Modern tastemaker treasures her traditional china

Tastemaker Jinous Kazemi deals in the contemporary and European, but her most prized possession is china inherited from her husband's grandparents. (Ron Tarver/ Staff Photographer)
Tastemaker Jinous Kazemi deals in the contemporary and European, but her most prized possession is china inherited from her husband's grandparents. (Ron Tarver/ Staff Photographer) (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 19, 2011

On the short list of those who have contributed to Philadelphia's image as "an American Paris" are Paul Philippe Cret, the architect who fashioned the Benjamin Franklin Parkway after the Champs Elysees, and Jinous Kazemi, resident fashionista and owner of Millésimé in Northern Liberties.

Kazemi, who grew up in Tehran, Iran, and moved to Philadelphia in 1979, frequently hops the pond to France, her aesthetic home. There she looks for finds for her concept store, which she compares to Merci, the Paris retailer renowned for its quirky mix of high fashion, used books, furniture, and flowers. Walk into Millésimé, and see a collection including gold-link chain necklaces embellished with bears' heads and paws by Lille native Lena Klax; silk scarves by French brand milleneufcentquatrevingtquatre; high-polish stepladders by Design House Stockholm; and clever kitchen tools by Joseph Joseph.

Prized possession: Considering she deals daily with the contemporary, it's surprising to discover that Kazemi's most cherished belongings are two sets of vintage china she inherited from husband Howard Verlin's grandparents.

The design: Pink lily of the valley-like flowers are at the center of the made-in-Japan pattern. Sprays of cheery, blue blooms (perhaps forget-me-nots?) adorn the set made by the U.S. company Syracuse China. Both edged in platinum, they are similar enough to mix together when Kazemi serves her guests.

The tableau: For coffee or tea, she arranges them on a simple, round, stainless steel tray by Alessi, an Italian company famous for manufacturing everyday objects with high-design pedigrees.

The "je ne sais quoi": Kazemi adored the grandparents-in-law who left her and Verlin their dishes. "I always had great conversations with them," she says. "Howard and I are from such different parts of the world [he's Jewish and from Philadelphia and she's Iranian Bahai], but our cultures have many similarities. We both believe in tradition and family." When she's serving guests, which is often (the couple moved from a house in Bella Vista to a larger one a few blocks from Washington Square because they were running out of room for their family of seven and frequent visitors), she often thinks about how his grandparents used these dishes for Hannukah dinners and seders. "I love that connection," she says.

The mix: The vintage dishes may be the most traditional, ornate thing in the 1835 Greek Revival home on Portico Row that the couple gutted and modernized, but they are quiet enough to fit in with the sleek surroundings. It's a lesson in (not) matching: Regardless of styles, personally inspiring things will coexist harmoniously.


Caroline Tiger is a design writer in Philadelphia. Visit her blog at design-phan.com

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