aged brass

Night Shadows…Vintage Brass Karakusa Globe Lanterns


The items I get inquiries about all the time are my vintage Japanese filigree globe fixtures. The pierced brass scrolling arabesque pattern, known as karakusa, which appears everywhere in Japanese decorative arts, from porcelain to textiles and more, creates the most playful shadows on the ceilings and walls at night.

The largest of these globes that I have seen is this 18 inch diameter one now hanging in my Doha living room with its lovely high ceilings. It lived in a box in Tokyo as none of the rooms had ceilings high enough to accommodate it. That story can be found here.

doha living room

I’ve never been able to source the original maker and the fixtures themselves are unmarked but I would confidently date them to the post war period around 1950. Other dealers seem to make the same assumption, although I occasionally see them listed as 19th century or art deco, but that is incorrect. These modern fixtures take their cues from the ceremonial lanterns found at Japanese shrines and temples in terms of their pierced design work, but the round globes are a simplified modern form, quite different from those more ornate lantern shapes – often hexagonal or even octagonal. That said, I have sold a few hexagonal versions that take their cues more literally from the old shapes. No examples to show here as those lights are awaiting installation in clients’ homes, but I will share when they are ready. I don’t know if the globes were used as temple lamps or made for personal home use (I highly suspect the latter), but perhaps one of my readers will.

japanese temple lanterns

Over the last few years I have noticed them popping up all of a sudden on the internet, from Emily Henderson‘s LA shopping haul, where she found one identical to mine…

brass karakusa chandelier from emily henderson LA shopping

…and subsequently hung in the entry of her old house. I haven’t seen it anywhere in her new house so I am wondering what may have happened to it. You’ll notice that this globe is the same giant size as mine and she has had to semi-flush mount it, instead of hanging it from a chain, as the ceiling height is too low. It looks a bit awkward like that, don’t you think? Both of our fixtures have their original hanging cap and O-ring, but sometimes over the years those get lost.

emily henderson house brass karakusa fixture

Like me, Emily chose not to polish it much and kept the patina, unlike this highly shined one sold on Etsy. The seller used the horrible come-to-mean-anything-and-nothing terms ‘Hollywood Regency’ and ‘Moroccan Modern’ when this fixture is absolutely neither. You’ll notice this one still has its rice paper lining, unlike mine or Emily’s.

karakusa globe via a storied style

The fixture above seems to be a mid-size version (it’s listed as having a 14 inch diameter), but definitely made by the same maker. I’ve shown you my small size pair (9 inch diameter) that I found at a shrine sale before and now one hangs in our stairwell in Doha. You’ll notice how having the rice paper lining creates a completely different effect at night, casting no magical shadows but highlighting the detail of the pattern.

brass karakusa globe lantern pair resized

I can’t resist showing these two Katie Ridder rooms again either, as each uses a pierced brass globe to great effect in the bedroom. The one on the left has a floral pattern added to the scrolling vines.

Katie Ridder japanese pendant lamp in guest room ED0306 and girls room

There is a plethora of shapes and sizes available right now on 1st dibs, including this one from Downtown at Profiles identical to mine for a whopping $4200. They also have a midsize one available, and both have been fitted with triple bulbs as opposed to the usual single. Both are missing their original hanging caps and loops.

japanese brass globe lantern 1stdibs

Another 1stdibs dealer called Duo has a series of trios available (from $4200-$5800), including this 11.5 inch diameter group and this 9 inch diameter group. You’ll note they both have their original hanging caps and rings, although the latter are different in style. I find larger fixtures came with the more half-loop shaped style on the left and smaller fixtures have the upside down vee-shaped loop as on the right.

karakusa brass lamp trios

Duo also has this wild and unusual mismatched group, which includes a barrel-shaped fixture adorned with an imperial chrysanthemum and an egg-shaped one with ume (plum blossoms) in addition to the standard karakusa globe. I am fascinated that in the couple of days since I started writing this post and noticed these trios for sale, all three sets are on hold, so clearly a buyer is choosing between them or perhaps a designer is planning on using all of them for a commercial project.

trio of karakusa fixtures

Also worth looking at is this wacky three ball fixture with cracked ice and ume pattern here on Etsy, although it is sold. And if you are looking to buy a karakusa globe and your budget isn’t up for these prices, there is a lovely one available from Kodo Arts in Kyoto on Trocadero with its cap, hanging loop and rice paper intact for $1400. Or just drop me a comment or a note and I’ll add you to my waiting list 🙂

