Side chair

  • Designers

    Designed and manufactured for the office of Antonin (1888-1976) and Noémi (1889-1980) Raymond, under the supervision of George Nakashima (1905-1990)

  • Detail

    Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar)

    80.5 x 44.0 x 48 cm

    Japanese (Karuizawa), circa 1934-35

  • Provenance

    Probably St Paul’s Catholic Church, Karuizawa; […]; acquired in New Zealand, 2021; with Abel Sloane, London; private collection


  • Literature

    Kurt G.F. Helfrich and William Whitaker (eds), Crafting a Modern World: The Architecture and Design of Anton and Noémi Raymond, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, pp. 162-65

  • Notes

    Craft and modernism: two 1930s Japanese/American chairs designed for St Paul’s Church, Karuizawa. 

    Antonin Raymond was a Czech-American architect who lived and worked in New York City, Tokyo, Japan, and New Hope, PA, from the 1910s through the mid-1970s.  Noémi Pernessin Raymond was born in Cannes and raised in New York.  It was through Noémi’s connections in the art world that Antonin landed a position with Frank Lloyd Wright.

    Both Antonin and Noémi Raymond worked on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel project in Tokyo in the early 1920s, Antonin as its project architect, and Noémi on its interior design elements.

    After their tenure under Wright, Noémi and Antonin set up their own architectural offices in Japan in 1922, where they would live and practice for next 18 years. Their practice flourished; they built residences, embassies, clubs, universities, churches, schools, and factories. During these years, their work quickly evolved from its Wright-inspired origins through a period abstraction and of material experimentation in concrete, paralleling the European modernist work of August Perret and Robert Mallet-Stevens. By the late 1920s and early 1930s they had perhaps the most avant-garde practice in Asia as proponents of the then emerging International Style.

    By the late 1930’s, the Raymonds had evolved their own unique fusion of modernism and vernacular architecture that anticipated Regional Modernism in America and Scandinavia during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s.  The Raymonds were also instrumental in developing George Nakashima’s career as an architect, and as one of the most admired furniture makers of the 20th century.  In 1936, with George Nakashima as project architect, the Raymonds built the remarkable Golconda Ashram in Pondicherry.[1]

    During a trip to Japan, his ancestral home, in 1933 George Nakashima first found employment with the Raymonds.   It was at this time that Raymond designed St Paul’s Catholic Church, Karuizawa (1934-35).

    The present chairs, of which now only eight are known to survive[2], are a modern interpretation of a vernacular idiom.  In this way, they are comparable to a western vernacular tradition that inspired, for example, such nineteenth-century designs as Morris & Co’s Sussex chairs.

    In 1935, some of the most prominent avant-garde designers in France, including Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, came together to collaborate on ‘The Young Man’s Home’, a self-contained apartment that was exhibited as part of the French entry to the Brussel’s World’s Fair.  The present chairs can be compared to the near contemporary armchair designed by Charlotte Perriand, included in the 1935 exhibition.[3]  After World War II, Perriand used a side chair,[4] which closely relates to the St Paul’s chair, in furnishing the interiors of mountain inns in Savoy. See, for example the catalogue L’Equipment de la Maison, 1947. Earlier designs now simplified for low-budget, post-war austerity/ reconstruction.  Perriand’s vernacular-inspired chair, like the St Paul’s chair, reveals East-West, cross cultural influences.

    The Japanese/American chair from St Paul’s Church, Karuizawa represents the melding of craft and modernism.  The combined efforts of Noémi Raymond, George Nakashima and local Japanese makers.

    [1] Notes based on the website of the Raymond Farm Center for Living Arts & Design:

    [2] According to the Nakashima Foundation, two chairs belong to the George Nakashima Memorial Museum, Takamatsu, Japan. Two more chairs, acquired at the same time as the chairs presented here, were offered by Robert Aibel, Moderne Gallery, Design Miami, 2023 (present whereabouts unknown).

    [3] Justin Mcguirk (ed), Charlotte Perriand, The Modern Life, London: Design Museum Publishing, 2021. P. 157. Photograph p.157


    Bill Whitaker, curator at UPenn’s Architectural Archives, email 27 July 2023

    George Nakashima was the ‘project architect’ for the St. Paul’s Church. As such, he was the associate in the Raymond’s office overseeing the project, drawings and construction. It is one of a small handful of projects where George is identified as such (others include Pondicherry and the Janes House in Shanghai).

     That said, design responsibility for the chairs and overall project should be assigned to the Raymonds.[1]They, the Raymonds, had established an approach to working in Karuizawa, particularly the interactions with the family of rural carpenters. The integration of furniture and furnishings into the architectural project was long established within the practice with Noémi Raymond taking the lead. The basic design of the chairs in question can be found in work preceding George’s employment at the Raymond Office and can be assigned as the work of Noémi. There are sketches in the Raymond office archive in Tokyo of such chairs (but not, specifically those of St. Paul’s).

     Further – the physical making of the chairs – was the responsibility of that family of builders mentioned above. At no point in my research have I found the Raymonds or those in their office physically making the furniture. They may have been on site overseeing work as these objects were fabricated, and, possibly, making very specific decisions in that setting. But this has not been documented.

     For me, the turning point for George is found in his work at Pondicherry (and developed independently when he returns to Seattle). While there is evidence that Noémi designed the furniture as an integrated aspect of the overall project (following a clear pattern set within their practice), developing those designs into actual built things fell to George (and possibly Samner, a Czech architect who was also working on-site for the Raymonds). But I take George at his word that this was his responsibility. It is here that the spiritual aspect of making furniture is introduced to George and it profoundly reshapes his future work.

    There has not yet been a scholarly assessment of George’s experiences in the Raymond office.

    [1] But the master carpenter of the St Paul’s project, Heiji Nakamura, recalled the St Paul’s church project: ‘The exterior has absorbed the traditional forms of churches in Slovakia, but the interior, with its exposed frame of adze-finished chestnut beams, is Raymond’s unique design. Noémi Raymond designed patterns of cut paper in place of stained glass, and the image of St. Paul was made from cement rather than carved in stone. The altar and sanctuary, chairs, etc were designed by George Nakashima.

    *The chair will be exhibited at the Winter Show, New York, January 2023.  A second chair is available, and can be seen in London.

    Photographs by Ruby Woodhouse.