The other week we made a pilgrimage to George Nakashima’s studio in New Hope Pennsylvania. This is a trip I’ve been wanting to make ever since seeing George Nakashima’s work in person at Gallery Toukyo when we were in Japan last summer. (and subsequently seeing more in New York later in the year).
It sounds strange that the first piece I saw by this American born Japanese architect/craftsman was in Japan, but maybe the setting was the perfect place to experience Nakashima’s work. A gallery specializing in hand crafted / Mingei work being meticulously displayed on original Nakashima pieces from an exhibition in the 1980s. The owner had purchased the entire collection, a large investment at the time that has turned into a priceless collection.
I remember specifically the long 7′ bench sitting in the window with Windsor style spoke-back being held together by a Torri like arch, running along only around 5′ of the length thus leaving a substantial 2′ cantilever for displaying pottery. I think it’s been embedded in my mind in the same way Nakashima’s signature is embedded in the display pieces at Gallery Toukyo.
It’s not a road trip until you’re stopped by the State Police for speeding! Oops! But really, our car only has Km on the speedometer.
Onto the epic road trip… We wanted to visit the Nakashima workshop before the arrival of Elodie, but just couldn’t find the time. This would be our first road trip with the baby, and also for us as a couple. I don’t know how we managed to not ever take a road trip, but we discovered we haven’t traveled much in our own country or through the US, and if we did travel it was by plane or train.
It took around 12 hours to drive to New Hope from Toronto after you include a stop for lunch and stops for changing diapers and the inevitable search for a Starbucks pick me up. We were originally considering making the trip all in one day, but I’m so happy that we decided to stay over the first night so we were refreshed for our studio visit the next day.
Of course we took a staggering amount of photographs, we’re saving the best for the 3rd volume of Mjölk, so in the meantime I hope you enjoy the first part of this blog post: a tour of the Conoid studio.
A cast iron knocker from Japan, on a wide plank walnut door.
Antique Japanese indigo mats on a Nakashima R bench.
The top of a Minguren end table.
“Please remove shoes”
Conoid rocking chair, and a slatted cabinet.
The Conoid showroom.
There are beautiful ceramic and iron pieces neatly displayed on cabinets and coffee tables around the studio.
A Japanese fish hanging.
A collection of Burls for Lamp bases.
The iconic butterfly joint.
Sitting outside of the studio was this amazing sculpture by Harry Bertoia, who was a good friend of George Nakashima.
The work shop flooded with natural light on looking the lush property.
The concrete pillars holding up the shell ceiling of the Conoid Studio.
I hope you enjoyed part 1! We have plenty more photos to share with you.
We decided to close between Christmas and New Years to take a rest before the baby arrives (apparently we won’t get a rest until…forever) so we decided to visit NYC, a trip we’ve been putting off for a very long time. We arrived at around 11am, dropped our bags at the Ace Hotel and headed over to Momofuku noodle bar for lunch. Here’s a shot of the delicious pork buns.
We hadn’t eaten anything that morning so we were starving and inhaled the ramen. Never leave it up to the pregnant lady to photograph food (hence photos of partially eaten food).
After lunch we needed a pick me up so we took a short walk over to Abraco, a small coffee shop with an amazing reputation for good coffee.
For the rest of the day we just wandered around Soho visiting a bunch of places that were recommended to us by friends and customers. Some really notable retail shops that left an impression on us were:
Matter: where design meets art, a beautiful and inspiring shop. Reminds us of the now closed Ministry of the Interior, and how much of a loss it is to our city.
Wyeth: an amazing collection of mid century Scandinavian design, as well as a collection of rare George Nakashima pieces.
Atelier New York: A menswear clothing shop with a collection of very edgy pieces, basically art that you wear.
Creatures of Comfort: A great collection of clothing and accessories.
KIOSK: Forgot to mention that we went here, but it was a really cool concept and space. Much better than we had thought it was going to be based on their website. Kudos!
That night we had dinner at a dimly lit restaurant called Freemans, with a spectacular atmosphere and a hunting lodge type of feel.
The entrance of Freemans is at the end of a long alleyway.
The next day we met our friends Andi and Hamish at a Smørrebrød restaurant called Vandaag. This was the second of two great recommendations by our friend Nils, who owns Parlour Coffee in Winnipeg (shout out to the Peg! Go visit if you live there and haven’t already!).
It was such a nice place to stop in for lunch, so full of light, and way more quiet than the place we were originally going to try (Ippudo – 2 hour wait in the freezing cold for ramen? No thank you!).
To get rid of our chill Andi and I ordered some Glögg, Juli of course stuck with hot apple cider.
