nyquist
11 Images

Ahead of the curve: woodworker John Nyquist

nyquist
Long Beach woodworker John Nyquist, 72, has hand-built his legacy among aficionados of midcentury design. Though Nyquist still isn’t a household name among the general public, collectors of classic California design have sought his work for almost 50 years, drawn to painstakingly crafted furniture whose hard angles are softened by gentle curves and sloping lines.

In May, the auction house Wright sold a single 1960s ladder-back chair by Nyquist for $7,200 — confirmation that his work has joined the canon of classic West Coast crafts.

As part of the Home section’s Masters of Craft series, Times staff writer David A. Keeps visited Nyquist’s home and studio. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
Nyquist sits at his dining table, an English brown oak top set on a black walnut base. Each chair is supposed to be rendered in a different variety of wood, but he admits that two are the same. “One will eventually be made from teak,” he says. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
Nyquist lined walls with tongue-and-groove red oak planks that run horizontally, like the tambour on a roll-top desk. Here in the entryway, wooden knobs for coats and hats are also his design, as well as a jewelry box lined in hot pink felt. There’s also a George Nakashima Conoid chair given to him upon his retirement as a teacher at Cerritos College, and a massive stoneware sculpture by Elaine Katzer. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
Nyquist’s home is practically a record of a life’s work, with spindle-back rockers, upholstered lounge chairs and slab-top side tables, all bearing his imprint: a “J” stacked on top of an “N” to create the image of a chair. (Nancy Pastor, xx)
nyquist
A simple, natural knot lends beauty to one of Nyquist’s ladder-back chairs in walnut. Rather than clutter his furniture with embellishment, he prefers to showcase the wood’s pattern, shape or color. “Let the wood speak for itself,” he says. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
The mahogany front door has stained glass panels that Nyquist designed based on butterfly wings. The ceramic mailbox by Frank Matranga has a lid that Nyquist carved from teak as a replacement for the ceramic original, which he feared might crack over time. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
Stained glass makes another appearance in Nyquist’s bathroom. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
At Nyquist’s Long Beach studio, the craftsman uses a disc sander to refine a cut. Later, each piece of wood will be smoothed to perfection. “The wood just glows, and that’s because of his careful sanding, polishing and finishing, which is an art form in itself,” says Anthony Fortner, a Nyquist protégé. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
Nyquist works alone at his band saw. Today, overseas production and cheap furniture at big-box stores don’t faze the craftsman. “We’re not a dying breed, but our clientele has changed a lot over the years,” he says. “They’re further and fewer between, but they do like to spend the money if they have it.” (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
What clients get in return, Fortner says, is something you can’t buy in a store. “You can smell the sea and the salt air and get to know the man with the hands and smile who designed and built this furniture, who takes your measurements and makes the host and hostess chair different sizes to fit each one perfectly.” Here, furniture templates line a wall in Nyquist’s studio. (Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
nyquist
“I don’t have a wristwatch, and there’s no clock in the wood shop,” Nyquist says. “When it’s dark outside, then I go home.”

To see all the installments to date of the Home section’s Masters of Craft series, click here(Nancy Pastor / For the Los Angeles Times)
1/11