Lighting

Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do

While life as an expat in far away lands does bring some decorating joys, i.e. exotic accessories, much of the time basic goods, such as upholstered pieces and quality furniture for reasonable prices, are just not on the agenda. Invariably there are technical difficulties with the technical stuff, voltage variances and possibly language barriers for sourcing parts and hardware, let alone explaining the details of tufted buttons on a headboard. Designing interiors as an expat is much like being on a budget, without the great vintage shopping, thrift stores and Target that are such key resources in America. The best and most reliable places for shopping are often other folks houses - all expats know the best way to get stuff is to hone in on anyone moving back home the moment they announce it. Opportunities need to be grabbed as they tend to be one of a kind and won’t come around again. And the suitcases of all visitors and guests should always be maximized to one’s benefit. My mantra over the years has always been “get lucky and make do” because it has to be, and while it has definitely brought out my creativity, I occasionally wish I had a few other options on the table.

You’ve already heard some of my best stories  - certainly nothing will beat the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that was the free chairs and desk. The colorful scheme of Mally Skok and Raoul Textiles for the kitchen was born out of necessity from the inability to make any changes in our rental. And while I really did want the Saarinen Tulip table for the dining room, it emerged as the absolute front-runner of the three possible schemes simply because it could be had – although perhaps shipping from Malaysia isn’t exactly just had! The IKEA Tobias chairs around it are a classic case of making do with a very happy ending and my living room has a DIY coffee table coming. In the course of this year I’ve had to be resourceful, I’ve had to compromise but the stars have aligned for me at times too.

doha living room

One of my earliest stories here in Doha is a typical tale of triumph against newcomer odds. Long boxed up in storage in Japan, waiting for its imaginary future, this massive pierced brass karakusa (scrolling arabesque) globe chandelier was one of my favorite shrine sale finds ever.

antique brass karakusa globe fixture Japan

Of course in Japan I couldn’t hang it, the ceilings being so low that even basically flush mounted it would have hit the top of my sweet husband’s head (and he is about 6 feet tall). With the high ceilings here in Doha it was time for it to emerge and be hung. Enter said expat challenge, better known as chandelier chain. In America, you can walk into any hardware store and there are rolls of chain in different sizes and finishes. Of course here in Doha there is a single strip of lighting stores, which happens to be tucked behind the largest and most complicated building project in the city, making it almost impossible to get to even after you find it (if you find it!). But in my first weeks here, I managed to get there before closing time (all small businesses close between roughly 12:30 and 4:00pm every day – add that to the planning mix), double parked bravely and illegally (no other way to do it) and ran in. The first shop had only bright brass chain in a single size. As did the second, the third and so on. It seems there is only one size and one color finish of shiny brass chandelier chain to be had here in this country and it simply wouldn’t do for my antique fixture. What I did notice was that one small shop had a display chandelier hanging from old chain that was nicely patinated in that dark brass/bronze color even though there was none of it for sale. So I put on my best negotiating skills (all of this at 12:15 while double parked illegally) and managed to convince the owner to let me buy him a length of shiny new chain from another shop to exchange with him (and a little bonus) for his length of old chain. I think he thought I was absolutely nuts, but so be it, mission accomplished! Now it hangs in all its loveliness, casting mysterious shadows at night, and even my 6’7″ friend has no fears of hitting his head on it.

photo

Another favorite story has the longest expat legs of all. When we lived in Hong Kong from 1997-1998, I had a pair of gray and white silk curtains made – much like a ticking stripe – to hang in my chartreuse dining room. (As an aside, best dining room color ever – with gorgeous old Indonesian rosewood floors, Chinese table, painted Tibetan chest and lots of blue & white porcelain!) Upon moving back to New York City, I repurposed them in my gray bedroom, which had only one window so a single set was very useful. As the window was awkwardly placed near the ceiling, I needed to make a valance, so I asked a friend back in Hong Kong to go buy a bit more of the same silk and send it to me. This was all within the first year of leaving so it was easily done. Dug up some old snapshots (!) to give a sense of the curtains in both spaces.

