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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Reflections on the Acapulco chair, a Mexican design icon

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Yesica Benitez
Yesica Benitez
Born in Yucatán, Yesica Benitez Chan is a marketer, avid gardener, softball player, baker, and a great lover of Yucatecan culture and cuisine.
Acapulco chairs are perfect for the Yucatecan heat. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During the 1950s, the first Silla Acapulco saw the light of day in the city of the same name. There are many theories about their precise origin, but one thing is certain. A timeless Mexican design icon, the Acapulco Chair, was born.

My dad used to call them silletas. I grew up seeing them around the house for more than three decades in many different shapes, colors, and configurations. For many, they have become considered true works of art.

Acapulco chairs are an easy, breezy element to any space. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Nowadays, every time I see a fancy store selling them, I can’t help but think of my dad, a Yucateco who spent 18 years in Mexico City and then back home to Yucatán, married with seven kids to raise — eight after I was born.

Dad was the most resilient person I have ever met, always willing to do whatever it took to care for his family. And as it happens, one of the first things he started to sell when he, Mom, and my siblings arrived in Yucatán, was Acapulco chairs.

Often, good-quality Acapulco chairs — including this bench and rocker — are sold along the roadside. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

It was the early 1980s when Dad established the family business. My older siblings helped him weave the chairs while he was in charge of selling them door-to-door in the surrounding villages. At the time, this way of selling furniture was very common — even though the heat took a toll. 

Avocado-shaped Acapulco chairs date to the 1950s and are still part of a chic, modern décor. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Back then, Sillas Acapulco were not seen as particularly stylish. They were utilitarian and could be found everywhere, from modest living room sets to garages and gardens. Their wide PVC-cord construction also meant that they were perfect for Yucatán’s intense climate, so they grew in popularity to the point that almost everyone owned at least one. 

Acapulco chairs take on a variety of shapes and sizes. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During the ‘90s, the use of sillas Acapulco shifted towards the beach, as they were seen as somewhat old-fashioned for contemporary interiors. About a decade later, their classic design began to take on new shapes, which sometimes used new kinds of materials and a wider array of colors. All of a sudden, the modest Silla Acapulco was cool. 

Looking back over eight decades, the evolution of the Acapulco chair is really quite fascinating. From a novelty product to ubiquity, neglect, and then a domestic and international rediscovery, the Acapulco chair has really been through it all. 

It is undeniable that Sillas Acapulco represents a true triumph of Mexican design. They are everywhere, from the most humble casita to the fanciest restaurants and estates. I am sure my dad would approve. 

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