Our favorite thing about equipales is the way they smell. The odors of leather and rosewood linger for years and are usually so strong at the point of purchase; we usually allow them to air out on the patio for a day or two, especially the larger pieces. There are few styles of furniture as durable and sturdy. At our home in Puerto Vallarta, we have our equipales indoors and out and are often complimented on our formal furniture in the living room. It has beautifully stained covers and soft hand painted scenes on the chair backs.
Equipales (pronounced eh-kee-pal-eez) is defined as a type of reed or wicker chair with a leather-sheathed seat and back. The word comes from icpalli, which is Nahuatl for “a place to sit.” Historically they are known to be [ground level seats used by Aztec rulers in the manner of a throne.] Equipales is the plural of equipal. It is said that Moctezuma sat upon an equipal chair. The more superior rank of hierarchy, the higher the pedestal and therefore the creation of the high back of this famed design. Moctezuma’s would have been quite elaborate and greater than existing chairs one might find in Puerto Vallarta. The origin of equipales is old enough that they are illustrated in the ancient Codex books of Aztec history.
Equipales are definitively Mexican and in this century made from pigskin and strips of rosewood and sweet wood. This type of furniture is very popular in restaurants and commercial settings due to the resiliency and comfort, not to mention affordability.
The manufacturing of equipales is a multi-family business in the village of Zacoalco de Torres, Jalisco. About an hour’s drive south of Guadalajara, along the Highway 417 on the way to Ciudad Guzmán, one will find a large portion of the town’s population devoted to the creation of equipales. These groups send truckloads to Puerto Vallarta several times a year where they sell sofas, loveseats, chairs, tables of all sizes, benches and stools at phenomenal prices. The driver, who is one of the craftsmen, will take special orders, no money down, and come back to a designated place and time in the following weeks. It is a lucky person who finds themselves on this list; we have purchased all of our equipales in this manner and never been disappointed. Many
pieces have been custom made with buyer’s sketches and material samples involved. If you decide to make the trip yourself to Zacoalco de Torres you will find the equipales talleres (shops) in the “Barrio de Las Cebollas”, the Onion Quarter, which is across the railroad tracks. They will ship/deliver for a nominal extra cost.
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