You may already be familiar with George Nakashima furniture if you’re a fan of the American craft movement or a regular viewer of Antiques Roadshow. You can find the groundbreaking furniture designs of the celebrated American architect and woodworker in countless homes and businesses. His unique and highly modern pieces are exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, over 200 pieces are in a Nelson Rockefeller home as well in Kentuck Knob, the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for I. N. Hagan. Today, his family-run the furniture business from the George Nakashima workshop and studio that he set up in New Hope, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s and 50s. Half the year, they offer tours of the George Nakashima house, workshop, and studio. It’s a unique behind-the-scenes experience in these carefully crafted items.
About Woodworker George Nakashima
George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington, in 1905. Early on, he focused on design. He earned degrees in architecture from the University of Washington and, later, M.I.T. Nakashima traveled extensively, visiting France, Africa, India, and Japan. While in Japan, he worked on the Imperial Hotel for architect Antonin Raymond and in India he built an ashram.
By the 1940s, Nakashima had returned to the United States and was pursuing furniture. That all changed in 1942 when Nakashima, his wife and their daughter were interned at Camp Minidoka in Idaho. Remarkably, Nakashima used that time in the camp to learn about traditional Japanese carpentry from another man interned.
The following year, Nakashima was released from the camp under the sponsorship of Raymond. The family relocated to New Hope and Nakashima established his studio and workshop on Raymond’s farm.
Touring George Nakashima House, Studio & Workshop
New Hope, Pennsylvania, sits about 30 miles (roughly 45 minutes) north of Philadelphia and only a stone’s throw from New Jersey. Even without the Nakashima studio tour, New Hope makes for a great day trip.
My husband, a big Nakashima fan, and I took part in the first Nakashima studio tour of 2017. The tour lasted more than two hours and included an inside look at buildings that are normally not open to the public.
At times, the tour was like a game of musical chairs. Visitors took turns sitting in all of the different Nakashima chairs that were on display, eager to try them out. I especially appreciated Nakashima’s architectural designs. Several of the buildings feature large windows. The windows let so much natural light stream in as you look over the wooded property from a comfortable, handmade wooden chair. It’s a wonderful spot.
About the Tour
The tour provides more than just a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacture of Nakashima furniture. There are fourteen buildings on the property. George Nakashima himself built many of them over the years. As part of the tour, visitors get to see inside eight of the buildings. Several of the buildings are part of the US National Register of Historic Places and the property is a National Historic Landmark. The Conoid Studio, for example, was built in 1957. It features a reinforced concrete shell roof that is only 2.5″ thick.
The tour is a real family affair. George’s daughter, Mira, led the tour. She’s a talented and dedicated architect in her own right. Mira’s brother, Kevin, and her daughter-in-law also took part in the tours. To say that the family was generous with their time was an understatement. They answered every question asked by the inquiring minds of roughly 30 visitors.
If you can’t make the guided group tours, you’re in luck. Nakashima holds open houses every Saturday afternoon. Open house visitors can see three of the buildings (Showroom, Conoid Studio and the Finishing Room). Tours do fill up quickly so reserve your spot ahead of time.
Whether you’re a fan of George Nakashima, architecture or design, a tour of the Nakashima Workshop is more than worth the time.
Getting to the George Nakashima House & Studio
The George Nakashima house, workshop, and studio are just south of downtown New Hope, Pennsylvania, between Routes 232 and 32. The estate is in a residential neighborhood with limited parking on-site. The lot is heavily wooded, making it easy to drive past and miss it.
All photos, as well as all opinions, are my own.