Cuenca furniture-maker Art Kumodi uses classical designs and techniques to enhance local homes

Apr 3, 2024 | 0 comments

By Stephen Vargha

Our lives happen around our furniture.

Furniture is meant to be used and enjoyed.

Employee Sixto Aucapiña precisely cutting wood at the bandsaw.

We spend so much time around furniture that we don’t really consider how it impacts our lives.

U.S. interior designer and author, Nate Berkus said, “Your home should be a story of who you are and be a collection of what you love.”

“People who come to Ecuador love the furniture here,” said Crauley Eugenio Muñoz Bustos.

Muñoz would know. The 42-year-old Cuencano is a creator, and designer of a full line of custom-made furniture as well as being the owner of Art Kumodi.

Sixto Aucapiña kicks up a lot of sawdust as he finishes a piece of wood for a piece of furniture.

“I make classical furniture and contemporary furniture as well as minimalist furniture,” said Muñoz. “I like classical furniture because it has more details. And it is more artistic.”

Classical furniture refers to styles from any period with a timeless feel while traditional furniture is based largely on 18th- and 19th-century European styles.

Often made of high-quality materials and designed with simple, clean lines, classical furniture usually means less is more. Some of the most popular classical furniture styles include Baroque (1685-1725), Georgian (1714-1820), Regency (1800-1830), Victorian (1830-1890), Edwardian (1901-1910), and Art Deco (1919-1939).

This wood chair is the latest design of Art Kumodi and Crauley Eugenio Muñoz.

The style of classical furniture is that it is well-made with detailing such as inlay and carved or turned legs. Sometimes there is a floral or fauna influence with the fabrics. The texture and subtle patterns of the fabrics may include stripes mixed with block colors.

Tongue and groove are used for Muñoz’s furniture. It was first used in the early 1700s in England and is a style of joining two wood panels together. One side of the wood paneling has a projection called a “tongue” and the other side has an open slit called a “groove.”

Attention to detail is part of Crauley Eugenio Muñoz’s furniture.

This system interlocks the wood, so they fit perfectly together, allowing for an easy installation process. Tongue and groove joints result in a much stronger bond than butt joints.

Tar Heel jazz legend Nina Simone found her way into some of the designs of Muñoz’s furniture.

“Nina Simone loved classical furniture, so I made a line of furniture named after her,” said Muñoz. “She represents elegance.”

Crauley Eugenio Muñoz showing a couple pieces of very hard Ecuadorian oak.

Muñoz is not the first to be influenced by the famous jazz and blues artist, who in 2023, Rolling Stone, ranked Simone at No. 21 on their list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time. Almost a decade ago, Spanish furniture brand Missana launched the Simone sofa to reference a grand piano.

“We think this sofa is directly related with the music, concretely a grand piano,” Maria de la O Reyna, one of the Valencia company’s three co-founders, told architecture and design magazine Dezeen. Reyna added that Simone’s music greatly influenced the sofa’s design.

“I love music, especially Nina Simone’s music, but furniture making is my favorite,” said Muñoz.

Crauley Eugenio Muñoz shows several stains that are available for his custom made furniture.

And it reflects in what is his most sought-after furniture.

“The Simone Bed is the most popular,” said Muñoz. “We sell a lot of living room furniture. People like the classical style… just like Nina Simone.”

His career in the furniture making business began with a degree in designing objects from the University of Azuay.

Upon graduation, Muñoz went to work locally for Muebles Madeform, which manufactures and sells home furniture and accessories.

Raw Ecuadorian oak wood is stacked outside for future use.

“I learned a lot from that job,” said Muñoz. “At the university, I learned about form and styles, but there was no practical experience in my education.”

“In my first days at the company, I drew designs, and the boss really liked them,” said Muñoz. “Then my boss asked me to build furniture. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to use the machines.”

His education at Muebles Madeform was thorough.

“I watched others make furniture and I quickly learned,” said Muñoz. “My boss taught me how to treat customers correctly.”

Muñoz spent a total of ten years at the company before branching out on his own. He opened up his business at his home in El Vergel.

Six years ago, he moved to Las Orquídeas, on the very north side of Cuenca.

“I moved here for more space,” said Muñoz. “This is a good place for a workshop. It is away from most homes, which is good because of the noise we make.”

Art Kumodi is located in Las Orquídeas, on the very north side of Cuenca.

The types of wood Muñoz uses are limited to two trees. One is Chonta, which is found in the Amazon region of Ecuador and Peru.

Chonta is a prickly, feather-like leaved palm tree. It is known for its heavy hard black wood, which is used by the indigenous for making weapons for hunting and fishing.

It is believed to be one of the hardest woods in the Amazonia for its strong and durable fibers.

“It is harder than any oak,” said Muñoz. “It is like concrete!”

Tongue and groove are used for Muñoz’s furniture. It was first used in the early 1700s in England and is a style of joining two wood panels together.

The wood is basically waterproof. A 2018 study of the wood by the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan confirmed that.

“Water absorption was determined to be less than 0.2 percent for all samples after soaking in water for two hours and 24 hours. (The) specimens did not show any indication of water absorption at all,” said the Canadian researchers.

Instead of stripping the Amazon of Chonta, Muñoz will be returning what they take to the Achuar, who reside along the Pastaza River basin in Tungurahua province.

“We have an upcoming project to help the Achuar indigenous people,” said Muñoz. “We will replant what we get from them.”

Muñoz loves using oak for his furniture. It is often more expensive compared to furniture made from other woods due to its quality and durability. Oak is a hardwood, which means it is denser, stronger, and more resistant to wear and tear compared to softwoods such as pine.

The oak Muñoz uses is found in nature in Ecuador. It is not cultivated.

“It is a harder oak. It is so much harder than American Oak,” said Muñoz. “The Ecuadorian oak is expressive for colors. It has cool textures, making it great for furniture.”

Muñoz finds it difficult to get Ecuadorian customers for his custom-made furniture. One reason is their preference for minimalist furniture, which focuses on functionality and practicality. You won’t find patterns or highly detailed ornamentation with minimalist furniture.

Maybe the biggest factor for Ecuadorians is the cost of the furniture.

“Ecuadorians like inexpensive over quality. They buy laminated particle board furniture because that is what they can afford,” said Muñoz. “So, they prefer furniture like IKEA over my high-quality hardwood furniture.”

His 20-year-old daughter, Amelia Muñoz Aguilar, runs the office. She studied visual arts at the University of Cuenca.

Amelia manages the sales and helps in the design and construction process. Her English is very good, so many expats will be happy to be able to communicate exactly what they want.

Though has posted hours, Amelia wants everyone to know their hours are flexible for the client and that Art Kumodi is willing to work at anytime and anywhere to make their customers completely satisfied.

“The costumer can visit us in the workshop, or we can go to your home with our samples of wood and upholstery,” said Amelia. “And I can help you make a good decision.”
_________________

Art Kumodi, Calle Cueva de los Tallos s/n y Camino a Matancera (Sector: Las Orquídeas), 0962583532, https://www.facebook.com/Kumodi.Art, http://Kumodi.mu, Hours: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.  

Photos by Stephen Vargha

Stephen Vargha’s book about Cuenca, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life” is available at Amazon in digital and paperback formats. His award-winning blog, “Becoming Cuenca,” supplements his book with the latest information and hundreds of professional photos by him.

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