George Nakashima made imperfection famous. After enduring a Japanese internment camp with his family during World War II, he went on to train as an architect and then open a furniture making studio in eastern Pennsylvania. As his daughter Mira describes, “Dad couldn’t afford choice lumber, so he started using boards with raw edges.”
These natural edge pieces of wood became a signature feature of Nakashima furniture and would go on to influence generations of furniture makers to apply the wabi-sabi aesthetic to furniture making.
Today, the workshop is run by George’s daughter Mira and her team of craftsman. Mira and I were introduced through Fujin Butsudo, who was our mentoring monk at a Zen monastery. Our shared love of craftsmanship and philosophy led to a three month period where I photographed the craftsmen at work. As Mira explained to me, “We have someone to photography the buildings designed by Dad, we have someone else to shoot the furniture, but I’ve not found someone to shoot along side the craftsmen.”
For any admirer of furniture, the Nakashima compound is a dreamland. George designed all of the buildings, which fuse European modernism with Japanese restraint. And in the back of the property is a small hangar that houses a collection of wood slabs that George accumulated over his lifetime. Some of the trees in the collection are now extinct or nearly impossible to come by in larger sizes. It is a unique operation and one that continues George’s distinct style and unique approach to design.