On a recent vacation, our itinerary included a stop at the George Nakashima Woodworker Complex in New Hope, PA. Actually, the trip revolved around this stop. George Nakashima is easily one of the most influential furniture designers of the 20th century, and getting the chance to see his workshop, studio, his wood storage and some of the unique buildings he designed was an incredible opportunity.
The Nakashima Complex is open for tours most Saturdays from 1-4:30 PM. However, if this is a special trip for you, it is well worth joining the full guided tour. These tours are limited to a set number of 30 visitors, and they happen on just eight Saturdays each year. Making reservations well in advance is definitely recommended. Several visitors showed up hoping to join the tour and were turned away. In fact, some members of our tour had booked six months in advance! Keep in mind that while exterior pictures are encouraged, interior shots are not allowed. This is, as Mira put it, to prevent "Knock-off-ashimas!"
The tour is led by none other than Mira Nakashima herself. Mira is the daughter of George Nakashima, and she has carried on the family tradition of fine craftsmanship and attention to detail. Also on our tour was Kevin Nakashima, George's son. Kevin was a delight to talk to, and he had several stories about life in New Hope.
The guided tour begins in the Office/Showroom (below), which was built in 1954. This is also where you can purchase smaller gift items and books.
We were then taken to the main shop, where much of the furniture is made. We met briefly with Jerry, a wonderful and talented man who told us a little about working under George Nakashima. Jerry was recruited right out of his high school woodshop class, and has been at New Hope ever since!
Next on the tour was the finishing shop, and we were also welcomed to the chair shop. The chair shop was particularly unique thanks to the structure of the building, which served as an experiment to determine whether the larger Conoid Studio would be structurally successful. The chair shop, like many of the structures, was build as Nakashima had the funds. As such, the roof is made from plywood and styrofoam! Nonetheless, the building is warm, thanks to windows that face to the south.
The large, airy Conoid Studio was also on the tour, and in it was a fantastic collection of pieces. Dozens of chairs were on display on a raised tatami mat platform, and the space served as a way to showcase the many interesting pieces created by both George and Mira over the years.
The Arts Building boasts a hyperbolic paraboloid roof and a stunning mural on its exterior. It is certainly one of the most striking structures, both inside and out. It is also a building that was gifted by Marion Nakashima to the Foundation for Peace. Once again, an incredible array of Nakashima pieces are on display, along with pieces from other artists like Harry Bertoia.
Next up was a trip to the Pool House, a canted barrel vaulted structure overlooking a pool. On this particular day, temperatures were below zero. The pool was covered up, but the 1960 Pool House was still interesting to see! Also fascinating was the smaller version of the Pool House right next door. The tiny version was made by Mira Nakashima as a high school project - and it still stands! Not bad for a teenager!
Arguably one of the most interesting structures in the complex is the Reception House. It is a later structure, and was built in the 1970s. Today, it serves as an occasional guest space. A small tatami-mat bedroom to one side is stunning, as are the shoji screens that slide across to hide the entire kitchen.
Despite all the amazing furniture on the premises, one of the most fascinating stops of the day showcased the raw materials. In the Pole Barn, there is a truly astounding collection of wood. Apparently, George Nakashima had bought a staggering amount before his death. However, Mira Nakashima admitted that she had also been buying in the years since! There are stacks and stacks of milled slabs, all of which have been kiln dried twice.
If you have the opportunity to visit, absolutely do so. You'll leave renewed with an elevated appreciation of the attention and skill that goes into making each piece. Best of all, you'll be able to meet Nakashima's family members and learn more about what inspired him. The tour includes lots of memorable stories about George Nakashima's upbringing, travels, friends, his time in internment camps and his views on social justice. It is an experience we will never forget!