HK and NY striped curtains bedroom

Fast forward five and half years and off we go to Tokyo where our bedroom had three large windows. Better yet, they were all different sizes – not width wise, but height wise – and the ceiling heights were different in each part of the room. I know it is impossible to imagine or even believe that the Japanese would build this way, but I tell you it’s true – it looked like they sourced the windows willy nilly from a sale. I wanted to use the curtains again because I loved them and nothing beats a classic stripe – it just can’t be improved upon. So I tracked down the shop with the silk (I always keep my samples/orders/receipts from every project in neat little Ziploc bags) and they actually still had some. I bought the rest of their final roll as obviously the decorating gods meant me to and had it delivered to my original curtain lady (she of the obi quilt block pillows). Soon after, I visited some friends in Hong Kong and brought the original pair of curtain panels with me. I had her copy the originals – and here is the kicker – make them all the same original long length. Then I had her hem each set to the random length of the windows in my Tokyo bedroom. One set was hemmed about 2 or 3 feet even. But my instincts told me that there was no purpose to having a bunch of odd size and short curtains in the long run.

bedroom settee with obi quilt pillow

So now for the moment of triumph. We arrive here in Doha, shake the curtains out from their box and hang them on the existing curtain tracks. They are all way too short, some as much as two feet plus!

bedroom curtains too short

I carefully pick out the secondary hem stitches and (drum roll please) they are exactly, yes exactly, the right length. Cosmic decorating karma. A steamer takes out any creases effortlessly. To top it all off, I wanted deep valances, filling the space between the arch of the windows and the ceilings and had just enough fabric from that final roll to make them. I think I will leave you in suspense until my very next post for you to see how it all turned out…

One last story about the kindness of friends and strangers in an expat decorating world. After much deliberation I decided I needed that Pier One/Craig’s List staple the Papasan Chair for my teenage daughter’s room. How can you keep the “no boys sitting on the bed” rule when there isn’t anywhere else to sit? Add in that the room was veering in the slightly too formal direction and that a request for somewhere to “sack out” had been made. Her new desk (our giant antique French partners desk moved from the study) created a perfect deep corner that needed to be filled by something round. I searched the internet for proof that a Papasan could look chic – even Apartment Therapy seemed to be giving them credence – and came up with a few examples, including this one in a similarly colored room. With all things wicker and rattan being back “in” can the Papasan be far behind? Well maybe not, but its just the perfect thing for a teen!

papasan chair via little bird told me

All that said, what would be one of the easiest and most budget friendly options to get ahold of in the USA doesn’t exist here in Doha. And the oversized scale of them makes it prohibitively expensive to ship. So I mentioned to a few friends that I was looking for one or something similar. Within a week, my friend LL (come to think of it – she of the lost desk and chairs!) brings me to the house of another woman in her compound, leaving to move back to Canada. LL had been in her house casing the goods when she noticed a Papasan in the living room, that was not for sale. In classic style, she convinced the woman to sell it to me and just buy a new one when she gets home. Such an expat moment! This is the best I could get my model to give, but you can see it is already being well used. And the cranberry colored cushion has just been sent out to be recovered in white cotton duck.

photo

Now much of my experience is only true in the places I have lived, namely Asia and the Middle East. Those lucky enough to live in Europe with its hundreds of years of furniture making its way to market might have a different story to tell. And there will be more on this topic in my next post, as I explore the challenge of updating a bedroom straight out of the Paris flea markets. But in the meantime, what have been your biggest challenges finding and creating your home, wherever you may live?

 

A Global Crossroads…the Flea Market at Old Jaffa

flea market old jaffa

No vacation or trip is complete for me without finding time to hunt down an antiques market or neighborhood. Even with the rampant globalization which has started to blur trade borders for even the old junk of the world, somehow each city maintains its own unique vibe when it comes to vintage. Tel Aviv was not highlighted in my post the other day as it is less a treasure trove of ancient history and more a city that feels like New York met Miami met Europe hanging out in the Middle East. And while we wanted to shop and eat at every cafe and boutique that lined the streets, we simply didn’t have the time. Instead, we prioritized Old Jaffa, perched at the southern end of town, in no small reason because of its famous flea market, Shuk HaPishpushim.

