Kenneth Cobonpue

Selected from among the top Asian designers in the field of design, Kenneth Cobonpue of KENNETHCOBONPUE, has been awarded Designer of the Year 2014 by Maison & Objet Asia.

Hailing from Cebu, Philippines, he was exposed to furniture design by his mother, Betty Cobonpue, a designer renowned for creating new techniques in working with rattan and the founder of Interior Crafts of Islands, Inc (ICI). In pursuit of his passion for design, he studied Industrial Design at the Pratt Institute in New York in 1987, and apprenticed for a leather and wood workshop in Italy while completing his degree. He then moved on to Reutlingen, Germany under a private and state scholarship program to study Furniture Marketing and Production at the Export Akademie Baden-Württemberg where he subsequently worked in Bielefeld and Munich, after which he returned home.

We find out from Kenneth Cobonpue on what it means to be an Asian designer in a Western-dominated industry.

How do you feel being the first Asian to be awarded Designer of the Year by Maison & Objet?
It is an honour for me to receive the award because this is a recognition of Asian design. Asia has always been known as a manufacturing region but never a source of original, unique design. I hope that this award puts the spotlight on Asia.

Do you feel that being Asian has given you an edge in the industry, and in what you do?
Definitely. The materials, the wood work, the processes that I use and work with can only be found in this part of the world.

As an Asian designer, what are some of the challenges you face?
I always have to prove myself. In fact, doubly hard! The stigma is that because it is Asian, it must be cheap. And I’m always being compared to my Italian counterparts. But this means I have to ensure that my creations come up to the same quality as those outside of Asia.

You’ve lived in many parts of the world. How has your experiences shaped you?
My work is a reflection of my Asian heritage, and the result of my experience living in various countries. I always try to do something local yet global; something that’s Asian, but yet one that belongs to the world. 

What gives you inspiration and who are your influences?
Everything. Unfortunately there’s no formula for it, but I try and keep abreast of all that’s around me. I’m inspired by nature, by artists and their art, I try to look across different fields like architecture and fashion. I’m also influenced by what I see on my travels. As I’m interested in cultures that are untouched by modernity, I try to travel to an exotic land every year. My most recent travels include places like Nepal, Morocco and Cuba.

You work a lot with natural materials like rattan, sea grass and bamboo. Why is that so?
This was how I was started because these materials were readily available in the Philippines.

Do you have a “favourite” material to work with?
I still like to use rattan. It’s so easy to work with. It’s very pliable, it doesn’t require you to exert a lot of energy like bamboo, or wood.

Your designs marry traditional craft and modern design. With so many technological advances, have you ever been tempted to go away from traditional methods?
Not really. A product that’s entirely produced using “high-tech” methods could end up looking “cold”. I want to retain the tactile quality of handmade furniture. The materials I use and the traditional processes make the furniture textural; it makes it feel “warm”. 

What are you designing next?
I’m currently design lot of installations, public spaces, and I’m also designing an electric car!

What advice would you give young aspiring designers?
To always be aware of what’s going on around the world. Also, try to make something unique out of who you are, your culture, your environment, to create something that’s different. 

Check out Kenneth Cobonpue‘s works at Proof Living and Great Outdoors, or get upclose and personal with his creations (and maybe even Kenneth himself) at Kenneth Cobonpue’s booth (K14-L15) at Maison & Objet Asia 2014 from 10-13 March. Here’s a peek: