes even has an open and loosely linked rendition, versus the tighter nets.

Here on this small dish the net is softly and irregularly painted.

Imagine my surprise when ami cropped up in a slightly different form at a recent ladies luncheon with the renowned Japanese food expert Elizabeth Andoh that focused on the art of mixing dishes and plating food.  Out came a rustic but elegant Mashiko pottery plate in the fish net pattern in a glossy copper and verdigris. She called the pattern ajiro, but I think that is actually more of a traditional herringbone style basket weave and that this too is ami.

Just a week or so later, I finally got to visit the Mashiko pottery festival myself, which I haven’t been to in years! I came across a few examples of that same style, perhaps even the same potter to my eye, including this huge spectacular vessel. From my lack of posts lately you can tell life has got me by the ankle and isn’t letting go, but I hope to write more about my experience there soon.

Shortly after that I came across this formal lacquer ware version from my friend Mizue Sasa’s shop Okura Oriental Art - haute couture fish net!

Fish net pattern can be found on much more than just dishes, whether stylized in sashiko embroidery as well as realistically patterned directly in textiles and art. There are a few very famous ukiyo-e featuring actual nets, but I quite like this one by Utagawa Yoshiiku, called  “A Parody of Goldfish with Actor’s Expressions.” It seems the public in the day would have recognized these fish faces for whom they were meant to represent. I quite like that the title is written against a background of fish net.

While I can do without the silly faces on those fish, all this talk (writing?) of fish and fish nets has got me thinking about another project I am working on, the 2013 ASIJ Gala Quilt. Using a background of vintage blue kasuri (the Japanese version of ikat) pieced in a neat but kinda boro style, we are planning on appliqueing a grouping of koi.

The koi will be varying shades of orange and white silk shibori (tie-dye). Here’s a first glimpse of a mock-up to whet your appetite.

We had been talking about some water pattern quilting but now I am thinking that perhaps we want to use the fish net motif, picked out in white quilting thread.  Just loving this idea! What say you Julie Fukuda and Kendra Morgenstern?

Related Posts:
After the Earthquake…Help Rebuild the Kilns at Mashiko
Guest Post…Visiting the Mashiko Pottery Festival
The ASIJ Quilt…Summer Breezes: Furin in the Rock Garden
Coming Full Circle…A History of the ASIJ Gala Quilt

Red Cross Decor


One of the most distinct logos in the world, the chunky bars of the Red Cross have been on my mind lately for obvious reasons, and not so obvious ones. I think I am not the only one either – ironically, the interior design world seems quite interested in it too. Maybe it’s just these constant disasters have worked on people’s subconscious and turned it into a larger decor trend?

I have been inexorably collecting design images featuring that red cross shape since the earthquake and tsunami here in Japan. And then one of the things I noticed from my post the other day was how much Ben Pentreath liked his red cross pillows, shown here in his old New York apartment around or before 2003…

…and then here again just the other day in his new London flat. He obviously really likes them (and his sofa) because while other things have changed, he’s kept them in rotation. Of course it’s not really the pillows that grab your attention in his new apartment – it’s that amazing map grouping (a re-print of John Roque’s Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, and Borough of Southwark from 1746) against the wall. But more on maps some other time!

Interior designer Brian Paquette boasts a pair of the cross pillows in his 220 square foot Seattle studio.

The collage of vintage photos and the framed Japanese mail bag are amazing and imbue the space with a masculine kind of romanticism.

He likes the cross motif so much he even has it here on a stored blanket. Frankly, the entire space has a ship-shape/found object vintage military vibe – it’s a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s what makes it work!

I’m not sure where Ben or Brian got their pillows, but Angel Dormer got hers from Jonathan Adler. I had started to feel that this trend was distinct to men, but this photo disproves that theory.

Jonathan Adler offers the pillows in a variety of fun colors.


