Alexandra Angle

Come Catch My Drift…Sculptural Wood Furniture

This is the table that started it.  Shown here, now safely ensconced in Atlanta, a dear friend and I found it at the Kanarusha sale last year. I loved it so much that I was ready to go down to the mat and fight for it, but the depth of the friendship coupled with the fact that I had nowhere (nowhere!!!) to put it kept me from the wrestling match.

Actually, I may have to take that back. Maybe this is the table that started it all off for me. This image was ripped out of a World of Interiors but I had the pleasure of being in the new Rose Uniacke shop on the Pimlico Road in London a year and a half ago. I love the juxtaposition of the Sheraton style sofa with this organic tree slice slab table and an industrial light thrown in for good measure.

No, I might even have to take that one back too and go all the way back to my first ever sighting of iconic Japanese-American designer George Nakashima’s wooden slab tables. Radical and homemade, smooth and rough at the same time, the contrast between them and their extraordinary workmanship makes his pieces art as much as furniture. I can’t remember exactly when I first encountered one, but it left an indelible impression. This photo of the table at Kentuck Knob will do for illustration. Nakashima plus Frank Lloyd Wright – can’t top that.

Whichever way you slice it, I have been scoping for sculptural wood furniture since the day I arrived in Japan. Tree trunk or table slab, I am easy. The problem as always has been finding somewhere to put something. As you look over the post, the key-note that binds all these interiors together is their pale simplified palette, whether it be the silvered hues of the driftwood or the warmer tones of some of the other pieces. Adding natural wood is easy, but making it look good in its surroundings requires a controlled hand.

A recent New York Times article featured the beautifully spare home of Michael Fleming, a Maine artist and furniture maker who works with driftwood and his partner, Jennifer Wurst. The theme of the piece is how cheaply they created their personal haven – much of it picked up at the dump – but the furniture and artwork that brings it alive are Fleming’s amazing creations from driftwood. Here in the dining room, the floor lamp, named “Long Reach” and the massive canvas on the wall are both his work.

The living room has the only item – the sofa – which cost over $100 and just barely at that. Tucked in the corner is a great tree stump table.

The hall has a branch of driftwood standing guard at the doorway.

The bed is made from logs of oak and maple.

This piece of wood is awaiting its fate as a floor lamp. Amazing!

The article inspired me to pull pictures from my files of other art furniture made from raw wood. While photographer Victoria Pearson takes luminescent interior shots for the major shelter magazines, her own home is no less beautiful. Here is a version from 2005, with an amazing trunk-like wooden lamp…

…and here it is again a few years later.

Like the piece in Fleming’s hallway, Vincente Wolf uses branches, or maybe even roots, as sculpture on the wall in this project.

This sleek city aerie by Alexandra Angle features a coffee table reminiscent of the one in the Rose Uniacke ad above. The super modern condo is a perfect counterpoint to the natural wood pieces.

In this peaceful beach home, Jarlath Mellet uses a glass top to make a table from branches.

Mellet used raw, distressed or knotty wood furnishings similar to the driftwood and timber you’d find at the beach or in the country throughout this house, including this tree sofa. Not sure if it is comfy, but it definitely makes a statement

Todd Alexander Romano has a similar glass topped table in his new L.A. home.

Sometimes a small accent is all you need. I love the contrast between the branch candlestand and the much more formal antiques in James Huniford’s NY State home.

I haven’t found much in the way of artisanal wooden furniture at shrine sales, although there are shops here in Japan that specialize in Nakashima style pieces. What I have seen quite a few of are wooden hibachi with organic shapes and natural details, perfect for adding a bit of sculptural wood to an interior.

Perfect as planters and accent tables, or perhaps we should follow Markham Roberts’ lead and make the best use of a vintage hibachi that I can think of….

… a giant drinks cooler. Time for a party!

Image credits: 1. W. Gagnon, 2. via Rose Uniacke, 3. via Kentuck Knob, 4-8. The New York Times, August 31, 2011, photo credit: Trent Bell, 9. Martha Stewart Living September 2005, photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 10. House Beautiful August 2008, photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 11. via Vincente Wolf, 12. via Alexandra Angle, 13. Lonny July/August 2100, photo credit: Patrick Cline,  14. via Jarlath Mellett, 15. Lonny May/June 2011, photo credit: Patrick Cline, 15. Elle Decoration Hong Kong date unknown, photo credit: Guillaume de Laubier, 16-19. me, 20. Markham Roberts, credit unknown.

Finding the Thread…Between Boston Ferns and Japanese Spools

Can one plant make a room? I think so…

No Victorian house is compete with out a Nephrolepis exalta, better known as the Boston fern. One of the most popular houseplants of that era, they seem to be making a comeback these days and perhaps never lost their popularity as a hanging basket on covered porches. Adding one to my home has been a priority from the very beginning, but what I needed was some kind of plant stand to give it a visual lift.

Now I have shown photos of vintage itomaki (Japanese thread spools) on this blog before.

And if you find it hard to imagine how one was used, here is an actual example of a thread spool on its winder.

But it wasn’t until I stumbled across this big six spoke spool just before leaving Tokyo for the summer that I had the epiphany of using it for my still to be purchased Boston fern. I also bought a smaller one to use as a counterpoint accent, perhaps without any plant on it all, like in the very top photo.

Both had interesting burned in markings that I haven’t had time to investigate. Unfortunately, they don’t show with a plant on top.

