The Goods: Tansu Furniture

One of the aspects of interior design I enjoy so much is the depth of design knowledge to be found from every culture that enriches the lives of client and designer alike.  I have recently been working  with Japanese tansu furniture for a project and have found them to be a real insight into the Asian arts and culture.

Japanese tansu are much more than items of furniture. Extraordinary and versatile wooden cabinetry, dating as far back as 7th-century Japan, tansu represent a rich folk heritage unique in the world. Although created primarily for function and portability, these pieces of furniture reflects equally the masterful craftsmanship and aesthetic sensibility found in the finest Japanese art and design.  Furniture as an expression of art and way of communicating ones trade and status.

Tansu have been traditionally fabricated from fine woods such as chestnut, elm, cedar, kiri, and sipo (similar in property to mahogany).  There are many different categories of tansu ranging from pieces that would have been used as staircases, in the kitchen, for clothing storage, sword storage, and merchant inventory.  Functionally and visually the common thread they all share  in addition to the beautiful woods and fabrication are optimal storage solutions, and beautiful hardware that serve an aesthetic and functional purpose. 

A contemporary  four-step tansu (Kaidan-Dansu)
Courtesy of Eastern Classics (
A modern interpretation of the tansu concept

I am struck by how the German Biedermeir movement might have drawn inspiration from the tansu tradition.  Simplicity, utility, and masterful craftsmanship also being the hallmarks of these equally intriguing pieces.


Birch Biedermeier Secretary
2nd Quarter 19th Century
Courtesy:  Christie’s


Mizuya-dansu being used in a ktchen designed by Michael S. Smith


Mizuya-dansu (kitchen cabinet)


tansu as bed side storage

While antique tansu furniture may be out of reach for many design projects, companies like Eastern Classics specialize in authentic high quality tansu fabrication that can be customized to meet your specific storage and design criteria.

Bye for now.