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18 August 2011

History Brush up on Mid-Century Modern Design- George Nakashima

George Nakashima (a Japanese American woodworker/architect) is, hands-down, one of my favorite names from the Mid-Century Circa. His unique furniture is famous for its use of large slab wood pieces with smooth tops and natural wood edges.  

George Nakashima graduated with a Bachelor’s in Architecture from University of Washington and his Master’s in architecture from M.I.T. by 1930. Although he started out as an architectural designer for larger scale projects, he later secured his passion on a much smaller scale with furniture.  

At the beginning of WWII, he opened a furniture workshop in Seattle with his wife but this was put on hold because they were interned in a camp like many Japanese Americans during the war. It was during this time that he was trained on salvaged wood by a master Japanese carpenter which sparked his interest in the unfinished, organic wood look.

“In dealing with solid wood almost each piece becomes a personal problem and the nature of each slab is used to its fullest capacity.”

-George Nakashima

George Nakashima often fixed cracks or filled voids using butterfly joints.

A close-up of Nakashima's signature butterfly joints.

In 1943, he and his wife resettled in Pennsylvania where he set up shop again. His shop employed some of the world’s finest craftsmen who devoted their time to Nakashima and his ideas, some of who still work in his studio today. Even though Nakashima passed away in 1990 at age 85, his work and his studio still live on through his daughter, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall.  

Some of his major commissions are listed below:
  • 200 furnishings for Nelson Rockefeller’s home in New York
  • Interiors for Columbia University
  • The Church of Christ the King in Katsura, Kyoto
  • The International Paper Corporation
  • Monastery of Christ in the Desert as well as the Alters of Peace
  • Series of furniture for Knoll

A plethora of Nakashima-inspired pieces...


Amy B.


  1. interesting about the butterfly joints. I wonder why he always used those? Just for the look or did it keep the cracks from getting larger? Hmmm

    1. Yep, those kinds of wood inlays (keys, whatever you want to call them) are supposed to stabilize cracks...

  2. love love the tables!

  3. Butterfly joints add stability but do not stop wood from cracking further if the table is not cared for properly. Proper humidity makes for happy furniture.

  4. Is it possible to make a butterfly joint without a router?

    1. Yes some people use bandsaws or other cutting tools to make the inlay and chisels to dig out the mortise.

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