The heartland of Costa Rican furniture is about an hour’s drive northwest from San José. Spread along a winding road through the green hills that build toward Poás Volcano, Sarchí is home to more than 300 companies that manufacture and sell furniture, made mostly from the wood of the native cenízaro and guanacaste trees.
According to Héctor Rodríguez, president of the Sarchí Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, the tradition of handcrafting furniture in Sarchí stretches back approximately 120 years. The two pioneer companies that really put the town on the map, Rodríguez said, were Sillas Sarchí and Taller Eloy Alfaro. The latter is still in operation, but is best known for its construction and painting of traditional oxcarts, another famed Sarchí craft that was designated a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (TT, July 21).
The craft, Rodríguez continued, has been bolstered in the area thanks to the droves of tourists drawn to nearby Poás Volcano. As visibility at the volcano often diminishes in the afternoon, tour operators take groups to nearby towns, creating a growing demand for the regional crafts, he said.
“The quality (of Sarchí furniture) has been maintained because it is a small community where most of the town knows one another,” Rodríguez said. “This has produced fair competition with a lot of value.
And there are very creative people here.” A more recent development in the area has been a movement toward more sustainable practices.
“Unfortunately, there is trafficking of primary forest wood from Central America,” Rodríguez said. “We have tried to push for (manufacturers) to work with certified woods, such as melina.”
Rodríguez said his chamber works with the Costa Rican Forestry Chamber, which pushes companies to use wood that is certified as harvested with sustainable practices, and with the National Training Institute (INA), which gives courses on sustainable forestry.
One Sarchí company that has led the way in the use of certified wood in its furniture, Rodríguez explained, is Muebles Rústicos Torres (454-3350), run by Patricia Torres and her husband Carlos Morera.
According to Morera, his company has been working for about eight years strictly with wood certified by the international quality inspection company SGS’s QUALIFOR program, accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
This has led the company away from guanacaste and cenízaro, and Muebles Rústicos Torres now relies almost entirely on melina wood, Morera said.
“About 99% of what we use is melina,” Morera said. “And it has been a super success. A lot of people identify with this, because it is conservation of a natural resource.”
According to Morera, melina is cultivated all across Costa Rica, but the wood they buy comes from the area of San Carlos, in north-central Costa Rica. The quality is comparable to cenízaro and guanacaste, he said, and the company has many repeat customers.
Morera says Muebles Rústicos Torres makes a wide variety of furniture, such as beds, tables, home entertainment cabinets and furniture for the kitchen. In addition, the company has a catalog and can build special orders in approximately a month’s time, give or take a week or two depending on the order and season, Morera said.
Prices vary, but a king-size bed frame, for example, can run around ¢205,000 ($400), while a queen can be ¢170,000 ($330), Morera said.
Traditional furniture stores in Sarchí dot the main road that runs through town, and prices run a little bit higher than those mentioned by Morera. At Muebles y Decoraciones Sarchí (454-1592) a king-size bed is about ¢525,000 ($1,025) and a double goes for ¢135,000 ($265).
Across the street, Muebles Gaudy (454-4607) has an expansive showroom packed with cenízaro and guanacaste furniture. A dinner table and chairs go for ¢385,000 ($750), and a tempting wooden rocking chair is ¢44,000 ($85).
Both Muebles y Decoraciones Sarchí and Gaudy, like most furniture stores in Sarchí, have catalogues and can do special orders in about a month. The stores will also deliver to San José and the surrounding metropolitan area.
For chairs, however, one should take a peek at Inversiones Cuyo Rodríguez (454-3078), which, in addition to the standard Sarchí furniture, specializes in chairs made of wood (either mahogany or cenízaro) frames and leather bands. Inversiones Cuyo Rodríguez has been making and selling these types of chairs – which can be seen around the country – since 1953. Prices run between $77-103; accessories such as magazine and beverage holders can be added for more. The chairs also break down into small bundles of wood and leather, which can be easily shipped to the United States for an additional $125.