Saturday, January 9, 2010

Japanese Glass Floats

A few years ago, I visited my sister’s home on the Chesapeake Bay and was transfixed by a beautiful accessory in the guest room. My sister told me that it was a Japanese glass float. These floats were used for fishing, and were tied to fishing lines. The floats, when used with fishing lines, had nets tied around them, but often they would escape from the line when the net rotted or when storms washed them away (source). Finding Japanese floats is a beachcombers treasure. Of course, due to the popularity of collecting glass floats, many replicas are now made.


Here is a picture of my sister’s guest room – the Japanese glass float is on the bench in front of the window. My sister bought hers on ebay after a month of searching for the perfect color glass. Image via Decor magazine, interior design by Jim Hawes of Caldwell-Beebe.


I have had a hard time finding pictures of interiors with Japanese glass floats used as accessories, but was able to find a few. The dining room was recently featured in Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles; the designer is Meridy King (photo credit: Mali Azima). These look like Japanese glass floats; most Japanese floats are green tones, as they were often made from recycled wine bottles, however, clear, amber, aquamarine, and blue were also produced (source).


This charming picture came from The Old Post Road blog. I love the three different sizes of the floats, and how they reinforce not only the color scheme in the room, but also the round shapes designed in the sides of the coffee table. Also, it helps that this room has a lot of great light – light on both sides of the room. Light truly makes the Japanese floats come to life.

3 floats[1]

Artist and blogger Annie Howell-Adams (click here) created a beautiful oil painting of three Japanese floats in her collection.


Brooke, from Velvet & Linen, recently came across a bowl of Japanese floats displayed at a Los Angeles flea market. (I met Brooke at Scott’s Antique Market yesterday; to see Brooke’s pictures from the day, please visit her blog).


Here is a picture of a Japanese float encased in a net.

pottery barn japanese float lamp

Of course, Pottery Barn is in on the action. They have a Japanese float lamp in their collection, which I saw on Alicia B’s blog.


When searching the internet for this post, I came across some interesting images. Brooklyn based Shibui Home (click here) specializes in Asian decorative products and antiques, and sells Japanese glass floats. They included some ideas for using Japanese floats in decor, such as these Japanese glass floats in a tall cyclinder. Note that there are a few that are rolling pin shaped; most Japanese floats are cylinders, but there were all sorts of shapes created for different fishing needs.


Japanese glass floats mounted in between two panes of glass.

I purchased some Japanese floats last year at Scott’s Antique Market; there is usually a vendor at Scott’s who specializes in Japanese floats and other nautical accessories. When I returned home with my treasures, I was dismayed to find that there really wasn’t a good sunny spot in my home to highlight the beauty of the floats.


So, I use a few around the house as bookends.


I also put a few of the smaller ones on the mantle of my bedroom fireplace, underneath my beautiful Amanda Talley painting (a birthday gift to myself last year!) . I really like them here – my room has a lot of blue in it, and the blue tones of these floats pull that out, but also look interesting contrasted with the light orange tones in the painting. The floats stay in place as they have an irregular surface, so it is not hard to find a position were they don't roll.

If you have ever seen Japanese floats used in decor, or have some yourself, please send me pictures - I am really intrigued with these little beauties!

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  1. Very interesting post. Your sister's guest room and your home are both gorgeous!

  2. These are so beautiful!! I love the painting Annie did featuring them in the blues and aquas! Interesting background story!

  3. And now so am I - these are terrific.

  4. While I see these glass balls often, my boyfriend just told me what they were during our visit to Scott's yesterday. I didn't know. They are so striking and simple that I am very glad you decided to post about them. I would love to see them in a garden!

  5. Oh Claire, I LOVE the idea of using them in a garden....a poor man's (or ladies) Chihuly;)


  6. These are so pretty!! Your sister’s guest room is just lovely too! Have a great weekend! :)

  7. I love mine too - I actually keep them in a pedestal bowl as a year-round centerpiece in my dining room.

    BTW - what a wonderful painting!

  8. I love the beauty of work-a-day objects: industrial art becomes decorative art, becomes fine art. I wonder, were the first glass floats an adaptation of fine art?

  9. From what I read, glass floats originated in a time when glass had become cheap (and it was in the pre-plastic days), and because its buoyant properties made it a perfect fit to be a float. Even though they look fragile, the glass is surprisingly thick and it can take a bit of a beating.

    Floats were made in all different sizes and shapes, but I have only seen the round ones (in person). One of these pictures has the rolling pin shaped glass floats.

  10. these glass floats are beautiful!

