by Dora Haller
Totora is a thick, hollow grass that grows along lakeshores high in South America's Andes Mountains. This indigenous plant has been used for generations to build everything from houses to floors, hats and even boats. Ecuadorian architect and designer Juan Fernando Hidalgo Cordero identified the astounding versatility of the material and imaginatively expanded its usage—by creating furniture with it.
CH met with the designer at the Maison & Objet show in Paris, where visitors were continually impressed with the innovative and aesthetically pleasing design pieces on display—Cordero's being among the most fascinating.
While his products are modern and design-driven, Cordero says that the original uses for Totora were always in mind, “Tradition keeps a deep wisdom that young minds should harness for creating a sustained future,” he says. This meant that while being interesting aesthetically, his designs are also entirely functional. When showing us how to use one of his pieces, it became clear just how functional: The malleable Totora table-top is ideal for keeping bottles and glasses in a fixed position. The weight of objects placed on the table pushes the reeds down, allowing the surrounding stems to create a cradle. The arrangement can be remodeled every time, simply by pulling a lever to draw the reeds back upward, returning to a fresh, flat surface.
Thanks to the extreme flexibility of Totora, it can be easily used for seating, foot-stools and the like. Hundreds of sewn Totora stems accommodate the body shape of the user (much like with the table) and then return to their original position after use. A streamlined frame limits the arrangement possibilities of the rounded soft textured plants, which provide immense comfort.
Finding a juncture for modernity and tradition, design and function, Cordero's Totora furniture is quite the sustainable revelation. The material was already use to build homes. It only makes sense that it would find its way into the construct of what is placed inside a home.
For prices and purchase information for the Totora collection from Juan Fernando Hidalgo Cordero, visit his website.
Photos by Karen Day