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.

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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.

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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?

 

Brooklyn Brownstone Project Updates

 

brooklyn door before and after

From this…to this!

You may recall some posts from last year about numerous projects I was working on in a Brooklyn brownstone, including this door restoration. While the house will be professionally photographed soon, I got to stop by this weekend so I can’t resist showing you some quick updates. The front door has been returned to its 19th century glory but as beautiful as the outside now is, the interior of the entryway may very well have become the favorite room in the house. The new front doors added significant space but it is the Farrow & Ball Ringwold wallpaper in green and the black and white marble floor that have dressed it up to scream elegant welcome.

brooklyn entry farrow ball ringwold

The two are such divinely perfect partners that the young daughters of the house have taken to having tea parties in here – wouldn’t you? There is still an antique art deco iron coat rack to go in and while the marble is eminently durable and we don’t want to hide any of it, we need a simple entry mat for bad weather.

brooklyn entry farrow ball ringwold

Some of you may be scratching your head recalling we had originally planned for encaustic tiles on the floor. In the end, the marble was more sensitive to the period and design of the house. I found a better use for the encaustic tiles anyway, as you can see below!

brooklyn kitchen encaustic tile

The kitchen renovation at the brownstone is almost finished and looking stunning. If you recall the Sheila Bridges kitchen, shown below, that served as the original inspiration, we are very close, but the dark woods and rich colors elsewhere in the house demanded some pattern and color complexity be added to all the white. Enter encaustic tile backsplash!

Final painting and window treatments still to come, but the counter-depth refrigerator, farmhouse sink and paneled dishwasher make all the difference. Peek back here to compare. Other final choices included white macoubas quartzite for the counters (which is reading gray in these photos although it is white in person), the single lever Perrin & Rowe faucet, with sprayer and water filter, which really is easy to use and a budget choice with the Barclays fireclay sink. Links to the original posts on these decisions can be found at the bottom of the post.

brooklyn kitchen encaustic tiles

Speaking of Sheila Bridges, be sure to check out another luminescent brownstone she has designed in Harlem in the new June issue of Elle Decor.

Sheila Bridges ED June 2014 brownstone

Sheila Bridges dining room harlem brownstone ED June 2014

And on the wallpaper front, my client has generously offered to give me the leftover F & B Ringwold to line the back of my china cabinet at the beach. It would look great, or I might use this roll of Osborne & Little wallpaper, recently discovered in my stash from a project from almost 20 years ago. Trellis and quatrefoils – two of my favorite things still – on a soft blue-green background.

Osborne & Little wallpaper trellis quatrefoil

Sorry for the general quietness these last weeks. Between the launch of the new blog format, the Great.ly launch – don’t forget to check over there regularly as I am adding to my boutique all the time – and this whirlwind trip to the USA, I have been utterly exhausted. Next week I’ll be giving you an update on my settling in here in Doha, including some of the decorating challenges we expats face. But I am super pumped to be headed to the beach in just 10 days!

Related Posts:
A New Entryway in Brooklyn…Door Change and Encaustic Tile
Late Night Design Epiphanies
Form Versus Function…White Marble Countertops? Really?
Form Versus Function…Inset or Overlay Cabinet Doors?
Form Versus Function…A Farmhouse Sink and That Perrin & Rowe Bridge Mixer Faucet
Brownstone Kitchen Inspiration From Sheila Bridges

Great.ly…Connecting the Dots for Makers & Tastemakers

great.ly front page

So in addition to a brand new blog design, this week holds some other big news about an exciting new project I am involved in. Today is launch day for Great.ly, a brand new e-commerce site designed to put tastemakers together with makers and create a platform for them to market and sell work. As my long time readers know, one of my missions has always been to showcase and support artists and artisans and their creations so I am so excited to be one of the initial 50 tastemakers on the new Great.ly site. I have been busy curating my online boutiques which you can get to by clicking this link or using the Great.ly button on the side bar. You’ll find work from familiar faces as well as new ones.

No surprise at all to see George of papergluebamboo there. As I hinted in my last post, she has been busy creating new colorways and patterns for her modern ikkanbari and Japanese shopping baskets to sell on Great.ly. From bright yellow lucky gourds…

ikkanbari papergluebamboo yellow gourd tray

…to absolutely on trend African motifs

African pods papergluebamboo ikkanbari

…to ume (plum blossom) and ichimatsu (checks) in bright new colors on Tsukiji market shopping baskets, her unique line of homewares and carryalls is spectacular. To read more about her modern take on this ancient craft, take a look here and here. Remember, every piece is one of a kind, so shop the boutique here early!

papergluebamboo ume shopping baskets

Another long time Tokyo Jinja favorite is the gorgeous handmade textiles of LuRu Home based out of Shanghai, China. Liza and Claire are working with modern versions of nankeen, a dense hand-woven cotton fabric which has been stencilled and dyed in an indigo bath. With their beautiful products, all made from the custom hand dyed fabric in updated versions of traditional Chinese patterns, they are taking up the banner of preservation of this ancient form of craft, while innovating at the same time.

