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October 21, 2013

Furniture Design on Display in Philadelphia

By Sarah Virginia White | Exhibits

Furniture Design on Display in Philadelphia
Courtesy of Christian Giannelli Photography

Even to the unfamiliar, the aesthetic is unmistakable: Smooth slabs of wood with natural, unfinished edges and butterfly joints holding together split planks. The look is the legacy of furniture-maker George Nakashima, who celebrated the inherent beauty of wood—knots and all—by pioneering the free-edge style.

For decades, Mira Nakashima worked behind the scenes at her father’s studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania, but as business stalled following his death in 1990, she nearly closed the family enterprise. Now 71, she continued to create furniture in George’s iconic style, interpreting his original drawings and designing new pieces. The result is “Nakashima Woodworkers: An Evolving Legacy” at Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery, a showcase (and sale) of more than 20 original works by designers in the Nakashima Woodworkers group (on view through November 2).

Works such as the Chigaidana ($18,000), an interpretation of Japanese shelving in black walnut, come from the archive. “It’s a direct translation of a drawing I found in the Widdicomb-Mueller [a now-defunct Michigan-based furniture firm] file—all right angles with a couple of free edges,” says Mira of the 68-inch-tall unit. “The proportions are exactly what dad drew.”

New pieces include the Carpenter Coffee Table ($9,800) by Miriam Carpenter, Mira’s assistant. Inspired by a Claro walnut burl and the harmony of a three-to-two proportion, Carpenter challenged the workshop to create a unique, right-angled joint at the bottom of the base. The firm also introduces it first pendant light, the Ceiling Lamps ($3,000 a unit), which are made from panes of white cedar and washi parchment and combined in series of two or more. 111 N. Third St.; 215-923-8536; modernegallery.com.