Friday, January 22, 2010

Tansu step chests - furniture design with staying power

My favorite piece of furniture, and something that I treasure, is my Tansu step chest. It is the only piece of furniture that we willingly paid full, perhaps over, price for simply because I had always wanted one. Four or so years ago, I happened upon a Chinese antiquity shop filled with gorgeous chests, accessories, and statues. As I wondered through the store, I ended up in its basement where I found this particular piece. I called my husband and pretty much sobbed that it had to be mine.
The Tansus chest originated in Japan sometime in the 1800s. These chests were designed to enhance the minimal aesthetic of Japanese homes at that time and hold every day items such as food and clothing. They were also known for being minimal, practical, and portable.

The Tansus step chest is one of the earliest examples of Japanese cabinetry. Utilitarian in its design, these chests often bridged the literal gap between floors or served as room dividers sharing the same drawers and openings on both sides. They were also designed to be moved easily and quickly in times of disaster. Larger chest handles served as pole inserts so that the chests could be carried on the backs of two people.


My step chest is identical on both sides. It comes apart in 11 different sections, including the base.

Besides its functionality and practicality, I love how these chests fit seamlessly into any decor. This beautiful piece of furniture is steeped in history and remains relevant today.

Classic Tansu in a modern loft. [source]

Custom cabinetry that mimics Tansu [source]

Handmade mod Tansu chest by Wook Woodworking on Etsy (Northampton, MA)


Combined shelves from CB2 [source]

To see more great Tansus chests, visit this Flickr group here.

BONUS: While researching this post, I came across these great ideas that relate to the shape and functionality of Tansu. These would be perfect in small spaces.




  1. Your piece is amazing!

    I have seen those pieces before and never knew what they were called. Thanks for sharing!

    The stairs with the pull out storage, I could use that in my house.

  2. OOH! Your tansu is lovely! And when you divide the price you paid by the number of years you'll own & love it - cheap!

  3. Candy, I love your thinking. It is definitly a piece that will stay in our family for a long time.

    Additions, aren't those stairs great. Talk about using every inch of space!


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