Related Posts:
Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do
Katie Ridder, Eat Your Heart Out (Over My Latest Shrine Sale Find)

Updates on an Oldate…Beach House Bathroom

Some finishing touches happened this week on one of the earliest projects I took on here, the downstairs bathroom renovation. Long planned, Mally Skok‘s gorgeous and utterly perfect fabric Nichola in Aqua/Sand on Canvas went up as a Roman shade on the window. I have long adored this fabric and in this space it reads like bits of coral and sea life.

mally skok nichola roman shade

There’s not really anything left to do in this space – finishing touches aside. I still can’t quite figure out where to put or hang the toilet paper.

beach house bathroom mally skok nichola

The brass has all been patinating very well. I could not be more pleased with having chosen unlacquered brass and the exposed shower workings shine like jewelry through the glass doors.

beach house bathroom shower

The sink faucet is also looking great, although as I showed in my last post, the sink bowl not so much. I’ve been reading up on reglazing and porcelain home repair kits but I am still really unsure of what to do about this.

rust bubble vintage porcelain sink

There is still a bit of room for finds – and certainly more sand dollars and shells – on the display shelves. With my iphone there was no way to get the upper ledge of kashigata in the photo, but the patterns in them look wonderful with Mally’s fabric.

beach house bathroom shelves

I do have one little marriage to make, between this Japanese print and vintage frame, and then its simply a matter of placement.

japanese print and frame

I think we can call this one finished, don’t you?

Related Posts:
Renovation Report…”Oldating” the Beach House Bathroom
Renovation Report…Do You Throw Good Money After Bad? Thoughts on Fixing My Master Bathroom
Freshening Formal Furniture With Mally Skok Fabric

Sweating the Details…A Round-Up of Brass Library Wall Sconces

The small details can really make or break a space, which is why it is so easy to get caught up in them. From the very beginning of our renovation of the back TV room/guest bedroom at the beach house I have been planning on putting in a pair of aged brass sconces on either side of these antique butterfly prints over the daybed. Of course I don’t have a great photo of the space for you, but here is a close-up of the very unfinished space…

…and here is a long view shot taken right after the door to the room was put in. One of my goals is to get rid of the overhead light on the ceiling fan, and two sconces would certainly help with that. Since there is no room for any kind of end table either, they would also work for reading and as night table lamps.

A swing arm or moveable style makes the most sense to serve such a multi-functional space and I have long been in love with the Sandy Chapman designed Boston functional library wall light from Circa Lighting, whether it be the single arm version…

…or the double arm version. The beautiful patina of the brass and the details of the hardware are just beautiful. The question between them has always been whether the 2 arm version is simply too large for the small space or perhaps it is just that oversized kind of piece that helps to make a small room look larger.

While I have been tracking dual arm sconces for more than a decade – like this pair in an old version of Nanette Brown’s summer house from a 2000 House Beautiful

…the entire design world has gone nuts for them more recently, perhaps stemming from this much blogged about photo from Domino magazine. This photo gives a good sense of how big the dual arm version is, but also how dramatic it can be in a small room.

Everywhere I look, I come across dual arm sconces, from this Celerie Kemble designed bedroom…

…to Candia Fisher‘s gorgeous living room…

…to above kitchen windows, often in long rows.

The Boston style is not the only choice. Circa Lighting also makes this similar Anette library lamp

…and the Graves Pivoting Sconce, which has lovely hardware but not the brass shade.

Rejuvenation makes a version called The Reed. But none of them compare to Circa’s Boston version for me.

For all that I love that Boston version, what I really wish I could have is the real thing – a one-of-a-kind vintage sconce, like these 1930s brass boat lamps selling for $1200 and $1800 on 1st dibs

…or these 1940s brass sconces from a recent One Kings Lane sale, priced at $1299. But with prices like that, it is not going to happen unless my fantasy of stumbling across a pair at a shrine sale comes true (and stranger things have happened!).

My other worry is that they have now become ubiquitous and too trendy. Don’t you just hate when things you love move too far into the mainstream? So I have been contemplating some other options.

