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For centuries, Mallorca was a key stop on the two major trade routes connecting the eastern Mediterranean with the North Sea and North Africa with the South of France. The island’s strategic location facilitated the introduction of a type of furniture that, although common to other Mediterranean areas, has its own distinctive features.
The Carperters’ Guild was created in 1499. It was divided into two categories: rough carpentry, which involved the construction of carts and ploughs, and fine carpentry, which later became known as cabinetmaking and specialized in veneering. This category became one of the most flourishing sectors on the island at the beginning of the 19th century.
With the introduction of new techniques in the 16th century, cabinetmaking evolved by integrating materials that had been previously scarcely used, like exotic wood, tortoise shell and golden bronze to decorate the pieces. The following are some characteristic pieces of furniture of the period: “caixes” (chests dating back to the Middle Ages), “ bufets”, “tinell” (an auxiliary dining room piece made of pine wood), “arquimesa” (a select piece of furniture to keep small valuables and documents) and low chairs for women with a wood or string back and seat.
The first mahogany furniture was crafted in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Mallorca it was first called “espanyola” because the wood was imported from Cuba and introduced into Europe through Spain. Exquisite lacquered furniture was made using mahogany. They were called “charol” furniture (lacquer) because of their Italian origin. They were beautifully decorated with golden figures and edgings. Hand-rubbed lacquered finish, a very laborious technique, and furniture painted blue, red and green came into fashion. Tables, beds and “canteranos” (chest of drawers) decorated with bone, ivory, mother-of-pearl, zinc and exotic wood marquetry featuring floral and rustic designs also became fashionable. The “canterano”, a chest of drawers of French influence, became one of the most important pieces of furniture in 19th century Mallorcan houses. They replaced permanently the “caixes” to store clothes and in houses of high standing they were an important feature of the decoration in halls and bedrooms. It was so important that it was part of the dowry. It has a potbellied shape with three large drawers and two small drawers in the top section. The knobs are generally made of silver even though sometimes they are made of brass. A variation of the “canterano” was a desk with straighter lines, three large drawers and a folding table top. It has several drawers inside the desk.
Nowadays you can find exquisite samples of this traditional furniture in a large number of the island’s antique shops. They boast genuine works of art that represent simple or more sophisticated and laborious pieces. AnticArt, the annual fair organized by Fires i Congressos, also showcases “canteranos”. The fair is held in Palma between February and March.
At present, the furniture industry is one of the most important industries on the island with over one thousand companies. They include traditional workshops, which still produce classical handmade Mallorcan furniture, and companies producing contemporary furniture and avant-garde designs.
Manacor is one of the places with a greater furniture tradition, not for nothing it is known as the city of furniture. The headquarters of the Balearic Furniture Business Association are based in Manacor. Most furniture producing companies belong to the association. Every year, since 1987, it has organized the Manacor Furniture Design Competition. It is a national competition and open to professionals and design students. As well as the large number of workshops and factories located in the city, Manacor also hosts the Manacor Furniture Fair in May. It coincides with the Spring Festival. It draws a large number of visitors each year. It is an exceptional event to learn about the latest trends in furniture and decoration with the participation of top companies in the field.
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