We started off with a bowl of mixed homemade bread and some delicious butter.
Salmon with roe and dill.
Rabbit with barley (our fave of three that we split).
Wildboar with radish and carrots.
Perch with mushroom and beet (another delicious choice).
After lunch Hamish and Andi acted as our local tour guides, taking us to see some shops in the neighborhood, including Dashwood Books, a Japanese art book and photography store and the Vitsoe showroom above.
In the photograph is Hamish, and me with the Hoi Bo travel bag (yes, we do have them in stock, just have to figure out why the website is not updating!).
One of the best experience shops we saw was this Japanese denim shop 45rpm (thanks everyone for the name). This is the entryway complete with an aromatic hinoki cedar water bucket, and a purposely watered stone walkway. It was such a cool space, and left an impression on us.
The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is something else…
We had to get out of the craziness of Soho so on day 3 we escaped to Brooklyn. We had a great list of things to see thanks to Andi and Hamish, starting at the top end of Williamsburg with brunch at Five Leaves. The day was so beautiful we got a table outside in the warm sunshine. The ricotta pancakes were delicious but they missed the mark when it came to maple syrup. I know it sounds CRAZY but there is no syrup better than Canadian maple syrup, this syrup tasted like water in comparison. Again, apologies for the half eaten breakfast…baby’s got to eat.
A lot of people had the same idea (thankfully we didn’t have to wait long)!
We liked bird, and bought something from there that we’ll share in another post.
Another notable Williamsburg shop that Juli forgot to photograph is Mast Brothers Chocolate. Andi and Hamish sent us some for Christmas, but we couldn’t help but stock up on some new flavors: black truffle and vanilla smoke.
America – love it or leave it.
Some trees doing their thing.
Juli hasn’t been to Brooklyn for over 5 years, so it was interesting to note all the new condo developments being built.
Time for a late lunch at DuMont Burger.
They felt like they took too long to take our order so they gave us some homemade donuts with chocolate sauce.
Mini cheeseburger and fries. Even though we went mini, it still ruined our appetites for dinner!
Old timey shop Darr has a nice classic storefront.
And this is about when we ditched the camera. We attempted to visit Brook Farm General Store but like us, they took a holiday (thank you helpful neighbor). We were going to go to nearby Marlow & Sons for an early dinner, but of course we had just eaten those burgers so we were totally out for the count. Back to the hotel for a rest and then out with Hamish and Andi to Sake Bar Decibel for some Man Mountain and snacks, then off to find a classic slice of NY pizza, then to Momofuku milk bar for a dessert, and then John picked up a Kimchi and Pork Taco from a food truck. Basically a night of junk food :)
Birthdays in December are difficult. Sharing your special day with the holidays can mean less presents and less attention, so I am always careful to give John the best on his special day. With the baby on the way, this meant a surprise trip out of town.
I forgot the camera so this tale will be told via Instagram, with little to no consistency in filter use (sorry, but it’s my new toy…yup, late to the game).
We hit the road, with John expressing worry over the direction we were heading (north on Keele, for starters). Destination: Cambridge. Soundtrack: our friend’s band Tearjerker.
We stopped at the Cambridge Mill to grab lunch. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. We were sat in a dark tucked away spot in the lounge and then neglected, while happy diners lunched away in a bright, riverside room. We don’t usually walk out as we like to give the benefit of doubt (maybe they were super busy) but it was stressful and as such, we knew we wouldn’t enjoy eating a meal and then paying for it after. We took in the river view on the outside.
We stopped by friend of the store Reid’s Chocolates, which was bustling with holiday shoppers. We said hello to owner Carrie and got our chocolate fix with mint chocolates and milk totoise (aka Turtles, but better). Carrie suggested we pop over to the Melville Cafe, which is located in the architecture school. This was definitely more our speed! We even ran into a Studio Junction intern while we were there. Pizza with a view of the river. $14 versus $60, with lovely service on the side.
Cambridge is a crazy little town, so typical of the state of Ontario towns. The approach from the highway is long and full of mini malls, garish signs, and big box stores and restaurants. It’s such a shame that this is what consumers want, because when you get to Galt (Cambridge), you are faced with a downtown that is full of beautiful old buildings. The area should be bustling with boutiques, cafes and restaurants, and yet, there is nothing really to note. It’s such a let down. We really hope that people start to demand better of their cities.
A quick dizzying stop at Southworks Antique Market.
Our ultimate destination: Langdon Hall.
