008 — Happy Holidays

We’ve just got back from a holiday of a lifetime, 3 weeks travelling around America. New York, DC and 2,500 miles driven between LA and Vancouver!

So much amazing street art throughout the trip — this is just off Venice Beach

But this is a woodworking blog so instead of boring you with tales of pancakes and baseball I thought I’d share with you some of the incredible furniture stops we made, which have inspired me as much as the beautiful landscapes and iconic architecture. Let me take you on a journey….

St John the Unfinished

This is the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. It sits just off Central Park in New York, and it’s where our woodworking tour of America begins because it is home to a pretty unique piece of furniture, George Nakashima’s Peace Altar Table.

the Cathedral itself is a special place, the largest in the world (tied with Liverpool) it’s still under construction with a few decades left to go, and features a mix of old and new architectural ideas.

So, I’m a big Nakashima fan, but as with lots of the greats of furniture making I had only ever seen his work in books or online. Over the last couple of years as I’ve grown in my own work I’ve tried to get out and see as much of other peoples work as I can, and I have seen some great work. Seeing this, the work of a giant of the industry, and a favorite of mine, first hand was pretty special.

It’s good to seek out and study good work when you’re learning anything. Find the best work you can. This may not be your style preference, but I hope you’ll agree, it’s impressive.

Butterfly Key joinery that Nakashima was known for

It’s more impressive still when you realize that this piece was one of his last works and the culmination of a lifetimes practiced skill at his craft. As with so much of his work (a I’m pleased to say you’ll see later) it’s based around large slabs of timber and highlights rather than hides the natural curves of the tree, in this case a 300 year old walnut.

wondrous wood grain

It was Nakashima’s dream to provide “Altars of Peace” for the seven continents of the world. This is one of three he made before he passed. The other two are in Russia and India. His daughter Mira continues his work and will next be working on a table for Cape Town, South Africa.

Well, I did tell you it was a special piece. I spent about a hour photographing it and sketching it from various angles, just trying to take it in more than anything.

Moderne Gallery — Philadelphia

“George Nakashima: Rare and Unique Works” exhibition

The next stop of our holiday was Washington but on the way we stopped off at this wonderful gallery in Philadelphia. I had spoken with the owner before we left the UK to check it was fine to visit. He was great, so knowledgeable, and was happy to give us a tour of his extensive collection.

A lot of what he had was Nakashima, his public display was all his work, but he also had work by Sam Maloof (again, more on him later) Wharton Esherick and many others.

This is me, so in shock I had to sit down…

…don’t make me get up

The Peace Altar is amazing, but this was real furniture for the home that you can really relate to, and as such it hits home deeper. It’s also the work of his prime. It’s sharp and precise, and, because of the sheer amount and variety of work on display you can see how consistent that sharp, precise work is, and that’s before you’ve sat in anything.

Maloof furniture looks comfortable, and it is, Nakashima’s you’d be forgiven for doubting it’s often harsh lines, but I have to say after sitting in a few chairs of different styles they were all comfortable, surprisingly so.

This was a particular favorite of mine that kept calling me over for another look.

Its generally sleek and beautiful all over but I especially liked the draw pulls which were recessed into the draw below. So the top draw here is pulled out by a small finger recess which you can get to because of an angled cut out in the draw below. Neat huh?

I also liked that his draws weren’t dovetailed. “Not dovetailed!” I hear you cry. I know. I was surprised too, and then reflected on why it was an automatic expectation that they would be.

The chair I’m sitting in here is an early Maloof which he made for his daughter. It was dark here, and I appreciate it’s hard to see. It’s not a rocker. It has a padded seat and back and was so comfortable. The edges on the arm rests tapered to a beautifully thin edge. To sit in it was a wonderful experience, I’d have sat there a lot longer if I could.

Robert the owner is guarding, and trading in, an Aladins cave of fine furniture that represents quite a slice of history. It’s not just that he keeps watch over this beautiful collection it but his depth of knowledge both about the pieces themselves; their makers and their place in history is extensive. I’m grateful to him for his time and hope we cross paths again some time soon.

Sam Maloof Residence

The next leg of our tip took us to the west coast where we’d be hiring a car and driving from LA to Seattle stopping at the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Redwood and Portland.

Before leaving LA and hitting the road north (or east) we got to visit the Sam Maloof Residence and take a tour of the house he built.

Outside the Maloof workshop — note the chair templates in the window

The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts is a wonderful place and it’s a place that is best experienced first hand and not through photographs. That’s just as well really because cameras aren’t allowed in the house, just the gardens, where the picture above was taken.

The house is a wonderful place and quite magical to walk around. Not just because it’s full of furniture he made, along with art and crafts by many others. But because it was his home.

I was struggling to take it all in if I’m honest but it finally hit home for me as we were coming down stairs. My hand found the wood hand rail, and I thought, wow. Sam walked down these stairs every day on his way to the workshop.

The workshop itself is accessible on a different tour which isn’t run the day we were there, but that really didn’t matter, the visit we had was excellent.


I feel really lucky to have seen all these wonderful places (and that’s before I think about the rest of our amazing trip). There was lots in nature and architecturally in the big cities that has already inspired ideas for future projects and I’m sure my memories of this place will continue to inspire me in the future.