Another favorite lighting company of mine is Holtkotter. The quality of their fixtures which have halogens on amazing rolling dimmers is unsurpassed. I already have a pair of standing desk lamps from them, my first anniversary present bought many years ago (for those in the know, they are the lamps that were backordered, causing my husband to have to write that very first poem instead of present). I have always liked these swing arm sconces from them, with their exaggerated retro shape, but hadn’t considered them until stumbling across a post by Camille over at The Vintique Object.

She bought a pair at a thrift shop in California for $4. Shall we say that again? Four dollars! And as she doesn’t seem to be using them, I have been trying to trade her any Japanese antique of her choice for them, but she hasn’t yet made up her mind.

They are also available new over at the Holtkotter site, as is this sconce, a wall version of the desk lamps I just mentioned. Sweet practical husband votes for this one because it also up-lights as well as down-lights which would help in the quest to get rid of the ceiling fan light, but in this case we are going to ignore him, because we (the global we) care more about form than function at this moment.

There is also a cheapie version in black on sale for $59 over at PB Kids. Just mentioning it!

As the Holtkotter sconce continued to feel too mod and not antique-y enough for the beach house, I kept my eyes open. And then the other day I was reading some blogs new to me, including Bryn Alexander‘s and I saw these brass sconces she had used in her bedroom.

They are from the Robert Abbey and combine the qualities of the Circa Lighting Boston functional library light with the Holtkotter swing arm sconce. The shape is reminiscent of the Holtkotter light, but more fully formed and the brass has the aged feel of the Circa lamp as does the hefty detailed hardware.

So what do you all think? Which would you choose? And would you change you mind in the 11th hour, or go with your long-term vision?

And in case you think I am over thinking it all, I am not the only one agonizing over these decisions – take a look over at Pure Style Home and The Lettered Cottage for more.

Related Posts:
Found! Kilim Footstools in Tokyo and Decisions on the TV Room


Identify This…Brass Drum Stool

While we are chatting about my recent brass finds, let’s look back at another cute vintage brass item sourced from a Tokyo area shrine sale. Remember this guy found here last spring?

Well, he is now cleaned up a bit and safely ensconced here in my living room, having become an extremely useful addition to our household, a perfect spot to rest a book or cup of tea and serving as extra seating in a party pinch.

This is a slightly different style of “Identify This” post as I am honestly the one looking for help figuring out the origins of this small brass stool or table. I had not seen one before mine, but this summer at Calypso Home in NYC they had a larger and brand new side table sized one in the shop. No one there had any insight into the history of its style.

I have only ever seen one featured in a home design spread.

(Addendum: On a funny note, it was only after I received the Katie Ridder book I wrote about in my last post that I realized I had just shown another photo featuring not one, but two of these stools in one of her interiors! There is a shiny brass one adjacent to each the chairs in the photo.)

So without much to go on, I dived in to my usual research sources…Currently, there are a few available on 1stdibs right now, including this one from Belvair

and this pair from lawson-fenning. Both are simply identified as 1960s vintage brass drum stools or tables and are priced at $325-365 each.

Adam Bram Straus just had one for sale in his Tastemaker Tag Sale on OKL too. It and the one directly above on the left look the most like mine, although mine is in better condition than either of them and none have the repeated concentric circles on the seat/tabletop.

Less expensive new ones, which honestly have inferiors lines, seem readily available, like this one from Cyan Design for $247.

They even come in other finishes, such as aged bronze or this fancy polished nickel from Arteriors, the most expensive of the bunch at $458 for the small size and over $1000 for the side table size.

But I haven’t been able to find any additional information, or even proof that these are 1960s designs. One source suggested they are Italian, another art deco, but I don’t see any evidence of either, other than the usual problem in which someone wrote it on the internet once, so now everyone quotes it like it is true. For my eye, they have a real campaign furniture look, but as they don’t actually fold up or disassemble easily, that is not it either.

So I open it to you my readers – any theories or clues on origin, time period or even additional photos of these in use? I’d love any ideas, speculative or fact-based….And most of all, I wonder how it ended up in Japan?

Junking in Singapore…Arab Street and the Dinky Di Store

Singapore is such a crossroads of cultures – Chinese, Malay, Indian and elsewhere, former British colony, port city and now a powerhouse Asian financial center – and the neighborhoods and shops reflect that heritage. Russian sailors have pawned goods at the docks and immigrants of all types have made their mark on the cuisine and culture. To get a taste of that diversity we headed out for Arab Street and Little India earlier this week to do some serious market shopping and to visit a friend’s favorite junk store.

