If you’ve ever wandered into Hostal Villaverde, the hotel in Deià up by the church, you’ll have seen a fine collection of traditional Mallorquin furniture. Over the years, I’ve come to love this kind of big, dark and heavy furniture simply because it represents traditional Mallorca.
Recently, I decided I wanted to know how Mallorquin furniture came to be the way it is and, also, whether I’m the only person who actually likes it.
I thought I better start by going to the source: a Mallorquin furniture store. A kind fellow member of Facebook’s I have a question group – a great resource for information about Mallorca – put me in touch with Jordi, owner of La Gran Ocasión antique shop in Palma.
I’d always admired Mallorquin furniture for its solidity. Like the culture of the island itself, it appears simple, substantial and unfussy. ‘This is how I am,’ it seems to say. ‘If you don’t like me, that’s your problem.’
But, according to Jordi, much classical Mallorquin furniture is not quite what it seems. ‘There are not so many kinds of wood on the island,’ he explained, ‘and a lot of pieces like chests of drawers are made of pine but with a very thin layer of wood like mahogany on top. This makes it different from, for example, furniture from the mainland which is usually made from big pieces of the same wood.’
So, the simplicity that appeals to me is actually something rather subtler. Again, rather like Mallorquin culture itself. How did the style of classical Mallorquin furniture come about, I wondered?
‘It’s very much like the grand buildings in central Palma,’ Jordi said, ‘the ones on the Born or Ramblas. They were influenced by Italian architecture. The same is true of older Mallorquin furniture. But pieces made in the late 19th century will be the equivalent of the British Victorian style.’
And why is Mallorquin furniture often so well-preserved? ‘You have to remember that, until recently, the island was not a wealthy place. People kept things and looked after them. This means that Mallorquins know a lot about their furniture and how to look after it. I once bought an antique door and, when I looked closely, I saw that it had been beautifully repaired many, many times with different pieces of wood. That wouldn’t happen on the mainland.’
I had to ask, who buys the stuff? ‘Obviously, people do or I wouldn’t have a business,’ Jordi said. ‘Mallorquin people come into my shop, as do the British and Germans and now the Scandinavians. The Mallorquins like good furniture made in Mallorca. People from other countries are looking for more rustic furniture made from pine.’
Why is rustic furniture so popular? ‘I think it’s because foreigners who buy houses here, that are only occupied for two or three months of the year, don’t want to buy anything very expensive that might be stolen or damaged by the weather. Pine furniture is perfect.’
My last question to Jordi was how he saw the future for shops like his. ‘They’re disappearing,’ he said. ‘For a start, you need the space to store the furniture and transport to move it around. Then you need expert repairers who are getting harder to find. It’s not a business you get into to make a fortune but it’s my life.’
Mike Roberts is the owner of Obsolete, the furniture store in Valldemossa, and another named Mozaic in Santa Catalina, Palma. He also owns Hotel Son Viscos, the elegantly rustic agroturismo in Valldemossa.Mike has been in the furniture business in Mallorca for 30 years.
Incidentally, Son Viscos has a nicely racy past. In the 1860s it was a bordello that Mike thinks may have been visited by Archduke Ludwig Salvator, famed conserver of the beauty of Mallorca’s wild West Coast. ‘There used to be songs about it,’ he told me.
I was put in touch with Mike by Oro del Negro. ‘You’re talking about brown furniture, right?’ Mike asked. ‘The stuff I call Dracula furniture because it looks like it belongs in a horror movie.’
‘Exactly,’ I said.
‘It’s classical Mallorquin country furniture,’ he said. There’s not a big appreciation for it. It’s actually the opposite end of fashionable. But I like it a lot. The best stuff is beautiful. Give it plenty of space and rename it. Call it vintage maybe.’
How did the style come to be? ‘You have to remember that a lot of it might have been made by the local village carpenter or the man of the house on the weekend. Many pieces are unique, in that they’re literally one-offs. The guy who made them would have looked at magazines for inspiration or tried to copy something made by someone he knew.’
Is it at all fashionable? ‘With what I’d call my young hipster Mallorquin customers, yes. But most younger Mallorquin people are programmed to like Balinese or Indian furniture. Mogolian is fashionable too.
What do the hipsters that buy Mallorquin furniture do with it? ‘They’ll paint over it with something like a good Farrow and Ball grey paint. Or they’ll strip it down. Turn it into a completely different piece of furniture and, as I said, place it in lots of white space.’
Where would people find the stuff? ‘You can pick it up at sales easily. Consell Flea Market, which is every Sunday, is as good a place to start as any. Then all you’ve got to do is repaint it or strip it down and you’ve got something special.’
If you’d like to talk furniture with Mike, email him at email@example.com.