She Didn’t Even Know She Lived With The Master

She had a house full of Nakashima furniture and didn’t know it

Famous Nakashima Conoid chair design.

In the same vein as other posts this week comes this one about the little old lady from New York. I was living in Gig Harbor, WA, and was building furniture. A woman called the shop and asked if I could fix a chair. She explained that it was the first piece of furniture she bought with her husband and that a back slat was broken. I didn’t normally do repairs but told her that I would come by a take a look. I sensed from her tone that the furniture had sentimental value for her.

I drove to her house and, once inside, my jaw dropped. “Where did you buy this furniture?” I knew exactly what it was and wondered if she did. “This stuff?,” she asked. “We bought it from a guy in New York. My husband was a professor in the Upstate when we first got married. We needed furniture and someone said that there was a guy in town who made furniture in his garage. We went to meet him and liked him. We went every year for twenty years and had him make us something.”

I probably looked like I’d been hit with a stick. “Was his name George?” Now she looked surprised. “George Nakashima?” I asked.  She nodded a yes. “Do you know him?” she asked. “I sure as heck know who he is.”

Nakashima is one of the most famous furniture designers and makers of the twentieth century. She explained that she and her husband had stumbled upon him when he was just getting started. Her collection of a couple dozen pieces showed clearly the progression of his designs that I had only seen in books.  I stroked the vertical slats of the chairs and could feel the ridges made by his hand planes, left sharp without sanding. The family had collected a whole house of Nakashima. They had chairs. There were a table and sideboard. Each bedroom had a desk. She asked if I had any idea of their worth? I guessed that her furniture was worth more than her house.  In the end, I told her that I wouldn’t do the work – her chair was just too valuable and important  – and recommended a very high-end shop in Seattle. She was appreciative and we became friends. I did some odd furniture work for her on and off but mostly I just took any excuse to go see her collection.

Go here to see eight Conoid chairs on sale for $60,000. I’ve never even paid that much for a table!

Nakashima sideboard

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Author: Dennis Mitton

Science writer. Evolution, bio, health, fitness, longevity, and philosophy. Love Russian lit. Run a slow 5k. Proven breeder/twins. Monkey Dance author.

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