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Thursday, May 5, 2011

George Nakashima

George Nakashima (1905-1990) was born in Spokane, Washington, the eldest son of Japanese immigrants. He started at the University of Washington-Seattle as a forestry major but quickly changed to architecture and graduated in 1925. He then entered the Harvard Graduate School of Design but wanted an approach less theoretical than the program offered there and transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the emphasis was more on engineering. He received his Masters in Architecture in 1930.

In the late 1930s he worked in Tokyo for the architectural firm of Antonin Raymond. While there he became engaged to American Marion Okajima. They returned to the United States and were married in 1941. He went to work for the architect Ray Morin in Seattle, and there he first began making furniture in the basement of the Maryknoll Boys' Club, where he was given space in exchange for teaching the boys woodworking. It was at this time that Nakashima began his shift from architect to craftsman.

He had received a large commission from cosmetics magnate Andre Ligne, but his growing career was interrupted by World War II. From 1942-1943, Nakashima and his family were confined to the internment camp in Hunt, Idaho, but they were eventually allowed to leave under the sponsorship of Antonin Raymond and went to live on his farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Because of his recent internment, he was not allowed to work as a designer immediately. Instead he had to take care of the farm's chickens during the day and work on furniture at night.

In 1946 he was able to open his own studio on Aquetong Road, and his career began to grow. He enjoyed his greatest success during the 1950s through the 1970s. His signature pieces were large tables with smooth surfaces and unfinished natural edges. His style would change very little throughout his lifetime. He believed in meticulous, painstaking detail and the crafting of one-of-a-kind pieces in his studio, so he did very little work for mass production, with the exception of a few designs for Knoll and Widdicomb. One of his largest commissions was the design of over 200 pieces for Nelson Rockefeller.

He suffered a stroke in 1989, which diminished his technical ability, but he continued work up to his death rebuilding a collection for a couple who had lost the originals in a fire.

During his career, he received numerous prestigious awards, and his work has been exhibited in major museums around the country.


Armchairs for Widdicomb



Peace Altar at Columbia University


Coffee table


Armless lounge chairs


  1. Thanks for all that great info! I'm fairly well acquainted with Nakashima's work, as I don't live very far from New Hope and have a college friend who lives just off of Aquetong Rd. Small world indeed.

    1. You live in such a design-rich section of the country. I plan to come roam it someday.

  2. Wow..I missed this post. Beautiful pieces, the lounger is absolutely gorgeous. All of it is really. Thanks for the informative post on a great designer.

    1. I'd give my nextborn (safe to say, since I'm past childbearing age) for one of his live edge pieces.

  3. Nakashima is easily one of my favorite designers. I visited his shop a few years ago, and as a woodworker it was like a pilgrimage to Mecca. I'm working on my own post on his work, keep an eye on my blog at

    1. He's one of my favorite designers too. I'm sure going to his shop did seem like a pilgrimage to Mecca!