Victoria Hagan

Goodbye Mr. Hitchcock…Hello Mr. Thonet?

I was young, newly married, and in need of a table and chairs to serve as both kitchen and dining room table. We had the typical NYC galley kitchen in our apartment in an old 19th century school building. The space had a loft-meets-country feel and I was still pretty firmly embedded in the 19th century Americana that was my original antiques specialty, although my tendency to pull from the Aesthetic Movement was already quite marked. Quite soon after moving in we were driving home from a friend’s house in Connecticut along Route 2 or 202 or something like that, chock-a-block with antique stores along the way, so of course we had to stop. We picked up a few great things that day, including an antique clock case we turned into a medicine cabinet, but the standout find was a bargain set of six black Hitchcock chairs.

hitchcock chairI’ve always had a weakness for Hitchcock chairs, which are so quintessentially American, but also one of the very first mass-produced pieces of furniture ever made in this country. Originally produced during the second quarter of the 19th century by Lambert Hitchcock, a Connecticut cabinetmaker, they are easily identifiable by their black or dark paint, simple Sheraton shape, gold stencilled details and rush or caned seat. It’s estimated that by the late 1820s, Hitchcock’s company was selling over 15,000 chairs per year. After closing in 1852, the company remained out of business for almost a century only to have a resurgence in the second half of the 20th century when the factory was reopened on the ongoing waves of Colonial Revival popularity. I’d date my chairs as vintage – perhaps 1960s or 70s – as the truly antique examples I’ve come across don’t seem like they could hold up to everyday wear and tear.

Once we had the chairs, we needed a table. I knew I wanted something that didn’t match. This doesn’t sound exciting or particularly revolutionary now, but at the time, people were still buying ‘suites’ of furniture, whether matching couches and love seats or entire bedroom and dining ‘sets’. The table had to be practical as my sweet husband was not going to stand for constant coaster/place mat/tablecloth use. The coloring of the rush seats looked great with light woods as did the dark contrasting paint. But the apartment was open like a loft and fairly dressy, so finding the right thing became a bit of a challenge as the obvious choice – a rustic farm table – didn’t seem right.

polaroid of tableDoes anyone else remember the days when the western edge of Bleecker Street was still full of antique stores, before the Marc Jacobsvication of it? There was one great mixed shop called Clary & Co (I think they may be still around on 1st dibs) that I checked in at all the time. Once day I was lucky enough to find this – a finely detailed Danish Victorian scrubbed pine table. I still have the Polaroid (!) they took for me to take home to think about it. If I recall correctly, we tied it to the roof of my parents borrowed station wagon to get it home the ten blocks or so.

We were so excited by the combination but the ultimate vindication came not much later from none other than Thomas O’Brien of Aero Studios when his country house was profiled in the February 1994 House Beautiful. He had Hitchcock chairs (his high school graduation present!) pulled up to a similar pine table. He was even using an antique Empire dresser as a sideboard – as we were and are – my own first ever real antique furniture purchase. He had a glass hurricane lantern hanging above the table, just like we did – although I have to point out that his was nowhere near as beautiful as ours (a Dixie Highway find).

Over the years I started collecting every Hitchcock chair photo I came across. Earlier shots tend to have that more cluttered country feel, but all have a common denominator in that the tables and chairs mix materials successfully, from grey painted wood…

…to white…

…to more pine…

…to speckled paint treatment in a formal dining room…

…to cheery cottage sun porch…

…to cosy dining corner.

For all their country coziness, Hitchcock chairs have a very spare silhouette – and much like paper cut silhouettes which are hugely trendy again now – that old-fashioned black profile can really feel modern. So along the way, as tastes changed, designers began to pull on the simple streamlined form of the chairs and highlight that. One of the first to do so was Victoria Hagan, here with a set that have a Washington Vase back shape…

…and again here with a combo of cane and rush seated versions. Both are all about the dark/light contrast and the sculptural shape of the furniture.

Picking up and running with that same idea is architect Gil Schafer, first at his Hudson Valley home Middlefield…

…and later the exact same table and chairs moved to his apartment in New York City. Again note the combination of dark chair and rustic light table.

Schafer uses Hitchcock chairs again in his other residential projects.

A master of that simplified American vernacular, Schafer has an amazing book
The Great American House: Tradition for the Way We Live Now that should not be missed!

Another master at highlighting sculptural antique forms through light and dark is Darryl Carter, using Hitchcock chairs and a bench in this recent room from the June 2012 Elle Decor.

As a testament to their surprising flexibility, they mix with this very modern white table as well.

So this is where I stand. After long daily use, the chairs are dying. The rush seats are breaking and the art of re-rushing does not seem to exist in Japan. The wood frames are getting shaky too. I have been playing musical chairs with the wonkiest ones. And perhaps, just a little bit, I am visually ready for something new and fresh. Now don’t get ahead of yourself, I’m not talking radically new – I don’t think that is where I am heading, but maybe something new antique.

