Layers of Visual Intricacy: Tansu Cabinets from the Alexander Lamont Studio

5 July 2024 Posted by Alexandra Lamont

The Alexander Lamont Studio has long been a place of rich experimentation in new surface materials and finishes. Inspired by the beauty and ingenious design of traditional Japanese storage cabinets or “tansu”, the Alexander Lamont Studio has reworked some original examples in newly developed finishes to create iconic, one-of-a-kind pieces each with an intricate tactile surface. Japanese tansu were typically used to store kimono, personal effects or kitchen objects. Made from a variety of different woods, tansu are simple in form but striking with their custom-made metalwork details.  Working with natural lacquer and combining the techniques of Lacquered Eggshell, Straw Marquetry, Shagreen, and bronze, each tansu cabinet is crafted by a single artisan from start to finish to bring harmony to the piece. 

Studio Palette Tansu Cabinet

Studio Palette Tansu Cabinet – Edition 1/1

This is a unique tansu incorporating multiple techniques, tones of lacquer, and sizes and colours of shell representing the rich development work of our studio. The design is inspired by the small swatches or samples of new materials that are made every day to test new ideas. When these swatches are laid out on a table the effect is a beautiful myriad of texture and tone. We wanted to see how this effect would work on a large plane – the different squares coming together as a contemporary art ‘canvas’.  For Alexander this is art that lives in our hands rather than on the wall, that changes and works for us, becomes one with us. 

We wanted to see how this effect would work on a large plane – the different squares of lacquered eggshell in myriad colours and finishes juxtaposed in a contemporary art ‘canvas’. This creates an intensity of textural and colour palettes in a unique pattern” – Alexander Lamont 

Flooded Paddy Tansu Cabinet – Edition 1/1

An early 20th century kiri (pawlonia) tansu finished with large indigo-dyed shagreen skins. Inspired by the flooded paddy fields of Thailand that lie side-by-side in different directions, this piece reflects the light while also having a rich varied depth to the colour and texture created by beautifully applied, tonally varying shagreen. This tansu (cabinet) forms part of an ongoing ‘conversation’ between the simple, traditional furniture of Japan and the special surfaces developed in the Alexander Lamont Studios in Bangkok.

“Shagreen (stingray) is one of the most beautiful and durable materials in the natural world with its intricate myriad enamel beads covering the surface. We have mastered the techniques of working with this complex material – a by-product of the fishing industry pushing it into contemporary directions with unique pieces such as this tansu, whose mesmerising surfaces form a wonderfully abstract work of art” – Alexander Lamont 

Flooded Paddy Tansu Cabinet

Eroded Wave Tansu – Edition 1/1

This kiri (pawlonia) tansu cabinet with beautifully detailed bronze-wear is finished in lacquered woven-straw marquetry. The Eroded Straw Marquetry Tansu has both an exacting and random pattern made by the building-up of layers of straw marquetry in different directions. The effect of this is to create surfaces that are beautiful to-the-touch, and also visually striking in how the light is reflected. Different tones and colours create another layer of visual intricacy. The aim is to make a unified and harmonious surface using our unique skills and ideas – like the paddy field that is complex yet serene. 

We realized that the surface patterning emerged from the straw – a glimmering linearity that would never have been visible without the slow work and the fact of the lacquer ‘flooding’ and holding the straw in place. The real beauty for me is how the patterning changes slightly with some areas remaining under the lacquer and others ‘burning’ through a little; the perfection of abstract artistic craftsmanship.” – Alexander Lamont   

Eroded Wave Tansu Cabinet

Each original tansu cabinet is carefully restored to ensure the structure is strong. It is then covered with a base material – either lacquer or gesso – to provide a smooth surface for the chosen signature material to be applied. Hours of work go into the meticulous inlay of eggshell lacquer, straw marquetry or shagreen to achieve the effect and finish desired. At the end the tansu’s bronze hardware is replaced ensuring that all elements of the original piece are retained.  These are the heirlooms of the future – antiques that have been restored and transformed to become breath-taking works of art for the home. Contact us at if you have any questions about these unique pieces. 

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