Finding Furniture in Unexpected Places

By Edward Gorey

Oh, look! A three-legged stool by Edward Gorey

Recently I saw a painting that really should not have featured any furniture at all. My reaction was, “Well that was unexpected.” Have I become more attuned to the presence of furniture (the non-upholstered kind) after reading and indexing several books for Lost Art Press. Have I been spending more time finding images of furniture and woodworking than watching cat videos? Yes, I think that must be it.

So, I did a review of some of my saved images, a few books and films and started noticing…Windsor chairs. I guess in the past the birthday cake and the cats in 1950s-era dresses distracted me.

Windsor chairs by Gorey (l.), windsors & sideboard by Mainzer.

Windsor chairs by Gorey (l.), Windsors & sideboard by Mainzer (r.)

One of my favorite books is “Under the Cherry Blossom Tree – An Old Japanese Tale” retold and illustrated by Allen Say. Maybe I should have noticed this before with all the time I spent on “Campaign Furniture.”

Is that..? Yes it is! A Roubo folding campaign stool!

Is he sitting on…? Yes it is! A Roubo folding campaign stool!

In my 1968 copy of “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame and illustrated by David Stone I stumbed on this cozy scene. Previously, I focused on all the cute little mice crowded together and warming themselves by the fire. Now, all I can see is the (Furniture of Necessity) settle.


In Hitchcock’s 1954 film “Rear Window” James Stewart lives in a really neat studio apartment. The focus is on him, what Grace Kelly will wear in the next scene and what are the neighbors up to. Did you know he had a tansu in his apartment? In 1954?

Tansu to the far right under the hanging light.

Tansu to the far right under the hanging light.

I have a tansu so maybe I’m a little tansu-sensitive. But did you notice the two in last year’s animated “Big Hero 6”?  A fairly large tansu with sliding doors and multiple drawers was in the workshop where Hiro is putting armor on Baymax.

Large tansu far right.

Large tansu far right.

The better tansu is in Hiro’s bedroom. The bedroom is stuffed with detail and it was hard to get a good long look at the tansu. By watching one clip about 30 times I did get the configuration figured out. The top two-thirds: five square equal-size drawers run lenghwise on the right; on the left side there are four drawers with the top three of equal size, the lowest one is about half again as deep. The next section has sliding doors; the bottom section is one full-width drawer.



Tansu detail.

Tansu detail.

Bottom of tansu, sliding door and drawer below.

Bottom of tansu, sliding door and drawer below.

You might be wondering which painting started this whole thing. It was an 18th-century Korean painting with tansu. Since this is a somewhat family-friendly blog only the edited version can be shown:

An unexpected tansu on right, giggling girl on left.

An unexpected tansu on right, giggling girl on left.

I was searching for examples of traditional Korean furniture and this painting was in the search results. It is from “An Album of Erotic Paintings.” There’s no need for furniture in this type of painting! By the way, the giggling girl is pointing at something hilarious.

I’m going to make my searches much, much more specific in future.

Suzanne Ellison

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10 Responses to Finding Furniture in Unexpected Places

  1. jwatriss says:


    Me? I’ve been surprised by some of the details in early Tom and Jerry… Not just of design, but occasionally of construction… Or, rather, deconstruction. (You need to understand how things go together, to understand how they’ll come apart.)

  2. I was watching the Charlie Brown thanksgiving last night and looking at the construction details of some of the buildings they were putting up. Massive timber framing pegged or drawbored mortises. In one scene there is a workshop with a split log with some legs attached being used as a bench.

  3. tsstahl says:

    “I’m going to make my searches much, much more specific in future.”

    I’m a computer systems administrator. In the early days of the pop-up laden Internet a well intentioned mom I worked with confided in me that she searched the Internet for “teenage girls”. She needed me to stop the parade of pr0n on her computer. I still laugh about that to this day. I had the exact same conversation with her about exacting searches. 🙂

    • saucyindexer says:

      It’s a good thing I don’t blush easily! Even on very narrow search terms some very strange things show up.

  4. toolnut says:

    I was watching an old Leave It to Beaver episode with my son (hoping the boy’s good manners would rub off) and the boys were sitting on their bedroom floor playing checkers at a round three-legged table that was about 18″ high. I wouldn’t have even noticed it except that this happened to air at about the time Fearless Leader was posting about three-legged tables and chairs. Now I notice that I sometimes find myself looking more at the background than the subject of a picture or show.

  5. momist says:

    Each to their own. I was fascinated by the tiling in the first two illustrations, and disappointed there weren’t any in the others. 🙂

    • saucyindexer says:

      I had a couple more tiles to do but it was almost 4 A.M. and time to get this post published. Maybe I should do an edit and send out an expanded edition…maybe.

  6. I paid a visit to Evert Sodergren’s studio, which is now basically a bunch of his gorgeous furniture kept in one half of a 2 car garage and carefully watched over by a caretaker. Along with his signature sculpted chair I was blown away by his beautiful tansu chests. Now I take special note anytime I see one in the wild.

    Anyone located near Seattle should make the trip. His home is beautiful and located right on Lake Washington and the spiral staircase he made himself is truly impressive.

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