Our recent trip to Japan found us in the most Southern part of Japan’s main island, spending our first days in Kumamoto city. Japan always has us returning because every region seems to have their unique cultural specialties, so even though there is a familiarity to some cities in Japan, it really does feel like a completely new experience when you go to a new region
Kumamoto Castle just so happened to be outside the doorsteps of our hotel. It has a special place in popular culture because of the epic Samurai movie Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa in which soldiers attack the castle. It was the most expensive film ever to be made in Japan in that period.
The stone walls are very beautiful, and incredibly difficult to scale I’m sure.
The exterior is really beautiful, but it isn’t an old castle. Actually it was rebuilt in 1960, and the interior is now a museum.
The laying of Japan: parking lot, stone tower for spirits, bamboo, and office building.
Kumamon bear, the character for Kumamoto City.
We also visited the former home of author Lafcadio Koizumi who is famous for translating traditional Japanese folklore and ghost stories for a Western audience.
His home and garden were very beautiful.
American icon-ism in Japan.
We would be spending most of our visit with our friend Ai Hosokawa, who took us to an incredible coffee shop called Antiques-Coffee.
The owner is a famous Ikebana artist (pictured), curator of antiques, bee keeper and makes some incredible coffee which is served in lacquer-ware cups by famous wood artisan Ryuji Mitani.
Most of the antiques come from Japan, Korea and China. There are also beautiful floral arrangements to be found throughout the cafe.
These two Mei-Ping vases really caught my eye. The one on the left is ceramic and the other to our surprise is made from copper coated with lacquer-ware. We ended up taking that one home with us.
The antique glass vase also caught my eye, but I could only chose one piece for myself so early on in the trip.
For those of you that follow us on Instagram, you probably know we just got back from a short but sweet trip to Japan.
This was our first trip outside of the country in almost 2 years, so as you might expect we had our share of business meetings and visits with suppliers as well as artisans to interview for the book and also to secure some future exhibitions. Having said that, there were some really beautiful moments visiting our friends, meeting new ones, sharing meals and the reinvigorating inspiration that comes from traveling.
On our last day in Tokyo just before our flight left in the late afternoon we went with our friends Ian and Kimberly to one of their favorite Sunday antique markets. This was where all of the restraint we showed not buying things during the first portion of our trip had worn off and we had some yen left over in our pockets ready to be spent before we got on our flight.
It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but in all of our visits to Japan we never made a point to visit an open air antique market. We have been to a lot of antique shops, but we never really did enough research to find out where and when the markets were on. Luckily our friends formerly from Toronto, now living in Tokyo, had been to many of the markets around the city and took us to this one.
Needless to say, we walked away with some very nice work.
Although not specifically from this antique market, we found the Mei Ping vase above at Antique-Coffee located in Kumamoto.
I originally thought the vase was ceramic, but after picking it up I was shocked to find it weighed almost nothing. The vase is made from copper, and then finished with black urushi. It is from Korea and around 200 years old, the urushi has been slowly peeling away and underneath the exposed copper has turned a blue-green colour. The vase was originally used to fill with sake to be offered to the gods.
From here on these are all the antique market finds. This one I especially love because I knew absolutely nothing about it, even after I bought it I came back to ask some more information. It’s an old Korean copper or brass bowl, around 1000 years old. It seems we are naturally attracted to Korean work, some of the best metal and pottery we saw on our trip was from Korea. Now these pieces are even more significant since the government has banned Korean antiques from leaving Korea. If you go to a shop or market there and legitimately buy something, they will apparently confiscate it from you at the airport.
Copper has been a reoccurring material obsession for us.
From the same dealer where we bought the Korean bowl we also saw this small shrine, which is actually one used for traveling.
It is from the 1600s, and coated with a rich black Japanese lacquer.
What is really spectacular is when the doors are opened, beautiful gold leaf lined doors and back panel with three intricately carved figures are revealed. There has been some speculation about who these figures are, so if anyone knows anything about them please write us.
