Chicago Project…Inspiration Photos for the Office Guest Room

Those of you who know me a long time know I’ve been pitching for years that you should always save inspiration photos (and have the bulging tear sheet folders to prove it). These days it is so easy – Pinterest being the key tool – that everyone knows what their dream bedroom/bathroom/renovation/house looks like. As a result, it has become so easy to work with people long distance in that ideas for spaces can be communicated visually almost instantly.

Case in point. Claiborne Swanson Frank’s study was one of those most pinned rooms from Elle Decor back in 2011. I think it was the combination of affordable mass market items (like the Ballard Louis Daybed), the absolute “it piece” (Madeline Weinrib’s Indigo Brooke rug) and the fresh mix of accessories combined with the effective and functional use of a small space that made this room popular. Who doesn’t need a space like this, especially when it is so recreateable?

Claiborne-swanson-FRAN ED11-2011-06 pc Simon Watson

In the Chicago project I’ve been working on this past year, we found just such a need. Two apartments had been combined to make one, so there is both a formal living room and a large den, but no guest room or study. The living room was long and awkwardly shaped, with a separate square area set off at one end. It was an easy decision to simply put up a wall with French doors, adding bookshelves for display on the living room side, and enclosing a study. My client adored the room above and had saved it in her inspiration photos, so we turned to it for the design. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Since then the Louis Bed has come from Ballard and the Madeline Weinrib Brooke rug is on order. The room is basically square and the desk will go opposite the daybed in the window.

Chicago study

Weinrib’s Brooke dhurrie, particularly in Indigo, has become almost ubiquitous, but I would argue that it has crossed the trend borderline to absolute classic (I can see them being avidly searched for in vintage stores 50 years from now). Among others, Emily Henderson keeps featuring them in her designs, not because she suggests it, but because everyone keeps asking for it!

Emily Henderson rachnas-house

We are shopping for a desk in glass/lucite to keep the room airy, much like in the inspiration room. One of the issues we are facing is the daybed cover and bedskirt. Swanson Frank’s has a custom cover in a Rogers & Goffigon linen, but we are trying to keep this as one of the low-budget items on our list.  We’ve scanned all the catalog/internet options, but no one seems to have anything we like. Suggestions? If you have any please let me know.

The reason to keep the cover price to a dull roar is the key to accessorizing the bed and bringing the space to life is gorgeous pillows in antique and special textiles. From previous posts you know I am obsessed with the daybed (and striped dhurrie) in Alayne Patrick’s Brooklyn apartment, which is piled with amazing pillows from her shop Layla.

We love the pillows from Turkey (and frankly everything else) in Claudia Benvenuto’s guest room. Because our space is also tight, we are thinking of some small moveable side tables. I love this bench!


Designer Karen Cole has a tight little guest space with pocket doors out onto the stair landing.  Again, I think it is the exotic textile mix that makes the room (and a little base of ticking never hurts either).

Our answer may simply be to find a reasonably priced fabric and have a custom cover made -“couture” details to dress up an off the rack piece. Then the pillow fun can begin!

Image credits: 1. Elle Decor November 2011, photo credit: Simon Watson, 2. client’s snapshot, 3. Emily Henderson, 4. Bringing Nature Home by Ngoc Minh Ngo via Style Court, 5. Elle Decor September 2012, photo credit: Joe Schmelzer, 6. Canadian House & Home March 2011, photo credit: Angus Fergusson.

Red Cross Decor

One of the most distinct logos in the world, the chunky bars of the Red Cross have been on my mind lately for obvious reasons, and not so obvious ones. I think I am not the only one either – ironically, the interior design world seems quite interested in it too. Maybe it’s just these constant disasters have worked on people’s subconscious and turned it into a larger decor trend?

I have been inexorably collecting design images featuring that red cross shape since the earthquake and tsunami here in Japan. And then one of the things I noticed from my post the other day was how much Ben Pentreath liked his red cross pillows, shown here in his old New York apartment around or before 2003…

…and then here again just the other day in his new London flat. He obviously really likes them (and his sofa) because while other things have changed, he’s kept them in rotation. Of course it’s not really the pillows that grab your attention in his new apartment – it’s that amazing map grouping (a re-print of John Roque’s Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, and Borough of Southwark from 1746) against the wall. But more on maps some other time!

Interior designer Brian Paquette boasts a pair of the cross pillows in his 220 square foot Seattle studio.

The collage of vintage photos and the framed Japanese mail bag are amazing and imbue the space with a masculine kind of romanticism.

He likes the cross motif so much he even has it here on a stored blanket. Frankly, the entire space has a ship-shape/found object vintage military vibe – it’s a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s what makes it work!

I’m not sure where Ben or Brian got their pillows, but Angel Dormer got hers from Jonathan Adler. I had started to feel that this trend was distinct to men, but this photo disproves that theory.

Jonathan Adler offers the pillows in a variety of fun colors.

I am always discovering great things on Emily Henderson of Secrets From a Stylist‘s blog. As an antique dealer, it drives me a bit crazy that she is so inaccurate about naming items she uses (calling a Louis style chair Victorian, for example) but as a stylist and designer she has a way of knocking your socks off. Here her red cross (actually a vintage Swiss flag) provides the exclamation point to a funky couch and warm brown furniture.

