Natural genius


Acclaimed Filipino industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue’s sanctuary in Cebu is an architectural backdrop for his artistry

The 45-year-old artist, who was dubbed “rattan’s first virtuoso” in 2007 by TIME because of his ability to create brilliant pieces from natural fibres and materials such as rattan, bamboo and abaca, rose to global fame in the late 1990s with his signature furniture designs and now counts many international celebrities as his clients, including Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. He regularly travels, but these days he prefers to be based in his hometown.

“I purposely choose to not to own other homes,” he reveals. “It gives me the freedom to explore various boutique hotels, enjoy newly designed spaces, and meet people around the world.”

Designed by Manila-based firm Budji Layug + Royal Pineda Design Architects, his 1,000-sqm, nature-inspired abode in Cebu City in central Philippines serves as an architectural backdrop for his genius craftsmanship and pays tribute to artworks created by other Filipino artists.

This September, Kenneth Cobonpue’s own works are featured in a lifestyle exhibition in Paris organised by French trade show specialists Maison et Objet, the same group that recognised him with the first-ever Asian Designer of the Year award six months ago.

The award-winning Cebuano designer and manufacturer welcomes us into his colourful home to share his beginnings at his mother’s design shop and what inspires him to create his innovative works.

Your home in Cebu is very spacious and soothingly bright. Did you design the interiors?

I designed all the interiors. One of my pieces called the ‘Tilt’ inspired the design style. This is reflected in the tilted roofs, open spaces, sharp corners, and geometrical surfaces. I wanted to make the house as simple as possible in order to bring out the great warmth in the exterior greenery and various furniture pieces, lighting, and accessories. Thus the house serves as an architectural backdrop for [my work>.

It is four-and-a-half storeys tall, yet has seven different and alternating levels as a result of both the sloping terrain and the architectural concepts involved. There are six bathrooms, two kitchens, five bedrooms, two living rooms and a garage, which was converted into a music and playroom. The house also has a mini movie theatre, a swimming pool, and a gym to keep my family and household staff busy.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

I’m mostly a day person and I love the colours and vividness of the day. I prefer seeing my Cebu house in the daylight because I can see the view all around it.

My property is located in a hilly, exclusive residential village. The land where the current house stands was originally a sloping and unused empty lot, filled with vegetation. There were three large, overgrown trees spread out across the property, which were integrated into the construction of the house.

What is your favourite area at home?

My favourite part is the poolside, which is the epitome of all the concepts used in the design. It is full of open spaces, comfort and warmth.

Do you enjoy entertaining guests? Do you cook for them?

I enjoy entertaining guests although I only have guests over once a month. I’m always working so I usually don’t cook for my guests. Instead I have someone to cater or my wife Susanne to cook for them.

What inspired you to become an industrial designer?

I’ve always been interested in design since childhood. My mother had a small furniture workshop at the back of her house, which meant craftsmen and creative people always surrounded me. They taught me how to build things with my own hands. My childhood was fun and filled with memories of people who appreciated what I built. My profession today is an extension of my childhood.

Is there a mini-design studio in your house?

It is purely a residential house, although I do use the open spaces and beautiful interiors to draw some of my thoughts and designs.

Where do you get your design ideas and inspirations?

I believe that inspiration does not come to anyone in sudden jolts; instead one has to seek it. What I do is I set aside time to allow inspiration to slowly unravel as I dig into my treasures of memories, old sketches, books and photographs. Through this constant search for inspiration, the mind becomes seasoned to imagine and create, which then gives rise to new ideas.

Most of your designs utilise cutting-edge technology. What is your opinion on the increasingly popular ‘smart homes’?

I think that it’s very exciting to know that technology can help homes become more energy efficient and make people’s life easier.

How do you define a ‘luxury residence’?

A luxury residence is a piece of art. It isn’t something you need but its something you want to indulge in and enjoy.