Nathan Brenville likes to explore his local barrio with sketchbook in hand, believing that drawing is the best way to notice the details of his surroundings. While doing so, it often leads to some interesting conversations with passers-by, which is exactly how Nathan met Encarni.
This little furniture repair shop called La Vieja Mecedora (the old rocking chair) first caught my attention with their display of antique tools in the front windows. Later that week, I walked past when the door was open and was amazed to see the whole place crammed from floor to ceiling with wooden chairs.
The next opportunity I had, I returned to draw the facade, keen to capture a moment when the door was slightly open so I could hint at all those wonderful chairs inside.
It was while I was drawing that I inevitably got chatting to Encarni, the owner. She lead me to the window, pointing out all of the different tools on display and what they were used for, patiently telling me the names in Spanish – nearly all of which were new to me. Then she explained the origin of the display: they were gifts from people in the neighbourhood. The more she put on display, the more it had encouraged others to pass on other random antique objects to her.
There was a wooden steering wheel from a vintage car, a cast iron pulley for drawing up the bucket of a well, mosquito sprays from the forties, a wooden ice cream maker, a device for putting corks into bottles, a wicker basket fishermen use to catch snails, and any number of other tools.
Encarni told me that her family had been in the neighbourhood repairing furniture for around a hundred years. Her grandfather had started the business, which was then taken over by her aunts, who worked from their flat on Calle Padilla (the street parallel) – and that’s where Encarni learned the trade. After her aunts died, she moved to her current location, where she has worked for around fifty years.
She shows me the punzón (a small wood-handled tool with a metal spike that’s used in weaving wicker and cane work) that she’s used since she was a little girl. She then points out – with slight disapproval – a modern punzón with a plastic handle, which her daughter Sonia uses.
I sit and draw the interior of the workshop while mother and daughter work side by side, reweaving the wickerwork on the seats of some beautifully carved chairs. It’s a dying art, Encarni admits. She only knows a few places left that still offer these repair services, although plenty that will pretend to do it.
Don´t let them trick you!
…she says, while both Encarni and her daughter continue using the authentic anea (bulrush wicker). Most shops nowadays use a plastic or synthetic version. For this reason, though, many customers come here from all over the country, seeking to restore their antique furniture just as it was originally made, centuries ago.
A steady stream of customers comes through the door while I’m drawing, which reassures me that this family business will continue for some years yet as a fixture of the neighbourhood.
As I’m leaving, Encarni tells me how years ago, she used to put little rocking chairs outside her shop. Local children on their way home from school would come and sit in them, often queuing up for their turn.
Apparently, one man came in and begged to be allowed to buy a particular rocking chair as a wedding gift for his daughter: the very one she used to sit in every afternoon as a child. He simply wasn’t interested in an replica – it had to be that exact one.
And this wasn’t the only case of sentiment for one of Encarni’s old rocking chairs. Of the eight original chairs, she has only two left – the rest have been sold to locals nostalgic for the part the shop that has played a key part in their personal history. La Vieja Mecedora (the old rocking chair) couldn’t be a more perfect name for this gem of a living museum.
- Address: Calle de José Ortega y Gasset, 86
- Nearest metro: Lista (L4) & Manuel Becerra (L2, L6)
- Opening hours: Mon–Fri 10 am-2 pm & 5-8 pm