I am always discovering great things on Emily Henderson of Secrets From a Stylist‘s blog. As an antique dealer, it drives me a bit crazy that she is so inaccurate about naming items she uses (calling a Louis style chair Victorian, for example) but as a stylist and designer she has a way of knocking your socks off. Here her red cross (actually a vintage Swiss flag) provides the exclamation point to a funky couch and warm brown furniture.

A red cross pattern is not uncommon in traditional quilting. Love this modern usage – graphic, but sensible – you can pull it down if you get chilly.

Red crosses seem more literal in bathroom spaces, like this one tiled in a kids bathroom. Love that trough sink – it’s everywhere these days!

Or this vintage medicine cabinet.  You always know where the band aids are in this home.

Love love these gray cabinets and slab marble counter but not sure how I feel about the subtle cross on the backsplash under the hood.

I’ve seen my fair share of official old Red Cross items at the shrine sales, like this large square carrying trunk at Kawagoe. I think Brian Paquette would love it, don’t you?

And others are interested in this trend too – this Red Cross army box sold quickly on One Kings Lane.

Is it just the graphic punch the cross gives that makes people like it? Or do you think that is so because it represents succor and security in an emergency?  Any which way, if I have helped you feel like making a donation, of money or blood, here’s the link: RED CROSS. At the end of the day, they always show up to help.

Image credits: 1. Red Cross, 2. The Financial Times, 3. via Ben Pentreath Inspiration, 4-6. Rue Magazine January 2012, photo credit: We are the Rhoads, 7. Lonny Magazine January/February 2011, photo credit: Patrick Cline, 8. Jonathan Adler, 9. Emily Henderson, 10. Limilee, 11. Martha Stewart Living October 2010, 12. Country Living, October 2011, photo credit: Bjorn Wallander, 13. via Willow Decor, photo credit: Jamie Salomon, 14. me, 15. One Kings Lane

Their Spitalfields Life…My Charlton-King-Vandam Life

Spitalfields then – and we are talking twenty years ago – felt like a place that time and tide had forgotten. The world of early 18th century London collided with crazy, hectic 20th century Brick Lane, and I learned that I loved each as much as the other.
-Ben Pentreath

It is important to note that the present boundaries of the proposed district encompass the remains of a small district which has always been, since its beginning, a distinct and separate neighborhood. Charlton, King and Vandam Streets are not only linked physically, but by a common history…The aesthetic quality of this happily surviving chapter of the early Nineteenth Century architecture is heightened by its unexpected juxtaposition to commerce and traffic. Its sudden revelation to the eye of the passerby from teeming Varick Street and rushing Avenue of the Americas is one of the most surprising visual treats in store for New Yorkers.
- From the 1966 NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Historic District Designation Report

I have spent a lot of time over the last week thinking about my home – my special New York neighborhood perched between Greenwich Village, Soho and the Hudson River – the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District. Intensely threatened by Superstorm Sandy, I was worried not only about my own property, but about the potential for loss, or really for change, in a pocket of New York that looks like time forgot it. Those three blocks have always been a magical place for me, even before I lived there, as they almost have the ability to transport you back to the past.

Around the same time, one of my favorite bloggers, architect-author-shop owner Ben Pentreath, put up a post on the Spitalfields neighborhood of London, special to him in its preservation of 18th century Georgian buildings and memorable as it represented his early youth in the city. Opening tomorrow, November 7, at his eponymous store on Rugby Street (which I visit whenever I am in London) is a collaborative group exhibition between Ben’s shop and The Gentle Author, representing Spitalfields artists. The Gentle Author’s blog has been featuring profiles of the artists all week and I can’t stop reading them!

While I won’t be making it to London, at least much of the work is available online, including Alice Patullo‘s fabulous poster for the group exhibition. It was the first piece to catch my eye, reminding me of a papercut, which the girls and I became obsessed with two summers ago.

