Porcelain and Pottery

Friday Flowers

As simple as it sounds, the act of buying flowers for your apartment holds great significance and will heal your home on many levels.
-Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan

Friday Flowers Valentines Day

Apartment Therapy ran a January Cure this year to help readers get their home spaces under control, fresh, clean and organized. Since we had just recently moved in, I was in good shape (except for a few still lingering boxes) but I loved the idea. The biggest takeaway for me was the weekly purchase of flowers, ideally on Friday for full weekend enjoyment. I’ve always bought flowers intermittently, but I love my new weekly ritual and the simple pleasure they bring me.

A new friend gifted me with this small glass pitcher (and this first set of bright anemones) which has been living ever since on the dining room table. It’s the perfect size to put almost any kind of flower, being a bit tall and thin, and therefore budget friendly by not requiring too many stems. It also sits perfectly on my new Nada Debs tray, a Valentine gift from my sweet husband. I’ve been keeping something in rotation ever since.

Friday flowers anemone

Other times, all my blue and white porcelain cries out for a little company, so larger stems usually go there on the altar table in the entry. It’s lovely to open the front door and be greeted immediately.

Friday flowers hydrangea and ranunculus blue white porcelain

Jenny ran a great post on making the most from inexpensive grocery store flowers the other day, although in the desert there are no inexpensive flowers to be had. But I just adored the way she repurposed this sake set in her Instagram feed using them. Sake sets are something I see at shrine sales all the time but never really have a purpose for. Not so anymore!

Jenny Komenda instagram sake set flowers

Speaking of shrine sales, that small hibachi with the asa-no-ha pattern that I showed in my last post turns out to be the perfect size for an orchid. And to think I almost decided it was too heavy to bother carrying back! Whew!

blue and white hibachi orchid

Today’s hyacinths are blush pink and not yet fully opened, a sure sign of spring. Imported from somewhere of course – I think the temperature might have started to push 90 in the sun today so I am not sure it qualifies as spring here anymore.

Friday Flowers hyacinths

I wish there was a smell function on the blog so their heady fragrance could waft right out of your computer.

Do you buy flowers regularly? Are there other small home rituals you love? I’d love to hear about them. While I’m not really on the mindfulness bandwagon, I do find my life here smaller and more tied to home, so the little things matter. Follow my Friday flowers on Instagram #godisinthedetails.

Shrine Sale Stories…Treasures From My Trip To Tokyo

My long weekend in Tokyo was simply sublime. Days of friends and food and lots of shopping were just the restorative I needed. The weather didn’t cooperate, but it didn’t really matter. Kawagoe was a bit thin on the ground because of the threat of rain and unfortunately the next two days delivered the promised precipitation, although it didn’t keep us from the markets. It did however keep me from taking lots of photos, so most of the finds recorded are from the first day out. I also broke my own rule of “buy it when you see it” a few times, mulling over the weight and difficulty of transport, which meant I lost out on a few things, although as usual, there is a funny story attached to one of them.


There were some things that didn’t get away – like these swirling blue and white dishes – and others that did – like these kutani lidded teacups – so beautifully painted they looked like brocade.

kutani lidded teacups

This very fine takamakura, complete with original buckwheat filled pillow went home with a friend.


A search for a tansu was successful, yielding this lacquer beauty for a fraction of its retail price. Tansu at shrine sales are often in poor condition which is why they are a bargain, but this dealer had lovingly restored this piece.


Brought home and placed in the entry it will be a workhorse, holding gloves and scarves and general entry clutter.

lacquer tansu

Speaking of tansu in poor condition, I also popped in to the The National Art Center to view the Joint Graduation Exhibition of Art Universities. Not sure what the meaning of this installation of destroyed tansu by Shunsuke Nouchi is meant to represent, but I couldn’t resist including it. Student exhibits in Japan, as elsewhere, can be really fun, ranging from discoveries of major talent to down right awful. I can’t help but feel bad for these chests!


