We’re passionate about wood. Sculptural, architectural, ornamental: we love wood in all its forms. But it’s safe to say that our first love will always be wood furniture – it’s what made us! So we’re starting a new series that pays homage to some of the greatest woodworkers ever to put pen to, er, wood. These are the masters of wood furniture design.
The woodworking poet who carved the soul of a tree
We’re ardent lovers of eco-friendly wood furniture design – that’s why we take wood that has been used elsewhere and find new life for it. It stops still-useful wood from going to waste, but it also allows us to put something special into our furniture design. We embrace the imperfections in our reclaimed wood and love every knot and groove for the story they tell. It means that every table, every bench we make is completely unique with its own woody fingerprint.
So when we say we feel spiritually close to the great George Nakashima, this is what we’re talking about. Nakashima was one of the pioneers of eco-friendly furniture design. His hallmark was re-using parts of trees, sometimes leaving whole logs virtually intact, so that the story of the tree was frozen forever in his furniture.
The tree was Nakashima’s most important muse. He believed its purpose was to become function. In fact, he once said: “Each tree, every part of each tree, has only one perfect use.”
Who is he? The Japanese/American designer George Katsutoshi Nakashima was born to Japanese parents in the US, Washington, in 1905. After studying architecture and travelling through Europe, India and Japan, he became one of the leading American furniture designers of the late 20th century. His unique pieces are inspired by a mixture of Japanese traditional crafts and American modernism, known for their beautiful smooth grains and natural organic forms.
A simple woodworker. That’s how he described himself, and it’s the key to all his design. An almost mystical love of wood and the organic power of trees is what drives his unique work. He had huge respect for his materials, allowing the form of the tree to dictate the design, such as walnut coffee tables made of a single horizontal slice right through the base of a tree, with gnarled elements of roots and growth becoming key parts of the form.
He said: “When the trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man’s use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth. Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth.”
The roots of his later genius. Because of his Japanese ancestry, Nakashima was interred during the Second World War in a camp in Idaho. It was here he met Gentaro Hikogawa, a master of traditional Japanese carpentry. Hikogawa taught him to use traditional Japanese tools and joinery techniques that used no nails or glue. Philosophically, he learnt the Japanese belief in working in balance with nature; and the importance of simplicity in design.
What made his work different? He went against the grain and rejected the usual tall straight trees and preferred the unusual side branches and less perfect specimens. He particularly favoured walnut trees for their unusual slow growth, gnarled side branches and thick heavy buds.
He perfected ways of sawing the wood, saying: “There is drama in the opening of a log: to uncover for the first time the beauty in the bole of a tree hidden for centuries, waiting to be given this second life. Cutting logs entails a great responsibility, for we are dealing with a fallen majesty. There are no formulas, no guidelines, but only experience, instinct and a contact with the divine.”