By Karen Parr-Moody
The modern world of furniture design, since the middle of the 20th century, has delivered artificial glamour via man-made materials. Designers Milo Baughman, Philippe Starck and Charles and Ray Eames wowed the public with artful forms crafted from tubular chrome, transparent acrylic and molded plastic.
Still, the unadorned beauty of natural wood endures. No material rivals its rich color, inimitable grain and tactile feel. When crafted with skill into furniture, this natural material gives rise to functional works of art. But can its function go beyond aesthetics?
The team at Masaya & Co. thinks so. They encapsulate a hefty amount of aesthetics and social good through the furniture sold at the Masaya & Co. Booth 253 at GasLamp Too. The furniture line is handmade from solid tropical hardwood that is sustainably harvested in Nicaragua. The business model is called “Seed to Seat,” meaning that the company uses sustainable forestry in a closed-loop system that begins with the seed and ends with gorgeous furniture. Ultimately, this model combats long-term climate change in Nicaragua while creating jobs.
The story began in 2002, when Nashville’s Aram Terry moved to Nicaragua for the U.S. Peace Corps and witnessed farmers decimating forests to raise cattle. It was a biological disaster. With his background in finance, the young man remained in the country to combat the problem by creating a socially and environmentally sustainable business. In 2008, he formed a company, Maderas Sostenibles (“sustainable woods”), with his father, Nashville attorney Michael Terry. The mission was to establish tree farms on deforested land.
By 2014, Aram was joined by his brother, designer and artist Justin Terry, and Abril Zepeda, a Nicaraguan designer and anthropologist (now married to Aram), to form Masaya & Co.
“We reforest cattle pastures in Nicaragua and then craft the wood into beautiful heirloom furniture,” Aram Terry explains. “We have planted over 1,000,000 trees to date.”
For every product sold, Masaya & Co. plants 100 trees. Classic Danish furniture from the mid-20th century influences the lines of the furniture that Justin Terry designs. The chairs feature handwoven leather or material seating surfaces and the woods with lustrous tones, from golden to chocolate.
Zepeda, who is originally from Mayasa, Nicaragua, designs the weave patterns based on hammock weaving methods that artisans use in her hometown, which is known for its craft and artisan traditions.
Zepeda’s eye for color and design is evident in every chair.
“Masaya & Co.’s colorful and unique woven chairs are a big hit and have won international design awards,” Aram Terry says.
Skilled Nicaraguan craftsmen construct the furniture with the clean and simple elements of Japanese joinery, including dovetail joints and visible tenons. Masaya-derived artisanship is seen in the colorful woven elements seen in the seats and chair backs.
Perhaps no other chair illustrates Nicaragua’s natural beauty more than the Amador rocking chair in the Motmot Guardarranco pattern. Made of teak wood, the woven elements take their color cues from the spectacular Turquoise-browed Motmot. The bird, referred to locally as Guardabarranco (“ravine guard”), is the country’s national bird, akin to our American bald eagle.
At GasLamp Too Booth 253, visitors can see the structural beauty of handmade furniture that has been lovingly teased out of raw natural materials to finished products. The environmental good such furniture does is just one more reason to love the furniture of Mayasa & Co.
“We see wood as the most important renewable resource that captures carbon as it grows and stores it in furniture that lasts a lifetime,” Aram says.
Photo of Nicaraguan forest by Gabriella Trejoss on Unsplash. All other photos are courtesy of Masaya & Co.