We stayed in the Cloister Rooms which were so luxurious: giant king sized feather bed, wood burning fire place, beautiful marble bathroom. We miss the fireplace at the cottage and can’t wait until our reno is done so we can have a fireplace all the time, so we promptly got this puppy going.
Dinner was at 7 in the dining hall. They already knew it was John’s birthday and that I am pregnant, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. This is the first restaurant to feature a unique mocktail list, which was much appreciated.
There are three dining options. A la carte, prix fixe and We Cook For You (using seasonal ingredients). We figured, why not do it up so we went for option 3!
Nine courses of surprise dishes. The first 5 or so were seafood based. The picture on the left is of a smoked white fish in veal/chicken/bone marrow jus which was phenomenal, as was the quail egg, brussel sprout and stuffed pheasant (on right).
On the left was dessert #1, which they called “milk jam”. It was unlike anything we’ve ever had – foam, and then crushed ice, caramel, apple? and I don’t know what. And you can never have enough chocolate…
Apparently you can never have too much dessert either…
A cozy night!
In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant and then a Nespresso and newspaper back at the room before reluctantly checking out. John’s breakfast on the right was the real winner – Lobster and Cider Nage with Poached Eggs, Baby Leeks, Double Smoked Bacon.
We can honestly say that Langdon Hall was the best hotel experience we’ve ever had. Everything was top notch, so much so that we are already anticipating another visit.
On one of our last days in Japan we stopped at Toukyo Gallery, a famous gallery in Tokyo specifically for exhibiting Japanese handcrafts. The gallery is filled with original George Nakashima furniture, which was purchased by the owner of the gallery at a Nakashima exhibition in the 1980s. His collection is now priceless.
Here at the gallery we got to meet Tomiyama Koichi in person, an artist that we have been working closely with to bring his works to our store. Koichi san has a wonderful collection of studio work which consist of beautiful handmade cutting boards, trays, spoons, and pendant lights. But he also spends a lot of time experimenting with different materials and lacquer finishes and continues to show one of a kind art pieces at galleries all over Japan.
In this photo you can see the studio cutting boards on the top shelf, and then black lacquer dishes, and at the very bottom a completely unique idea. finishing slabs of slate with traditional white lacquer-ware, Koichi-san mentions he doesn’t think this has been experimented with before.
The front of the store has a beautiful long George Nakashima bench, with a collection of ceramics.
George Nakashima dining table.
A set of wood nesting bowls in different lacquerware finishes: black, white, and red.
Each colour is made from a tree sap mixed with a different powder metal.
A hand tooled tray we’re looking at stocking in the store very soon.
One of the few hand turned bowls in the exhibition.
A new material Tomiyama Koichi has been exploring is hammered steel. He made this small metal table for the exhibiton, and on top is his collection of new coffee scoops (which are now on our online store). The wooden trays are used to bring grounded coffee to the filter for easy pouring.
Of course while we were at the exhibition a couple pieces caught our eye, and we couldn’t help picking them up. One of our favorite ideas was this tomato tin, it was re-purposed to be used as a storage container. The bottom and top were replaced with wood and finished with Japanese urishi. The fit is perfect, and it will look beautiful in our kitchen.
A set of some of our collection so far.
The other piece we got was this butter knife. It is actually made from old discarded stainless steel butter knifes. The original long blade is cut down and made more functional, the original handle is hammered down and finished with Japanese urushi.
You can see a little bit of the old flower pattern in the handle.
Please visit our online store, or the physical store to see our collection of Tomiyama Koichi!
We stayed the night in Kanazawa, and the next day we caught a 3 hour train to Kyoto. We checked in to the Kyoto Hayatt Regency, one of the most beautiful hotels we’ve ever stayed at. It was designed by Takashi Sugimoto and it’s stunning lobby is filled with back lit pattered mill paneling. The Japanese restaurant in the basement is furnished with George Nakashima style shaker furniture and the food is spectacular, you just want to sit at the bar and watch the sushi chef work away sipping some Japanese whiskey.
We decided to hit the back streets during our day in Kyoto, but we underestimated how hot it would be in September. It was unbelievably hot, and we didn’t really have a grasp on how far all of the places we wanted to visit were from each other.
I always see beautiful cars in Japan, I’ve always admired these old Fiats.
One of the shops I really wanted to visit was only a couple blocks away from our hotel. It’s a mom and pop shop that carries an amazing collection of hand hammered kitchenware.
Most of the pieces are hand hammered aluminum, but you can find lots of beautiful copper and brass products as well.
A fantastic collection of brass ladles, it’s a shame because I don’t think you can actually sell brass kitchen products in Canada anymore.
The cane wrapped handles paired with the copper was just beautiful.