For me, I think my fern obsession started with this photo of Chessy Rayner‘s Southampton beach house. Living for over 20 years in my tear sheets, for me it has always represented the perfect summer house. The casual choice and arrangement of furniture and objects is everything a beach house should be. Over the years, I can remember so many bad “Before & After” spreads, particularly in Architectural Digest, where they would take a simple beach house and throw away all the wicker and bring in contemporary furniture.

But it was the image of a single Boston fern that I carried most strongly in my memory  – not the furniture – and so I am actually surprised to see that there are a few other plants, such as the pair of Hibiscus standards in the room.

A more recent photo with a similar plant vibe, Joanna Madden’s Point Pleasant beach house would fall flat without its single Boston fern adding a bit of color to her carefully curated all white room. Only about 20 minutes south of here, her home shop Summerhouse nestles in among all the Point Pleasant antique stores I keep writing about.

So I have added my fern and now I needed an entry bench. Remember this Alexandra Angle bench from here? It has been my main inspiration. And an orchid, not a fern, adds the needed touch of green.

I am trying to content myself with an inexpensive version of the above – a Dorchester Bench from Ballard Designs. I haven’t yet made a cushion for it in my lovely Kemerton Check from Cowtan & Tout, but you can get the general idea. I am loving the vertical accent the coat rack adds to the room, but it is the Boston fern that makes the vignette.

But at the same time, I think I might want a fully upholstered settee in that wonderful fabric. Obviously this entry hall is much more spacious, but I wonder if comfy seating might make more sense.


And notice the single green boxwood in the planter. Not a Boston fern, but kinda the same idea..

Image Credits: 1-5 & 9. me, 6.Elle Decor September 1990, photo credit: Karen Radkai, 7.Country Living February 2011 photo credit: Bjorn Wallander, 8. House Beautiful February 2011 photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 10. I know this is House Beautiful, but I just can’t remember the credit. Please let me know if you know it.

Some Resolutions for 2011 and Bamboo in January

I know it is the thing to do at this time of year, but I am not really one for making public New Years’ resolutions. What I do know for sure is that I have loved blogging and plan on continuing full force. I have relished the writing and the learning of new things. I have enjoyed making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. Every comment and email has made me feel part of a greater whole. Revisiting ideas and items that I haven’t thought about in years has been rejuvenating.

January 2011 will be bamboo month here at Tokyo Jinja, both in topic and spirit. Traditional Japanese still place pairs of kadomatsu made of bamboo and pine in front of their house during New Years for luck and good fortune.

Kadomatsu on my neighbor's gate out my front window

Bamboo symbolizes strength, endurance and resilience as it bends readily but doesn’t break easily. It is also one of the fastest growing plants in the world making it an environmentally sustainable and attractive building material. Bamboo, along with pine and plum blossom, represents one of the “Three Friends of Winter” as a design motif on everything from textiles to gardens. So watch for posts on these subjects as well as 19th century faux bamboo furniture, Aesthetic Movement silver patterns, contemporary bamboo art from Japanese masters, green room inspiration, ikkanbari from artist Lisa George of Paper Glue Bamboo and more.

My Own Starter Buddha

New Year’s at The New York Times brought a great essay on the back page of the magazine entitled “Starter Buddha,’” adapted from Susan Conley’s new memoir “The Foremost Good Fortune,” which is being published next month. The essay is a pitch perfect piece on buying a “fake” buddha in a big Beijing flea market. The book also looks like a must read, especially for those of us living the expat life in Asia as it tells the tale of their family’s move from Maine to China in 2008 and her subsequent battle with cancer. On the eve of a new year, it is always good to be reminded of and thankful for the gift of good health. I’ll also be headed to Hong Kong this winter, so I’ll finally be answering some of your questions on how to know if something is “real” or “fake” as I tackle the Chinese antique stores and markets.

I want to recommend an outing to the Setagaya Boro-ichi (rag fair) on January 15th and 16th. Held in one form or another for over 400 years and now every December and January on those dates, it is a great traditional market experience.  For more details and information, take a look at this article in The Japan Times. I will also be updating the “Shrine Sale” tag at the top of the blog to have current information for winter and spring events, and introducing some new sales and antique shows.

I have heard from a lot of you that you like some of the more personal posts and updates on our renovation and decoration. In that spirit, I want to share an exciting idea for the entrance area to the beach house. Under the window, in this empty space, we knew we wanted a bench of some sort to sit and put on shoes as well as to pull up to the dining table when we have many guests (my table has 12 leaves and can open to almost the full length of the dining room/living room). In the summer the front door on the left of the photo is always open, so we don’t think much about this space, but this winter, with the door closed, it really functioned as part of the living room.

As I was flying back to Tokyo on Monday, I picked up the February issue of House Beautiful with this charming bench by Alexandra Angle on the front cover. A bench like this is the perfect solution. We are now so Japanese that we never (and will never again) wear shoes in the house.  The design of this bench, with the bar on the bottom, gives us a place to tuck shoes in, keeping them less visible and neat. The other great take-way from the photo is the loose pillows that make it a comfortable place to sit, as if it was a small settee, without having a permanent back. So it can function as a bench, as a couch, and I could even see the girls stretching out here to read.

I have five yards of this adorable Cowtan & Tout Kemerton Check (another great eBay find) that is perfect to upholster it in.

And I could use my last piece of my beloved Bennison Faded Floral that I have been saving for a pillow.

So my dear readers, thank you for your support and encouragement. I would love to hear what you would like to see me write about this year, whether it be questions you want answered or features you’d like to see more of. And please keep those comments and emails coming!

Image credits: 1. A.N. Hudson, 2-4, 6. me, 5. House Beautiful February 2011 photo credit: Victoria Pearson, 7. Bennison

Tokyo Jinja

Back to top