Filipino Designers Masterfully Intermix Natural Materials & Modern Design

Natural materials and a history of craftsmanship set the stage for the Philippines to develop a vibrant design community. In fact, over the past four or five years, the country has been pursuing an agenda to position the Philippines as the design center of Asia.

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Creativity was certainly on display when we visited the Design Philippines exhibit at ICFF 2015. From lighting and wall décor, to tables, chairs and bedroom furniture, the six Filipino designers who participated showed a range of interesting and innovative pieces. The booth included work by Bon Ace, Ito Kish, Kenneth Cobanpue, Tadeco Home, Triboa Bay Living, and Vito Selma.

We asked Design Philippines what makes the Philippines, and these Filipino designers in particular, so special.

Why highlight the Philippines?

The Philippines is a destination for products that speak of a higher level of artisanship. The Design Philippines is a design movement that nurtures and celebrates the creativity and originality of a globally competitive and passionate community of Filipino designers and craftsmen.

Is the U.S. a big market for Philippine designers? Which countries are the largest markets?

The US is a big market for anyone and entering that market is certainly a goal for designers worldwide. The Philippines is no exception! We believe the US is also coming to appreciate the remarkable craftsmanship and quality originating from the Philippines. I think the country is becoming synonymous with incredible creativity and innovative designs.

Why did you choose these six designers?

Their individual narratives emerge from experiences and decisions with a decidedly Philippine context. Their careers in the furniture-design realm of the Philippines have been navigated with a keen sense of the social and physical archipelago that is their country.  Through furniture, lamps, gifts and housewares, the six select exhibitors represent different arrivals at the global community of Philippine design houses; each arrival is a special Philippine story. Together, the six exhibitors embody the complex reality of the Philippines and ingenuous design solutions to novel problems in societies transitioning from the past to the future at an uneven but vibrant pace.

We asked each of the designers about the inspiration behind some of their most interesting collections.

BON-ACE

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BON-ACE has been working with natural materials for more that a decade to produce designs that are skillfully embedded with aesthetics and functionality, bringing about a balanced coexistence. The company and its designer, Ramir Bonghanoy, work to mix and match materials and create new designs that are at the same time both sophisticated and daring.

We look for inspiration from nature. From the waves of the sea to the textures of the mountains there are endless possibilities. Nature being an ultimate designer has so many concepts to derive from,” Bonghanoy says. “Be it colors, shapes and material mediums, she has it all. And by using the best tool in the world, “the human hands,” combining natural and industrial materials, pieces done are undeniably a work of art, truly a one of a kind object.

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This chair is a hand-fabricated, modern inlay of eight different types of seashells that are intended to mimic infinity lines.  Available in several color palettes, this is as much a conversation starter as an accent piece of furniture.

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The Egg Chair is a playful piece — the “shell” of the chair is made from shells. In fact, seashells show up in many of the company’s products.

We use seashells because we really love the different shades it gives, in every angle it is viewed it gives a different luster. That is the beauty of seashells, Bonghanoy adds.

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Seashells are also central to the design of this coffee table set. The curvature of the shell pieces calls to mind the chop of ocean water on a windy day and the striations in the shell evoke movement. Bon Ace produces accent furniture, bath accents, vases. bowls, planners, mirrors, lamps and trays. The company also has a fashion collection.

Kenneth Cobanpue

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Called the “first great virtuoso of rattan” by Time magazine, Kenneth Cobanpue is an award wining furniture designer from Cebu. The Pratt-educated Cobanpue locally sources materials and uses handmade production, resulting in pieces that are prized around around the world for their unique designs.

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I find inspiration absolutely everywhere, from the most mundane things around me every day to the most exotic locales I’m privileged to visit. I don’t look at trend books much for inspiration. Instead, I prefer to absorb a broad spectrum of input from architecture, fashion and art. Then, I just trust my instincts and let the ideas lead me,” Cobanpue says. “I find that in constantly searching for inspiration everywhere, all the time, the mind somehow becomes more open to finding it, and the ideas flow faster as a result. The one common factor in all of my pieces, however, is the production process, which is primarily handmade. The inspiration I find in the strength of the human spirit is one commonality that will never change.

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Cobanpue was inspired by a flower blossom for the Bloom chair. Hundreds of fine lines of stitching radiate from the center of the chair. The lines and soft folds resemble the petals of a tropical flower, literally beckoning you to settle in this seat. The chair is made of microfiber that is stitched over a fiberglass reinforced top. The base is steel.

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While this piece may have a much firmer vibe than the Bloom chair, the Dragnet is no less dramatic. It was inspired by fishing nets and is made from acrylic fabric that is twisted and wrapped around a stainless steel frame. Suitable for indoor or outdoor use, the chair is part of a collection that includes occasional tables and an ottoman.

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La Luna Chair and Ottoman is Cobanpue’s classic masterpiece of weaving. Woven from rattan strips, the chair is formed over a shell of rattan core and jute that is packed with foam. The design is particularly complex because two distinct styles of weaving come together seamlessly around the rim of the chair. This piece demonstrates his skill with rattan, which is a well-known material.

We asked Cobanpue how he keeps coming up with designs that stretch the imagination when it comes to rattan.

I believe that design is a living process, forever transforming in response to the changing world. Because of that, I work hard to avoid getting boxed in to a personal esthetic, because it has a tendency towards repetition. I design instinctually, according to my taste, which evolves along with what inspires me. The Holy Grail in furniture design is a natural material that can withstand the harsh outdoors, last a long period of time and withstand heavy use. Strength, durability and cost plays an important when choosing materials. Also, my mother was a pioneer in the furniture design industry and she invented a technique of working with rattan that is still widely used in the industry today, so I have always been aware of the incredible resources around us.