I can’t remember exactly when or where I got the idea of changing the Hitchcock chairs for Thonet style bentwood chairs, another 19th century iconic choice that has such a stylistic yet functional presence. My instincts are that the idea starts with Tom Scheerer‘s influence. His spectacular interiors are littered with different versions of classic Thonet, but he particularly likes to use No. 4, the Cafe Daum chair.

He mixes them with very modern tables extremely well.

The irony of changing to bentwood chairs is that from a historical furniture manufacturing point of view, Hitchcock chairs and Thonet bentwood chairs were almost contemporaries. Michael Thonet set himself up as a cabinetmaker in 1819 and began to experiment with bending wood, ultimately patenting a steam technique around 1840, allowing his chairs to be mass produced.  Both styles of chairs represent a huge departure from the past – economically, socially and stylistically – in that they created affordable, well made, functional pieces that appealed to the new popular taste.

It wasn’t hard to come up with inspiration examples like this similar table to mine mixed with black bentwood in the Scott Weston designed kitchen of Kirstie Clements.

I’ve found numerous examples of black or dark bentwood chairs looking great with casual light wood tables. These aren’t a Thonet style, but I can’t resist including them, because the whole kitchen is so fab.

Here’s another view – I do love this kitchen.

Here a vintage marble-topped wood table and black bentwood chairs anchor a modern space…

Sarah Story bentwood chairs singaporePenthouse

…as they do in this older version of Muriel Brandolini‘s kitchen.

And I don’t want to rule out the idea of color as they look wonderful painted. Perhaps a Prussian Blue?

Kim Raver Bridgehampton dining room In Style 1010

The Conran Shop sells a version of Chair No. 14…

…while Crate & Barrel sells their own version of No. 18.

A great company called Bauhaus 2 Your House sells almost every version of bentwood chair available today and they are all fully licensed.

bauhaus 2 your house bentwood chairs

The problem is that I need the choices to be readily available in Japan. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for modern examples or vintage ones. Geographica along the antiques hub on Meguro-dori has these dark wooden No. 14 chairs available for sale.

One of the advantages of bentwood chairs is that they are open to the mismatched look – you can charmingly mix a variety of the styles.

So another option might be the shrine sales. There is a dealer at the Oedo Market at the International Forum that always has a selection. And I’m seriously loving the idea of a deep Prussian blue which would allow me to unite a disparate set…
bentwood at oedo market

Goodbye Mr. O’Brien? Hello Mr. Scheerer? What do you think?

Botanicals…Eternal History and Science in Art and Decor


In Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions & Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment (University of Chicago Press 2012), [Daniela] Bleichmar uses this vast (and gorgeous) archive of botanical images assembled by Spanish natural history expeditions to explore the connections between natural history, visual culture, and empire in the eighteenth century Hispanic world. In beautifully argued chapters, Bleichmar explores that ways that eighteenth century natural history expeditions were grounded in a visual epistemology where observation and representation were powerful tools for negotiating both scientific and imperial spheres. The “botanical reconquista” spanned fields, shops, gardens, and cabinets across the New World and the Old. Botanists, artists, and others employed images for collaboration and competition, developing distinct styles and practices for observing and representing the natural world.

-Carla Nappi in New Books for Science, Technology and Society

Does that sound as divine to you as it does to me? I haven’t actually had a glimpse of this book, other than the pages I have managed to see on the internet, but it has sent me dreaming…Dreaming of the images themselves and to quote Carla Nappi who interviewed Daniela Bleichmar here, the “possibility of doing history with images, of images, by images.” Looking at Bleichmar’s accomplishments has me dreaming perhaps of all the “might have beens” in my life as well. Krista over at Cloth & Kind wrote a really personal blog post the other day about showing more of herself on her blog and it made me think a lot about mine and myself too. I majored in history – which was the right choice – because the department allowed the most cognates and I could squeeze in all my art and language courses. But the might have beens stack up after that – what if I had actually pushed to write my thesis on a topic that really engaged me and not my advisor? what if I had actually gone back to grad school after my daughter was born and now had all the right academic credentials after my name? what if…

Instead I have found an outlet through this blog and my personal relationships with friends, clients and readers in which we bond over visual and material culture. Sometimes there is meat in the conversation and other times it is a lot of candy. I’m not always sure whether you all want more nutrition or just snacks, but I think I need a balance of both. And perhaps the best part about what I do is not the academic part, but the actual finding, touching and using the art and artifacts I find along the way and sharing that adventure through stories and sales with you all.

