This Furniture Brand is Reviving Mid-century Modern Mexican Design

Pia Riverola

When Amanda and Sebastian Reant began their furniture company, Luteca, in Dobbs Ferry, New York, in 2015, they were at the forefront of a revival of interest in modernist and contemporary Mexican architecture and design.

Amanda, who is British, and Sebastian, who is French, each had careers in management and marketing (she in the home furnishings world, he in the entertainment and digital fields), but they shared a passion for design, and a 2014 trip to Mexico was a revelation. 

While the design world grows increasingly familiar with the storied midcentury icons from northern Europe, the Reants discovered an untapped Mexican reservoir that was fresh and exciting. “We think Mexican design has something universal,” Sebastian says; it encompasses “pre-Columbian culture, Spanish colonial culture, and 20th-century modernism.” This eclectic mix has made the style popular with big-name interior designers like Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Shawn Henderson, and Commune Design, the L.A. firm that used Luteco's San Miguelisto counter stools in recent projects.

Luteca’s first collection focused on furniture by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the architect who co-designed Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology and its Museum of Modern Art, among other noted structures of the 1960s. Last year, Luteca reissued pieces by Michael van Beuren, the American-born, Bauhaus-educated designer who moved to Mexico in 1936. These include the Alacrán chaise, designed with Klaus Grabe, which was a winner in MoMA’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition in 1941, and the Woven Credenza, a 1940 design in wood with palm-cord doors.

Luteca’s roster of contemporary collaborators includes Jorge Arturo Ibarra (who is also the company’s design director), Sami Hayek, the French-Mexican Studio Martes, and the duo of Rodrigo Berrondo and Pablo Igartúa. In one way or another, they all draw on Mexico’s 20th-century design history or its native materials to produce furniture that evokes tradition in a new way.

Luteca owners Amanda and Sebastian Reant at their Mexico City showroom inside an 1898 building. Pia Riverola

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For its latest release, Luteca returned to the 20th century, with two pieces by Clara Porset, another key figure in Mexi- co’s modernist history: a sculptural wood-and-glass coffee table that Amanda calls “so modern it could have been designed yesterday” and Porset’s take on the classic Mexican butaque chair, with its sinuously curved wood frame. “Porset offered us an opportunity to highlight a female designer who was doing amazing things in the mid-20th century that are still admired today,” she says.

Born in Cuba in 1895 and educated in both the U.S. and France, Porset fled Cuba for Mexico as a political exile in 1935. She was soon working with prominent architects like Luis Barragán and Mario Pani on everything from high-end residences and restaurants to housing projects, and her design for a steel-tube chair was included in the catalog of MoMA’s International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design in 1950. Her interiors and furniture were known for integrating her modernist education with a genuine interest in Mexican traditions. Porset owed the latter in part to her travels throughout the country with her husband, Xavier Guerrero, a well-known muralist and activist. But as humanistic as her approach was, Porset’s aesthetic had no room for frills; as she said in a 1931 lecture, “We are in a position to perceive and appreciate an austere beauty stripped of all ornament.”

Porset’s brief return to Cuba after the 1959 revolution to work with the Castro regime alienated many of her peers. But in her later years in Mexico, Porset resumed her long career teaching industrial design at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); her work was recognized in Mexican museum exhibitions, and she received various awards before her death in 1981.

Left to right: Designer Clara Porset; a Porset coffee table by Luteca​​​​​​​. Archives of American Art - Smithsonian Institution, Esther McCoy Papers; Courtesy Luteca

Porset was not the only 20th-century designer who was fascinated by the butaque; it was also interpreted by William Spratling, who is best known for his work in silver, and by van Beuren, whose own, more reductive version is also now being made by Luteca. Porset, however, was keen on maximizing the chair’s ergonomic potential, as well as respecting its vernacular roots. Later this year, Luteca will introduce another well-known Porset design, the Totonaca chair, inspired by a sculpture dating to the fifth or sixth-century b.c Luteca worked with UNAM, which houses the designer’s archive, to develop the technical drawings for all these pieces.

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Another Mexico-based project, Lute- ca’s Txt.ure line, was developed by Regina Pozo in collaboration with the last remaining group of native artisans still weaving tule (a marsh plant similar to a cattail)—a craft that dates back to the Mayans. Together, they’re working on a series of seating.

Luteca produces its furniture in the U.S. but has added a factory in Mexico to meet the demand for projects there, like Jon Brent Design’s Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos and Cheremarquitectos’ 1 Hotel Cabo. Last year Luteca opened a showroom in Mexico City.

And now the company has just opened its first U.S. showroom, in New York City, giving it an outlet to broadcast its message to even greater numbers of designers. “We’re trying to reach a global audience,” Amanda says. “But Mexican design is still influenced by local cultures and traditions. It’s very personal.”