How Two Children Are Keeping Their Father’s Design Legacy Alive

A pair of Pennsylvania homes constructed by the Japanese-American furniture designer George Nakashima have become an enduring testament to midcentury folk craft.

Comments: 37

  1. I humbly propose a moratorium on any design- or architecture-related articles covering anything prefaced by "midcentury." We are well beyond the media saturation point.

  2. @Gina Stop reading them if they bother you. Nakashima's work transcends several disciplines and remains timeless. And he, by the way, would have laughed at that statement. The whole "art v craft" and "market saturation" discussion is for collectors and self-appointed critics anyway.

  3. N O T

  4. But where is the stainless steel, the granite countertops? ( One hopes there's a Viking range there somewhere.) How can people stand to live without sterility?

  5. Feels so delightfully lived-in compared to the coveted Pinterest look — no overwrought coffee tables with stacks of unread "designer books", no onslaught of various "objets" thrown in for fear of an empty surface. Not even an Eames lounge chair — an immense measure of self-restraint!

  6. The warm tones and colors in these living spaces should be a lesson for current designers who paint everything -- including brick and stone -- optic white.

  7. I grew up spending summers in New Hope . An annual ritual was going to the Nakashima home and studio . Being About the same age as Kevin, I recall meeting him on several occasions .

  8. Beautifully captured and written. You made Nakashima's work come alive again in your writing. Thank you.

  9. What a wonderful article! George Nakashima represents the amazing contribution of Nisei (second generation) in American society. Born in the U.S. to Japanese immigrant parents, they were American-born citizens. However, their legal status was no match for anti-Japanese sentiments that sent them to internment camps without any individual due process. While the accomplishments of Nisei as American soldiers in the European theater is well known, the achievements of Nisei in other areas of life are less appreciated. George Nakashima joins luminaries such as Isamu Noguchi, Toshiko Takaezu, Arthur Okamura, George Tsutakawa, Mine Okubo, Minoru Yamasaki and many others who emerged out of World War II and the Internment to add their unique artistic, design, and architectural sensibilities to bridge United States and Japan. For George Nakashima in particular, with all due respect, his work should be curated and displayed more professionally with by serious curators in more polished settings. The photos show that George Nakashima is buried with the works of his children and others in clutter. I felt a bit saddened.

  10. I agree that a lot of George Nakashima’s furniture and drawings etc are worthy of permanent safe keeping and display at a national museum such as the Renwick Gallery or other branch of the Smithsonian. Hopefully that will happen and the best won’t all end up in wealthy private collections. That said, I heartily disagree that it’s “sad” seeing his work in situ in the Nakashima family homes. On the contrary, it IS refreshing to see these well used and loved objects where they always were intended to be and not treated with the “do not touch” sense of preciousness given to much that we see in other homes.

  11. Fellow would-be wood-crafters should appreciate photos here. Across US, Habitat for Humanity supplies its Restore outlets with an ever-changing assortment of salvage lumber that you can browse to select, at bargain prices, planks to craft your own Nakashima-style heirloom furniture.

  12. Another fine piece of work is the Abby Church of the Abby of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

  13. An antidote to the times and news. Merci beau...

  14. This article returned me to New Hope and the visits my husband and I made to the Nakashima studio. I love the bench (a gift from my woodworker/lawyer husband for our tenth anniversary and our side chairs purchased during Mira's management of the studio. This family, preserving the gift of their father and mother, are our national treasures.

  15. Joyful memories of spending an afternoon with Mira.Jonathon and Kevin,connected by our lovely,mutual friend, Gretchen Ney Laugier. My son, then a young teen, was spellbound by the grounds, the dwellings,Kevin's stories. There is peaceful,fragile beauty here. Much love to Kevin, Mira and Jonathon. Humble thanks for that afternoon that,though so long ago,remains in our hearts.

  16. What a peaceful thing to read during a time that is anything but. I lived in New Hope recently and for more than five years passed by this compound regularly. The aesthetic is magical and radiates into the space around it.

  17. NY Times, thank you for publishing this article. The Nakashima's are a gift to America and to the world. We owe a profound gratitude to Mira and Kevin and their family for keeping the traditions of hand crafted furniture alive. George Nakashima's designs are alive and well and will continue to live on for a really long time.

  18. A wonderfully written article that touched my soul and spirit. Maybe it’s because I was also an internee at Minidoka during 1941-43.

  19. His work is poetry. I am glad all this is being preserved. I wonder what are the long-term plans for the archive? True poetry!

  20. Thank you for such a meditative piece about time and beauty over time. The thoughtfulness of Nakashima craft is much needed today. Can one visit the workshop?

  21. What a beautiful and inspiring story and the only one worth reading today. It made me feel better and hopeful. Thank you.

  22. The debate between what is "art" and what is "craft" becomes wholly irrelevant, beautifully so. When I became aware of Nakashima's work through a few pieces owned by teachers at the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts, I actually lusted after it. As my husband and I became part of the crafts circuit of shows and exhibitions from the 80s onward, we watched as the disdain for hand-crafted works by a consumerist society grew in momentum and eventually overwhelmed us. One hopes that 3-D modeling does not displace it altogether.