Directly next to the unmistakable clock tower and lying below the more picturesque Old City, the flea market has supposedly been in operation in this spot for over 100 years. It it quite easy to believe that to be true. Selling things from every corner of the world, from carpets and textiles (of which they had wonderful ones although I forgot to photograph them) pottery, metals, paintings, old hardware and devices, ephemera, bric-a-brac, junk and all kinds of furniture, you can imagine the ancient port being a center for trade. And in that sense the market at Old Jaffa and its big sister city Tel Aviv had something in common, a real international sensibility.

The open outdoor stalls of the flea market were in many ways an example of flea markets at their worst. There was a great deal of absolute garbage, literally things that looked and sometimes smelled as if they had been pulled from trash bins. But in between lurked some treasure, from old aluminum and enamel cookware to brass ewers and pepper grinders. Some stacks of old encaustic tiles caught my eye and I heard that unusual tiles are a fairly common find here.

encaustic tiles

My favorite find was a bin of old printing rollers, perhaps for wallpaper or fabric, I wasn’t quite sure. They were short ones or I might have bought the whole shebang to turn into lamps.

rollers

Much more impressive than the open air market was the ring of surrounding shops and more permanent covered arcades. I was amazed by the quality and variety of furnishings and objects that were available as well as artisanal jewelry, clothing and home accessories. I was very busy thinking about what I wanted and less about what a post might need so I don’t have as many personal photos that give a feel for the hustle and bustle of the place. But in addition to loads of regional items, like the giant Arabic brass and copper trays my friend almost bought until she realized they were too large and heavy to fit in her duffel, there was a treasure trove of international design.

From classic mid-century modern…

mid century modern

…to trendy rough luxe (although this is clearly all new). Does anyone else think this screams Restoration Hardware?

Restoration Hardware

My favorite shop Nekudotchen was a cornucopia of styles and periods and I would have liked to do real damage in there. They had shelves loaded with antique bottles and industrial lighting.

bottles

This tiny mint green bench would be ideal in my entryway at the beach house. I am having a fetish for benches these days, although this one has about a quarter of the size of the ones I have ordered here in Qatar.

mint green bench

And speaking of soft Scandinavian painted pieces I was desperate for this long low sideboard tucked away upstairs. It needed a wee bit of TLC but would make such a lovely TV console. The reeded glass and those kinda quatrefoil-like cutouts were darling.

gray scandinavian sideboard

Chandeliers were in no short supply – and you knew I’d be getting around to mentioning them. This antique crystal one had a really unusual shape with horizontal branched arms. There were even a few other shops lined two floors to the rafters with fixtures.

crystal chandelier

The big find of the day for me was this lavender (!) Murano glass chandelier in a small mixed shop. It was one of those have to have it moments even though I have absolutely nowhere to hang it. I played pantomime with the owner, bargaining away, but honestly the price was good from the get go. We talked about breaking down the pieces and wrapping it tightly and carrying it on with us. The big problem was that I knew we had our time banging around in open jeeps in Jordan ahead of us. Caution and common sense won out and I left it behind, although I am still carrying the shop owners card around with me.

lavender murano glass chandelier

After all, he said he could ship it…

The flea market seems to be open every day but Saturday and closes earlier on Friday. We also strolled the wonderfully restored upper city which is full of art galleries and creative boutiques and dotted around the area are numerous cafes and old local food hangouts.

Don’t miss Old Jaffa and be sure to save extra space in your suitcase!

Holidays in the Holy Land…Israel and Jordan in Instagrams

Dome of the Rock Wailing Western Wall

This year we took the dream trip of a lifetime – visiting Israel and Jordan at the holidays. We gazed out at the sites sacred to three of the world’s great religions, from the golden Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third most holy site which happens to directly abut the Western Wall, all that remains of the destroyed Jewish Second Temple. On Christmas Eve we walked the Via Dolorosa to arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just as the priests began their procession to the spot upon which it is believed (by the Catholics at least) that Jesus was crucified.

Church of the holy sepulcher

The Old City of Jerusalem was truly magical, both weighted by its incredible history and bustling and real with residents at the same time. The tightly knit Armenian Quarter yielded up a few treasures, like this massive crystal chandelier spied up a hidden staircase.

Armenian chandelier

Chandeliers were a highlight of this trip – maybe they always are for me and I just hadn’t realized pre-Instagram? Spied this massive Dale Chihuly, a sister to the one I saw at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London this summer, at the Aish HaTorah Center in the Jewish Quarter. From their rooftop I took the “money shot” photo that starts the post. The view was incredible.