Another friend and client scored really big, bringing home all kinds of treasures. The giant wooden gears – very Vincente Wolf – will be hung as a focal point on a bare wall. We got very lucky, finding three with just the right amount of variety in size, shape, color and detail. A vintage onbuhimo, better known as a baby carrier, has lovely indigo cloth woven into its straps. And a large lacquer carrying chest, billed as Edo period by its dealer, but not, is extremely decorative with its etched brass hardware.


As for my haul, I had to keep reminding myself that I had to carry anything and everything I bought home. So I left behind an entire basket of small fishing floats and even some charming porcelain. I had to have the gray and white bowls – which were likely the more expected blue originally but now faded – because I knew they would look great with the dining table and they are that perfect not too big, not too small size. I picked up a few wooden pieces, a tray and some itomaki, including this unusual long one. A small hibachi with the great geometric asa-no-ha or hemp pattern was also a keeper. But as always, my eye and my wallet are equally lured by non-Japanese discoveries and I fell in love with these bright Turkish glasses and a cut glass jam pot. I’ve been having a bit of a glass fetish lately – wait, aren’t I always having some kind of glass fetish?


The promised funny story is about the glasses, made for serving arabic tea, but I can imagine them holding dessert or even wine. I saw five of them, 3 pink and 2 purple, on a table at one of my favorite dealers at Kawagoe and passed them only because I decided there weren’t really enough to be useful and their fragility made them hard to transport. My mind kept returning to them over and over (those silver mounts!) as I wandered so I went back only to discover they were gone – massive bummer!

arabic turkish tea glasses

Imagine my surprise when later that evening I walked into the kitchen of the dear friend I was staying with for the week. Long my partner in crime and shrine sales, SHE had bought the glasses and they were now sitting on her kitchen counter. It was one of those moments of fierce purchase jealousy, but the truth was if I couldn’t have them, better she did than some stranger. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself while contemplating going to the mat for them.

Turkish glasses

The surprise continued when we saw the same dealer the next day and once again he had 5 of the glasses out on his table. It was a confusing moment of déjà vu, but we at least had the good sense to ask if he had more and it ended up he had an entire box! So all’s well that ends well and one day we have to have a massive party together and use them all!

Related Posts:
Shrine Sale Stories…Recent Treasures
Shrine Sale Scorcher…Vintage Mirrors on an Extremely Hot Day
Shrine Sale Stories…Vintage Matchboxes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and The 1948 London Olympics
Shrine Sale Stories…Yamamoto’s Steamer Trunk
Shrine Sale Stories…My French Moderne Bar Cart

Carnation Fixation…Iznik Pottery

Iznik carnations from MIA

Carnation: I have long lov’d you and you have not known it.
-Mary Wortley Montagu, on Turkish language of flower customs, 1718

For the Victorians, carnations symbolized fascination and romantic love, although certain colors could connote rejection. What you may not know is that the roots of Western language of flowers stems from the writings of an English woman, Mary Wortley Montagu, who accompanied her husband on his ambassadorship to Istanbul in the early 18th century. Through her access to the women in the harems she discovered that “there is no colour, no flower, no weed, no fruit, herb, pebble or feather that has not a verse belonging to it; and you may quarrel, reproach or send letters of passion, friendship or civility, or even of news, without ever inking your fingers.” In addition, during the Ottoman Empire flowers also had strong religious and political meanings for the Turks. Certain flowers, such as the rose, the tulip and the carnation were particularly powerful and it is not uncommon to find portraits of sultans and military leaders in which they are smelling a bloom. Carnations could signify everything from the political to the divine, which were of course intertwined. Evoking spiritual contemplation, they symbolized the power of the renewal of life and its intermingling with the heavenly gardens of paradise.

