About a year ago, in the midst of one of my endless “what should I watch?” netflix scrolling sessions, I stumbled upon a documentary series titled ABSTRACT: The Art of Design. Each of the 8 episodes focused on a designer at the top of their particular field, be it architecture, illustration, automotive design, or photography. The episode I was immediately drawn to watch first, however, was the very last one, focused on the celebrated interior designer Ilse Crawford. I’d heard her name, knew she was the founder of Elle Decor magazine, but not much else. After the hour-long episode, she had my full respect and admiration. I loved how she thought outside the box, how she never sacrificed comfort for style, that she didn’t follow trends, she created them.
One example of Ilse’s work highlighted in ABSTRACT was a hotel she’d been commissioned to design. Built in 1910 as a private arts and crafts style Mansion in Stockholm, it was to be converted into an upscale hotel called “Ett Hem”, which is Swedish for “A Home”. Ilse’s revolutionary idea, before the craze of Airbnb had really taken off, was to rethink what a traveler who takes the time to seek out a boutique hotel might want. She reasoned that there was something glamorous and aspirational about the idea of being handed the keys to someone’s home, having free reign of the place. And so she set about creating a hotel that didn’t feel like one, with 12 private bedrooms/suites, but with fully a stocked, residential-designed kitchen, library, dining room, sunroom, living room, etc. It’s meant to be a home away from home, or as I like to imagine it’s as if you have a wealthy friend with a country house and you’ve been invited for the weekend. You’re encouraged to live in it, treat it as your own. Perhaps the idea, years later, doesn’t feel so revolutionary, but I believe at the time it was. Especially for a 5-star luxury hotel. You’ve got talented chefs and a full staff at your beck and call. I’ve seen the idea imitated several times since. A stay here is definitely on the ol’ bucket list.
George Nakashima is everything you hope to achieve as a designer and artist. His work can be found in the homes of taste makers and king makers, A-list Hollywood stars and revered designers. As a creator, his style is distinctive, immediately recognizable. And yet, despite the overwhelming popularity of his creations, something about the timelessness of his craftsmanship and his ability to elevate and refine natural forms have kept his work from the good-taste repelling hell of mass-market trendiness.
I spend far more time than I care to admit perusing architecture and design magazines. As of today, I subscribe to four different Architecture and Interior Design magazines and often I ingest the latest issues of four or five others in the bookstore or grocery store magazine aisles. My internet search history consists of endless visits to Sothebys Real Estate, Houlihan Lawrence, Estately, Apartment Therapy, various editions of Curbed (house of the day tag being my favorite), the list goes on and on. Somehow without having any palpable connection to the world of architecture and design, it’s a significant part of my personal identity. In a home, an office, a public space, but especially when perusing real estate listings online, I’m often redesigning elements in my head. What would I change? What do I love? How does the design impact my mood? In a parallel universe I have a thriving design firm. But for now, I have access to a computer. Though I’m not creating, I can compile, mostly for myself.
How does George Nakashima fit into this? George Nakashima’s work fits everywhere, that’s what makes his work so tremendous. Though the work itself is understated – usually a single material (wood) often in a nature-made shape (spruced up through his workmanship) – it brings a room together. That’s an oft-used phrase; “it brings the room together”. To me it means it’s the necessary element that brings balance. Nakashima can work in a sparely decorated mid-century home, contrasting the clean lines and man-made-perfect look of an Eames piece with an organic shape. A Nakashima coffee table will bring instant masculinity to a feminine room, it will bring comfort to a modernist scheme. A Nakashima dining table will make a very formal dining room a more accessible room. In my parallel life as a high functioning master of interiors, a Nakashima work will always have a seat at the table. The proof is in the pudding. Below are just a few examples of his work at work. It’s unmistakable, immediately visible, but not ostentatious. Great design. One day I’d like to own a piece or seven.