Tansu Chests – Practical Storage Stairs from Ancient Japan | Home Design Find

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Tansu Chests – Practical Storage Stairs from Ancient Japan

stair storage 1 furniture 2Here is a modern take on the traditional Tansu chest from Japan, that combines storage and a staircase, from my friend Nan Fisher of Desert Verde.

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Centuries before they became chic collectors items, traditional Tansu chests from Japanese country farmers were used for storage by simple country folk.

Japanese ships chest furniture 2

The hardware was traditionally created from forged iron with a black finish created by applying rapeseed oil to the hot metal, and sometimes from copper allowed to age naturally.tansu stairs furniture 2

Tansu chests include a tremendous variety of uses, from ship’s strong boxes, families’ clothing storage, peddler’s chests and kitchen cupboards. Tansu reflect what Japanese treasured and safeguarded, used daily and kept private. Tansu might hold swords, valuables, tea utensils, fine kimono, documents, foodstuffs or tools.

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The humble Tansu embodied Japanese aesthetic ideals such as asymmetry, rusticity, and quiet elegance. These chests, some of which were also used as a staircase, have been passed down for generations.

kaidan dansu 1 furniture 2

Kaidan dansu or literally stair-chests doubled as staircases. Ancient Japan had no building codes, so there are no railings to make for a safe climb, and of course a rowdy horde of hefty teenagers could not race down these stairs. Care and respect was ingrained in the culture, and it took a careful and slender householder to navigate this stair.

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Borrowing from the Japanese tradition, modern woodworking shops have undertaken to produce Tansu-inspired storage in stairs, even when there is no side access at all, as here.

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Although there is no stringer in a Tansu stair chest, it is safe to stand on because each step is a complete box, laid on a sturdy foundation of boxes below. Tansu can make practical way to get to a loft space, as the Hollywood cabinetmaking companyThe Laboratory shows.

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5 Comments so far to “Tansu Chests – Practical Storage Stairs from Ancient Japan”
  1. Tansu Chests – Practical Storage Stairs from Ancient Japan | talkinteriors.co.uk Says:

    [...] Tansu Chests – Practical Storage Stairs from Ancient Japan [...]

  2. Nambuthalai Says:


  3. nan Says:

    Hi Susan! Thanks for the mention! This is a wonderful article! I didn't know this stair/storage idea had such a long and interesting history. Thanks for digging it up and posting it. If I put stairs in my next house, they'll look like this. :)

  4. Susan Kraemer Says:

    Yeah, I only found it when I researched based on your commentor's comment

  5. tinagleisner Says:

    Loved your photos and borrowed a few, with photo credit, as I'm afraid my step tansu is filed high with stuff right now … so you save me time. Lived in Tokyo for 3 years & brought new step tansu back, the kind you can re-configure into lots of different shapes.

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