Haydar Reis (Nigari), Admiral of the Fleet Hizir Hayrettin Pasa (Barbarossa)  (Topkapi Palace Museum)

The town of Iznik in Turkey rose to prominence in the middle of the 16th century as advances in pottery making materials were coupled with the patronage of the Ottoman court and an emphasis on artistry under Suleiman the Magnificent. The newly developed floral artistic style of Kara Memi showed to advantage in the painted surfaces of the pottery. The fan-shaped carnations and three petalled tulips are my favorites among the spring flowers traditionally featured.

iknik pottery dish via bonhams

A great write-up on the chronology of the evolution of Iznik ceramics, as well as a peak into an extraordinary collection can be found on the Louvre’s Three Empires of Islam mini site. Like I mentioned in the textiles post, the “flowering” of this style happened post 1540, when the naturalistic floral designs rose to prominence via the influence of the imperial painting studio. At some point soon I’ll delve into the earlier pottery which was mainly blue and white and highly influenced by Chinese imports, but right now I’m loving the colored slips that characterize pieces from the 1550s…

bowl with carnations Louvre

..as well as those that show the emergence of a true polychrome palette with the clear red, green and turquoise we most often associate with this pottery in the 3rd quarter of the century. I got the full color and floral palette from these pieces at the V & A this summer.

Iznik pottery at the V&A

I’ve got lots to learn on the subject but resources are forthcoming. The Museum of Islamic Art here yielded this treasure, Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics by Walter B. Denny, which I am slowly absorbing. The illustrations are outstanding! Denny was also the co-curator with Sumru Belger Krody of The Sultan’s Garden exhibition I mentioned previously.


There is quite a bit of Iznik buzz out and about in the blogosphere, much of it due to the Iksel‘s incredible printed wall panels which come to think of it, show up prominently in Tory Burch’s Southampton home – so she has definitely caught the bug. In Rebecca de Ravenel’s New York apartment – I told you I’d be mining her space for many posts too – you can spy an Iznik style bowl on the coffee table.


The Turkish pottery industry is alive and well, turning out wares of varying types and quality. Istanbul is high on my list of places to get to soon, but in the meantime, an easy fix can be had by ordering through online sites like Yurdan.


We saw quite a bit of modern Iznik-style wares being produced in the Old City in Jerusalem during our trip this winter. Armenian potters were brought over from Turkey in 1919 to repair the tiles covering the outside walls of the Dome of the Rock and they and their families never left. Over time they have created their own style of Jerusalem pottery, based on Turkish artistry.

Sandrouni green carnation

I didn’t buy any because typically I am obsessed with age and patina. Antique Iznik pottery is not something you see frequently available for sale as it is both rare and quite expensive, but there is an unusual and fantastic (in multiple meanings of the word) new antique shop here in Doha that I will be profiling in the coming month. I saw this piece earlier this fall and while it doesn’t have carnations, I think I could make do with its lovely tulip and hyacinth pattern. I’m in love with its luminescent greens and blues and I have been stalking it for some time now.

Iznik plate from new Doha antique store

If you remember this photo from this post, you’ll know I am game to add some regional pottery to my Japanese pieces – I think the mix would be fascinating.

moroccan lavender Domino

And as little follow up to my last post, I have two photos that I forgot to include in a small case of blogger brain freeze (Does this happen to any of you? Things you planned to put in that you just simply forgot?) But the lavender in the early Carolina Irving room below certainly links nicely to the room above, so I’ll try not to feel bad about it. This photo is from about 1995, so it gives a good sense of how she was finding her style even then. Note the carnation pillow and the tiles on the wall.

Carolina Irving 1995 ED Ottoman Carnation

And I absolutely meant to include this Tory Burch showroom photo with its giant carnation throw pillows, which look to be Robert Kime’s Palmette. Be sure to notice the other Turkish motifs in the wallpaper, including the three-pronged tulip and the great mix with the Asian blue and white porcelain.

Tory Burch beverley hills store via domaine carnation

So maybe it was actually a bit of luck that I forgot these photos the other day and could include them here. Because in addition to everything else in the room, the coffee table is basically the dream piece I have been searching for for the last five months to finish the living room here. It makes a perfect segway to next week’s post on brass, glass and lucite coffee tables.