  11. Wonderful post! , I remember floats were everywhere in Brittany, France where I spent a couple of years when I was young. The fishermen used them to show where they had thrown their "casiers" -basket traps for lobster and crab-in the sea. I always loved their perfect shape, the rough rope net around them and the colored glass. Thank you for transporting me back to that lovely time.

  12. I love this post about Japanese glass floats. I'm also obsessed with them as well! I do have some displayed in my home and will send you a photo.
    I saw Brooke's post with you at Scot's yesterday. What fun you are all having. I so wish I were there!!
    I love your blog so much and borrowed a photo from your post about outdoor rooms. I'd love for you to come by and visit sometime :)
    Have a great weekend! Atlanta is definitely the happening place to be right now.

  13. Thanks for posting about these - I've seen them everywhere, but had no idea they were actually functional pieces.

  14. Great Post! I love the orbs! And.. of course I love my painting over your fireplace. It looks perfect there!

  15. These are such lovely little items. I especially love how they look on your mantle. I have procrastinated with taking my Christmas decorations off of my own mantle simply because I haven't thought of how I want to style it for the time being... you're brought me good inspiration!

  16. You found some great images, and the floats really are a wonderful accessory to use in almost any room! I have used them several times and generally there are a good amount for purchase at Scott's market. I recently used them in a model home I completed (you can see the image in my gallery). Thanks for a great post!

  17. I've never noticed these little beauties before but you can be sure I'll be keeping my eyes peeled from now on: I love them! I particularly like how you've displayed them in your own house; they work perfectly on your mantle.

  18. Great post! I love them on a fireplace mantel, dining table or bookends as you suggested. Gorgeous accessories.


  19. I love floats too! I used to have a few green ones, would have looked great in my living room. If only I had kept them.

  20. I love your sister's guest room! Do you happen to know the name/brand of light aqua paint that is on the walls?

  21. I bought a giant colander full of old blue, green and aqua glass floats years ago at one of my favorite antique shops in Dallas. It has moved from my coffee table to my dining table to my entry hall over the years. I still love the colander and the collection of floats. I never knew they were Japanese, though. Thanks for a wonderful post, as usual, and I agree, your home is looking beautiful!

  22. Thank you for the nice complements, everyone! The color on the wall of my sister's guest bedroom (the first picture is Donald Kaufman 29 (DK29). It is the most beautiful shade - like sea glass. It changes color throughout the day based on the light.

  23. Those are beautiful! I didn't know anything about them so thank you! I love how they look on the mantel in your bedroom.

  24. Question answered! I've seen these glass balls many times, but had no ideas what they were or how they were used. Now I know. I love them even more now that I know the history. Thanks for sharing.

  25. firstly....your buffet is beautiful.
    i can't see anything but the top portion, but i know the rest is great.

    i love things that are beautiful/decorative and still have a story and have a function.

    nice post

  26. I have seen these too and had no idea they were used for fishing. Of course, would love to have some for the color-my favorite. All the pictures you posted of your home and sister's were beautiful!!!

  27. Such a good post! We have several glass floats we found on the beaches in Alaska. My husband flew around interesting areas in the state doing search and rescue and found a very large one about the size of a basketball. It's interesting how the design field is showing these when we always thought them to be a bit of 'trash'. I like seeing them displayed artistically and creatively. Very nice.

  28. The art piece is stunning! And I like your displays. I did a post about the Japanese floats, and it includes an neat interior shot. I thought that you might get a kick out it:

    Glass Floats

  29. So beautiful!!!!! I am going to Scotts today to look for some!! See you there?

  30. I started collecting vintage/antique glass floats over 15 years ago after spotting a giant one (bigger than a basketball) at a local antique store. I now have three large ones and a wire basket full of small, colorful floats. My favorite is a deep blue. I even have a red one. I gifted a large bright yellow float to a close friend after she commented liking the color.

    I love the fact they are handmade and the way the sunlight brings them to life.

  31. Growing up in the 60's in Southern California I used to hear about these washing up on the shores of our beaches, having traveled all the way from Japan. Can this be true? I do remember seeing collections at neighbor's houses. They were pretty much everywhere then.

  32. Beautiful! I'm going to see if there are any on eBay. Do you happen to know who makes the chandelier in your sister's dining room? We're moving into a new home from an apartment and I'm looking for the perfect chandelier and that's it! Any info you could get me would be appreciated!

  33. These are neat. I like them as a single accent or on the mantle in a row...very effective. I was taken with the demijohn trend and went out and bought several of them (I wrote a post on it awhile ago), but I really like the simplicity of these too!

