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.