Design, Decoded: George Nakashima & Live-Edge Furniture

This post is part of a series of history quickies, bite-sized looks at the minds & times behind famous designed objects. Each week a new iconic design piece will be highlighted, and I’ll show you where you can get it on the cheap!  Read the full series.

I’m still in awe of the gorgeous Tulip tables and chairs shared from last week’s post on Eero Saarinen.  Thank you to everyone who tagged their photos on Instagram!  Here are some of my favorites from the #designdecoded feed:

@tibods // @huihui_yeo // @mackenziecollierinteriors // @copperinc

Tag your own iconic pieces on Instagram with the hashtag #designdecoded to be featured!

Since we’ve been pretty chair-heavy these last few weeks, today’s post is all about George Nakashima’s live-edge furniture!

Live-edge furniture truly is everywhere these days.  And really, who can resist it?  The gorgeous, organic lines and natural qualities of its unfinished edges is definitely swoon-worthy.  About a year ago I wrote a post on George Nakashima–the Japanese-American architect and carpenter who brought live-edge furniture to the forefront of mid-century design–and this post is based on it.  Updated, and prettier of course!

So, who was this guy George?

George Nakashima and the Live Edge Table //

Photo source

George Nakashima is most recognized for his often monumental furniture pieces that preserved the shape and color of natural wood.  He was born in Spokane, Washington and graduated with a Master’s in architecture from MIT.  Afterwards, Nakashima worked in India and Japan and it was there that he learned the art of woodworking.  He was mentored by an elderly Japanese craftsman while imprisoned at a Japanese internment camp during World War II, and after his release in 1943 he set up a furniture factory and began production. (Side note: can you imagine?! What a horrible period in our country’s history!).

Central to Nakashima’s philosophy was the idea that each tree has only one true intended purpose.  With this in mind, he allowed the tree itself to shape his work–embracing its imperfections and quirks.  He hand-selected each piece of wood and directed his staff on how to shape each slab.

George Nakashima and the Live Edge Table //

Conoid Coffee Table, 1960. Photo Source

Since the resurgence of mid-century modern style in recent years, tables with live edges have become increasingly popular in modern design, and can be traced to Nakashima’s work in the 1950s and 60s.  Let’s take a look at live-edge furniture today:

Live Edge Headboard

via NY Times

Live Edge Desk

via Eva Kolenko

Live Edge Shelves

via Homestead Seattle

So lovely!  

Although Nakashima passed away in 1990, his daughter Mira has continued his vision and continues to make furniture today.  How beautiful is that?

Sources:  Four Centuries of American Furniture by Oscar Fitzgerald, Nakashima Foundation.

There are thousands of live-edge pieces of furniture available on Etsy, but live-edge slabs are also great for DIY projects!  Discover how to make your own DIY live-edge table on the cheap.

Let’s find the history in our homes!  If you have a piece of live-edge furniture, use the hashtag #designdecoded on Instagram and your photo might be featured on Annabode!

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Comments (8 )
  • Kristen
    | 18 March 2015

    I love that desk! I think the coffee tables are neat, too. In the right setting, the pieces really work nicely and bring a lovely element on nature into the decor.

    • annabode
      | 24 March 2015

      Austin loves it too! He wanted that for our next house until I told him how expensive it would be, ha! I totally agree with you Kirsten, it lends such a beautiful organic feeling.

  • Julia@Cuckoo4Design
    | 19 March 2015

    I wish, I’d have a piece. They had one at our local auction but it went for a lot of money.

    • annabode
      | 24 March 2015

      Yes, sadly Nakashima pieces are way out of my price range too. DIY it is!

  • Jesica
    | 20 March 2015

    Love, love, love your Design Decoded series. I wish I could own all of it! My husband and I dream of a live edge dining table (a la Urban Hardwoods)… maybe in the next house and/or when I win the lottery 🙂

    • annabode
      | 24 March 2015

      Thank you so much Jesica!! I wish I could too (sigh). You should check Craigslist periodically–I’ve seen lots of huge slabs for cheap that you could make into a table. I even have a client right now who had to cut down a tree in their yard and have a gorgeous, giant piece that I told them to sell. You never know what’s out there 🙂

  • Kathy
    | 24 March 2015

    I love live-edge furniture and enjoyed reading about George Nakashima. We’ve seen quite a few similar pieces out here in Okinawa (and bought one!). I’ve also seen slabs that ready to go with a live edge at the hardware store here. I’m dying to make something with one!

    • annabode
      | 24 March 2015

      Hey Kathy, I’m so glad you liked the post! I have a tutorial for a live-edge table with hairpin legs if you’re interested, and Pinterest abounds with other ideas. I hope you make something with it! 🙂

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