And then there is artist Rob Ryan, with actual papercuts and some very funky Staffordshire dogs. I would love to buy this for my husband for our wedding anniversary.

Artist Laura Knight deconstructs familiar china patterns like blue willow…

…in her mixed media illustrations.

She even reimagines pink lustreware…

…which you already know is dear to my heart.

Justin Knopp‘s letterpress print is graphically riveting, but it is his printing studio that I am swooning over.

The exhibition features many other artists and details can be found here and here - it is really worth taking a look!

Personally, I am not familiar with the Spitalfields neighborhood, but it has rocketed to the top of my next time in London list (which will be this summer) as it is full of 18thc Georgian buildings, like this one on Fournier Street…

…the precursors to the Federal homes, built in the 1820s in New York City, on King Street…

…Charlton Street…

… and Vandam Street.

The district is so consistent as the majority of the remaining homes were erected in roughly the same period on the grounds of the former 26 acre Richmond Hill estate, which had been built in 1767 with a view over the Hudson River. George Washington and Vice Presidents John Adams and Aaron Burr all had turns living there but it was Burr who saw the economic opportunity in the changing residential tides of the city and planned to sub-divide it. He named the streets Burr for himself; King for Rufus King, a fellow U.S. senator; and Vandam for Anthony Van Dam, a wealthy importer and city alderman. Forced to leave the city after his duel with Alexander Hamilton, John Jacob Astor took over the property, paying Burr handsomely for it. Burr Street was re-named in memory of Dr. John Charlton, former president of the New York Medical Society and a trustee of Columbia University, who had died months earlier.

As the Landmarks Preservation Commission report states: The old houses on these streets are all that remain of a city plan, conceived and mapped in 1797, but almost completely developed between the years 1820 and 1829. The boundaries of this neighborhood were, originally, from the Hudson River (then at Greenwich Street) to MacDougal Street, and from Vandam to King Streets. This small enclave was a piece of “instant city” developed from one large country estate, by the great real estate operator of the day, John Jacob Astor.

The development of these streets in common gave them a continuity and homogeneity which still survives today not only visually, but in spirit as well. This is not Greenwich Village; this is not “downtown”; this is the Charlton-King-Vandam area.

In contrast to the almost pristine preservation of Charlton Street and a bit of grittiness on Vandam, the Landmarks Preservation Commission said it best: King Street has a different sort of charm; it has an infinite variety, the unexpected juxtaposition of Federal houses, Greek Revival houses, Anglo-Italianate, Roman Revival and eclectic buildings of the late Nineteenth Century. The early apartments and the public school still have a certain grandeur while the little Federal houses look cozy by comparison and the Greek Revival houses maintain their own distinct dignity.

Built in 1886-1887, my beloved Queen Anne style interloper at 29 King Street was once Public School Number 8 and served an absolute melting pot of immigrant nationalities. The rumour in the building was that it had become a school for wayward girls in the 1950s and in researching this post I found that to be true (I can’t wait to tell my girls – I think they’ll get a kick out of that). In the early 1980s the building was converted to condos and we were lucky enough ten-odd years later, to be at the right place at the right time at the bottom of the last major downturn in the real estate market, which was a long time ago now. To this day, older visitors will often call from the street, lost, asking where our apartment is in relation to the school building.

While the link between Spitalfields and the C-K-V Historic District is tenuous, in my head they became woven together, as both are places where the past informs the present. Funnily enough, Ben Pentreath lived in New York for five years, much of that time right down the block from us on King Street, although I never had the good fortune to meet him. As he said in a recent article in The Financial Times, his apartment there was the place where he “first experimented with a few strong fabrics and some contemporary furniture alongside old brown tables and chairs, and loved the results.” Here’s a tiny view of said apartment. In the face of so many eschewing traditional “brown” furniture these days and painting everything, I still love some of the old-fashioned brown stuff in the mix and I find it reassuring that he does too.

