George Nakashima is one of the most revered designers, craftsmen, and artists of the 20th century. His influence is embraced throughout the world of contemporary design and his lasting impact is seen and experienced so frequently that we often fail to even recognize it.
Whether you are a design connoisseur, a less-informed appreciator, or even simply someone who has waited in line at starbucks, you’ve seen George Nakashima’s influence on contemporary interior design.
We owe much of our modern aesthetic to the forms and philosophies embraced by Nakashima, and without his impeccable taste and superior craftsmanship, the world would probably look a little different and a little less beautiful.
George Nakashima was born right around the turn of the century in 1905 to parents Katsuharu and Suzu Nakashima. George was born and raised in the tree-filled town of Spokane, Washington. The forests and natural wonders of the famously wooded state of Washington would undoubtedly have an influence on Georges aesthetic sensibilities throughout his career.
George grew up in a time before the U.S was massively developed and the Spokane, Washington that we think of today with fast-food restaurants, sprawling apartment complexes, and highways, is not the same as it was then. Imagine for a moment what Spokane might have looked like in 1905.
Dirt roads, small town life, and woodlands as far as the eye can see. This is the Spokane that made George Nakashima the designer we all know and love, and gave us the naturalist philosophies he so wholeheartedly embraced.
In 1929, George graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Washington in Seattle. The United States was not a particularly friendly place for anyone of color to be at the turn of the century, and this was a massive accomplishment for the son of two japanese immigrants.
Finding His Style
It wasn’t until George spent time studying at M.I.T that he really developed the true mastery of his craft, and when he graduated he began to find his artfulness.
George had spent years of his life studying at prestigious universities and felt he needed to see the world. He decided to sell his car, bought a steamship ticket, and embarked on a trip that would shape both he, and the world of contemporary furniture as we know it.
It was George’s time to be free, and he was eager to see the world. He sailed to France on a steamship and decided to live there for a year whilst he basked in the best of the bohemian life. Intellectuals, good food, good wine, and a complete appreciation for nature.
This was the time that had a lasting impact on Georges design aesthetic and the philosophies it embraced. George’s work displays the most beautiful elements of the natural world, and is so powerful that it influenced the rest of the world to follow suit.
The Contours Of Nature
George had a profound appreciation for nature. There are countless George Nakashima quotes about his “collaborations with trees”. All of his work was done with carefully selected wood from carefully selected trees from various locations around the world.
Everything was about enriching what nature has offered us instead of trying to change it completely. You will never see a piece of Nakashima’s work that doesn’t carry with it the natural essence of what it once was.
The incredible contours of his live-edge countertops and tables is a truly beautiful sight. His table lamps serve a perfectly functional role while still presenting the rawness of the wood in its natural finish and its rough live edges.
We see the lasting impact of his vision in almost every aspect of modern contemporary furniture design. It is his freedom that inspires. One of the many things that Nakashima taught the modern world of design is to embrace freedom and nature. Don’t try to reshape what is already beautiful and let the lines of nature inspire your design.
The Living Art Of Trees
Nakashima had spent his entire childhood living in a heavily forested area, then spent his college years in and amongst the trees, and then spent some time abroad in France, where they are famous for appreciating their beautiful natural surroundings.
George had a connection with trees that was a life-long endeavor and he sought to respect them in every way. He didn’t want to alter the beauty of the tree, he wanted to enhance it, and preserve it in a more permanent state of beauty.
George believed that every piece of furniture he made was a collaboration between him and the tree. This stemmed from his philosophical outlook, as well as his appreciation and respect for the trees he used.
George, like many of the modern designers inspired by him, took his time to really find what the tree lent itself to being as opposed to simply following his own idea about what to do. He wanted nature itself to dictate the form of his pieces and embraced the age lines, live edges, and a huge variety of incredibly beautiful wood.
The Founder Of Organic Modernism
In the 1930’s, there was no blend of nature and elegant modern aesthetic. The two existed on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. You either had crude log tables, or the glamorous art-deco style pieces that were considered modern at the time.
George took a humble, but highly educated and skilled approach to design and embraced the beauty of nature over the glitz of deco embellishment. This allowed him to perfectly blend the rugged majesty of nature with the elegance of articulate designs.
The subtlety and beauty of his designs are so perfectly balanced that they can be the loudest thing in the room without saying a word. This attention to aesthetic intention combined with natural inspirations has made George the godfather of organic modernism.
A Lasting Impact On Modern Aesthetic
If you’re looking for it, you will start to notice George Nakashima’s influence on modern design everywhere you go. Whether you are in the waiting room at a doctors office, or in line at starbucks, you can usually look over and see a live-edge slab table, or a nakashima-style lamp.
His influence is in the asymmetrical lines you see in contemporary furniture design, and the perfectly groomed rustic-chic aesthetic that is popular amongst the uber-wealthy. If there is one designer who has had the biggest influence on the organic side of modern contemporary furniture, it is undoubtedly George Nakashima.