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Agustin Elizade: The Architect Who's Reviving Mexican Crafts

Agustin Elizade: The Architect Who's Reviving Mexican Crafts

Estudio Pomelo’s utilitarian approach to crafts marries centuries-old techniques with juicy-fresh designs suited for the modern home

All through his rich career, architect Agustin Elizade has had one clear dream - to start a creative space where architects, designers, and craftspeople would be able to share knowledge, experiment with materials, processes, and colors, and work together to revive traditional Mexican crafts.

Agustin first branched off as an independent designer in 2005 with the objective of showing the world how crafts are a living and breathing thing, rather than immortal, timeless decorations designed to hang on walls and gather dust. “Here in Guadalajara many architects tend to design these fancy townhouses, and then just hang some random framed textiles to give it a ‘Mexican look’. For me, it was always about the preservation of our heritage and tradition with a more approachable, varied, but somewhat neutral aesthetic, suitable for any environment, be it an urban townhouse or a villa in the Oaxacan countryside.”

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After he had been working with artisans on textiles and rugs on a range of interior design projects for a while, Agustin started experimenting with them on small color or design changes, to make the end product more versatile and adaptable to the needs of the job at hand.

When clients started asking where he had been sourcing some of his rugs, Agustin understood the work he’d done with artisans could easily be commercialized beyond his interior design projects. “The moment we opened the door to experimentation with the artisans, many exciting things happened: we began mixing in colors and palettes to move away from our initial neutrality, using wool dyed naturally with pigments like cochinilla and indigo.”

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The artisans’ mastery in making colors was something closer to magic than chemistry. Faced with hundreds of hues and combinations, Agustin and his team started organizing them in palettes and scales, changing the names from the complicated formulas the artisans use to more intuitive ones based, for example, on Mexican beaches.

Next, they played around with the threads combinations to avoid getting flat textures, weaving two threads of different colors at the same time, to get a more subtle shade and texture to the rugs. “When I go to visit the workshops I normally stay a few days,” Agustin explains, “making prototypes, testing patterns and textures until both I and the artisans are happy with the test patch we’ve woven. I think that’s what sets us apart really, I couldn’t just sketch something on paper and hand it off to the artisan, we have to create something together in order to keep their multi-generational workshops alive.”

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This collaborative and experimental approach starts with Agustin's brand name itself, Estudio Pomelo. Agustin and Paulina, two of the four-strong team the brand counts today, laugh when telling the story of how that came about.

“I didn’t want to use my own name, because I always saw the project as a collaborative space," Agustin remembers. "I wanted the word Estudio in but paired with something that had nothing to do with design or architecture. With my partner at the time, we started picking options from a color palette of a famous paint brand in Mexico - Estudio Enchilada was a strong contender, but eventually, we settled on Pomelo [grapefruit in Spanish] - it’s fresh and fun, just like us, and it smells good!”

Estudio Pomelo’s joyous approach to work is clear in the banter between Agustin and Paulina during our interview: ”I joined about two years ago when a friend I was interning with after my Industrial Design degree introduced me to Agustin,” Paulina remembers. “When I stepped into the studio for the first time, I immediately felt the love, respect, and appreciation Agustin, Cristina, and Joaquin had for each other. We’ve definitely become more like family than colleagues and we continuously lean on and learn from each other.”

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This approach extends to the network of artisans Estudio Pomelo collaborates with. Craftsmanship is a collective effort in Mexico because each craftsperson is highly specialized in individual parts of the process. In the textile world, for example, some artisans exclusively work on preparing the natural dyes from pigments, leaves, and bark; others only spin the cotton or wool yarn and prepare the thread; others still work on the pedal looms, which can reach five meters in length and need two or three people to operate.

Besides this, the artisans often work with hired-out looms in bigger workshops, starting as early as 4 am because of the intense heat. While there, they consume local food that is all prepared by market stalls or shop owners. By the time one of Estudio Pomelo’s rugs reaches a customer’s home, tens of people have been fed for a month thanks to it.

While the textile world afforded a wealth of opportunities to Estudio Pomelo, Agustin soon realized he needed to expand into more approachable, and quicker, products if he wanted the studio to survive.

 

A lucky encounter with Olivia’s huge workshop in Santa Clara del Cobre, a hotspot for copper manufacture, allowed him to do just that. At the time back in 2014, Estudio Pomelo was looking to develop some more immediate, utilitarian objects other than their rugs, and Agustin quickly sketched three vases - three sections of the same design - that he prototyped for a show where he had been invited.

“I just couldn’t decide which size I wanted to exhibit, so I asked Olivia and her team to make all three. I was amazed by the different perceptions people had of each vase just based on the different proportions used.” The Mayo vase - from the Spanish word for May, when the show happened - was born.

The vase was so well received that Estudio Pomelo started expanding on their range, with the Margarita and the Botella Vase, born from a playful sketch of a jug with a stretched neck, before moving onto other products such as trays, plant pots, and even jewelry.

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Working with copper affords Agustin and the artisans huge creative freedom thanks to the wide variety of finishes copper can take. Far from the usual polished look we are used to seeing, Estudio Pomelo’s artisans often play around with satin, oxidized, and even silvery finishes, which make their creations suitable for all kinds of decorations and uses.

“As an interior designer, when I buy a piece I want to find a use for it, I’m not just shopping around aimlessly. If I need a vase I might need it of different lengths and widths and that’s why at Estudio Pomelo we focus so much on utilitarian objects that satisfy the modern taste. A copper vase hand-chiseled with a hammer by a patient artisan’s hands is as much a beautiful object as it is a utilitarian one. We want crafts to be lived, used, and kept fresh at all times.”

Estudio Pomelo’s products are a feat of ingenuity and a pleasure to behold, thanks to the successful interaction between the team’s experience in industrial and architectural design and the artisans’ ancestral knowledge of the materials and techniques. Shop their stunning collection today to bring a touch of Mexican utilitarianism to your home.

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