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NK Designs and Woodworking - Artist Nathie Katzoff Exotic Wood Bathtub

Photo Courtesy of NK Wookworking & Design

Artist and designer Nathie Katzoff has done the seemingly impossible with exotic wood, taking his experience in wooden boat-making to bath-making, creating exotic wooden tubs that make a statement.

In the centuries and decades before metal, porcelain and resin became widely accessible materials for bathrooms, large wooden barrels were repurposed as bathtubs and basins in homes throughout the world. Durable and sturdy? Yes. Stylish? Not so much.

Designer Nathie Katzoff Wood Bathtub

Photo Courtesy of NK Wookworking & Design

On the other hand, many once-popular materials and designs resurface for a renaissance—with improvements and innovations, of course. For Seattle-based artist Nathie Katzoff, NK Woodworking & Design, wood is his medium of choice. In his hands, it is transformed into bathtubs that are as functional and sustainable as they are sexy and statement making.

“Why wood? It is not petroleum-based, casted or a refined product that involves massive amounts of energy to create,” affirms Katz. “Wood comes from the Earth, and if it is harvested and treated appropriately, it will last to forever. We use FSC-certified hardwoods and have done lots of recycling and reclaiming of local trees for much of our work. At the end of the day, beautiful and timeless pieces are the most sustainable, because when they go out of style, they don’t end up in a waste pile.”

While Katzoff’s alchemy in transforming wood into a permanent fixture is top secret (after all, the best art always retains a sense of mystery), he discloses that the finished tubs are the product of a complex composite system in order to make the bathtubs functional, water resistant and able to withstand daily wear-and-tear. Any wood the customer wants, based on budget, can be transformed into this lasting luxury.

Designer Nathie Katzoff Wooden Bathtub

Photo by Matthew Gallant

“We first approached our tubs by coming from a place where we were interested in creating a visually striking sculpture that just happens to also be functional,” Katzoff explains. “The first reaction we get from many prospective customers who have not seen something like this before is that they are looking at it as a beautiful piece of sculpture. After thinking about what they’re looking at it for a few minutes, they’ll next ask us if this thing actually works. This underscores our biggest challenge with the bathtubs, explaining to the public how they actually work without our giving away our proprietary construction process.”

Although Katzoff’s focus on woodwork took shape in his adult life, he notes that from childhood forward he was interested in creating visual art as well as music. With the full support and encouragement of his mother, he entered his watercolor paintings and charcoal drawings into a variety of local art competitions while they lived in Portland and the Boston area. His work, so proficient in fact, that a couple of judges from some of the age-based competitions wrote his mother angry letters asking her to stop submitting pieces and putting his name on them.

Designer Nathie Katzoff Wood Sinks

Photo by Matthew Gallant

“I always had a good sense of proportion, color, space and design,
without having had any formal education,” he says. “I continued this into my teens, as well as got involved with music and other creative disciplines. The road that led to my working with woods as a principal medium and delving into nature-inspired pieces originated with extreme sports trips I took with my friends later in my teens.”

Through these journeys, Katzoff became interested in sailing and boats, and when he strongly considered sailing around the world, he enrolled in a boat building school where he could learn a trade he could take with him into his future.

“I fell in love with the actual boat-building process itself, and that led to an even bigger journey of my future through the art and craft more than the exploration itself,” he continues. “I was in the school for a year, and then (was hired to work in) boat restoration and reconstruction on classical wooden boats. After a sailing trip around the Pacific Northwest and California, I returned home, quit my job and then started my design-focused furniture business.”

While Katzoff continued to do restoration work on a variety of furniture pieces and boats, he eventually started creating his own designs. When a friend asked him to construct a wooden staircase, he took a leap of faith and did the labor pro-bono as the friend spent his entire budget on materials. The gamble, with its unusual curves and joinery details, paid off as the piece won the top national award in a major furniture design competition. This snowballed into clients with much larger budgets approaching Katzoff with high commissions for custom sculptural stairs.

Artist Nathie Katzoff Wood Tub

Photo by Matthew Gallant

Over the next five years, Katzoff filled out his shop, NK Designs and Woodworking (nkwoodworking.com), by assembling a team of 25 artisans to work either in the design department or creating finished products which took shape as a profitable business focused on fusing art and practical design to specialize in what he calls functional sculpture, including his staircases, bathtubs and other furnishings that can be tailored to a specific client’s home. The popularity of the bathtubs, combining his existing art skills and his love of boat building, gained momentum. However, with a smile, he underscores that his bathtubs-as-art involve almost “reverses the process of boat building, as it has to withstand hot water rather than outdoor elements.”

However, with a smile, he underscores that his bathtubs-as-art involve almost “reverses the process of boat building, as it has to withstand hot water rather than outdoor elements.”

“From a wooden craft perspective, my work is informed by French stair builders and Norwegian boat builders,” he muses. “From an aesthetic standpoint, I find inspiration mostly in other forms glass and metals and nature. I like to think our work lays somewhere in the shadows of Andy Goldsworthy, Victor Horta and Chihuly.”

NK Wookworking & Design Bathtub

Beyond his Seattle gallery, Katzoff’s bathtubs are currently in six showrooms across the U.S. He notes that he worked directly with clients until this past year, as his team was getting overwhelmed with enquiries, and they decided it would be nice for people to see and touch the works in person beyond the furniture trade and other industry shows.

“We build each piece with the presumption that it will be a permanent part of the home it is commissioned for,” he says. “Like many designers and artists, we strive to create timeless pieces. As our work is expensive, it builds value over time and therefore we always endeavor to avoid biting on to fads, and cater to our clients’ desires in ways intended to transcend current trends.”

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