LuRU Home indigo pillows
luru slideshow_8

Their blue and white textiles bring a sense of cool to my very hot – both literally and colorfully – backyard here in Doha. They also play very well with pillows in other colors and textures. Be sure to click here to read their full story and see the pillows in action and here to shop the boutique.

Luru Home pillows

One of the most exciting aspects of Great.ly for me is getting to know new makers with interests and aesthetics that align with my own. Link Collective produces contemporary furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloths) through a network of artists and designers from around the world. They “aim to cross cultures and generations by creating beautiful and functional products, merging international design with traditional Japanese production methods.” Their modern furoshiki with whimsical names such as Mountain Blossom or The Hida Express can be used for their traditional wrapping purpose, be worn as a scarf…

FUROSHIKI

…or be converted to a cross body bag with their ingenious strap. Seems like a ‘must have’ item for a good textile junkie, creating the possibility of a purse from any piece of cloth.

DOTS FUROSHIKI BAG (BLACK) & BLACK LEATHER CARRY STRAP SET link

Their furoshiki are all made in Fujisawa, Japan, hand-printed and sewn by a family owned business with over 50 years experience in furoshiki production. Although Japan’s craftsmen often spend a lifetime perfecting their artistry, much of that skill and knowledge is being lost as today’s mass production, cost cutting and on-demand culture drives ever more business decisions. Invaluable knowhow is disappearing as tools are put down, and the last small factories and workshops die out. Like LuRu Home in China, they are playing a part in keeping these crafts alive by showing what can be achieved when creativity and craftsmanship come together.

story_printing

For toting your heavier items, I am loving the work of the Tacoma, Washington-based duo Jacqui and Scott of Year Round Co. They hand make every bag themselves, from cutting each piece of fabric, to designing and screen printing it, then sewing and applying all the leather and hardware in their home studio. For a glimpse into their workshop this great video really demonstrates the artisanal quality of their products. Their collection is inspired by stormy seas, mossy rocks, and earthy travels.

Year Round Co

And as you all know from my past ten years of deep involvement with hanga, modern Japanese prints, I have long been a champion of works on paperWorks on paper, about paper, using paper, are some of the most affordable and charming artwork to be had. I am just beginning to explore some of the talent on Great.ly, so be sure to keep watch on this boutique as I add items in the coming weeks.

art collage

In clockwise order: Gretchen Kelly Rosy Mist on the Hudson, watercolor, Shelley Kommers Blue Diamonds, Print, Candy Le Sueur Silver Flower, monotype, Shelly Kommers Sparrow, mixed media collage

To quote one of the new artists I am just getting to know, Shelley Kommers, “I am always on the lookout for beauty, and I find it everywhere: in the decayed, the imperfect, and the ironic; in the small, tucked away places no one else looks.” I’d like to adopt that as my personal mantra.

So come on over and check it out. Just click here and start exploring. There are many other makers and categories I don’t have room to mention here. I think you’ll like what you find. To be honest, there are still quite a few kinks to work out, so please be patient and let me know if you are having any trouble making a purchase. Be sure to keep coming back as I will be adding to my boutiques regularly.
And if you are a maker or know someone else who is, looking for an outlet to sell and show your work, please contact me, either by leaving a comment on the post or via email at jacquelinewein[at]yahoo.com. Maybe Great.ly and I are just what you are looking for!

 

A New Look for Tokyo Jinja

My dear readers, I’ll assume you already know what this post is all about, as you are looking right at it. If you are an email subscriber, please be sure to click into the post and view it on your browser. Welcome to the new Tokyo Jinja, which is the same as it ever was, but all wrapped in a brand new package. It’s been a very long time coming and I know I have talked about it before, but the redesign turned into a slow journey I couldn’t have made on my own. I could not be more excited to be shedding the skin of my old dated blog format!

Setting out to convey a bit of where I have been, coupled with where I am now, I am so lucky to have two wonderful artist friends, one steeped in the motifs and designs in Japan, the other new to the desert here in Doha and willing to embrace it. George of papergluebamboo can paint karakusa, the scrolling arabesque vine pattern found on Japanese decorative arts and dear to both our hearts, like no one else. How proper and perfect then that she painted the blue and white karakusa pattern for my new banner.

