Last weekend I took a trip up to Lambertville, NJ and New Hope, PA, a wonderful mountain valley about 1 hour north of Philadelphia. I lived in the area years ago, and my memories of the fall colors and smell of wood fireplaces couldn’t hold me back any longer. On my list for this visit: a tour of George Nakashima’s studios in the wooded hills above New Hope.
George Nakashima was a Japanese-American architect and furniture maker. Nakashima is known for his extreme sensitivity to the nature of wood and combining modernist sensibility with handmade craft. A quick image search will introduce you to Nakashima’s work if you are not familiar. Since the artist’s passing away in the late 20th century, his son and daughter have continued the legacy of his studio by continuing to produce popular pieces and commissioning new designs. The studios are open for self-guided tours on Saturday afternoons; information on the studio can be found on their website – http://www.nakashimawoodworker.com/
Below are impressions of my visit.
This is an entrance to one of the public studio buildings. Nakashima was trained as an architect, but decided after some time to concentrate on furniture and working with his hands. He did design all the buildings on the site, which show a wonderful synthesis of Japanese tradition, mid-century modernist sensibility and a complete harmony with nature. Sited on a south-facing hill, the late autumn sun brought a golden hue into the wooded valley.
The “Conoid Studio” is the most modern structure. The roof is a gently-folded concrete envelope which opens out onto the valley.
The site contains a lovely assortment of native trees and shrubs with a carefully-selected assortment of feature trees such as dawn redwood and Japanese maple. The buildings are carefully sited to preserve views of nature, with the more utilitarian buildings closer to the road at the top of the hill. Of particular note were the clever entrances; off to one side with special attention to the landscape.
A view east towards the main building:
View to the main showroom building from the south:
During my visit Nakashima’s son and daughter discussed commissions with several parties in the showroom and Conoid studio. I tried out several of the chairs and admired all the wonderful interior details. The buildings themselves were fascinating, such as this low sill/bench in the studio building’s entrance.
The best part of the tour was the ability to enter the chair-making studio – a tiny little building with a worn old bench facing the valley through a giant picture window.
The old woodworking tools created a fantastic sculptural relief in the late autumn sun.
The sweet smell of sawdust and the wonderful quality of light made this workshop room hard to leave.
For anybody interested in Nakashima’s work or for those interested in hand-crafted furniture in general, a visit to the estate is a must-see. It is an enchanting property, and I came away very inspired to return to my studio full of ideas. Look for more posts about my trip to Lambertville/New Hope, including my trip to a museum of pre-industrial artifacts and the oldest continually-open pizza parlor in the country.