Arab Street was about 2 blocks long, a rainbow of color with scores of dealers selling Indian sari and dress fabrics as well as Indonesian batik. I loved the batiks and this photo doesn’t begin to do them justice, but they weren’t exactly what I was looking for..

I had one of the first of many “can’t carry that now” moments upon seeing these kilim footstools and ottomans. They were actually light as a feather and I thought they would be perfect in the back bedroom at the beach house for extra TV watchers.  I had been planning on the ubiquitous Moroccan leather poufs seen everywhere right now, but now I’m not so sure.

Imagine my chagrin at opening the April Elle Decor a few days later and seeing them used in Antonello Radi’s 16th-century Umbrian Palazzo. Yet another reason to wish I wasn’t currently a nomadic evacuee!

Sorry about the poor photo quality but give me chops for inventiveness as I have no scanner available. I simply took a photo of the pages!

I was actually on the hunt for some Indian fabrics and cushions. There were only 2 dealers on Arab Street selling block printed cloth and other goods. Browsed the tablecloths and found some actual print blocks for a DIY that I have planned this summer. Didn’t buy the elephants but the small flowers on the right hand side of the picture came away with me.

The selection of pillow covers, tablecloths and place mats was tremendous. I was happily browsing when I got the call from my husband that he was leaving a day early for the airport and taking our wonderful Philippina helper and all her sisters to the airport with him. I had to smile for a moment at the thought of him traveling with a gaggle of women. But his leaving, while making me happy that he would be safe, also represented our last stand in Japan for now. So while many people are often overwhelmed at markets and I never am,  all of a sudden I couldn’t focus or even think about which cushions I might like to buy. Everything felt irrelevant. Shortly afterwards another friend called with the news of the US Embassy evacuation notice. I cried.

I have since regretted leaving this behind…

After a restorative and yummy lunch of Muslim-style Indian food we headed to Little India to a friend’s favorite antique store, although calling it an antique store may actually be a stretch. You have to love the name – Dinky Di – as it so perfectly describes it! She warned us in advance that this was truly a junk shop, with almost no room to even turn around and things piled haphazardly everywhere! Just my kinda place…

The interior lived up to its description. But with patience comes rewards, and we slowly but surely picked through what must be a lifetime of accumulation.

I loved the vintage mahjong set, but didn’t think I needed it.  On the other hand, this pair of mounted butterflies would look perfect in the back guest room at the beach house…

Currently I have 3 antique hand-colored book plates hanging, but have been stashing some other butterflies to add in there. This is the same room that I wanted the kilim footstools shown earlier for and I have been looking for a dhurrie or Bessarabian kilim for the floor for quite some time.

I am kind of bummed that butterflies have become the trendiest thing lately, as I have loved them for years and helped my sister-in-law acquire a little collection of wonderful  prints. But they have been everywhere, from the New York International Gift Fair to Angel Dormer’s apartment in the January 2011 issue of Lonny

…to the Myra Hoefer designed house in the current issue of House Beautiful, of which I don’t have a photo, so here is a shot of her store instead. If I was back in Tokyo, I’d want to pull out the pages of her apartment in Paris that I have been obsessed with for years. This will have to do for now.

My friend found a tidy little collection of small cloisonné vases, probably from the 1970s.  She also scored an amazing leather-cased collapsible telescope for her husband’s anniversary present. You can just see it behind the vases.

Now on to my purchases…Notice a theme to my haul? My ongoing prediliction for aged brass has clearly not abated. These need a little clean-up but I love the lines on the candelabra and the old betel nut holder will be perfect for soaps on the bathroom shelves. The paperweight stopwatch will look lovely on top of a pile of books on the coffee table. And I couldn’t leave the butterflies….

Our stay in Singapore was truly wonderful due to the incredible hospitality of our friends. I cannot thank them enough!

We are now in Thailand, and once again the Mac is dead, so my dream of blogging from the road is fairly curtailed. The kids need the R & R so off to the pool we go.

Before I sign off, I wanted to mention that the design community is kicking off ways to help Japan as well, from Lonny to Design to Help Japan at Elle Decor. Take a look and do what you can!

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