Dale chihuly chandelier

In the Arab Quarter we saw this amazing graffiti on the walls around a residential door. It’s a celebration and advertisement that someone in the home had done the Hajj, meaning they had made their pilgrimage to Mecca. Before moving to Doha, I would not have known was it was, but now I do, as here people put out flags and decorations for the same reason.

Hajj return grafitti

We went to Bethlehem for the graffiti as well. Our friends that we travelled with have been following the career of graffiti artist Banksy who has numerous pieces up along the walls in Bethlehem, including this one called Armored Vest Peace Dove.

Banksy armored vest peace dove

But the real reason for going to Bethlehem was obviously the Church of the Nativity, although honestly it was so crowded I found it nowhere near as interesting as the Holy Sepulchre, except of course for the chandeliers…

Church of the holy nativity

… and not to get ahead of myself, but I must mention the amazing lavender Murano glass chandelier I found in the flea markets of Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv. But more about that in my next post.

lavender murano chandelier

We caught the Herod’s Tomb exhibition at the Israel Museum along with the Dead Sea Scrolls and a few other “old” things. Personally I was obsessed with his bathroom!

Herod's bathtub

Tiles and mosaics always grab me and this trip was no different. There were Roman and Byzantine bits to be found all over, some out in the open, protected only by sand. My girls loved playing archaeologist and sweeping to make discoveries. We also worked on a real dig one day and found pottery shards, bones and other detritus of the ancient Edomites.

photo

The old crusader fortress and UNESCO World Heritage City of Akko (Acre) was fascinating. It is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the region and felt as impregnable as it looked. Napoleon lay siege to it for two unsuccessful months as did many other potential conquerors. It truly felt like we stepped back in history.

Akko

My favorite takeaway from Akko was these hexagon tiles in the old Turkish Hammam. I’d like to order some for a kitchen backsplash, wouldn’t you?

Tiles in Turkish bath hammam

We hiked up Masada on New Years Day after an extremely tame Eve.

Masada

Our outdoor activities continued into Jordan where we slept (froze!) in a bedouin camp one night in Wadi Rum. My camera wasn’t good enough to photograph the incredible stars and confetti of the Milky Way, but let me tell you I have never seen the likes of it. We awoke in the morning to a red desert and scenery that seemed as if it had been painted by Hollywood. We hiked, we climbed, our guide cooked us lunch from scratch over an open flame and basically we had the entire place to ourselves.

Wadi Rum

From Wadi Rum we went on to the pièce de résistance of the trip – Petra! We had lowered our expectations, thinking to find it crowded and full of hawkers and simply unable to live up to the spectacular emptiness of the previous day. Instead, it was full of surprises and majesty.

Treasury peek at Petra

Coming out from the narrow canyons to the sight of the Treasury was every bit as exciting as we had hoped.

Treasury at Petra

Even more amazing was the huge Monastery, reached after a long hike. The scale and the location left us speechless – be sure to notice how tiny the two people are in comparison to the structure. These two buildings are the highlights of Petra but everywhere you turned there was something to see.

The Monastery at Petra

We had passed all opportunities to take donkeys or horse carriages preferring to walk the whole way. But the youngest amongst us was determined to at least get a camel ride in. It was a pleasure to grant that wish.

Miss P on a camel

Of course the most pressing thing on my mind was where to buy one of those gorgeous camel blankets, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get that answer. Oh well, an excuse to go back!

For more photos from our trip and to keep up with my day to day finds, check out my Instagram feed. And from my family to yours, we wish you all health and happiness in 2014!

Curtains and a Canopy for a Double Digits Girl

birthday cake

There is nothing like a big birthday and a move to spark a bedroom re-do. Both of my girls were due for a change, moving from their tiny closet sized bedrooms in Tokyo to their much more expansive bedrooms in Doha. The elder had a plan and a Pinterest board from the beginning. But the younger wasn’t sure of what she wanted when we first moved in. Personally I had a plan in my mind for a full size bed using this wedding noren as part of the bed hangings. Once settled, she had other ideas, mainly a desire to keep as much floor space as possible for play area, so a single bed against the wall made more sense. She quickly commandeered the French iron campaign bed and the painted French armoire from her sister’s room. She wanted to keep her Claire Murray Alphabet Garden hooked rugs (which have since become collectors items I am given to understand) because they are soft and provide interesting backdrops for imaginary play – and even nixed the idea of a Madeline Weinrib dhurrie. Can’t argue with the recycling or the continuing interest in play!