  34. One of my favorite desingners, Charlotte Comer, used Japanese floats in an interesting way in a sunroom. I blogged about it here:


    I'll e-mail you the photo directly. It's really lovely. She does such beautiful work.

  35. The chandelier in the dining room picture (which is actually from a home designed by Meridy King) looks like the Italian chandelier by Niermann Weeks. It is a beautiful chandelier!

  36. What a great post. My parents had a huge Japanese glass float in their living room sitting on the raised fireplace hearth. It was given to them by a Norwegian fisherman. If I find an old photo, will be sure to forward. The colors and how they evoke the sea makes them so charming.
    Great weekend to you ~

  37. You've taught me something today. Thank you. I have been using these glass balls for years in my design and now I know what they actually are.

    I love your Amanda Talley painting. I love Amanda and I'm trying to figure out exactly where the right place for one of her paintings is in my home. She is a doll.

    Thank you again for the great post.

    Gwen Driscoll
    Ragland Hill Social

  38. What a great post. I a collection although I have never found a nice big one, I do have several "rolling pins." I used to display them in a big bowl on my coffee table but banished it to the lower shelf of my hutch. After reading your lovely post, I am going to scatter them around the house where I can enjoy them! As always, thanks for the inspiration and sharing.

  39. How funny! Although I've never seen these on the Chesapeake, I was at my friend's salvage company today and they'd just gotten in about a dozen of these in. They're basketball sized and a beautiful green. I plan on picking one (or two) up! I will be posting about them tomorrow and linking back to you!


    my father was a navy captain, and when he took the ships and submarines he commanded out on their tours of the pacific, he would often find the balls floating in the middle of nowhere. i have a bowl full of them that he personally fished out of the pacific, proudly displayed on my dining table at all times. they are beautiful decorative objects as well as a personal reminder of my father, so i love and treasure them for both reasons. (i also use the floats for clients all the time- those, i buy on ebay!)

    my dad's, in my dining room:

    and in a client's entry hall:

    ps- your painting is beautiful, what a great way to celebrate your bday.

  41. Aloha,
    A lot of these in these islands. I was just at a friends house for the Holidays and they had a lovely collection...thanks for sharing...glass always seems to be so very tranquil somehow?


  42. This post has really struck a chord with me. When I was dusting off my floats my son reminded me about the Jan/Feb Jekyll Island "float hunt." The floats are the creations of very talented artists and are gorgeous. The floats are hidden on the beach. We have never found one, but its great fun to treasure hunt and a lovely time to visit the island.

  43. I have been entranced by floats for years now and currently my collection is in a birdbath in my garden which glow when the light hits them and glisten in the rain...Of course they are my fav colors!

  44. I have been using them in beach located projects for years for the same reasons that you love them. I used them at the Kiawah Island Beach Club, The Tides (restaurant) in the bookshelves in the bar area. It was a little easier a few years ago to find wonderful ones in all sizes. I used the larger ones with the knotted rope. We had used a very pretty Kathy Ireland aqua linen large check fabric on some slipper style sofas and chairs and the colors worked beautifully together.

    I also just completed a condo at Kiawah this past fall and we used them in a glass bowl on the dining room table. Again we had soft blue colors in Cowtan and Tout fabrics in the room and they looked beautiful. Those pictures are on my computer at the office. I will try to remember to send those to you next week.

    I constantly am amazed by your wonderful posts - keep up the good work!

    Judy Long

  45. I have some that I hang outside in my garden. I've used fishing line to hang them from a pergola and from some tree branches. They look beautiful in the sunlight and the survive the weather perfectly.

  46. The image of the one float in you sister's guest room is still my favorite. That float just glows in front of the window.
    I also love how sculptural the three floats look on your mantel. The color is just the perfect accent for your special artwork.


  47. I love these and want to start using them more often. AT artwork is on my list...

  48. Dear Holly,
    I love the imperfect quality of these floats. Also thought you'd like to know that the opening photo (reproduced as the #4 photo) is actually a room that was designed by Annie Selke that appeared in the February 2009 issue of HOUSE BEAUTIFUL (pages 66-67). The fabrics are all from the Annie Selke Home Collection and are available at the Calico Corners - Calico Home stores or at www.calicocorners.com. Hope you're recovering from Arctic Atlanta!

  49. Hi there,

    Great uses for floats! You can put them anywhere & they look beautiful!

    I actually go pick these up off the beaches of the Aleutians in Alaska. I have been doing it for 6 years now & have picked up thousands & thousands of floats. What was once a hobby has turned into a successful business. If anyone would like more information about glass fishing floats, feel free to check out my blog. I also have a website.


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