jeudi 22 mars 2018

George Nakashima (1905-1990)

A recent visit to a small cafe near the St. Lazare train station in Paris brought me to mind of the American Crafts movement and the woodwork of Japanese-American architect and furniture maker George Nakashima. The round wooden spindles hanging from a flat piece of wood, itself hanging from the ceiling, the large communal table made with two solid pieces of wood joined in the middle, and the wooden slats used to create ledges on which bags of coffee beans offered for sale are displayed all suggest a fusion of tradition and innovation, comfort and surprise.
I think the interior designers responsible for the look of Braun Notes may have had in mind the aesthetic that influenced late 19th century American architects and designers who sought simplicity and strength and insisted on the use of natural materials in their productions. And in design terms, the restroom might be the most interesting space at the cafe as the brass wash basin, the exposed copper pipe bringing water to a basic faucet and especially the long wooden counter running the length of the room, most bring to mind the Nakashima aesthetic. Braun Notes is, of course, a commercial enterprise built to sell a quick meal to a young, trendy clientele and not an art space (and as a restaurant it is not particularly comfortable or well-built), but its “look” certainly channels the philosophy that brought master designers and conservationists like George Nakashima to world attention. Nakashima was a forestry major who eventually received an MA in architecture. He travelled the world, studied traditional carpentry techniques in Japan, worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in India and mastered what he came to call the “free-edge” aesthetic and built “live-edge furniture”. His signature designs are his “conoid” chair and his tables made of slabs of wood with knots and burls, connected with wooden butterfly joints, smoothed out on top but left unfinished on the sides.
In his 1981 book, The Soul of a Tree, George Nakashima encapsulates his eco-art philosophy in these two sentences: “When trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man’s use, as they would soon decay and return to earth. Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth.” Nakashima tables are glorious and Braun Notes makes a good espresso.

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