Once you step into the Garza Furniture showroom, located along a nondescript side street just blocks from Marfa’s renovated Second Empire-style courthouse, you’ve clearly arrived at one of the community’s many lively creative hubs. Here, the infusion of West Texas light—often responsible for drawing artists from around the globe to Marfa—fills the showroom with a congenial glow. The selection of relaxed, handcrafted furniture, including daybeds, bistro tables, chairs, and barstools, blends luxury with simplicity in both materials and design.
This is the work of Texas native Jamey Garza, a master artisan who has wrought true style from saddle leather, native wood, and powder-coated metal, renovating a classic contemporary take on the art of lounging around. Garza is also an innovator and, together with his design partner (and wife) Constance Holt-Garza, he has thrown Marfa minimalism for a loop. The two artisans have introduced shades of eggplant, sienna, and Hollywood cerise into the mix, hues that dominate Constance’s handmade pillows, rugs, and linens, some of which are dyed in the Garza workshop and others fashioned from vintage Moroccan and Bolivian blankets. Rather than creating a distraction, Constance’s textiles enhance the furniture, completing a lean and laconic statement for the showroom’s line of goods.
The design team met in San Francisco in 1996 after Jamey, an Austin native, attended graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. Constance, raised in the Bay Area, owned and operated a boutique where she designed and sold her own line of women’s wear. A move to Marfa almost 10 years ago signaled the start of their professional collaboration as Garza Furniture, but the roots of the enterprise began decades earlier in a radiator repair and welding shop on Austin’s east side.
'The turning point for me as a furniture designer and builder came when I was invited to create the furniture for Hotel San José in Austin.'
Jamey’s grandfather, owner and operator of G&M Radiator, passed the art of welding along to his son, Jamey’s father, who then taught Jamey and his brother the basics. Jamey honed his craft, then refined his technique while an undergraduate at the University of Texas, adding woodworking to his skill set. After completing his graduate work at the San Francisco Art Institute, Jamey designed and built custom furniture and retail show pieces for clients in the Bay Area. The most significant break in his developing career, however, was one that called him back home to Texas.
“The turning point for me as a furniture designer and builder,” says Jamey, “came when I was invited to create the furniture for Hotel San José in Austin.” Hotelier Liz Lambert, along with David Lake of San Antonio’s Lake|Flato Architects and San Francisco-based designer R. L. Fletcher, recruited Jamey to head the design and production of the hotel’s furniture and metal work during a complete renovation of the southside Austin icon.
The appointment did more than kick Jamey’s career into high gear. It paved the way for one of Jamey’s most popular designs to date—an adaptation of the 1950s Acapulco chair. With Jamey’s renovations, the mid-century modern lounger (known for the sling-back comfort of a hammock set in a metal welded frame) features a saddle-leather bucket seat over a wishbone leg base (in a choice of seven colors).
The Garza company shares a long, rich heritage of furniture-making in Texas. In fact, until the 1870s and the advent of commercially-produced furniture, Texans filled their homes with handcrafted goods constructed by Texas cabinetmakers. Although most were Southerners, many German-Texans, along with New Englanders, Hispanic-Texans, and Scandinavians (among other cultural groups), set up cabinetry and furniture shops in almost every Texas town of reasonable size. Workshops turned out beds, chairs, tables, desks, and an assortment of cabinetry. Upholstery stuffing for the furniture featured Spanish moss and horsehair, materials original to Texas (but that produced lumpy results). Texas furniture production grew with demand through the late 1800s, prompting the small workshops to employ horsepower to run machinery (then steam-power) while increasing their labor force. By 1890, mass-produced Eastern furniture had replaced that of Texas’ commercial cabinetmakers, large and small.
The 20th Century changed the way we furnish our homes, but workshops and studios like Garza Furniture are striving to keep the handcrafted Texas furniture tradition alive. Jamey is also shipping that tradition northeast to New York City retail stores and westward back to San Francisco where showrooms are now featuring Garza-made goods. But Marfa is still where it all begins.
“Right now,” says Jamey, “we’ve been busy keeping up with our current offerings. We’re also working on new items, but they just take a little longer to realize as we produce the current line.” Considering the quality and creativity of the finished designs, customers are more than happy to wait.