Another object we had no idea about, is this pair of wooden sticks on a rope. I just really liked the form, weight and shape especially where the rope was tied. Bringing them back home we found out these are knockers used during the Kabuki theater to get people to sit down and get ready for the show.
This is maybe more of a touristy thing, but I wanted to find a nice gong to hang on our wall. The problem was finding a really nice old copper one, not a new one made of brass or one made from iron. It also had to be simple. There were a couple of gongs at the market but this one was the nicest, and the sound is really nice.
These wooden molds to make Tea Ceremony sweets are beautiful and sculptural.
What made this mold special to us is its shape. There were a lot of other molds we saw, but none of them had a handle.
We loved how the carvings just peak out through the openings.
Red snapper is a special fish used to symbolize celebrations, crane and turtle are for long life and wisdom.
Another beautiful object that caught Juli’s eye was this antique watering can in copper. Its smaller scale makes it ideal for watering bonsai and other small plants.
The form is incredible.
Finally, always one to attempt to find a piece of artwork during our travels Juli found this lovely print of a dancer. In a way it has a Japanese quality, but is in fact, to our surprise made by a French print maker in the 1960s. It’s being framed now, so we’ll share another photo once it’s up on our wall.
Yes, you didn’t read that title wrong. We are back picking up where we left off 6 years ago, when we first started renovating our clapboard cottage on Georgian Bay.
So much has happened in that time, the short of it being:
We opened Mjölk
Had 2 kids
These are significant milestones and as you get older and your family begins to grow, your needs tend to change. When we started our first renovation we did all of the work ourselves, and of course we were limited by our abilities and had to use some ingenuity to get the job done. Hence the crafty plywood walls (I didn’t know how to drywall) and the relentless use of white paint on the floors, walls, doors and ceilings.
We’ve reached a point that some of our initial handy work is starting to get a little shabby looking, and this summer we decided to do some aesthetic and functional renovations.
Above: A photo of some work in progress: new sconces for the mantel, repurposed from two of the bedrooms.
One of the biggest changes we have made is we cladded the entire interior of the cottage with tongue and groove pine painted white. We also painted the blue doors out white.
It now looks incredibly Swedish and has given the space a whole new energy!
The sexiest change is definitely the kitchen, which has been a source of frustration for us during the past few summers. Our small work kitchen was perfect when it was just the two of us but now with two kids we are cooking in portions to feed four each meal, and when we have guests over this number can easily reach over 10 people. Our sweet deal of a find under counter fridge died THREE years ago (we’ve been running back and forth to the guest cottage) and no one would service it (too good to be true I guess). As a result, we had to get a regular sized fridge which completely compromises our counter space.
We took a look at the configuration of the cottage and ultimately decided to move the entire kitchen(!!!), and in the process come up with an entire new design.
A couple of teaser additions are in the photo above: I am not going to lie, I have always wanted a SMEG fridge. I can’t believe they are still made in Italy, and the design is just so endearing. The jewelry so to speak is the unlacquered brass faucet resting on top which will be wall-mounted. We got this faucet from Addision’s here in Toronto, which is a fascinating architectural and antique plumbing store. I think it is made from two different fixtures put together by the owner so we could achieve a super long faucet.
You may also be wondering what will replace the old kitchen – we have zero storage so we thought some large wardrobes would be perfect, making the space more of an entryway instead of a bottleneck.
We’re looking forward to sharing the results with you as we get the work done!
In the meantime, if you want to see some of this stuff live as it happens please follow our Instagrams:
Many of the painting depict everyday life with a nod to Scandinavian design and lifestyle. We ended up buying a couple of paintings after seeing the OEN blog post, and after seeing a recent batch of new works decided to round out the collection with three.
The one above is a newer work with figs, these shapes are cut out and painted and placed back on the wooden canvas to give it more depth.
These shapes remind us of Alvar Aalto’s Savoy vase.
This one is inspired by the Tea Trolley by Alvar Aalto which is one of our favorite pieces of furniture.