There are some folks out there – Steven Gambrel being one of them – that have the link down pat in the interiors they design. In probably one of his most popular rooms ever (does anyone not have this one pinned?) featuring a slew of traditional botanicals framed and hung in a grid, Gambrel creates a space with just the right mix of science and art.

S Gambrel botanicals

Gambrel pushes the envelope and succeeds in the bathroom of his 1810 house in Sag Harbor, lined with pages from a reprint of Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, a famous tome of detailed engravings commissioned by the 18th century Dutch naturalist Albertus Seba.

Steven Gambrel Cabinet of Curiosities ED pc WW

Katie Leede uses the same book to paper the walls in her beadboard clad bathroom, a standout in her standout home featured here. This much science seems to need a vintage home to feel right.

Katie Leede World Travelers Abode curiosities bathroom

A version of this on a grand scale, scientific teaching tool charts, both original and reproduction, are a huge trend right now.

botanical poster twin beds organic block prints via loft and cottage

botanical poster art

Lauren Liess of Pure Style Home used them so prettily in her old home – I am curious to see if they resurface in her new one?

Botanical marsh marigold Lauren Leiss

botanical prints oversized lauren liess repros

Steven Gambrel used traditional botanicals in the room at the top of the post, papers a bathroom as a cabinet of curiosities and also manages to get in on the wall chart trend. He always has fun using unexpected works on paper in many projects – you can see some other choices here.

Steven Gambrel botanical chart ED pc WW

Fern prints are another kind of botanical that never seem to grow old to me, whether in this fairly recent Markham Roberts designed hallway (in my mind’s eye I had remembered it being Gambrel as well, which would have been more fun for the synchronicity of the post)…

Markham Roberts fern prints HB1008 pc Francesco Lagnese

…or this forever room from Jeffrey Bilhuber, featured in a 1997 issue of House Beautiful. I went looking for this image digitally, but of course no luck, and as my scanner is out of commission, I’ll have to make do with this photo of a photo.  There is also a short video featuring this room of Bilhuber’s, among other of his notables, here.

Jeffrey Bilhuber ferns HB 0697

Japanese katagami, or fabric printing stencils, are usually pretty thematically Japanese as they were used predominantly for kimono fabrics.  But I recently found this extraordinary set – I am not sure what they printed and/or what it was for – that approximate very closely a traditional Western fern botanical.


I am thinking of sandwiching them in modern plexiglass frames and hanging them I have no idea where!


Herbiers, the pressed live botanicals which I have so recently written about, are just a way for average folk to get in on adding science to their own art collections if you ask me. Of course right after I wrote that post the new February House Beautiful featured this gorgeous herbier covered bedroom by Will Merrill

Will Merrill-HB0213-herbiers pc Simon Watson

…and in researching another post I remembered writing about this Victoria Hagan project here from a 1999 House Beautiful, that also showcased herbiers…

Victoria Hagan HB 06-99 pc William Waldron

…which led me to this farm sink/bridge faucet combo on that same project. As an aside, remember that this project is almost 15 years old  – so those sinks are definitely not a trend.  And the whole space still feels fresh and I’ll be featuring another room from this project in an upcoming post.

Victoria Hagan HB 0699

Getting back on tangent, I also happened to be reading The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott (gotta love that cover!). The story of the novel didn’t catch me, but the back drop of the history of evolution playing out against the politics and mores of the time did.  It makes me want to read another of her books – Darwin’s Ghosts – which chronicles those they came before and influenced and inspired him.

The Coral Thief61212-review.jpg_full_600

Which made me think this might need a re-read…

Angels & Insects

…and a re-watch. Although it is moths and butterflies, not botanicals. But I could write a whole post about those too!.


The more I worked on this post, the more I realized how many botanical prints and works of art I had, from 18th century European to modern-day Japanese.  These are late 19th century Japanese from the Antique Jamboree and the now defunct Nogi Shrine sale:

framed Japanese botanical prints

I think that may be why I am drawn certain hanga artists  – for their botanical accuracy – such as Shinji Ando…

…and Rise Hirose.

rise hirose

In the beach house I’ve gone with more traditional 18th and 19th century botanical prints, gleaned from the local New Jersey antique shops I am always raving about, like this one below (can’t remember what folio it is from) which I bought as much for the French mat and frame as anything else. I’ve got two others framed the same hiding in the closet because I have no room for them!

botanical print bennison roses swedish

Remember that pair of sister Maund prints I found last summer?

Maund Prints

They are each safely ensconced in the correct sister’s room.

Maund printIMG_0350

So the questions for you are the following…More meat and potatoes? Or lots of cotton candy? And do you also sometimes dwell on the “might have beens”?

There are more related posts than I can possibly list – the links to them are found throughout the text wherever the subject is mentioned.  But if you liked this post you might want to read the one below.

