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The Allure of Cocobolo Desks: A Rare and Exquisite Piece of Furniture

CEO Khai Intela
Cocobolo desks have become highly sought-after treasures in the world of furniture design. Made from the rare and beautiful Central American cocobolo wood, these desks are revered for their unique characteristics and limited availability. In...

Cocobolo desks have become highly sought-after treasures in the world of furniture design. Made from the rare and beautiful Central American cocobolo wood, these desks are revered for their unique characteristics and limited availability. In this article, we will explore what makes a cocobolo desk so special and why it has captured the attention of collectors and designers alike.

What Sets Cocobolo Wood Apart?

Cocobolo wood, also known as Mexican rosewood or Central American rosewood, is a true rosewood that grows in the region between Mexico and Panama. Its density is second only to the African Blackwood, making it a favorite among artisans and craftsmen.

One of the standout features of cocobolo wood is its vibrant and multi-hued coloring. Just after cutting, the wood displays a mesmerizing pattern of rainbow-colored lines. Over time, the colors deepen and merge into a rich and lustrous hue. Cocobolo wood is also known for its distinct floral scent, which adds to its allure.

Not only is cocobolo wood visually stunning, but it also possesses excellent sound-bouncing and absorption properties. This quality has made it a popular choice for string instrument makers. The combination of its visual appeal and practical applications has contributed to the high demand for cocobolo wood in furniture design.

Arts and crafts style office with cocobolo style wood desk and leather wing chair Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson / OTTO / Designed by Shawn Henderson

The Rarity and Controversy of Cocobolo Furniture

Cocobolo trees only grow in a specific region of the world, which adds to the rarity of cocobolo furniture. In fact, the demand for this exquisite wood was so high in the early 20th century that it played a role in expediting the construction of the Panama Canal to facilitate its transportation.

However, cocobolo wood's scarcity is not the only reason for its exclusivity. There is some controversy surrounding the toxicity of cocobolo wood, particularly its dust. When cut or sanded, cocobolo wood produces a large volume of dust that can pose health risks. As a result, many craftsmen choose not to work with it, further increasing the rarity of cocobolo pieces.

Additionally, the cocobolo tree is classified as a "vulnerable" species by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). To protect the tree's survival, many governments closely monitor the trade of cocobolo wood. These factors contribute to the high price tag and limited availability of cocobolo furniture.

Library study with antique wallpaper and cocobolo style desk with leather desk chair Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson / OTTO / Designed by Ryan Lawson

The Legacy of Don S. Shoemaker and Cocobolo Furniture

Among the renowned designers who have worked extensively with cocobolo wood, Don S. Shoemaker stands out as one of the most famous. Shoemaker, a Mexican furniture designer, incorporated cocobolo wood into his organic modernist designs in the 1960s and 70s.

After honing his design skills at the Art Institute of Chicago, Shoemaker fell in love with Mexico during his honeymoon. He moved there and founded Señal S.A., a furniture manufacturing company that produced Mid-Century Modernist interpretations of traditional Mexican furnishings.

One of Señal S.A.'s iconic creations is the Cocobolo "Diamond Line Desk." This desk features a half-octagonal-shaped top with an inlaid diamond pattern and chevron-shaped legs. Only 25 of these desks were ever produced, making them highly sought after by collectors.

Señal S.A. furniture pieces are often marked with a maker's tag, confirming their authenticity. Maker's tags range from small gold foil stickers to more formal-looking placards with gold inscriptions.

Dark wood Cocobolo desk in bright office with white shelves Photo by Björn Wallander / OTTO / Design by Foley and Cox

The World of Mid-Century Modern Rosewood Designs

If the price tag of a Don Shoemaker Cocobolo "Diamond Line Desk" is beyond your reach, there are other ways to enjoy the beauty of rosewood in your furniture. Many Danish Modernist designers, such as Erik Buch, Johannes Andersen, Kai Kristiansen, and Niels Koefoed, worked extensively with rosewood during the mid-20th century.

For those seeking a piece with iconic status, an Eames Lounger with a rosewood shell is a worthy consideration. The original Eames Lounger, crafted with five layers of Brazilian rosewood, became even rarer after an embargo was placed on Brazilian rosewood in 1992.

Other American Mid-Century Modern designers, including Florence Knoll, Edward Wormley, and Harvey Probber, also incorporated rosewood into their designs. For a more budget-friendly option, the Kent Coffey "Perspecta" line features sleek walnut pieces with rosewood pulls, allowing you to enjoy the elevated look of rosewood without breaking the bank.

Light green painted living room with parquet chevron wood floors, magenta velvet sofa, Danish settee and chairs, and rosewood cocobolo style sideboard Photo courtesy of living4media / Möller, Cecilia

In conclusion, cocobolo desks are exquisite pieces of furniture crafted from rare and visually striking cocobolo wood. Their limited availability, combined with the controversy and rarity surrounding cocobolo wood, has elevated their appeal and price. Whether you own a cocobolo desk or simply admire the craftsmanship behind them, they are undeniably a symbol of beauty and artistry in the world of furniture design.

Lead image by Björn Wallander / OTTO / Design by Foley and Cox

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