Sunday, May 5, 2013

Field Trip! - British antique shop Victorian Craft, Nagano

series of posts from visiting interesting little (and large) cafes, food-related establishments and other places of inspiration.

Braving the Golden Week holiday crowds, I trundled off to Matsumoto in Nagano last week to have a look at Victorian Craft (their site is sometimes down recently, try again later if the link doesn't work) - the British antique importing, furniture making and shop designing business that Royal Scotsman owner had told me about.

On the ground floor of Victorian Craft there are a few different knick-knack areas, for kitchen things, garden bits and pieces, light fittings and odds and ends many of which are new rather than antique.

Upstairs has the larger imported furniture, some of their own brand "Oak Leaf" furniture, stained glass and old doors.

Starting downstairs then, you're greeted by this old pianola and trumpet in the entrance way. I heard people testing out the keys of the piano now and again as I walked round the shop, but no-one must have been brave enough to have a go at the trumpet.

After the shelves of random old English books and a few framed prints you come to the gardening corner with little old-looking containers, watering cans and candles. It was interesting to see the kind of things people were buying to pretty-up their gardens and balconies.

The kitchen section had quite a bit of enamel-ware like old (looking) white bread boxes, and thin enameled plates. For the downstairs bric-a-brac section you could use a wicker basket to put all your goodies in, and I can see how the novelty of doing that might lead to buying more than you planned to.

You can buy the baskets as well as use them in the shop

I was amazed to see the kinds of things hoarded here - my Mum had loads of these upper body frames when we had the wool shop, and here they were selling for about 10,000 yen! (about 65 pounds).

In the downstairs section, antiques, used items and British imports were mixed in among the new items but were usually labeled as such, or otherwise defined by the difference in price. The enamel jug was about 8,000 yen and labeled as a 'genuine British antique'.

The cabinet being used to house all the little drawer handles and hooks still had the Dymo embossed labels with things like "drill bits" and "spring washers" in place. You can even buy horse brasses and fancy brass toilet roll covers here...

There were a few swinging shop signs, but they were quite a bit more expensive than I had imagined - the cheapest on display here at 98,000 yen, over 600 pounds. In the bracket section there were also some simpler designs at under 10,000 yen which you could attach your own sign to, though a shop sign is perhaps something I can buy abroad and fit in my suitcase to save some money.

Something else I saw here that was interesting was a stack of Old Village paint. This is an American company that specialise in "18th and 19th century color fidelity" and who have been making paint since 1816.

About an hour (seriously...) after I arrived, and a quick look at the lighting section and I headed upstairs to check out the old imported furniture. Most of the items I saw were from the 1950s onwards, with some of the older-looking bookcases labeled as being from the 1970s but made in an older style.

The furniture seemed to be laid out in groupings of a classical old fashioned area with some of the furniture verging on the Granny, or even monastic in appearance (aha! Christon cafe, is this where you get all your Churchy stuff?) and a 1960-70's area more along the lines of what you'd see in the form of new and somewhat diminutive versions in interior design shops like Franc Franc (see the Franc Franc furniture catalog to see what I mean).

Between the two styles of furniture was a kids area with little desks and some cabinets and things like the wash stand in the photo above that, while not originally designed for children, I could see might sell to Japanese parents looking for something special and a bit different.

Something Victorian Craft specialise in is doors. The picture above shows a door before refurbishment (the blue part) and after (green). It was quite a strange feeling to see all these used doors, stacked up like oil paintings, some of them still with their original locks from when they were in use in homes in the North of England maybe... who knocked on to call to see if the kids could come out to play? What letters were posted through, and who struggled to get the key in the lock after a night at the pub?

Many of the doors have stained glass panels and, as in the case of the pretend door on the corner of the Royal Scotsman, if there is a piece of stained glass and a separate door that you like they will put them together for you.

 A few of the many stained glass panels

They also had quite a few chandeliers and kilim rugs, which I've noticed to quite stylish effect in quite a few cafes to cozy up the concrete floors of trendy cafe spaces like Irving Place in Shirokanedai.

Something I'd love to have in my space would be a couple of battered dark brown wingback chairs. They had one at Victorian Craft that was particularly lovely, unfortunately so was the price tag... 218,000 yen, (about 1,400 pounds) gasp!

On their site, (on which by the way you can buy many of these items without going to Nagano) you can also see a selection of items that they have made new, and distressed them to appear aged. These are their Oak Leaf branded items that are popular for the Irish pubs and some hairdressers in Tokyo. I understand that they will work with businesses on designs specifically made for their premises. This nested table set is an example of one of their own-brand, Oak Leaf 'new antiques'. They sometimes hold workshops such as "making your own antique frame" which would be interesting to see some of the aging techniques they use. For insights into their opposite process of repairing and refurbishing have a look at their 'repair blog'.

I finished off my day of thorough scouring of Victorian Craft with a lovely piece of cake and a sit down looking at the snow-capped Northern Alps from the sunny terrace of Santa Cafe on the ground floor of the complex.

It's a 2.5 hour ride on the JR limited express Super Azusa train (or 2 hours 50 minutes on the regular Azusa train), from Shinjuku to Matsumoto station, and then a couple of stations on a local line and a short walk, or 10 minutes by taxi straight from Matsumoto station to get to Victorian Craft. Here is their map page (Japanese) and here is a Google map (the 'Santa Cafe' in the link is in the same building as Victorian Craft).

Having other plans for the rest of Golden Week I came back on the same day, which was a bit of a squeeze and a lot of train time. If you have time to stay over, you could work in a stay at a ryokan in somewhere in the region like the Shirahone onsen area (about 90 minutes from Matsumoto by car / 30 min train ride + 50 minute bus).

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