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Don’t Nak It ‘Til You Try it

Don’t Nak It ‘Til You Try it

Rago’s Arlen Sam Brown on the Versatility of George Nakashima

13 October 2016

by Arlen Sam Brown

In the past 10-15 years, furniture by George Nakashima has become highly collectible; he is regarded today as one of the most original and influential American woodworkers of the 20th century. Reams have been written about his pioneering design and craftsmanship and justifiably so. Form and function intertwine in his work with minimalist grace.

As Rago’s stager and an interior designer, what I find spoken of too infrequently is the incredible versatility of Nakashima’s designs. His influences – Asian, Shaker, Modern – make Nakashima furniture laudably useful, as well as beautiful. His aesthetic mixes successfully in traditional and contemporary interiors. It works with Abstract Expressionism and Americana, in board rooms and bed rooms, in farmhouses and penthouses.

George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington in 1905. He earned his Master’s Degree in architecture from M.I.T. in 1931 before selling all of his possessions and setting off to travel the world. Nakashima lived in France and North Africa before accepting a job with architect Antonin Raymond in Japan. He returned to American in 1940 and began teaching woodworking and making furniture in Seattle, WA. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Nakashima, along with thousands of other American citizens of Japanese descent, was sent to an internment camp in Hunt, Idaho. During his internment, Nakashima met Gentaro Hikogawa, a fellow captive who tutored him in traditional Japanese carpentry.

After his release, George Nakashima opened a studio and workshop in New Hope, PA, where he worked to perfect the techniques taught to him by Hikogawa. In an effort to explore and exhibit the organic expressiveness of wood, he often selected plank and boards containing burls, knots and figured grain. While more difficult to work with, Nakashima favored these ‘flawed’ cuts for their raw, natural beauty.

Modernist Living Room

For this modernist living room I paired a George Nakashima Minguren coffee table (Lot 1155) with a Vladimir Kagan Cloud sofa (Lot 1256) and a Cedric Hartman side table (Lot 948) to create a clean and welcoming sitting area. A Wendell Castle “Star” cabinet (Lot 1172) and Gene Sherer “Chest of Drawers” jewelry cabinet (Lot 1188) add an element of whimsy to the ensemble, well-balanced by the minimalism of a pair of Cedric Hartman adjustable floor lamps (Lot 1267) and a Charles and Ray Eames room divider (Lot 772).

Rustic Dining Room

Burls, knots and figured grain, combined with roughhewn natural edges, imbue Nakashima furniture with the innate rusticity that inspired me in this imagined dining room. The massive Wharton Esherick dining table (Lot 1053) with its buttery finish and gentle curves, is balanced by the lightness of a set of Nakashima Grass-Seated chairs (Lot 1163). The Pandanus cloth of the Nakashima Sliding Door cabinet (Lot 1164) plays off of and complements the grass twine of the chairs. For lighting I chose an early 20th century chandelier by Gustav Stickley (Lot 408) with lanterns that hang like ripe fruit, while an organic, Dale Chihuly Persian glass sculpture (Lot 1301) provides a verdant explosion of color. The WWII binoculars by Toko (Lot 1147) provide contrast and an apt finish - perfect for bird watching and exploring the outdoors from the comfort of your own rustic paradise.

Man’s Dressing Room

To create this man’s dressing room, I used a Minguren dining table (Lot 1153) as a center table. A Paul Evans Patchwork mirror (Lot 1029) and a Wharton Esherick sculpture (Lot 1056) of a bird in flight will enrich wall space not devoted to wardrobe, while a pair of Nakashima Greenrock stools (Lot 1159), a long and low Conoid bench (Lot 1000) and a Hans Wegner Valet chair (Lot 1113) provide ample and appropriate seating. Accent with a Nakashima table lamp (Lot 1005) and add miles of built-ins for clothing, shoes and luggage, and my fantasy is complete. (Why a man’s dressing room, you ask? The defining characteristic of the Nakashima aesthetic is strength in simplicity.)

View these, and other designs by George Nakashima coming to auction, HERE.