I guess every country has their own version of the crazy pigeon lady.
We spent most of the day walking the back streets of Kyoto and passed so many beautiful courtyards.
A cute little French cafe, we’d love to stop in but we’re on a mission!
The must see place for us was the Sfera gallery, which was designed by one of our favorite architect firms Claesson Koivisto Rune.
The facade is made of die cut metal cladding with repetitive organic patterns. The building itself is on another level, there is a gallery space, a store, and a bar / cafe in the basement. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside so you’ll have to check out CKR’s website for some images of the interior.
We headed downstairs to the cafe and had some much needed ice coffee.
The cafe backs onto an alley and we had the whole building to ourselves so we took our time and enjoyed the nice breeze.
We were allowed to take some photos of the basement, so here you go.
We needed to have some food so we headed out to Efish, a cafe that was recommended to us by a reader.
There was a beautiful view of the river and they had a special pineapple beer on offer that I really enjoyed. We just has some sandwiches which were nothing really special, the big feature here was the nice vibe and the view.
Just next door was a legitimate char cedar temple, it really put our charred cedar store facade to shame. It had the texture of reptile skin and the burns were through.
We had some amazing luck during our trip because it turns out our friend Liza from Frederica was in Japan at the same time as us. There’s nothing better than visiting with friends when you’re in another country and we decided to meet at our hotel for a drink before heading out for dinner.
Liza snagged a reservation at a highly local recommended restaurant which promises a quiet meal on the river. The only problem was navigating through the winding back streets to actually find the restaurant. We were in very good hands because Liza used to live in Osaka and can speak Japanese fluently, she even has all of the gestures down pat, it’s amazing to watch her interact with locals.
We entered a beautiful and narrow restaurant and walked through to a back patio.
It was a beautiful evening, the temperature had cooled down, the sky was clear, and stars started dotted the skyline. The only problem was someone across the river murdering a saxophone.
This might have been his/her second time playing the saxophone, they were struggling through scales for hours and the peak effort was a failed attempt at Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The good thing was the sake was flowing and we all had a great sense of humor about it and just allowed the performer to entertain us.
There were too many plates to photograph, I swear there was 15 courses, we lost count after 10, and we were full after 5. It was epic, but in the best way possible.
Did you know you aren’t supposed to pour yourself sake? You’re supposed to serve others and let someone else serve you. I was wondering why Liza kept pushing sake on me!
The most interesting dish of the night was this little river fish. Apparently the fish is too sensitive to be hook fished, so they use cormorants (a river bird) to catch the fish. It was grilled and had an interesting texture to it, almost grainy. We definitely won’t forget this meal, thanks again Liza!
We arrived in Japan on Monday the 12th, we were only going to be in the country for 5 days and we wanted to explore as many regions we could. The first thing we wanted to do, was hop on a train and visit the beautiful city of Kanazawa. We got up really early and caught the first train leaving, we only had coffee to hold us over on the 3 hour train ride.
By the time we dropped off our bags at the hotel is was still pretty early in the morning and most of the restaurants near by were closed. We discovered a cool looking ramen place that was remarkably open, we shrugged and sat at the counter.
We love these hand hammered pots, we see them all over. We have a bit more refined and artisan made version of these pots in our store for sale (while quantities last)
The ramen turned out to be the perfect breakfast. The cook used a blow torch to char the pork a bit, and topped everything off with half a hard boiled egg. It was like having bacon and eggs! It would also be the best ramen we would have on the trip, so if you’re in Kanazawa keep an eye out for this place.
A cute shop called Gallerie Noyau, unfortunately it was closed.
We did have some luck with this beautiful metal works shop, the owner had handcrafted jewelry, cutlery, and a collection of ceramics and glass.
Kokon makes handmade leather shoes, I love seeing workshops with front retail spaces.
Being in Kanazawa we had to visit the 21st Century museum by one of our favorite architect firms SANAA. The musuem has a circular glass facade so at points you can see right through the building to the other side. The exhibition rooms are box shaped rooms surrounding a central circular courtyard.
SANAA also designed all of the furniture inside and outside, the outside acts as a park and gathering place for museum patrons.
One of the most famous features of the Museum is this illusion pool, you may have seen a video of it before. Unfortunately the underside was closed when we were there.
The famous Rabbit chairs which are used in many of SANAA’s buildings, they even have tiny scale models of the chairs they place in models of their buildings. There were tons of beautiful details inside the museum, but we weren’t allowed to photograph them for you. So just Google it!
It would have been amazing to have another day in Kanazawa, the pacing was really laid back. We’ll be back!