A red cross pattern is not uncommon in traditional quilting. Love this modern usage – graphic, but sensible – you can pull it down if you get chilly.

Red crosses seem more literal in bathroom spaces, like this one tiled in a kids bathroom. Love that trough sink – it’s everywhere these days!

Or this vintage medicine cabinet.  You always know where the band aids are in this home.

Love love these gray cabinets and slab marble counter but not sure how I feel about the subtle cross on the backsplash under the hood.

I’ve seen my fair share of official old Red Cross items at the shrine sales, like this large square carrying trunk at Kawagoe. I think Brian Paquette would love it, don’t you?

And others are interested in this trend too – this Red Cross army box sold quickly on One Kings Lane.

Is it just the graphic punch the cross gives that makes people like it? Or do you think that is so because it represents succor and security in an emergency?  Any which way, if I have helped you feel like making a donation, of money or blood, here’s the link: RED CROSS. At the end of the day, they always show up to help.

Image credits: 1. Red Cross, 2. The Financial Times, 3. via Ben Pentreath Inspiration, 4-6. Rue Magazine January 2012, photo credit: We are the Rhoads, 7. Lonny Magazine January/February 2011, photo credit: Patrick Cline, 8. Jonathan Adler, 9. Emily Henderson, 10. Limilee, 11. Martha Stewart Living October 2010, 12. Country Living, October 2011, photo credit: Bjorn Wallander, 13. via Willow Decor, photo credit: Jamie Salomon, 14. me, 15. One Kings Lane

Everyone’s Got the Blues…Indigo Pillow Round-Up

Was it this room in the October 2010 issue of Lonny that started it?

Or this one in the November 2010 issue of Elle Decor?

Either way, I don’t know the answer, but it is no longer just my own selective perception. I figure everyone must be tired of ikat and suzani throw pillows, as every time I turn around (or actually, click on a link) I come across indigo pillows, new and vintage, shibori or tie dyed, sashiko stitched, wax-resist dyed, printed and other techniques, all reminiscent of or actually made from Japanese textiles. Not a new topic for me at all, but I do think they have gone from being a rarely seen item to being prevalent and readily available. So if you are not here in Japan where you can stop by a shrine sale and pick up Japanese textiles to sew into pillows, or if you like your pillows ready-made, here’s a look at what’s out there.

There are certain places you’d expect to find them of course…John Robshaw for instance (his room is the top one above).  The website has tie dyed pillows for sale which I won’t call shibori as I believe they are made in India, not Japan.

Jayson Home & Garden still stocks the Zoe tie dyed pillow in the second photo, but unfortunately they are out of the blue and only have it in sage and plum. Don’t despair as Roni over at The Loaded Trunk has a nice selection of hand tied indigo pillows as well as a full assortment of Moroccan, Kuba cloth, Hmong, Afghan, Mexican, Indian – you name it – pillows from around the world.

Here’s a close up of the big 24 inch pillow on the floor in the photo above. It would make a good substitute for the ones in the Elle Decor photo.

Anupama also has a wide range of global pillows, including this typical shibori circles pillow…

…and this more unusual beehive shibori pattern.

Big shibori furoshiki (wrapping cloths) make great floor pillows as shown here by these from Ouno Design. I recently sourced a great furoshiki that designer and friend Maja Smith is making into one for her Lake Tahoe home. Looking forward to photos of that!

One Kings Lane has had some very authentic looking pillows from a shop called Viridian made from vintage tsutsugaki (literally, tube drawing) textiles, a paste resist method of decoration…

…as well as others made using the katazome (stencil paste resist) method from Erin Taylor of Botanik.

There are also some boro (tattered rags) styles too.

Even mainstream retailers are getting into the game. While Anthropologie is no longer stocking the Japanese inspired bedding and pillows they had last year, Serena and Lily, normally so preppy and demure, has been stepping up their game with an online bazaar filled with vintage accessories as well as their line of linens and furniture. They have also caught a bit of that boro fever…

…and have some new Japanese inspired textiles.

Even Ralph Lauren isn’t being left out with his Indigo Modern Stripe Collection, a dip dyed pillow and sheeting set.

Related Posts:
Tie Dye Heaven…Painterly Effects from Monique Lhuillier and Eskayel
A Little Shibori Feeling From Eskayel and Anthropologie
Selective Perception…Maekake at the Heiwajima Antiques Fair and Kawagoe Shrine Sale

A Not Quite DIY…An Obi and Quilt Block Pillow Tale

This is one of those posts that I can’t help start with the punch line. Compare the date on the receipt to the left (9-6-2007) with today’s date and it will give you an idea of just how long this project has been in process. Actually, in truth, it has been in process for many more years than that, but its “active phase” has been over these past 5 years.

At some point many years ago I found a group of antique quilt squares in a standard pineapple pattern, but made out of classic crazy quilt fabrics including satins, silks and velvets. I can’t quite date them, but they must be late 19th to early 20th century, part of an unfinished quilting project, that found their way to an antiques fair. With no clear idea of how I would use them (pillows perhaps?) I purchased them and put them away. Years later I unpacked them from my shipment when I arrived in Japan and was happy to rediscover them.