  23. I visited this uniquely beautiful place a good fifty years ago so was more than delighted to read Michael Snyder's excellent article and especially moved (to tears) by the photographs. A local NC woodworker Robert Kopf built a trestle table and a sideboard of walnut for us years ago, very much in the style of George Nakashima. Living with them for decades has been a source of unending pleasure. I'm a musician who would be glad to have on my grave marker the word Sundarananda as I too delight in beauty.

  24. A beautiful essay on the Nakashima family - they are an American treasure. To quote the master himself, the (mostly American walnut) furniture represents "new life for the noble tree." As someone whose profession has been the cataloguing and selling of George Nakashima's furniture on the secondary market, I have heard countless stories from the original purchasers of their experience meeting Nakashima in New Hope and watching as he sketched out on paper the unique top for their dining or coffee table. For these families, this provenance was in many cases one of the most memorable cultural interactions of their lives. There has not been what I would call a "major" museum retrospective on the legacy of Nakashima since 1989, although there have been numerous small shows. Here's hoping that one day soon there will be another blockbuster. I am always thrilled to see articles in the NYT on historical design, decorative arts, and craft. There haven't been enough in recent years.

  25. Loved this article. I had the privilege of visiting George Nakashima and his shop about 1963 as part of a college design class. His work and philosophy impacted me then. As the years have passed, my respect for his work has grown. We did not have the opportunity to enter his house... a joy to see these photos.

  26. Thank you so much for this beautiful and inspiring piece. I needed something like this especially during this time.

  27. This is a very calming and spiritual article to be read in the time of coronavirus. Thanks.

  28. Thank you so much for this lovely article. It was wonderful to read about this amazing man and his family!

  29. Nice article! BTW the candle vases with figural feet are Japanese, specifically Kutani-yaki, late Meiji era.

  30. amazing what can happen when you don't build with sheetrock, mdf, and plastic laminates.

  31. when I was an editor at Architectural Digest, some stories simply got away. one was Mira Nakashima's hope to have her father's work spotlighted as the monthly Antiques feature. she tried to get some of his clients to talk to me, which was probably why Steve Jobs called me out of the blue one morning, and when I asked if we could photograph his pieces or have a writer interview him, he replied "No." To this day, I still don't understand why he called me or what I should have asked instead...... And I still regret not being able to get her father's work published. —Adele Cygelman

  32. My sisters and I grew up in a home with many pieces that Mr . Nakashima made. We are so lucky that our parents embraced his aesthetic in the 1950's. I still sit in my "Mira" chair every day and keep my clothes in the Nakashima bureau that has held them since I was a child. Thanks to the whole Nakashima family and my parents , Irving and Estelle Robinson for these gifts.

  33. My wife and I had a chance to meet Kevin years ago on a trip we took to see Falling Water and then a visit to New Hope . Kevin went to high with a friend of mine so I got to visit the show room. It was a inspiring . I have made numerous pieces of Nakshima style furniture for my house and office . Of course in Miami we use mahogany that is damaged by our frequent hurricanes. Although Nakashima’s furniture appear to be simple designs the attention to detail always tells the difference.

  34. Excellent story. Thanks for this useful and informative piece. The Nakashima family and its patriarch are national treasures. When I was teen aged and disgruntled, my smart and talented mother (a pianist) who was also interested in the visual arts became aware of George Nakashima’s work. She made up her mind that she wanted to have a coffee table made by him. I’m not clear on when she spoke with Nakashima, this was 52 years ago. Mom persuaded my dad that it would be well worth the effort. So one Saturday we drove up to the Nakashima studio from DC. I’ve had a life long interest in design and architecture and this could have been an incredible learning experience for me. Unfortunately I was in one of those s—ty adolescent moods, so while they toured the studio and went with George Nakashima into his wood storage barn to select a slab, I remained sulking in the car. Getting out to look around a bit, it hit me, that this was NOT a big waste of time, and this place was actually kind of special. I missed the tour (a real regret) but became more interested in furniture making and design. Some months later a beautiful and modest coffee table arrived for our living room. It became our one prized piece of furniture along with mom’s Steinway. My two brothers and I did some minor ‘kevinizing’ over the years, but the table remains a solid, simple work of art/craft at our family home. Eventually it will reside in my home, but I’m in no hurry. Mom really did know best.

  35. Beyond being within driving distance of New Hope, reading articles here and there, and seeing the occasional piece of furniture on Antiques Roadshow, I knew next to nothing about George Nakashima, so thank you for this. It's fascinating how his underlying philosophy very closely matches that of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement ("have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" and the elevation of honest labor over machine production)- and in fact Prof Google mentions that mingei is the Japanese expression of the movement. Perhaps in this case those who were aware of history were inspired enough to advance it.

  36. My parents who lived in central NJ acquired 2 lovely cabinets directly from the master in 1972 for the total sum shown on the original drawings, of $835. Life took me to California and when my parents passed I knew that those pieces had to be a part of my home where they continue to be as Nakashima wanted, a part of every day life, acquiring nicks, scars and stories as our own bodies do. Or in other words, priceless.

  37. Beautiful story, brought back memories when we visited the Nakashima workshop about 10 years ago. My son, about 6 years old at the time, hit it off immediately with Mira's grandson, about the same age, and romped around the grounds with the boy. Mira turned to Kevin and said, "That was you, Kevin, with one of your many 'friend for the day'." Such wonderful people.