Related Posts
The Life of Objects…Stories of Paintings, Pottery and Netsuke in Edmund de Waal’s “The Hare With Amber Eyes”

Shrine Sale Stories…Yamamoto’s Steamer Trunk

First there was Yamamura’s suitcase, now there is Yamamoto’s trunk. With its bottle green leather exterior, fine strap work, brass fittings and nailhead detail, it is a handsome example of that species better known as a steamer trunk.

My estimate on date as I bought it was 1920s or 1930s based on its style and materials. Thanks to reader Mary Doveton, who had helped me decipher the hotel labels on Yamamura’s suitcase, we seem to be confirming that date. A quick search of the names on the label – Tajimaya 但馬屋 (Tajima which is the family name and ya which means shop) and Hiroshima 広島 – yields a shop of that name specialising in luggage and bags that has been around since 1919. Keijo was the name for Seoul when it was under Japanese occupation from 1910-1945, so it seems as if they had a branch there as well and that further confirms the time period. I have actually written to Tajimaya and attached photos of the trunk, so we will see if we get a reply!

The roots of modern trunks lie in the ancient forms of Asian travel boxes which had iron handles on either end in which to thread a carrying pole, in contrast to Europe and America, where chests were made for storage and kept in the house, such as a trousseau or hope chest a bride would take with her to marriage. It was only later, in the romantic age of travel and with the success of a young Frenchman named Louis Vuitton (and all his copycats even then) in the second half of the 19th century that trunks took on such a Western form and association.

While I have only recently discovered Yamamoto’s trunk at the Kawagoe shrine sale, I had already saved some screen shots of the huge curated sale of vintage and antique steamer trunks on One Kings Lane in November. The pictures are fascinating in their variety of shape, color, material and price.

Obviously few people travel with trunks anymore these days, but they have taken on a popular new life as coffee tables. Their boxy shape fits with different decor, the simple flat top is easy to style and perhaps, best of all, they offer spare storage space.

Scott Currie creates a gorgeously elegant room with a fantastic nailhead edged ship captains chest. Make sure to look at that coral aquarium atop the Dorothy Draper style chest (it is a beach house after all) and the bottle lamp in the corner.

In contrast to the vibrantly colored beach house above is Victoria Hagan‘s study in white, again punctuated by a fantastic trunk rimmed in nailheads.

And another similar one in this wood-paneled library, also by Victoria Hagan.

The combination of trunk, clock, industrial lamp, along with the needlepoint pillow (more on those soon) and Union Jack on the velvet Chesterfield strikes a perfect eclectic mix. I love how casual but interesting this room is.

On the other hand, a vintage trunk can soften even the most formal of rooms.

If you know me and my obsessions, I am sure you’ll realize that I am as captivated by those glass bottles atop the secretary as the creamy trunk.

There were numerous metal clad chests in the OKL photos above. Here Emily Henderson from Secrets of a Stylist uses a similar one in this light filled LA living room.

She also uses another trunk, this time in rich aged leather, to anchor the den in the same house.

For the most part I have avoided the whole luxury trunk market (i.e. Louis Vuitton) in this post as there are lots of images out there on other blogs and websites, but I couldn’t resist this one doing double duty as storage in the small NYC studio apartment of Nausheen Shah as this 1890s LV trunk has labels from Japan and Singapore. If you do want to see more images with Louis Vuitton trunks, take a look at my Vintage Luggage board on Pinterest.

In terms of trends, you can’t imagine how many of the images featuring trunks are laid across zebra or other animal hide rugs like the ones above. I think the trunks bring up romantic images of 19th century travel to far-flung exotic places, so I get the combination, but I actually prefer the perfect global mix below. That canopy is amazing!

Coincidentally, in terms of Japanese influence on the world, did you know that the Louis Vuitton monogram was a Victorian invention derived from the Japanese motifs so popular in Europe at that time? Think about it – kamon anyone?

I hope you enjoyed this week of shrine sale stories, featuring something high-end (the French bar cart), something low-brow (the laundry hangers) and now something in between!

Related Posts:
If Only This Suitcase Could Talk
Research From a Reader…More On Yamamura-San’s Suitcase
Yamamura Really Got Around…More Details on His Suitcase Travels

Image credits; 1-2. me, 3-5. screenshots via One Kings Lane, 6. via The Meadows Antiques and Interiors, 7. Elle Decor July 2009, photo credit: Roger Davies, 8. House Beautiful June 1999, photo credit: William Waldron, 9. via Victoria Hagan, 10. via, 11. House Beautiful June 2002, photo credit: Carlos Emilio, 12. Country Living October 2010, 13-14. via HGTV, 15. via A Shah’s Life, 16. House Beautiful October 1993, photo credit: Richard Felber, 17. via

Tokyo Jinja

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