For the non-quilters out there, the pineapple pattern starts with a central square to which narrow strips of trapezoidal fabric are sewn, creating a saw tooth effect. It can be a very busy quilt block by varying the color every row, or different effects can be achieved by holding the colors steady or shading them progressively. If this part of the post particularly interests you, there is a nice overview and example of pineapple block making here.

The ease of finding vintage Japanese textiles and the link between crazy quilts and Japan inspired me to design pillows with the quilt squares at the center and a border made of vintage obi (kimono sashes). I spent months searching out the perfect obi for each square, both in terms of color and variety of pattern. In addition, I needed a different trim for each pillow to cover the juncture where the quilt block met the obi. For this blue one I was lucky to have some antique French velvet trim, another of those purchases made years ago (in this case in Paris at Port de Clingancourt) with no clear use in sight.

The odd colors in this square, a golden honey and pale seafoam mixed with burgundy velvet center and corners proved challenging, but this large-scale repetitive obi pattern proved perfect.

For the varying shades of chartreuse and green in this pillow I went with a pale obi, thinking it would make a nice contrast.

Somewhere along the way I pulled out this old embroidered Chinese patch and paired it with a kaku-obi (men’s obi). While the other pillows would have log cabin corners, I planned for this one to make use of the graphic stripes in the kaku-obi and have mitered ones.

And there was one in a completely different colorway, which I could use in my bedroom with a plain velvet border and pretty ribbon trim.

After numerous broken needles on my sewing machine, I decided professional intervention was necessary. Therein begins the story of the receipt. On a trip to Hong Kong in September of 2007 I brought them to my usual seamstress and asked her to make the pillows, along with some curtains for my house in Tokyo. I paid her and left, sure I would see them within a few weeks. The curtains came promptly, but somehow the pillows never came. I called her repeatedly in the beginning, but she could not seem to get any of her regular workers to make them.  I offered more money, but she wouldn’t take it. She just kept saying she would get them done.

In the months that followed I remembered to call intermittently. Over time, the calls became further and further apart, until I had just about forgotten entirely about them. Then an article in the January 2011 Martha Stewart Living about log cabin quilting, in particular the photo of throw pillows below, reminded me of them and made me determined to get them finished. As Hong Kong was a stop on our evacuation-vacation last spring after the earthquake, I visited the tailor yet again, persuaded her to complete them and left my very kind friend who lives there to follow-up.

I am not the first to use obi to make throw pillows. Many designers and pillow makers take advantage of the heavy brocades and gorgeous colors and patterns available. More often than not, the obi is run down the pillow vertically, bordered with trim and fabric on either side, much like these from Stephen Miller Siegel. And having seen the price tag on these babies, I am all for the DIY or semi-DIY version – these would not be at all difficult to make – as the obi could be sewn on top of an existing pillow.

Here, an obi has been used on a chair in a similar long fashion, reminding me a bit of Muriel Brandolini‘s signature chairs. Just a gorgeous application!

In other cases, the long narrow aspect of the obi is used to make a bolster shaped pillow, often without any additional trim, much as in this iconic 1969 photo of Cecil Beaton’s London home.

My friend D has recently whipped up these similar obi pillows, adding the perfect accent of color and comfort to her deep sofa. It took her no time at all as obi are double-sided and hollow – all she did was cut, stuff and sew up the short side seam with an invisible stitch!

By far the most beautiful obi pillows I have ever seen are these in Candia Fisher’s New York library. I can’t imagine the room without them.  Be sure to note the amazing Japanned linen press – by the time I get around to writing that post I have long been promising I will have used all my photos already. More photos of this amazing apartment can be found at Elle Decor or Habitually Chic.

As for my pillows, thanks to my ever vigilant friend, they finally arrived finished. It took me a few months to find some down pillow inserts here in Tokyo, but even that is now complete. The question that remains is where to use them, although in the meantime I have deployed them to the Chesterfield. I love the way the sawtooth edges, which look almost like pinwheels, pick up on the angles in the kilim rug. Click on the photo to see the details up close – they really are spectacular!

And here is the pale pinky one on the velvet settee in the master bedroom.

And speaking of pillows, we have chosen a winner for the ZAK + FOX pillow giveaway. Drumroll, please! The lucky entrant is number 8, none other than Angela, a reader from Belgium who loves all things linen and all things Japanese. Congratulations!

Related Posts:
A Curtain’s Leading Edge…a New Idea for Kaku-obi
Japan-a-mania…Cracked Ice and Crazy Quilts

Image credits: 1, 3-7, 13-15. me, 2. via Get Creative, 8. Martha Stewart Living January 2011, photo credit: Ditte Isager, 9. Stephen Miller Siegel via 1st dibs, 10. via Eclectic Revisited, 11. Architectural Digest Fall 1969, 12. Elle Decor November 2009, photo credit: Pieter Estersohn

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.


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.”


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 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.


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!


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

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