I am hoping for more views – or at least a bigger photo – in his brand new book English Decoration: Timeless Inspiration for the Contemporary Home, which I have seriously put on my holiday list. All the reviews have been just as good as I would expect (like the one here) and I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.

If you are interested in reading more about the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District there is so much information out there and I used the following sites in preparation of this post: The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation1966 NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Historic District Designation Report, The Story of Charlton Street, and the amazing Daytonian in Manhattan, including this, this and this.

All artist’s works via Ben Pentreath and Spitalfields Life.

The Houses are Alright (Family Too)…A View of Sandy From Tokyo

From this…

…to this…

…to this.

The Ocean Grove Fishing Club and pier are gone, as is the boardwalk. Houses in the south end of town are flooded and the dunes destroyed. Towards the north, businesses along the boardwalk have been smashed, including the new Day’s Ice Cream. But somehow, the north end dunes have survived and our house is dry.

We sat glued to CNN for 36 hours as they repeated the same news over and over. Anderson Cooper did his best to report from Asbury Park, one town north, at least for a little while. Blogfinger, the Ocean Grove blog was a key source of information. We felt extra powerless being so very very far away. We heard that water had breached the dunes and was running up and down the streets and that parts of the roof of the Great Auditorium had been blown away. But until the storm cleared, we did not know for sure that no one in town had been injured and whether our house – just 100 meters from the beach – was still standing. Happily, a friend went and checked and reported back. Our only damage? One of the upper windows in my daughter’s room had worked its way open, letting in some water. But the inexpensive roller shade was the only thing ruined. Thank goodness the Bennison valances weren’t finished!

Ironically, our beach cottage wasn’t our only home in an evacuation zone. We still have our NYC apartment in downtown Manhattan, rented to a lovely couple. It’s a small ground floor duplex apartment in a 19th century school building. The bedrooms are downstairs, English basement style, so below ground level with windows set up high in the walls. Never, in the almost 20 years we have owned it, has there even been an implication of flooding, but this storm was different. I lost touch with the tenants early on as power and cell towers went down. I combed all the New York news sources to try to discover which zones were flooding (we are on the edge of Zone B). I was equally as worried about that space but fairly confident that the over 100-year-old brick and cinderblock walls were game for anything. After the storm our tenants moved up town where they had cell service and reported the good news. Other than the no power below 39th Street, all was well. And an extra little twist? Our tenants are getting married in two weeks – in the Convention Center on the Asbury Park boardwalk!!!! So I was pretty worried about that venue for them too. The report on that is that it is still standing, although in what shape, we don’t know.

Best of all my parents and brother and his family are all well, although my brother lost two massive 100-year-old trees in front of his house, one of which smashed up his wife’s car. And this from my dad – gotta love how genki my parents are!

“This is the second day without power and we are doing fine, in fact I told mom we should go camping. We are doing better than most since I have that little generator so we have a small refrigerator going, two lamps in the living room, I connected the hot water heater to it since it has a power vent and we both took hot showers so we are good. There are no street traffic lights so driving js tricky. Everything is closed and it’s bizarre, have no clue when we will get power but I would estimate not til Saturday. The most difficult part was that I had the generator, two cars filled with gas and I bought a siphon so I could get the gas not knowing that in newer cars there is a valve that prevents siphoning. I went all over and could not find gas until I stopped a landscaper and told him I would give him $30 dollars for 2.5 gallons and presto I had gas.”

Truthfully, I was calm the entire time. Wet basements and some spoiled furniture might have been part of the bargain and I was prepared for that. In the end we are beyond fortunate as our loved ones and property are fine and we don’t have to manage through these next weeks with no power. Thank you to all our well wishers! Our hearts go out to those who are suffering.

Related Post:
The Porcelain is Alright (Kids Too)…My Tale of the Big Japan Earthquake

Image credits: 1. via Flickr , 2-3 Ryan Struck via The New Surf.

Tokyo Jinja

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