Tansu Step Chest

Johnnie and I didn't have very much furniture before we came here.  All that we have in storage back in the States is a couch, love seat, coffee table, and a full size bed.  To Korea, all we brought with us is a queen bed, two old dressers, and a console table.  We compare it to living like college students :)

While we've been in Korea, we finally purchased some amazing furniture pieces that make us feel like grown-ups.  For example, we bought a dining room table and chairs.  Not a cheap one just to use, but a really nice one that we plan on having for the rest of our lives.  Thanks to our informative friends here, we found some great off-the-beaten-path furniture and antique stores and bought some beautiful wooden furniture that makes our house look more like a home.

One of my favorite pieces that we bought is the "stair step cabinet".  It's officially called a Japanese Tansu Step Chest.  These are a very common sight in the furniture and antique stores around here.

The cabinet has many doors, drawers, and sliding panels.  Some of them have discrete and clever locking mechanisms.

The cabinet is actually made up of three pieces.  The front and the back of the cabinet are identical.  The drawers can be pushed or pulled through either side.  This allows for the cabinet to "step down" in either direction, work as a room divider, or be displayed in different arrangements.

Alternative arrangement #1

Alternative arrangement #2

“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”
~William A Ward


  1. Does Dulce climb the stairs it forms? I know if I had something like that I would find a rat terrier on the top in no time ;)

    1. LOL :) She hasn't tried yet, but she's not a huge fan of stairs to start with. We'll be putting some picture frames or decorative items on some of the stairs which should deter her if she was thinking about it.

  2. Hi, my name is Melanie and I'm currently living in Korea. I am looking to get a chest like this. Can I ask how much you paid for it and if you remember where you got it?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! We were stationed at Osan Air Base in the Songtan-dong, Pyeongtaek-si area, about an hour south of Seoul. I remembering seeing chests like this in many stores around there. We bought our tansu from MeWah Antiques. It was an small, off-the-map kind of place that you would never existed if someone didn't tell you about it. It was near the area of the Air Base where we were stationed. I don't remember exactly what we paid for it because we bought a few pieces of furniture and were given a "good deal" as a result :) Don't forget to bargain the price when you shop!

      We bought some other furniture that we love from Kojeon Antiques - a HUGE store full of amazing pieces and is much easier store to find than MeWah. It is also south of Seoul.

      This blog gives the info and addresses of both stores:

      Have fun furniture shopping!

    2. Sorry, that address doesn't appear to be working, try this one:

  3. Hi Angela, love your site. We just PCSed to Osan as well and your blog seems to be the most thorough and organized out there. Both of these furniture stores have been recommended to us, but I was wondering if you remember seeing king-size bed frames at either store? I know it's an uncommon size out here but thought I would check. Thank you!

  4. Hi, years ago I also bought a Tansu in Seoul. Now they are in storage and I am still living an expat life...in Paraguay now. I would like build a couple as I have nice wood and a access to a shop. Would you have the time to provide the dimensions of the two main pieces (heigth x width X length) ? Tks.
    ps. very nice blog, quite the commitment!,

    1. Sure! Good luck building them! The main rectangle piece is 45" tall, 34" wide, and 17.5" deep. The two step pieces are approximately 25.25" wide, 33.5" tall, and 17.5" deep. Each step is about 8.5".

  5. Tks for the reply. I'll send pictures when finished, who knows when. FYI I will used plans published by Canadian Woodworking magazine. Modified as it is not as modular as the original. https://www.canadianwoodworking.com/plans-projects/step-tansu. Tks again.