karakusa

Night Shadows…Vintage Brass Karakusa Globe Lanterns

photo

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)

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 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.

ZAK + FOX…New Japanese Inspired Textiles and My First Real Giveaway

An object becomes so much more interesting when a little bit of history is revealed.
- Zak Profera

Like “You had me at hello” in Jerry Maguire, Zak Profera’s new textile line ZAK + FOX had me at the quote above and the photo below. Printed on Belgian linen using water-based inks, Profera has created a versatile new line of interiors fabrics with global inspiration. In particular, a few of the patterns have their roots in Japanese symbols and motifs, which I find particularly appealing. In celebration of his launch, Zak is offering the long bolster pillow on the left in the photo below as my first official giveaway. Entering is easy – the details can be found at the end of this post.

JINGASA

The pillow is made of Jingasa fabric in the snow colorway and reads to me as a modern stylized form of karakusa, the scrolling arabesque vine pattern seen over and over again in Japanese decorative arts. The word jingasa refers to the iron helmets that were used by Edo period soldiers and I managed to find an image of one, complete with karakusa pattern, even before reading Zak’s own personal inspiration for it.

According to Zak, Jingasa “is an abstract, all over composition that was inspired by a crest seen on an antique helmet.  I think I was romanced by the idea of some lone wanderer, so in a way the motif could be seen as marking points on a map or a trail to follow.  The blade-style point gives it a bit of a masculine edge and removes it from just feeling like a bunch of polka dots, though I wanted to keep an “artist’s hand” in the pattern by using watery line-work and giving it an inky tone-on-tone effect.”

MATSU

Next up is his Matsu pattern which is a classic interpretation of pine, or in this case matsukawa bishi, pine bark. This stylized version of pine is seen everywhere, from kamon

…to tsuba (sword guards).

Zak “loves the simplicity of the pine bark motif and wanted to use it in a way that felt modern and different.  I spotted a kimono with a dense repeat of flowers that started at the shoulders and drifted downward in an airy pattern; with this concept in mind, “Matsu” became an energetic pattern with an almost ombre-like effect to it. Some have told me it feels a bit like snakeskin (and I agree) but I think the minimalistic nature of the motif keeps it timeless and not trendy.”

TAKIGAWA

Takigawa translates to “waterfall and river” or more loosely as “rapids,” an apt name for this asymmetric stripe. For me, it is the least literal in its Japanese influence and instead reminds me of an antique Indian dhurrie rug.

Takigawa is Profera’s “version of the traditional stripe and uses a style of repeat seen in many Japanese textiles.  I wanted to simplify the pattern by keeping the natural linen exposed—it gives it a raw edge that feels untouched, and at the same time it’s super modern.  Depending on the color selected, it can feel tailored or relaxed — a quality that I love.  I’ve seen it in a few different colors now as I work with other designers to create custom colors for projects and it’s definitely one of the most versatile patterns in the collection; it works just as well in a beach house as it does in a New York City loft.” Personally, I think the exact same thing can be said about a dhurrie rug too!

I can’t resist showing this photo from ZAK + FOX’s beautiful photo shoot at Temple Court in New York City.

An amazing 1883 building that has fallen into the very best kind of decay (original details protected for decades by ugly drywall) Temple Court has become the stuff of urban legend and high-end modeling jobs and is supposedly going to be restored as a hotel. Right now it would make the perfect interior setting for filming Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. For more on Temple Court, there is a wonderful article in The New York Times.

KATAGAMI

His Katagami fabric is a bit of a pun, considering that katagami stencils are used to make Japanese textiles. Is Katagami made with a katagami? No, but fun thinking about it in a loop.

In writing about his inspiration, Profera “became totally infatuated with these stencils, not necessarily the “traditional” ones with recognizable patterns but more so by the abstract, almost tribal patterns that felt a bit unplaceable — not quite bullet-point “Japanese”.  This pattern uses one of the more unique antique stencils I stumbled upon, though quite edited with selections changed and redrawn to feel more composed and harmonious.”

His description reminded me of the unusual stencils in this amazing interior by Steven Gambrel, shown here before.

While I love all the patterns, my personal favorites are Jingasa and Takigawa in the plum colorway. Those of you who know me can’t possibly be surprised by that.

Pillows or cushion to contrast with my Bennison floral in the front entry at the beach?

And for all you Japanese motif junkies out there I have been meaning to mention Snow, Wave, Pine: Traditional Patterns in Japanese Design for ages. It is a beautiful tome, cataloging patterns by category and illustrating them with examples of the finest decorative arts.

There are also six other patterns – Volubilis, Plus, Karun, Palma, Nimrud, and Postage – in numerous colors in the new ZAK + FOX line, all well worth checking out. Which brings us back to the fun part…the giveaway!

THE GIVEAWAY

You can be the owner of this lovely 11 x 22 inch feather and down filled bolster made of Jingasa fabric in the snow colorway. The pillow is that wonderful long shape that looks perfect in a grouping on a couch, as a lumbar pillow on an armchair or anchoring bed pillows.

As for the details  - it is easy. Simply leave a comment on my post telling me which is your favorite pattern (or frankly, any comment) and then click over to the ZAK + FOX website and join Zak’s mailing list (he promises not to barrage you with emails) by entering your email address in the field in the upper right corner of the home page. We will take entries for a week, until 6pm EST, Wednesday, March 28. One entry per person, although I am tempted to beg someone to enter for me. So unfair that in good sportsmanship I cannot enter myself!!

Related Posts:
More on Mon…The Polka Dots of Japan
R. P. Miller…New Japanese Inspired Fabrics From Rodman Primack Debut at Hollywood at Home
Japanese-Inspired Fabric Follow-Up…Katsugi, Kiku, Kasumi, Kaba Kaba, Katana and More
Katagami…Perfect Thank You Present Found
Sho-Chiku-Bai…The Three Friends of Winter: Pine, Bamboo and Plum

Tokyo Jinja

Back to top