George Fukuda papergluebamboo

George has been hard at work for an exciting new project we are both involved in – you’ll be hearing about that in my very next post – on some fresh new colorways for her ikkanbari and Japanese shopping baskets.

papergluebamboo shopping basket lime ume

Isabelle Caraës, a French artist and illustrator, is a new friend here in Doha. She creates beautiful finely drawn images and is masterful at their digital manipulation. How proper and perfect that she created the Islamic arabesque pattern found in the mashrabiya, the lattice-work screens, seen all over Qatar and The Middle East. I am just obsessed with them and have mentioned them briefly here and here, but there is sure to be a full post on them soon. You’ve also seen a glimpse of her fantastic house and some of her small works here.

Isabelle Fromaget

L’arbre, a new mixed media piece, digitally arranged, is a perfect example of her whimsical work.

l'arbre Isabelle Caraes

So not to make too much of it, but I love the way the banner is symbolic of my experiences, my friendships and my life over the past ten years.

Saraswati Venkatram, better known as Saras, of SV3 Designs has been an outstanding Web Master, professional and impossibly quick to deliver. She transferred my 326 posts (!!!) and thousands of comments over from my old blog format without losing a letter and was invaluable help in the design process. The new format has larger and wider photos, simpler navigation and offers options for the future.

Now for some technical notes…I’d say we are about 85-90% finished so don’t be surprised if you notice little tweaks over the next few weeks. Please let me know if you notice any problems, glitches or have any constructive comments. If you are an email follower, hopefully your subscription has transferred over. If you are a follower via WordPress.com, I think you will need to resubscribe, but I am not entirely sure. I am really looking forward to hearing from you all and hope that you like this new and improved Tokyo Jinja reading experience.

And for a last goodbye to that street scene at the Saturday market in Azabu Juban…

Tokyo Jinja old blog format azabu juban

I’ll also have some other very exciting news coming out on Thursday, so be sure to keep your eyes open for my next post.

The 10th Ultimate IKEA Bargain

photo33

Apartment Therapy just ran a piece on their 9 Ultimate Cheap Chic Classics from IKEA and I decided I needed to chime in on my own 10th item. I don’t disagree with the items they are listing. After all, I have mentioned their number 1 item, the Stockholm Rand rug extensively before, I have used their #2 item, the Billy Bookcase in pretty much every space I have lived in and I am currently using a pair of their number 7 item, the Malm Dresser in my elder daughter’s bedroom. But I think the best bargain at IKEA these days – and one that is nowhere near as over exposed as the other nine – is the Tobias chair shown in our dining room above. Lately, I have noticed it popping up in some higher end places, so I think there are those out there who are agreeing with me.

At 79 dollars (or 265 Qatari Riyals), the price is excellent. In Japan, the chair is just over 15,000 Yen, so it’s about twice as expensive, but everything imported has about that same mark-up. I had never really given the Tobias any thought or attention until I moved to Doha, where IKEA plays an even bigger role in basic necessities than it did in Japan, and certainly than it ever did in the USA. I don’t think there is a single piece of IKEA anything at our beach house. When looking for chairs here to go with our Saarinen Tulip Table and Louis XV style chairs, they seemed like the perfect inexpensive placeholders until we found what we “really” wanted. Ironically, they have become a favorite item, being incredibly comfortable, easy to care for and slide effortlessly across the newly installed Madeline Weinrib dhurrie.

photo1

The flatweave/tulip table/Tobias chair combo is not a particularly new one, but it just works.

madeline-weinrib-rug-gray-walls-tobias-chair-tulip-table-via-elements-of-style

What has caught my eye lately is the places it has been popping up. I noticed them in the May issue of Elle Decor, in Ellen Rakieten’s Anne Coyle designed LA apartment. About as different as can be from her Chicago library – one of those all time favorite rooms of mine.

edc05011-ellen-rakieten-anne-coyle-tobias-chair-ikea-la

The larger room deserves a peek too, as it is making me continue to mourn the loss of the French chairs and desk I had scored.

edc05011-ellen-rakieten-anne-coyle-tobias-chair-ikea-desk

Caught the smoky gray version of the Tobias in the portfolio of Michelle R. Smith when I was writing about her last week. There are also numerous other example all over the internet of it paired with farmhouse tables showing how it plays well and mixes well.

screen-shot-2014-05-06-at-8-44-26-am

And they have recently launched a lilac version so I’ll be curious to see what folks do with that one. Girls room desk chair anyone?

tobias-chair

What’s your favorite IKEA bargain?

Related Posts:
Dining Room Decision Made…Oval Saarinen Tulip Table

Dining Room Option Two…Inspiration from Angie Hranowsky
He Giveth…And He Taketh Away

Image credits: 1-2, me, 3. Elements of Style, 4-5. Elle Decor May 2014, photo credit: William Abranowicz, 6. Michelle R. Smith, 6. IKEA.

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