Also in this photo: The Spoke-back sofa by Borge Mogensen for Fredericia, a pillow from Marimekko, a Zebra pillow by Alvar Aalto for Artek, a blanket by Inga Sempe for RorosTweed and a Moroccan Berber rug. All items available from Mjolk.
We’re very excited for porcelain artist Alissa Coe’s solo exhibition, happening here at Mjölk in just two days!
We’ve received some finished samples to photograph and the work is incredible! Please come out to our opening reception this Wednesday, May 6th from 7:00pm – 10:00pm.
A collection of work in porcelain inspired by the power and primordial nature of geometric form.
With this body of work I have attempted to create a primal feeling, as if each piece could have existed from the beginning of time, encapsulating all the strength and fragility of nature in the quality of the forms and materials.
- Alissa Coe
If you haven’t already had a chance to watch any of the City of Makers episodes, we would recommend watching Alissa’s first. This interview happened during the beginning stages of her work for this exhibition, and you can get a glimpse into her inspirations and hints at what might be in the exhibition.
The image above is a sampling of the vessels and tableware that was made specifically for the show in primary shapes, made from thin white nearly translucent porcelain. She will also be presenting a 6′ long ceiling sculpture and a 6′ tall pyramid sculpture.
Large hexagonal flower vessels.
Elements water carafe and tumblers, a collaboration between Alissa Coe and Vincent Joseph Montastero.
Hand thrown cone vase.
A grouping of three hand thrown vases.
Black glazed hand thrown vessels with distorted lip.
Some photos of Alissa’s studio during the process of creating works for the exhibition.
The rough porcelain components of the pyramid sculpture.
Various plaster moulds and nearly finished pieces.
Are you familiar with the book “Scandinavian Modern” written by Chrystina Schmidt and Magnus England? It contains some beautiful interiors of some of the most notable designers and architects in Scandinavia spanning from mid-century homes to current dwellings. The photograph above is from my favourite article, which is the home of Børge and Alice Mogensen, it is especially beautiful since the home itself (designed by Børge Mogensen) is a beautiful blend of Danish and Japanese design sensibilities, and also includes all their personal effects and art, all in perfect harmony within the space.
The photograph above is of particular significance, as you can see it has been opened to this page so many times the binding has broken which means when opening the book it naturally wants you to settle here. This is where we show a lot of our customers what a Mogensen sofa will look like in 40+ years, and how natural materials get better with age. It also in some ways gave us the courage to buy our own 2213 sofa, and as a direct result of that experience of buying a sofa from Denmark and having a lot of trouble during the process bringing it over to Canada, it gave us the idea to open our own shop bringing in Scandinavian furniture and crafts from Japan.
I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at these images of Mogensen’s home, first obsessing over the furniture, and then the rugs and pottery, trying to find out who designed them… Then the artwork on the wall, who made these pieces? Particularly that purple modernist painting… How would you ever go about finding the name of the artist?
Unfortunately Alice Mogensen died a few years ago, and the home was sold along with all of the personal contents which were sold at auction. For better or worse, the home has found a new and different life, and we will never get to see it as it once was.
I personally think the Mogensen home should have become a museum like Finn Juhl’s home, or Alvar Aalto, but of course I don’t know the circumstances and cannot speculate further. If these pieces were to disperse around the world it would seem very fitting that fate would find us and give us the opportunity to secure the exact painting we had been so captivated by in Mogensen’s home for years.
Recently I was searching for Mogensen pieces online and serendipitously stumbled across a listing for this exact painting!
The artist is Albert Mertz, and the name of the painting is “The Abandoned Space”, painted in 1962 and presented during an exhibition in Denmark, of work that the Danish painter had done while living in Paris. All of the other paintings in the room are also by Albert Mertz, possibly acquired from the same opening.
The Spanish chair in front of the painting.
Our new-ish Mogensen 2213 sofa slowly turning that famous cognac colour, although it will take many more years.
We feel very lucky to be able to have this work in our home, and have a little part of the interior that inspired us so much in our life.