High-End Furniture for Much Less in Costa Rica

Moving into a “furnished” rental is always a bit of a risk.

You never know if you’re going to get cheap particle board pieces or whatever cast offs your landlord could scrounge up.

But when we moved to our new home in Costa Rica, we were totally shocked. Everything from the bed frames to the dining table was solid, high-quality tropical hardwood.

Based on the prices we’d seen in the States for such high-end furniture, we figured our landlord could have bought a pretty nice car with the money he used to furnish the place.

Turns out it was all made by local craftsmen just 20 minutes from the Central Valley, in the town of Sarchi. It’s been the center of the woodworking crafts and furniture making in Costa Rica for the past 100 years. And we were way off on the price.

This is where the lost art of oxcart painting is still practiced. Some artists paint small versions for use as home decorations. The tree frog cart is the photo above is a custom job.

But this town is all about furniture. There are about 70 family-owned workshops, or “talleres,” with their showrooms dotting the main road winding up the hill toward the center of town. No frills, just their best pieces on display.

You can get bedroom sets, dining room tables, sofas, chairs, dressers, entertainment units, desks, just about anything. And forget rustic. Every “look” is available, from intricately-carved traditional styles to ultra-modern clean lines. Only plantation-grown or sustainable tropical hardwoods are used, like cenizaro, guanacaste (which lends its name to a region of Costa Rica), melina, and cedar.

You’ll pay less than half the cost of similar items in the U.S. (and those Stateside pieces don’t even approach the quality of Sarchi craftsmanship). You can have pieces custom-designed (“hecho a la medida”) for the same price as a ready-made item.

Recreate a family heirloom. Sketch something and work with the craftsmen himself to realize your vision. You can also show them a picture from a luxury catalog and have them make something similar for you.

Special orders take about two to three weeks to finish.

On a recent visit I found six-person dining tables for $300-$700 (less plentiful woods like guanacaste are a bit more expensive, as are the pieces with the most intricate detail work).

Compare that to $1,500 or more for a piece sold in a regular U.S. furniture store—probably slapped together in China. A custom piece from the States? If you could find an independent craftsmen, try doubling or tripling that price.

Here’s how the other prices stack up. And remember, the U.S. prices are not from some boutique…just a regular furniture store:

∗ Queen-sized bed frames—U.S. price $1,300; Sarchi price $400-$600 (matching bedside tables just $150)

∗ Dresser with mirror—U.S. price $1,200; Sarchi price $500-$700

∗ Entertainment centers with space for a high-def TV—U.S. price $1,000; Sarchi price $400

Desks and custom workspaces start at $300. Full-size couches for $600. All half the price—or less—of lower-quality items in the U.S.

And by the way, these are “list” prices. There’s plenty of room to bargain in Sarchi.

Attention to detail, pride in fine work. That’s what makes Sarchi furniture so special.

As my local friend and former furniture maker Bernardo says, “We use the best materials. And every detail is perfect, even the parts the customer will never see. Because I’ll know those imperfections are there. We make furniture in Sarchi to last a lifetime.”

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