Tales in timber: inside Mira Nakashima’s Pennsylvanian home

Originally designed by woodworker George Nakashima, this magical home combines natural wood and traditional Japanese design to stunning effect

George Nakishima designed Pennsylvania home
Photography Manola Yllera/Photofoyer

Japanese-American woodworker and architect George Nakashima believed in treating wood with sensitivity and making furniture that showed off its natural features – he was internationally renowned for his beautifully crafted, one-off pieces. In 1947, he built a workshop and home in Pennsylvania on a three-acre plot of land surrounded by the forest.

Mira Nakishima at home
Mira sits in what was once one of her children’s bedrooms. The storage is a work of art in itself, with handles that display Nakashima’s trademark style
Photography Manola Yllera/Photofoyer

In fact, during his lifetime he built around 15 houses on the land – one of which was for his daughter, Mira Nakashima. Today, Mira runs the Nakashima studio and lives in the four-bedroom house with her husband, surrounded by her father’s furniture. She recently created her first restaurant interior, The Connaught Grill at London’s Connaught Hotel. The 46-cover restaurant features large-scale wall panels and furniture in American black walnut, some of which exhibit the signature ‘free edges’ that define her father George Nakashima’s work. The project was a collaboration between the George Nakashima Woodworkers and the London-based architecture firm Heah & Co.

Here, Mira tells us about her unique home and the legacy of her father’s work.

How would you describe your home? It incorporates a lot of traditional Japanese elements, and all the furniture is designed by my father. Most of the pieces are made from unfinished walnut, treated only with a simple coat of oil.

‘Dad thought wood had a story to tell, even when it has been made into a table it speaks to you’

What defined your father’s style? His signature was making furniture with ‘free edges’ [retaining the contours of the timber], which wasn’t done when he started out in the 1940s. Originally, he did it out of economic necessity, because it meant he could use the cheaper cuts of wood that nobody else knew what to do with.

George Nakashima's pennsylvanian home
A ‘Lounge Chair Rocker’, added to the George Nakashima Woodworkers repertoire in the 1970s, and two ‘Conoid’ chairs are placed by the woodburning stove. The artwork is Maximus of Tyre by Ben Shahn, who was a contemporary and close friend of Nakashima. The low coffee table is made from Persian walnut
Photography Manola Yllera/Photofoyer

Have you made many changes to the house? We had too many books, so we added some bookcases and turned what was my daughter’s bedroom into a quiet space, a Zen room for my husband to paint in. We did have a tatami platform in the living room, but we moved the piano in from the guesthouse and had to take the platform out because there wasn’t enough room. Other than that, it’s mostly the same as it’s always been.

Mira Nakashima's house
The display includes ottomans that Nakashima designed for the Rockefeller Center, a ‘Conoid’ chair and a ‘Conoid’ table
Photofoyer

And the guesthouse? Dad built it in 1972 for his mother, who was visiting. We had to rebuild it six years ago because of drainage problems, but we’ve kept the same foundation and roof, and as much of the original furniture as possible.

Mira Nakashima house
The three joined buildings are the guesthouse, Mira’s house and a walkway in between
Photofoyer

How does your home make you feel? I work six days a week at the studio – I’m trying to retire but haven’t figured out how yet – so when I am home, I want to relax. The furniture has a quiet feel to it that makes you slow down and think differently. Dad thought wood had a story to tell, so that, even when it has been made into a table or chair, it speaks to you. nakashimawoodworker.com

WHY WE LOVE IT...

George Nakashima was one the 20th century’s leading architects and furniture makers. Testament to the importance of his work, his home, studio and workshop near New Hope in Pennsylvania, USA, was officially designated a National Historic Landmark in 2014. Back in November 2012, ELLE Decoration featured this home on the plot, built by Nakashima for his daughter, Mira.

For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration November 2012

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