Related Posts:
Carnation Fixation…Ottoman Inspired Textiles
Colors of the Rainbow…Blue and White Porcelain is Neutral
Preferring Patina Over Perfection…Chipped Porcelain, Threadbare Rugs and Old World Glamour at Tissus Tartares

Image Credits: 1, 5 & 10 my Instagram, 2. Haydar Reis (Nigari), Admiral of the Fleet Hizir Hayrettin Pasa (Barbarossa) (Topkapi Palace Museum) via Sedef’s Corner, 3. via Bonhams, 4. via The Louvre, 6. Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics by Walter B. Denny, 7. APT with LSD: Rebecca de Ravenel’s New York City Apartment in Vogue, photo credit: Jeremy Allen, 8. via Yurdan, 9.via Sandrouni, 10. Domino, date unknown, 11. Elle Decor 1995 via Riviera View, 12. via Domaine Home.

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!

Moving Day…Precious Cargo

So the movers showed up promptly this morning and it was a whirlwind. I have so many fragile and precious items that we planned for a special internal tri-wall container in our container for breakables. So last week I had moved things from the staid and orderly…

antique Chinese bamboo altar table byobu blue and white procelain

…to over the top exuberant, by grouping like items with like. I hadn’t quite realized the sum total of blue and white porcelain I had collected over the years – and this still doesn’t represent all of it!

blue and white porcelain round up

In under an hour, the movers had reduced it (or built it, depending on your point of view) to this. Someone commented on how neatly it was all stacked – c’mon, this is Japan after all.

moving boxes altar table

I haven’t had a moment to blog, but at my final Kawagoe shrine sale a friend asked if there was anything I regretted not buying. Out of the blue I replied that I wished I had bought a blue and white benki – a vintage toilet. Lo and behold, the last dealer I went to had one for a bargain price. Stay tuned to see what I am planning on doing with it in Doha. You can see it tucked in there among the hibachi.

blue and white porcelain round up

Details of some favorite Seto porcelain…

seto porcelain details

…including another last-minute purchase from Tomioka Hachiman, a Seto jubako, as if I needed another.

Seto porcelain jubako round up

How long have I been promising a post on Kutani porcelain? At least two years! I promise to get to it one of these days. A little Imari snuck into this photo too.

Kutani round up

Candlesticks galore…

candlestick round up

…and the cream of a glass fishing float and bottle collection.

glass and fishing float round up

Not everything that needs to be packed originated here. I came with quite a few collections!

lavender transferware  round up

Lavender Staffordshire, better known as transferware, has been a lifelong passion. A rare color and quite difficult to find, I have been buying floral and neoclassical patterns since I was a teen. Mine was made in England (and in a few cases France) in the late 19th century as a shortcut to hand painting china. It actually has a reciprocal relationship with Asian porcelain if you think about it this way – Japanese inban is also transfer printed (they got the idea from the West) but many of the European transfer patterns (think Blue Willow for example) are based on Asian hand painted pieces. More about this here, here and here.

lavender transferware details

When we moved to Tokyo I knew it might be for 3-5 years – didn’t expect 9 – and we planned to rent out our apartment so we moved everything we owned including a few major antiques like this painted 19th century armoire. It has gorgeous flowers and birds on a background of that perfect French green-grey and its original bevelled mirror. You can see the campaign bed I wrote about the other day reflected and it has been in my daughter’s room since she was a baby. Typically, her bedroom in NY didn’t have a closet!

19th c painted french armoire

Our bedroom had another beautiful French piece, an antique Louis Philippe rosewood armoire – with its original mirror, sparkly with age. Luckily our wonky shaped Japan bedroom had an area with a raised ceiling or it would not even have fit.

Louis Philippe Rosewood armoire

When we moved to Tokyo originally, our container went at the beginning of summer although I didn’t travel there with the kids until late August. My husband took care of arranging the move in and we slept in our own beds the very first night we got there, which is actually quite unusual. What he didn’t tell me for months afterwards was that in order to get my beloved armoire into the bedroom, it had to be hoisted up through the window. I have to say I was happy to have missed it and just found it safely where it belonged when I arrived. So I went into today knowing that the only way out was the same as the way in and I was dreading it.  Truth be told – and you can watch it on the video yourself – it was a non-event as the movers here are so great.  Although, there are a few moments of drama around minute one.

A much more important truth to tell is that at the end of the day, the only truly precious cargo is the one reflected in the mirror, not the mirror itself.


But cross your fingers and wish my stuff luck anyway!

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