House + Home Q+A

Jamey Garza takes the Acapulco chair from the beach to the desert

Updated: 2013-09-22T03:20:21Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

Rod Parks’ Retro Inferno store specializes in vintage modern furniture, but on occasion Parks comes across a new design he can’t pass up. On a recent trip to Marfa, Texas — known for the thriving art scene that has grown around a complex of spaces featuring works by minimalist Donald Judd — Parks spotted a chair at Garza Furniture, the shop and studio of furniture maker Jamey Garza and his wife, textile artist Constance Garza.

Parks brought three of Garza’s distinctive reinventions of the classic Acapulco chair back to Kansas City, where they are for sale at Retro Inferno. The shape is familiar, but the spirit has been transformed by Garza’s change to a leather seat and colored base. In a recent interview, Garza gave some background on his Acapulco chair and other projects, which can be seen at www.garzamarfa.com.

What’s your background?

My grandfather had a welding radiator repair shop on the east side of Austin and my other grandparents were farmers, so everything was very much do-it-yourself when I was a kid. I came at furniture through the visual arts, majoring in painting at the University of Texas and in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute, where I met my wife and partner, Constance.

I stayed in San Francisco for 10 to 12 years and supported myself fabricating retail display fixtures, honing skills I had in woodworking and metalworking when I was growing up. I started getting more interested in the whole furniture dynamic rather than making fixtures.

The first project that really made me think about furniture was doing the interior furniture for the Hotel San Jose in Austin for Liz Lambert. She now has a huge reputation as a hotelier and entrepreneur. The job was design and build. We worked as a team, and in the end I honed the designs down and saw them through production. This was 1999, and Liz was on the cutting edge of the boutique hotel.

How did you end up in Marfa?

After opening the Hotel San Jose, Liz bought the old Thunderbird hotel in Marfa. She called me and said, “I’m going to do a renovation, would you like to come and do the furniture again?” Constance and I had this idea that we would do a 10- to 12-month project and make our way back to Austin, but now we’ve been in Marfa for 10 years.

And how did your version of the Acapulco chair come about?

As we were doing the Thunderbird, Liz went to Mexico and found these Acapulco chairs to put around the pool and porch areas. When part of the order didn’t show up, I made them out of the same materials as the originals — steel rod with a nylon cord basket seat.

That got me thinking that this chair could be more substantial. Being in the middle of west Texas, I thought it would be great to try to make a saddle leather sling for it. I played around with the frame and redesigned the base to make it more sturdy and solid.

You call your version the “Round Saddle Leather Chair.”

I saw it as taking it from a beach vernacular to a desert vernacular. The nylon cord of the original would snap in the dryness and sun, and you’d have to rewrap it. Saddle leather and steel seemed like a good combination for here. In the end, it had a nice finished look, and it kind of became its own piece. We had been looking for a way not to have everything project-related, but something identified as ours.

We do two versions of the chair, one with the round frame; the other has an egg-shaped frame, and we reworked that basic design to create a dining chair and a wood-topped stool and various tables.

The saddle leather is available in a natural oil finish, which gives it a rich brownish-orange color. We also offer a drum-dyed chocolate brown leather. The frames are powder-coated in seven different colors and a natural steel that’s lacquered. People have a choice of woods for the stools and tables.

Do you have any new designs in the works?

We’ve just nailed down a new low-slung chair that has a waxed canvas sling. We’d been trying to get a chair that had clean lines and an elegant look and structure that could be used indoors or outdoors. We want to take that idea to a group of waxed canvas pieces.

Where can people buy your furniture, and what’s the price range?

A year ago, we started selling through Heath Ceramics in San Francisco. This year, we started selling through the Steven Alan home shop in New York. There are always pieces in our studio/workshop/showroom in Marfa. Prices start at $575 for the stool and go up to $2,450 for a saddle leather cot.

We’re working on a 12-week lead time for orders. The showroom doubles as Constance’s sewing studio.

Constance, tell me about your textiles.

I make pillows out of vintage Bolivian blankets that I get through a broker. They have a combination of colors that I love — a lot of bright colors and bright neutrals, mixed in a way you don’t normally see. The weight of them is great. On their own, they could be used as rugs or picnic blankets. They’re super durable and Jamey’s furniture is rugged, making them a perfect counterpoint.

I also make table linens that I dye and go back over and stitch with different colors. I use different fabrics, including plaids and men’s shirting. I did buy a loom, and my plan, ultimately, is to weave my own.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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