When I Met The Master

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

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 where we used to live. My husband was a professor there when we first got married, and we needed furniture, Someone said 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. “No, but I sure as heck know who he is.”

A Singular Maker

Nakashima is one of the most singular furniture designers and makers of the twentieth century. She told me that she and her husband had stumbled into his garage when he was just getting started. Her collection of a couple dozen pieces clearly showed the progression of his designs that I had only seen in books and that a furniture museum would be jealous of.  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 was a table and sideboard. Each bedroom had a desk. She asked if I had any idea of their worth? I wasn’t sure, but 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 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 and rub a slat or two.

Go here to see the Nakashima shop.

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