HOW TO LIVE IN STYLE IN ECUADOR
by Michel Blanchard
As a designer, one of the things I was quite apprehensive about when I moved to Ecuador was how or if I could personally translate my vision of style there. To me, your environment is a major part of what defines you. I can usually tell quite accurately who I’m dealing with by the space which you choose to create around you. Having done my research, I knew that Ecuador is the home to incredible artisans, weavers, wood carvers and colonial furniture makers. Although I can certainly appreciate good work and excellent craftsmanship, I wouldn’t exactly describe my personal taste as rustic. I had designed and lived in a wonderful mid-century modern space in Palm Springs which had been photographed many times, so I’m definitely more Jetsons than Little House on the Prairie.
As fate would have it, one of the very first things I was asked to do in Cuenca was to design/stage a living room for an upcoming opening of a Unesco World Heritage Site building that had been completely restored and remodeled. Since this was to be a major event in Cuenca, with all the pomp and circumstance due to such a new undertaking, and with the mayor, major families and names in Cuenca, as well as all the media to attend, I was given instant access to the best of the best in terms of art and furniture in the city. Boy did I luck out.
One of the first things I saw amongst the furniture to choose from was this most unusual glass and metal chair: avant-garde and ultra modern, it was something you’d see in an art installation. Completely inappropriate for the room I was designing, but definitely something I would like for myself. Of course I immediately enquired about who designed this. Turns out it the designer, Mario, is an incredibly talented guy from Columbia who can make basically anything you want, within reason, in the modern vein. He has connections in all areas of furniture making in Ecuador. My kind of guy.
Mario has an incredible sense of style, from dramatic and not-for-everyone pieces like this “Seed/Lotus” coffee table…
To this friendlier, multifunctional piece custom designed for the TV and sound system, with retractable/disappearing panels and a clever mechanism that brings the TV out and swerves. Notice the river rocks and wood branch handles, found along the Tomebamba river in Cuenca. Very Zen and organic.
Also, if you know the right furniture makers, they can be incredible at copying things, like this gorgeous mirrored credenza that didn’t fit as a side night table, but that we had copied in smaller scale so that it would fit in the master bedroom.
They managed to copy the credenza down to the last detail, and with all the new dimensions. An amazing job.
Through my first design job in Ecuador, I also got to meet Monica, the part owner (with her mother) of Atelier Decoraciones, an interior design and furniture shop in Cuenca, who also is super connected. She really helped me translate what I saw in my head into reality. My kind of girl.
We interviewed Monica for our live radio show, Ecuador At Your Service, on the Overseas Radio Network, on Tuesday the 14th of February. She was eloquent, fun, and full of great advice.
Over the almost two years I’ve lived in Cuenca, I’ve designed several pieces for clients, like this solid exotic wood table with custom chairs, and I do have a few words of advice for anybody interested in having furniture made in Ecuador:
1- Be very clear about what you want. You will need pictures, or at least very precise drawings, but pictures are best. The furniture makers here are great on craftsmanship, not so much on design, so they will interpret whatever is missing in their way, which is usually very heavy and bulky. They are, however, very good at copying stuff without sacrificing any of the quality. The wood here, for example, is exquisite and diverse, often so beautiful your jaw drops. I don’t even want to tell the wood workers how much their pieces would sell for in New York city or in Europe.
2-Write down the exact dimensions you want. In metric system please.
3- The fabric you chose might not be available the next day. Make sure you have back up choices, or they will make that choice for you without asking you. People here seem to be obsessed with certain types of fabrics that might not be what you’re looking for.
4-Make sure you’re clear on all the trimmings and accessories that come with the piece you’re having made. For example, what finish do you want for the handles: gold, silver, a patina? Make that decision before they do.
5-Make sure the delivery and installation are included in the price.
6-Keep on top of things: this is Ecuador, and, like most South American countries, the sense of time is absolutely not the same as you’re used to. To be weeks late is not a big deal for people here, but if you call the designer or the furniture maker at reasonable intervals, you will get things done much faster, or almost on time.
7-Follow my rules. No, really. I know what I’m talking about. Once you’ve paid half up front, which is standard here, that money is theirs no matter what, so make sure your explanations are accurate and easy to follow.
Good luck with your interiors, and contact Ecuador At Your Service if you have any questions. We love you and we want you to get gorgeous in Ecuador one step at a time!