The bare room had a lot of promise, including this very sunny east facing window. All varieties of small birds come and perch along the windowsill to my daughter’s great joy. The campaign bed fit perfectly underneath it, leaving lots of play space as requested. But my daughter felt something special was needed, some pretty girly centerpiece to make the room special. I suggested bed hangings and some kind of fitted valance/canopy as the solution and she was hooked.

IMG_0046

We went straight to images of Katie Ridder‘s whimsical bed hanging designs (and frankly, you know you are in trouble when your nine, soon to be ten-year old tells you she has a favorite designer). Here in Katie’s own daughter’s room she has installed the basic combination I am planning on – valance type canopy, roman shade for light control and ornamental bed curtains.  It looks like there may be real curtains as well in the pink fabric although I am not planning to make those.

0109_ed_katieridder_waldron_daughter's room

We knew for sure we wanted to pair two different fabrics, a solid and a pattern, just like all these examples.

canopy bedroom ridder from rooms

This bedroom designed by Katie has to be one of the most pinned girls rooms ever and continues to be a favorite of mine. It demonstrates how successful this kind of arrangement can be with a daybed. I also love the idea of a small light fixture tucked into the canopy and you can just see the pierced brass lamp peeking out here. Many of these brass globes with scrolling arabesque pattern or karakusa were made in Japan and I am lucky enough to have a few.

Katie Ridder pink girls room Muriel Brandolini

I can’t resist showing how pretty this one looks in the stair hall. And I have another one if I wanted to use it over the bed.

pierced karakusa light chandelier brass

Back to the topic at hand, Barrie Benson has a similar set of bed hangings made from an Indian block print in this lovely bedroom. I really like a soft fabric valance for my project, rather than a stiff pelmet.

barrie benson canopy bed indian block print

All of the above designs have the canopies mounted to the ceiling. With the crown molding in the room, ours would need to be placed below it and I was a bit worried about whether or not that would look good. Inspiration examples were not hard to find, including Rebecca de Ravenel’s lovely blue and white New York apartment recently featured in Vogue. The dreamy soft canopy in her bedroom has just the feel I am going for.

apt-with-lsd-rebecca-de-ravenel-bedroom canopy

Palmer Weiss used the same wallpaper as Rebecca in this oft blogged about show house bedroom which is another example with a daybed against the wall. Note that the box is also below the ceiling…

palmer weiss girls room 2

…as are these in another showhouse room by Elizabeth Dinkel.

Elizabeth Dinkel canopy beds veranda-show-house-bedroom

Since I have arrived here in Doha I have been farming out projects to different upholsterers and fabricators to find the ones that I like and I think I have found the right person for these. Ironically Qataris love incredibly ornate over the top window treatments which means the skill set here is high. It’s just a matter of simplifying the fabrics and details. After a bit of searching through all the velvets and brocades I found a very nice cotton just the color of the walls (Benjamin Moore Silver Crest 1583). And as the client requested girly, I went into my stash (yes I even have a stash with me abroad) and pulled out a huge amount of yardage of an old and discontinued Rachel Ashwell Bemberg silk fabric called Trellis Rose or something like that. One of the main things we are planning on doing differently from all the examples above is reversing the fabrics – in other words, having the solid on the outside and the pattern as the lining. To jazz up the plainer exterior curtain and valance, I have found an elaborate and detailed trim.

pips room fabrics

For those of you who have been following me on Instagram, you’ve seen the incredible trims I have been finding here. Both vintage and new, made anywhere from Oman to India, designed for trimming abayas and saris, they are extraordinary and I have been incorporating them into decorating projects wherever I can.

trims

Screenshot 2013-11-18 03.31.44

Nathalies living room curtain trim

I have one sweet ten year old who is very excited about hers!

Related Posts
Bower Power…A Failsafe Formula for Girls Room Decorating
Reader’s Query…More on Flat Fabric Canopy Beds
Chiné à la Branche…French Floral Ikats

Is Blanc de Chine Chinoiserie?

