If you’re a fan of the American craft movement or a regular viewer of Antiques Roadshow, you might already be familiar with George Nakashima. You can find the furniture of the celebrated American architect and woodworker in countless homes and businesses. His groundbreaking designs are exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, over 200 pieces are in a Nelson Rockefeller home as well in Kentucky Knob, the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for I. N. Hagan.
While the architect and woodworker died in 1990, his family continues his legacy. They run the Nakashima furniture business from the workshop he set up in New Hope, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s and 50s. Half the year, they offer tours of the wooded multi-acre estate that include experimental architecture, an inside look at their unique handmade solid-wood furniture and a real insight into the man, his history, his legacy and his family.
New Hope, Pennsylvania, sits about 30 miles (roughly 45 minutes) north of Philadelphia. It is a stone’s throw from New Jersey. My husband, a big Nakashima fan, and I took part in the first 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, it was like a game of musical chairs. We all took turns sitting in different Nakashima chairs to try them out. I especially appreciated the large windows that featured in several of the buildings. So much natural light streaming in as you looked over the wooded property from a comfortable, hand-made wooden chair.
About the Tour
The tour provides more than a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacture of the furniture. There are fourteen buildings on the property. George Nakashima built many of them. The tour includes eight of the buildings. The Conoid Studio, for example, was built in 1957. It features a reinforced concrete shell roof that is only 2.5″ thick. Several of the buildings are part of the US National Register of Historic Places and the property is a National Historic Landmark.
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. Her daughter-in-law and her brother, Kevin, also took part. To say that the family were 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 hold 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.
Nakashima’s studio is located just south of downtown New Hope, Pennsylvania, between Routes 232 and 32. The studio is in a residential neighborhood with limited parking on-site.
All photos are my own.