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Affordable Antiques: British Life in Tochigi

Interior shop British Life at Tochigi Prefecture.

Interior shop British Life at Tochigi Prefecture.

The British Life is an interior shop specializing in English furniture. Not to be confused with the sundry goods store with the same name in Shinjuku, Tokyo, this one is found in Shiobara City, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. I’ve heard that it sells reasonably-priced antiques, so when we visited the shop one summer day we were not surprised to find that it was located in a large garage, decorated with the Union Jack.

Most of the furniture were made from the late 19th to mid-20th century. Many of them seemed to be of the British Vernacular variety, plainer than classic Regency furniture, made for middle-class homes or country-house bedrooms. Some were also adaptations of well-loved styles: a Georgian chest of drawers, Regency/English Trafalgar dining chair, Queen Anne side chair, bow-back and fan-back Windsor armchairs, Neoclassical occasional table, Chippendale candlestand, and an Empire sideboard were some styles I could identify when we visited the shop. There was also what might be described as an Art Nouveau display cabinet. Here and there were Victorian floor lamps, along with trunks, bread boxes, and a variety of pottery and dinnerware, all made in England. Outside there was a set of cast-iron garden chairs and table, each chair having a pierced scroll back and circular pierced seat on scrolling legs, a style popular in the late 19th century England.

The Gasthof Ami bed-and-breakfast in Nikko City.

The Gasthof Ami bed-and-breakfast in Nikko City.

Dark brown antique furniture found in the shop would be perfect for a quaint bed-and-breakfast inn (called “pension” in Japan), and we were able to stay at such an inn, the Gasthof Ami in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. The inn sourced most of its furnishings from the British Life shop.

Antique doors at the Gasthof Ami, sourced from the British Life shop.

Antique doors at the Gasthof Ami, sourced from the British Life shop.

The inn owner, an obviously satisfied customer, happily showed me how one of the dining tables had a top with a pull-out flap on each side to extend the length of the table. He also demonstrated how the main dining table could be transformed into a mini billiards table by sliding off the top panels. The English doors, he said, were of a different size from the Japanese standard so they had a carpenter do custom fittings for them.

Furniture at the Gasfhof Ami sourced from the British Life shop.

Furniture at the Gasfhof Ami sourced from the British Life shop.

I loved how the inn’s dining room did not carry uniform dining sets. Instead you will find that each table and chair was unique. One of the tables had massive bulbous turnings, another had turned baluster legs with waisted support, while another had spiral-turned legs. Our table for dinner had a demilune drop leaf on one side. One of the chairs had a carved crest rail, while some had a simple, solid backsplat or spindle back, with baluster front legs and side stretchers. Some had spiral-turned front stretchers. All of them had upholstered, drop-in seats.

A console in the dining room of the B&B inn.

A console in the dining room of the B&B inn.

The most eye-catching piece of furniture in the room was an imposing, carved commode with chevron-patterned marquetry. The top sits on a carved frieze, while the drawers are flanked on either side by stylized pilasters topped by small Ionic capitals. It is supported on urn legs joined by an undertier.

Furnishings at the Gasthof Ami, sourced from the British Life shop.

Furnishings at the Gasthof Ami, sourced from the British Life shop.

With chintz wallpaper, a wooden mini bar, Victorian lamp shade, Tiffany-style table lamps, carved wooden mirror, and clock with wooden case and pendulum, the room had a cozy and calming atmosphere. Even the food (which was delicious in itself) looked better laid out on an antique table.

Dinner at the Gasthof Ami.

Dinner at the Gasthof Ami.

We had a lovely time dining at the Gastof Ami, and had fun perusing furniture at the British Life shop, where the quaint little inn’s furniture were sourced. For those of us that love antique furniture but are unable to spend a fortune purchasing authentic period pieces, the British Life shop in Tochigi might just have the perfect solution.

Breakfast at the Gasthof Ami.

Breakfast at the Gasthof Ami.

External Links

British Life in Tochigi – official website (Japanese). They also sell online.
Gasthof Ami – official website (Japanese)

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4 comments

  1. noritan /

    I think the furniture of Ami’s bar counter is realized in the counter of your Portfolio “Artist’s Tree”.

  2. Sharon /

    I wonder how big a discount the furniture shop gives the pension? ;-)

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