It only makes sense that artists' homes would be as inspired and beautiful as their work. Case in point: The Pennsylvania home of George Nakashima.
We're so excited to get a peek inside the new book "Artists' Handmade Houses". Below, an excerpt for your enjoyment. Text by Michael Gotkin; Photography by Don Freeman; Published by Abrams.
George Nakashima, New Hope, Pennsylvania. Nakashima designed the Arts Building, completed in 1967 and later renamed the Minguren Museum, as a tribute to his friend Ben Shahn. The southern facade, shown here, has a second-story porch and covered walkway to the cloister, a separate three-room building used to house guests. Photo: © Don Freeman
New Hope, Pennsylvania
Though he originally trained as an architect, George Nakashima became so disappointed by the construction methods he observed being utilized in buildings that he changed course, deciding instead to start a career making furniture, which he could control entirely from design to construction and finishing. On this new path, Nakashima would become a great innovator in twentieth-century furniture design, with few rivals and countless imitators. Influenced by the craftsmanship and simple lines of traditional architecture in both the United States and Japan, Nakashima created a distinct hybrid of the two cultures in his hand-finished furniture and in the complex of buildings, including home and workshop, that he designed and built in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania. These buildings combine his sophisticated understanding of architectural engineering with his respect for humble, vernacular structures. He produced designs that are modern yet imbued with the handmade quality and values of a bygone era, and they continue to inspire new generations.
George Nakashima, New Hope, Pennsylvania. In Kevin's House, a natural peeled post provides structural support and adds a decorative element in the doorway between the kitchen on the left and the dining and living areas on the right. Three Concoid chairs surround a Minguren table in the dining area. Photo: © Don Freeman
Nakashima embraced construction as a kind of improvisation, noting that "the house was built without plans, and the detailing was developed from the material on hand or that which was available." The house was constructed without nails, and Nakashima employed prefabricated industrialized materials like corrugated concrete panels for the roof, which were purchased cheaply as army surplus. It is this unlikely marriage between American vernacular influences and Japanese sensibilities, along with a willingness to embrace the engineered forms of the modern age, that lends Nakashima's work its beauty and vitality. But Nakashima believed that it was the methods underlying design, and not (what he considered to be) superficial forms, that imparted integrity. "Perhaps the greatest drawback in domestic architecture is that only the forms change," he said, "but the methods are the same, whereas the greatest need today is a creative study of the 'method'-not merely the mulling of forms on paper or the building of models, but a synthesis of the techniques of building within our present requirements."
Most of the designs that Nakashima used in his home were replicated for sale at his shop. One of his most popular designs was a diminutive three-legged chair called "Mira" after his daughter, for whom it was first fashioned. Nakashima's furniture had clear lines of reference to early American furniture, such as traditional Windsor chairs, captain's chairs, and trestle tables, but Nakashima developed those basic style tenets further and produced his own unique models, creating, for example, a Windsor-derived chaise longue, or retrofitting the bases of trestle tables to chairs. Nakashima also admired the simple domestic interiors of the American Shaker community, and joked that he was a "Japanese Shaker," seeing the confluence of aesthetics between the two cultures.
Over time, Nakashima became increasingly drawn to irregular shapes in wood, which he sought to preserve in his tabletops and chair arms; these irregularities became a hallmark of his work.
Just as he had been experimental with his furniture designs, Nakashima sought variety and contrast in the complex of buildings on his property. Only a few years after completing his home, he built a thin-shell, conoidal concrete studio with the help of famous engineers Paul Wedlinger and Mario Salvadori: The team created a soaring, arched ceiling that resembled a giant seashell. Nakashima also built a showroom and guesthouse, where visitors could view his furniture in a domestic environment. He added, over time, an expanded workshop, offices, an arts building, pool house, and a reception house to complete his compound. Maintaining Nakashima's home and business since his death, Mira Nakashima, who was trained in woodworking by her father, has developed her own line of furniture, some of it based on her father's original prototypes. Mira continues the evolution of design in which divisions between historical and modern are erased in the quest for structural integrity, innovative methods, and sculptural form.
Sigh -- we can't get enough of this place. If you're left craving more handmade house tours, pick up a copy of
LEFT: George Nakashima, New Hope, Pennsylvania. This interior shot of the pool house, completed in 1960, shows the building's dramatic plywood barrel-vaulted roof. Nakashima's French Walnut Minguren III table and bench are sheltered below. The stools to the right of the table are Kikkoman soy sauce kegs from a Nakashima-designed Kikkoman display in New York. © Don Freeman RIGHT: George Nakashima, New Hope, Pennsylvania A Conoid Room Divider, Conoid Cushion Chairs, and a Conoid Cross-legged End Table are in the foreground of this view of the Conoid Studio. © Don Freeman George Nakashima, New Hope, Pennsylvania A Conoid Room Divider, Conoid Cushion Chairs, and a Conoid Cross-legged End Table are in the foreground of this view of the Conoid Studio. © Don Freeman George Nakashima, New Hope, Pennsylvania A Conoid Room Divider, Conoid Cushion Chairs, and a Conoid Cross-legged End Table are in the foreground of this view of the Conoid Studio. © Don FreemanGeorge Nakashima, New Hope, Pennsylvania A Conoid Room Divider, Conoid Cushion Chairs, and a Conoid Cross-legged End Table are in the foreground of this view of the Conoid Studio. © Don Freeman
"Artists' Handmade Houses
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Photo: © Don Freeman
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