I’ve been meaning to write a post on blanc de Chine porcelain, literally French for white from China, for ages, probably from as far back as the Great Japan Earthquake of 2011. Many of you may remember this photo of the small pieces of my collection tossed around our house after the original quake and my tongue in cheek relief that none had broken. Blanc de Chine was my porcelain collectible of choice when we lived in Hong Kong in 1997-98.

Blanc de chine on the floor

Blanc de Chine wares have been produced for centuries in Dehua, a town in the coastal Chinese province of Fujian, since the Song dynasty (960-1279), reaching their peak production between the 16th and 19th centuries. Exported in great numbers throughout Asia, in particular to Japan before its trade restrictions in the 17th century, and later in mass quantity to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, the pottery is best known for its depictions of Buddhist deities, which were used for home worship on family altars. The traditional Guanyin figurines – the Goddess of Mercy – so associated with blanc de Chine, are the same as the Japanese Kannon goddess, and often written in a variety of other ways such as Quan Yin, Kwan Yun, etc., in other cultures.

blanc de chine guanyin figure 18thc

The look is so associated with Dehua kilns although porcelain of this variety was copied elsewhere, mainly in the nearby Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi province. The Dehua kilns were unusual in that there was a real division of labor as the items were made by mold, not on a potter’s wheel. Incised and applied decorations were added by the skilled artisans and the wares are fired at the highest possible temperatures. The clay itself is quite unusual, having very little iron oxide in it, which allows for the unusual pure color. But I think it is the shiny, almost wet looking glaze melded to the porcelain that makes it so appealing.

As I am always careful to warn people, there are serious problems with dating and attribution when it comes to Chinese porcelain – blanc de Chine is no exception – and even the experts can be fooled. Without a long history or provenance it is quite difficult to estimate when a piece was made, particularly as the same forms were produced for centuries. Also, much of the later white porcelain is not actually from Dehua and instead from Jingdezhen. Scholars argue all the time about color and translucence with the general feeling being that the older Dehua pieces have a more bone or ivory color and the Jingdezhen pieces are a true dead white. Yet I have seen pure white pieces at auction at reputable dealers labeled as Dehua blanc de Chine. Modern pieces are most distinctly that very pure white. Curieuse Chine keeps an incredible Pinterest page replete with many museum quality examples if you’d like to see more.

The modern design world has certainly taken note of blanc de Chine and designers such as Charlotte Moss, Mary McDonald,

marymcdonald blanc de chine figurines via style carrot

Ruthie Sommers and others have used it to great decorative effect. Blogs such as Chinoiserie Chic and others feature it on a regular basis.

Ruthie Sommers via Chinoiserie Chic

Often seen is this classic and formal way to display the white figurines on brackets or corbels.

Godwin Blanc de Chine

It’s also quite common to turn the large statuettes into lamps which are extremely popular. I have a funny little caveat about these lamps found at the bottom of the post.

Blanc de Chine lamps via 1st dibs Winston

Blanc de Chine jumped back onto my radar when we visited Blenheim Palace, the home of the Dukes of Marlborough in England last month. There were fantastic Chinese porcelain collections – blue and white, famille rose – but I had never seen so much blanc de Chine and of such a variety and provenance in one place. The collection at Blenheim demonstrates the variety of objects made, which if you rule out all the different positions and details in the figurines, is actually not that great. The Dehua clay was not suited to making plates and large vases so smaller ornaments and the dense statues became their speciality. At Blenheim I saw foo dogs and other animals, libation cups in the shape of rhinoceros horn and a teapot with applied branches and flowers, small pierced cups and vessels and porcelain stands. This collection of about 40 pieces was supposedly given to the fourth Duke of Marlborough by a Mr. Spalding at the end of the eighteenth century at the height of the craze for all things Chinese. The impoverished eighth Duke (Winston Churchill’s uncle) auctioned most of the china from Blenheim at Christie’s in London in 1886 although the ninth Duke made the savvy choice of marrying heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt and later recovered and repurchased them and returned them to their rightful place.

