A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

George Nakashima (1905–1990) was an internationally acclaimed Japanese American architect, modern furniture designer, and woodworker, who won numerous awards for his work and his furniture. He was a leading innovator of twentieth-century furniture design and a father of the American craft movement.

He was born in Spokane, Washington, to Katsuharu and Suzu Nakashima, and grew up in the forested mountains of the Pacific Northwest. He and his family later moved to Seattle. In 1928, while attending the University of Washington, he received a scholarship to study architecture for a year in France at the Ecole Americaine des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1929 from the University of Washington and received a scholarship to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he earned a master’s degree in architecture in 1930. New York’s Richard Brooks Studio hired him to paint murals for New York’s state capitol building in Albany, after which the Long Island State Park Commission engaged him to design buildings and create murals. The Great Depression cost him his job in 1933 and he traveled across the country to visit his parents in Seattle. He returned to New York and sailed to Paris.

After a year in France, Nakashima moved to Japan, where he worked for Antonin Raymond (1888–1976) an architect who had collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. While working for Raymond — recognized as the founder of modern architecture in Japan — Nakashima extensively toured the country, studying the subtleties of its architectural design.

In 1937, Raymond’s firm won the commission to build a dormitory at an ashram in Pondicherry, India, for which Nakashima served as the primary construction consultant. He returned to Tokyo in 1939, where he met Marion Okajima, whom he married two years later in Seattle. With the world on the verge of war, Raymond closed his Tokyo office and moved to New York. Not long after he returned to the United States, he purchased a farm near New Hope, Bucks County.

While in Seattle, Nakashima — who had grown disillusioned by Wright’s work — decided to not pursue a career in architecture, but instead concentrate on making furniture. He set up a workshop in the basement of the Maryknoll Boys Club in Seattle.

Like others of Japanese ancestry, Nakashima, his wife Marion, and their daughter Mina were interned during World War II at Camp Minidoka in Hunt, Idaho. During the internment, Nakashima met a Japanese carpenter, Gentaro Hikogawa, who taught him additional woodworking skills and techniques to enhance his profound abilities. In 1943, determined not to remain in camp, Nakashima contacted Antonin Raymond, who successfully petitioned for the Nakashima family’s release. The release required that George Nakashima work for Raymond.

Because some of Raymond’s work was government related, he could not hire Nakashima to work for him as an architect. Instead, Nakashima went to work on his New Hope farm, primarily tending to chickens. In 1945, after the war ended, Nakashima moved into a small house near Meetinghouse Road and continued to design and build furniture. A year later, he approached a Quaker farmer and asked if he could have three acres of his land along Aquetong Road in Solebury Township in exchange for carpentry work. The farmer agreed and Nakashima began to construct his workshop on the property while he and his family lived in a tent. The property eventually expanded to twelve acres on two tracts of land.

Shortly after he completed his workshop, Nakashima designed and erected a house for his family, establishing a tradition of combining family dwellings with workshops, studios, and storage buildings, and melding family life with the design, manufacture, and marketing of furniture. The small, one-story residence was relatively simple in design and reflected a blend of modern architecture with its use of horizontal windows and Japanese building traditions, evidenced by its harmonious integration with nature.

As his furniture business prospered, Nakashima built a finishing department and a showroom on the property in 1954. That year Marion gave birth to a son, Kevin, and Nakashima expanded the house to include an extra bedroom. Building on the property continued, and by 1956 Nakashima began to experiment with roof designs, particularly the conoidal shell (cone shape) and the hyperbolic paraboloid (saddle shape) for buildings on the property. On the property he built the main lumber storage building (1956), a clubhouse, or lounge, with a conoid shell roof type (1957) for his workers, which was converted into the chair assembly shop, and the conoid studio (1960). The conoid studio is the most remarkably engineered and designed building on the property.

In addition to designing these buildings, Nakashima also took a hands-on approach to constructing them. He served as his own general contractor on each project and directly supervised the work, if not actually performing the work himself. He rarely made blueprints of his designs, but sketched his plans by hand with pencil on paper — much the same way as he designed his iconic furniture.

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently entered the George Nakashima House, Studio, and Workshop in the National Register of Historic Places because the property reflects the craftsman’s “aesthetic with examples of International Style buildings with Japanese cultural influences.” The Interior Department also cited the conoid studio as “a signature building displaying aspects of the International Style rarely seen on other similarly styled buildings.” Of the twenty-one buildings and structures on the property, nineteen are considered to be contributing resources, adding to the complex’s national significance.