Culture

Three years ago Swedish-Mexican designer Alexander Andersson happened upon a cache of cedar benches in La Lagunilla, Mexico City’s sprawling weekend flea market.

“They were so spectacular, I knew someone great had designed them,” Andersson says.

He went with his gut and bought all 12, hiring a truck to haul the massive pieces to his garage. The epiphany didn’t come until a year later during a visit to the city’s renowned anthropology museum. The exact same seats were installed in the main hall of the building’s iconic interior: “Of course,” Andersson realized. “Pedro Ramírez Vázquez.”

The famous Mexican modernist architect (1919–2013), who worked mostly in concrete, was behind a handful of Mexico City monuments: the Museum of Modern Art, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the National Anthropology Museum.

There’s no telling how the pieces Andersson bought were separated from the original set, which was made on commission specifically for the museum. Andersson immediately phoned the aged architect, then in his 90s, and asked whether he would authenticate the pieces, which he hoped to sell in art galleries. In a serendipitous moment, Vázquez invited him over to his studio space in the Jardines del Pedregal.

“He signed my certificates, and he gave me a tour of the house—and all of a sudden I saw this piece in one corner, that piece in another corner, and I thought, Everything is amazing. So I asked him, ‘Who has the license for your furniture?’”

Vázquez’s response: “License?”

And so a collection was born. Andersson took on the production rights to Vázquez’s designs that, until then, had been created only as prototypes or in limited editions for projects. Striking tables in polished stainless steel and brass are each made from single pieces of metal, cut and folded. A regal Equipal chair in leather and stainless steel is a modern riff on the emblematic wood-and-leather chair from Mexican history.

“It used to be the chair of emperors,” Andersson explains. “They say Montezuma had one.”

The reeditions of Vázquez’s furnishings join a collection of Andersson’s own designs to form Luteca, the brand that launched this week at New York’s Hotel Americano (not coincidentally designed by Mexican architect Enrique Norten) in Chelsea.

While Luteca's headquarters is in New York City, the real magic happens in the Mexico City design studio and workshop, where every item of furniture is made with traditional processes. Rather than welding, metal pieces are held together by tiny screws. Old-school joinery techniques are used on wood furnishings. To polish a single chair can take a whole week.

“The idea is to create contemporary products and preserve Mexican handcraft,” Andersson says, a calling both he and Vázquez have shared.

Pieces from the Luteca collection will be available starting next week at Twentieth, 7470 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, twentieth.net. Call Luteca for more information, 646-510-5244; luteca.com.

BUILT FROM SCRATCH Samuel Amoia and Fernando Mastrangelo of AMMA Studio combine industrial and household ingredients into works of singular beauty

In the Brooklyn workshop of AMMA Studio, ordinary materials await alchemical transformations. Piles of salt, ground coffee, and other commonplace substances are mixed with clear resin, which binds the grains before they're joined with cement and molded into strikingly beautiful furnishings. For founders Samuel Amoia and Fernando Mastrangelo, using such unconventional media, rather than wood or stone, is a way to bring something new to the table—figuratively and literally. "I look at furniture all day long, and it's always the same stuff, made with the same materials," says Amoia, who has his own eponymous interior design firm as well. Mastrangelo, an artist, adds, "Our idea was to do something totally fresh. If you buy a slab of marble, you already have something gorgeous. But if you start with the everyday and elevate it, you can achieve something intriguing, something special." A drum stool, for instance, fuses baby-blue cement with pink Himalayan salt, producing exquisite strata of color and texture. A rectilinear side table is composed of a spare cement shell with a luminous silica lining. And a large-scale faceted mirror features a frame encrusted with navy-blue glass crystals. Although the pair just launched AMMA Studio in May—offering both limited-edition and custom-made creations—they've already received a string of notable commissions, among them pieces for Soho House in London and Berlin and for DeLorenzo Gallery in New York. The design establishment, meanwhile, is buzzing. "I love the concept behind AMMA," says AD100 decorator Stephen Sills, for whom Amoia once worked. "Their furnishings have such an elegant, minimalist quality." The duo, for their part, are just enjoying the crossover between their independent professions. "It's sculptural furniture that can be viewed as art but is fully functional," emphasizes Amoia. As Mastrangelo notes of the pieces' often soluble origins, "even if you pour water on them, they're not going to melt." ammastudionyc.com -TIM MCKEOUGH