Bleinheim blanc de chine

Note the central teapot with its plum blossom motif which is actually very similar to the pieces in my own collection. I’m particularly enamoured of the items with the applied motifs and if you think about it, the plum blossoms have been rendered in a very Japanese style. Looking back, I wonder if that was what appealed to me about them even as I was living in China.

blanc de chine teapot Blenheim

I wish I had better photos of my blanc de Chine to show you, but that will have to wait until I unpack the container next month. Most of my items are more workaday pieces, not the popular Buddhist figurines, much like this lidded jar.

blanc-de-chine barrel-shaped jar and cover. 18th century

So Blenheim put blanc de Chine back in my mind and then last weekend I had a fun yard sale find – a vintage blanc de chine lamp, ornately covered in flowers – for all of $5. (And I got the little plant stand for $2!) It’s not my usual taste and not very valuable, but I have a vision of it with a brightly colored lamp shade on a modern side table. Are you feeling it too?

yard sale goodies blanc de chine lamp plant stand

I had this pair of antique blanc de Chine floral vases turned lamps that Courtney had featured in a post long ago in my inspiration files. They are long sold and out of budget anyway…

blanc de chine lamps via style court 2007

…but this one is currently available on 1stdibs from Prime Gallery for $1500. I’m feeling quite happy with my $5, although its going to cost more than that for sure to get it where I’m going. Hmm, I wonder if it can fit in my carry-on?

blanc de chine lamp via 1st dibs Prime Gallery $1500

If you go out and google blanc de chine or read posts elsewhere, you’ll see one lamp style example over and over again that you have not seen here, with a pierced white body and stylized plum blossom motif.

pierced Japanese lamps

They come in all shapes and sizes and some even light from the inside in addition to the bulb at the top.

pierced blanc de chine Japanese lamps etsypierced hangingpierced lampspierced lamp lit

Constantly referred to as blanc de Chine, these reticulated porcelain lamps are Japanese – not Chinese! Now that’s not to say that currently, China (and other places) aren’t turning out new ones, but originally these lamps were made in Japan, by companies like Seyei China.  To be fair, they were modeled on some of the earlier imported Chinese wares. But the piercing approximates the “cracked ice” motif I often refer to, which is commonly paired with plum blossoms to signal the ending of winter. The early versions of the lamps stem from pre-WW II days, and by the post-war period they were being bought and brought home as souvenirs by soldiers and others stationed and/or visiting Japan by the thousands. In addition, there was a thriving manufacture and trade in the Guanyin figurine style lamps, so again, many of the lamps being sold as blanc de chine are in fact blanc de japon. To see more of this original Seyei sales brochure, click here.

Seyei China old brochure blanc de chine

This brings me to a pet peeve with the vocabulary of the design blog world. Its been bothering me for ages, so I might as well get my gripe out. The term “Chinoiserie” is so constantly misused for anything even vaguely Asian and it drives me a little batty. It’s not a catch-all phrase – it has a distinct meaning. For good measure, here is the Wikipedia definition:

Chinoiserie, a French term, signifying “Chinese-esque”, refers to a recurring theme in European artistic styles since the seventeenth century, which reflect Chinese artistic influences. It is characterized by the use of fanciful imagery of an imaginary China, by asymmetry in format and whimsical contrasts of scale, and by the attempts to imitate Chinese porcelain and the use of lacquerlike materials and decoration.

I don’t even love that definition, but it will do, the key phrase being “a recurring theme in European artistic styles.” Chinese antiques are not Chinoiserie! Yet everywhere I look actual Chinese antiques get called Chinoiserie, Japanese and Japonesque stuff (which are different from each other) is mislabeled as Chinoiserie,  Japanned English furniture gets referred to as Chinoiserie – which is actually the right idea. A perfect example of modern Chinoiserie is this Elle Decor top 10 list, which is a grouping of contemporary furnishings inspired by Chinese design.

Elle Decor Top 10 chinoiserie

I think its important that as bloggers we use terms correctly, otherwise they lose their meaning as things are repeated, referenced and reposted. So arguably, real blanc de Chine is not Chinoiserie!

So now I’ve had my little rant on Chinoiserie, and I’ve written about Japonisme quite often, so it seems to me that come Doha, I’ll need to delve into Orientalism, another 19th century favorite of mine. We are at one week and counting down, on to our next adventure!

« Older Entries

Tokyo Jinja

Back to top