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Cross-Cultural Collections

Combining Nordic inspiration with Mexican craftsmanship, this burgeoning design firm is one to watch.

By Rachel Gallaher

Outdoor chair, green with fabric seating plant in terracotta pot, burnt orange table with cup cement walls and floor

Silla Inédito, the first piece released from CACAO's Forastero 2021 collection, which is the company's first outdoor collection. Image: Ana Urrutia by MESH for CACAO.

A few years ago, architect Adolfo Meneses of MX TAD, an up-and-coming architecture and interior design studio in Puebla, Mexico, and Luca Mariolini, an Italian design enthusiast, decided to partner up to create a furniture line focused on quality, design, and the promotion of Mexican craftsmanship. The resulting design studio, CACAO, was founded on three principles: the embrace of local manufacturing, the use of high-quality materials, and offering customers a fair price for its products. Now, just two years in and with an established ethos and a successful first collection under its belt, CACAO is releasing Forastero 2021, its first outdoor furniture collection.

“The decision to focus on an outdoor collection was a combination of our own interest to delve into a new category and the lack of alternatives on the market,” Mariolini and Meneses note. “We are currently working on this collection, called Forastero (the name comes from one of the three main varieties of cocoa beans). On one hand there will be a certain continuity with the materials and color choice used with [our first] collection, and on the other hand, being this an outdoor collection, we will be changing certain materials (for example, using certain types of wood which are more resistant to the outdoor or water-repellent fabrics).” CACAO debuted the first piece from this line, Silla Inédito—a laidback, pared-down lounge chair—last Fall during Design Week Mexico’s Inédito exhibition, which runs through February 8.

Pottery pendant lights, tealight heating dish, dish multi colored cement walls on wooden shelf

CACAO's handcrafted offerings include pieces made by local pottery company Aguaviva. Image: Ana Urrutia by MESH for CACAO.

The company launched its first collection, Criollo (another of the three main varieties of cocoa beans), in 2019 with an eye to cross-cultural inspiration. It included desks, tables, shelving units, credenzas, stools, and ceramics. As with the Forastero line, Mexican craftsmanship was at the forefront, but as far as aesthetics, Mariolini and Meneses looked to Europe to infuse their pieces with a minimal, practical profile.

“We are seeing nationwide a renewed sense of pride for the many traditions that Mexico offers.” Luca Mariolini and Adolfo Meneses, founders, CACAO

“Worldwide there is great recognition for the work of Danish carpenters,” the duo explains. “There is a long list of brands, craftsmen, and designers who, starting in the 20th century, have created a never-ending collection of furniture masterpieces. These design icons were created in an environment where collaboration was key. We took great inspiration in this type of environment, in this idea that collaboration can make the whole difference.” The collection put an emphasis on the relationship between steel and wood—as both material juxtapositions (wood being seen as warm and natural, while steel is associated with functionality and industrialism) and complementary components. “The simple lines used in our contemporary designs allowed us to let these two materials be the real protagonists of this first collection,” the founders note.

Oval wood top table with minimalist black legs pottery pot with plant, black framed floor mirror orange decor on walls, cement walls

All of CACAO's designs are minimal, streamlined, and crafted by Mexican artisans and master craftspeople. Image: Ana Urrutia by MESH for CACAO.

The refined designs in all of CACAO’s collections combine carefully selected materials (oak, tzalam and walnut wood, terrazzo stone and terra cotta) in the deft hands of master woodworkers and blacksmiths—a refreshing alternative to much of the rushed, assembly-line pieces pumped into today’s market merely for profit. With CACAO, as much importance is put on the people who make its designs as the designs themselves.

“From the very beginning, the idea was clear: the brand-to-be-born needed to help push forward this acknowledgment that Mexico has great untapped design potential, which the world is only starting to realize now.” Luca Mariolini and Adolfo Meneses, founders, CACAO

“Mexico has a great tradition in quality craftsmanship,” Mariolini and Meneses explain. “When we started CACAO, we knew that it was imperative for us to continue this tradition and make sure to create a sustainable option for many craftsmen to continue with their work. Many Mexican designers are creating designs incorporating traditional patterns, production techniques, and local materials. We think it is part of a global movement towards a more mature appreciation for what each country can uniquely offers: from this point of view, we are absolutely certain that Mexico has so much to offer in terms of materials and craftsmanship.”

3 white stools with round wood tops cement walls

Stools by CACAO. Image: Ana Urrutia by MESH for CACAO.


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