One of the priorities for us this visit to Panama is to secure some furniture. We need a bed and some patio furniture that can be set up in a flexible way depending on the occasion. Also, it would be nice to have something that will look good enough that it can be brought into the house for use should the need arise.
The beauty of our location in Panama is not without some challenges. We live in the jungle and we have extreme humidity, particularly in the rainy season which encompasses May through November. Why is this a problem? Well, most furniture here is built out of press board. Press board looks nice when it is new but bring it into a 90% humidity environment and in no time it will soak up enough moisture that the doors no longer close, drawers stop sliding, seams pop, and it takes on a strong rotting smell. Not good! The other problem is that termites and ants seem to be able to find furniture made from press board and other soft woods, even inside the house.
There are two hard woods that the bugs will leave alone. They are Sour Cedar, a hard wood relation to the Cedar soft wood we are familiar with at home and Teca (Teak) which you see here with a highly decorative grain. The Sour Cedar tends to have a tight monotone grain which is quite plain while the Teca can have a dramatic multi colored grain. We had decided that we would try to find a bed made from Teca.
Most furniture stores have furniture made from Teca but the styles are not very creative and the finish is usually rough and poorly done. The designs are all similar and none of them appealed to us. High end stores have furniture with nice designs but nobody seems to know what it is made from and there are lots of press board.
Our usual approach to this kind of problem is to talk to local people who have experience with the problem. Through a friend of a friend, this led us to a recommended furniture building shop in Capira, a small town about 100 kilometers inland.
Our two-hour drive took us down the mountain to Corredor Norte and over the Centennial Bridge. When we arrived we found a small store front with a show room, of sorts, upstairs and the shop below. Alejandro, the proprietor, ascended from below via a most unsafe staircase to greet us. I wondered about a highly regarded carpenter who builds furniture not having much of a staircase, but this is Panama and that is often how it is.
We looked around the show room, of sorts, and found many examples of his work. The quality was exceptional and the finishes smooth. At the rear of the show room, of sorts, there was an unfinished king size bed. The design was perfect but needed a couple of small adjustments. I asked the proprietor if it was his design and he told us that it was a design brought to him by people from North America. He would have no difficulty duplicating it and making the changes we asked for.
I had to see the shop! I carefully descended the unsafe staircase to the back yard where I was greeted by two dogs who would not leave me until I returned to the upper level. The yard was full of cut lumber and a crude sawmill of sorts. Under one of the banana trees there was a stack of uncut timber, waiting for custom sawing to size for a specific project. The other direction led me to the shop. A number of electric tools were spread about the large space. The pungent aroma of freshly cut wood permeated the air and the floor was covered in sawdust and wood shavings. The machines were covered in sawdust suggesting that they had been is service, creating furniture, for years. Pieces of wood were piled in disarray throughout the shop. Housekeeping is definitely not a priority.
Eventually, we gave him an order for the king bed, four chairs to be used on our patio and three stacking tables that will be built from a design we found in a high end furniture store. The chairs and stools will be flexible enough to be used outside on the patio or inside the house.