Exactly Like That, Only Different
I stand in the center of the “store”, tape measure in my left hand, drawings in my right hand. I’m here to order furniture to be made for me by craftsmen from Concordia, one of the villages where men have specialized in making a particular style of furniture for the last couple centuries.
Furniture defined my life and my livelihood for more than thirty years. I left all my wonderful pieces behind when I crossed the border to sample life in a different country. But in a final frenzy before I left Montana, I made cushions from down with the intention of one day standing exactly where I stand today, backwards as usual, ordering furniture to fit my cushions.
I became enamored of the heavy wood frames with thick leather seats, on a tour of Concordia several years ago, years before the thought of spending extended time in Mexico was anything more than a sigh. This furniture is very much in the Spanish style, ornate and substantial. If you are old enough to remember the Mediterranean furniture craze of the ‘60’s, think Mediterranean only more so. More decorative, more floral scrollwork, more turnings and finials and all on a grand scale.
My brilliant idea is that here, surrounded by furniture, I can explain to Senor Alberto exactly what I want. Immediately I see this is not going to be that easy. I want the seat to be made like this piece in the middle (with significant changes) but the back to be made like that piece two sofas over, only not so severe, more open. Comprender? Si? No? I thought not.
So I start with something easy. I choose two rockers from a row of nearly identical rockers. I carefully pick one bay and one brown, the bay slightly smaller. The leather sling seats and backs are made with Brahma steer hide, thick and tough, which will soften and mellow over the years. I sit down and breathe in the horsey leather smell. Yes, the bay and the brown.
Back to the hard part. Back to the couches. Senor Alberto stands respectfully waiting for my instructions. See, here, I like this low seat with the leather “patches” defining the three seating areas of a couch. My seat cushions are thick, so this height should be perfect. But the back is too ornate. I want it simple.
When I need an interpreter, I travel with Carlos and Rudy, two friends who have proven helpful in more than one sticky situation. “Rudy, I don’t want all the curves and carves and finials and gew-gaws on the back. How do I explain.”
“Rustico,” he says. He points to the couch on the left. “Is this what you want for the back?”
“Rustico, Senor Alberto.” I stick with the couch in front of me. “But with a few curves on top.” With my hands I carve the air above the couch, to indicate small flourishes.
Senor Alberto takes notes, makes drawings. I look at them and nod, hopefully.
Back to the order desk. Now for measurements. I had my tape with me so I could indicate in both inches and centimeters exactly how deep and how wide I wanted both the couch and a matched chair. This should be the simple part. I begin with the chair. 63 ½ cm wide and 65 cm deep. I brought a line drawing indicating the same.
I am bombarded with questions. Both Carlos and Rudy enter the fray. Inside or outside dimensions? What means wide? What means deep? At this point four sets of arms make motions, hands spreading in multiple directions. We look like windmills, each moving the air different directions.
How hard can this be? I grab a child’s chair as a model, spread my tape for the front to back measurements, then the side to side measurements. I check Senor Alberto’s drawings. Good. I hope. I give him the couch measurements, less confusing. 183 centimeters can only be side to side. Right?
I choose a cedar wood from the mountains. Color? A dun, like that table top over in the corner. I haggle over the price with Alberto until we agree and are both pleased.
I have absolutely no idea what furniture will be delivered to my house next month. What will it look like? But I have confidence the cushions will fit. Because if they don’t, I’ll remake them!
Looking out my back door
October 16, 2014