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In a piece that is pure fun, not just function, Cobanpue gave nature a whimsical twist in this slightly oversized piece. The fronds running up the sides of the Zaza Chair are wrapped in microfiber and don’t just serve as support — they give the piece its playful quality. This plume of a chair would be a fascinating addition to any room of the house, no matter what the style.

Ito Kish

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Ito Kish relies on his Filipino heritage combined with different creative styles and variety of design techniques to present innovative pieces,  each of which includes foreign influences.

My deep appreciation for Philippine culture, creativity and craftsmanship have always been my source of inspirations. More than 7,000 islands can provide you great inspiration that is original and unique, Kish explains.

The diversity of the Filipino aesthetic continues to flourish and becomes distinct by looking back into its heritage from different perspectives.  I look at what the indigenous people of the Philippines have done in the last few hundred years and make it relevant to a new audience. My design will always be about who I am and where I come from. I am also inspired by life experiences and how it has shaped and influenced me.


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Kish’s Basilisa collection focuses on rattan weaving, called Solihiya, which is a way of life in the Philippines.

You go to a local market and you can see baskets and other daily necessities that apply weaving of natural materials. It is not an easy application and I remember my grandmother Basilisa at the age of 70. She’d pull out a dining chair to the garage and re-weave the seat. It is a technique that needs to be passed on  to a new generation as part of who and how we live. Solihiya is an intricate weave that is both functional and decorative. Functional because it strengthens and supports the object on which it is used; decorative because of the beauty inherent in the weave itself, and the exquisite play of light and shadow it produces. Adding to the impact of the pieces is that different solihiya weave patterns were used, all culled from different parts of the Philippine archipelago, Kish explains

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The Baluster collection was the first for Kish, and he calls it a defining moment in his career as a furniture designer.

I wanted to come up with furniture that is represents me as a Filipino. It was culture and family.  This collection is inspired by the near omnipresence of balusters in vintage Philippine design. As children, we all saw them used in seating elements and other furniture. They were there in the ventanillas that let air flow through our parents’ and grandparents’ homes, and as decorative details on staircases. This collection is a nod to this near-iconic element of Filipino life. It is also a tribute to my mother, after whom the Gregoria lounge/chair is named. This is the baluster, reworked and reintroduced to the homes of today.

Tadeco Home

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From an old technique handed down across time come modern creations from TADECO Home, each interwoven with traditions from the generations. All the pieces are created using natural fibers from the banana and abaca plants. The  banana fibers are used mainly in the making of handmade papers which are used in the company’s votive, lamp and stationary lines.

TADECO Home started as a community development program of Tagum Agricultural Development Co.(TADECO), a major banana exporter in Asia. It has now grown into a global handicraft manufacturer in the Philippines.

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Designer Maricris Floirendo Brias’ contemporary design inspiration is all about the preservation of the T’boli culture. This is made possible through the tribe’s arts and crafts and rich raw materials that Maricris translates into her own line of decorative pieces.  She believes the Philippine culture stems from its ethnic groups: Who they are and what they have contributed in the culture and arts mirror true Filipino identity.

The decorative wall tiles shown above are stunning accents either as single pieces or in various combinations. Their spectacular weave and design makes it seem as if you can feel the texture without even touching them.

Triboa Bay Living

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Known for its precise merging of classic forms, pared-down with contemporary sensibility, Triboa Bay Living showed a variety of lighting and furniture pieces at ICFF.  showed a variety of lighting and furniture pieces at ICFF. This rustic but interesting Getty table juxtaposes the warm wood with a base the has a more modern vibe.

Designer Randy Viray says his inspiration come from history.

“When I see interesting objects used in the past (whether practical or arts), I get curious and become totally fascinated.  With full respect to the artist/craftsman, an entirely new concept emerges using my personal sensibilities.  That is how I make my designs different.”

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Adjustable for light and mood, the wooden slats of the Vera Lamp can be pushed and spread however you desire. The warm light radiating from behind the wood is accented with the black metal base and pole.

Vito Selma

Natural but novel, the designs of Vito Selma play on lines and curves, whether in rattan, wood or other natural material.

As a person and as a designer, I’m very much a culmination of everything I’ve seen and everyone that I meet. That is why travel is very important to me. The more I get to see and experience, the better of a person and designer I become. My work is very much inspired from nature. I take most of my inspiration from what surrounds me. For materials, I like using natural finishes and keeping them almost in their more natural state. If I do add color or another texture, its is to compliment the natural element. I also want my work to be a reflection of what’s outside and bring that inside a home.

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The Zagi Table plays on the highs and lows of a mountain range, but with the drama of wood. Various colors of wood add to the depth of the landscape and is as much an art piece as a table. The sides, solid planes of striped wood, rise to the jagged peaks that support the glass. Truly a striking work of furniture.

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The Hanako Console was one of the more striking piece in the ICFF booth.  Like a flower inlaid in stone, the warm wood of the design contrasts against the rest of the piece. Selma says that this piece evokes the fear that if an experience is not captured, it is lost and that comfort is found in preserving memories, as they provide us with extensions to our past, present and future.

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Reminiscent of a wave, the elegance of the Baud table is another ode to rattan. The undulating base shows masterful handiwork using this ubiquitous material, which results in an energetic but soothing piece.

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The Baud Bench extends the wave concept into seating that looks as if it could literally whisk you away.  The curvature of the piece is like a siren song, calling you to take a seat and nestle in, riding on the waves of comfort.

As always, designers from across the globe participated in ICFF2015. But in this Philippines-focused booth, we found a world of great designs.