Modern, edgy, sensual
IN his nearly three decades in the furniture design industry, Kenneth Cobonpue has earned countless “titles” and plaudits. He’s been called “rattan’s first virtuoso” by Time magazine and a “trailblazer in South-East Asian design”. He is credited with taking the “ethnic” equation out of materials like rattan and bamboo, and fashioning modern, edgy and even sensual forms out of these traditional materials.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Philippines was exporting generic, brand-less but quality handicraft worldwide. When young Cobonpue joined the family furniture business, though, he insisted on putting his name, logo and the “Made in the Philippines” label on his works. And for two years, he didn’t get any orders.
“I think it’s just difficult for them to believe that luxury can come from a Third World country,” he said in an interview in philstar.com, a Philippine news and entertainment portal. But he persevered. Today, Cobonpue’s pieces can be seen in luxury resorts across the globe, from Greece and Spain to Dubai and the Maldives, as well as on film and television sets like Ocean’s 13 and CSI. Apparently, Brad Pitt and Queen Rania of Jordan are fans of his works.
A graduate of New York’s renowned Pratt Institute, Cobonpue’s niche lies in integrating locally sourced materials with handmade production processes and striking designs.
“I find inspiration absolutely everywhere, from the most mundane things around me every day to the most exotic locales I’m privileged to visit,” says the 45-year-old via e-mail.
“So much of South-East Asian culture is really beautiful. I take bits and pieces of this multi-faceted jewel to create contemporary designs, to enable them to fit equally well into an apartment in Milan or New York.
“The 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 ideal that will never change.” functional option for space-starved urbanites. A powder-coated aluminium and teak frame supports a sink, mirror, chair and leather pouches for cosmetics and makeup brushes.
Their Workaholic collection includes wooden trucks made of ash and steel resembling toys but which are actually desk organisers. The concrete Truss vases can be topped with various wire frames depending on the desired use.
“We pay attention to the thinking process and human behaviour is our interest,” adds Theerachai in their email interview. “We like surprise and contrast.”
Their CementWood suspension lamp, crafted from hand-lathed ash wood and thin-walled concrete casting was featured in Wallpaper* magazine’s “Handmade 2012” issue.
The duo isn’t too concerned about expressing their “Thai-ness” in their works.
“People have said our work looks Asian or Thai. We think it’s because we were born and grew up in Thailand. It’s part of us and is reflected in our fun approach to design and details like joinery that derives from Asian architecture.”
And Theerachai and Archjananun think the design scene is Thailand is increasingly more vibrant and dynamic.
“The younger generation is paying more attention to lifestyles, and manufacturers are giving more value to design than before. It’s a fun time to be designers right now!” (Website: thinkkstudio.com.)
A long-time champion of craftsmanship, Cobonpue has worked with all sorts of materials, from paper and abaca to carbon fibre.
“There are many limitations to what can be done by a machine, and in the end, people still value the fact that a product is well-made by hand and designed by human beings,” says the award-winning designer.
“You see it in everything, from the high-end shoe industry to the Swiss mechanical watch industry. There is a premium for beautifully crafted hand-made items because, unfortunately, it is a dying art all around the world.”
Advice for aspiring designers: “Be passionate about what you do, do it better than what’s being done out there while remaining true to yourself, and put people at the heart of your every endeavor. I believe these are guiding principles for success, not only in business, but also in life.” (Website: kennethcobonpue.com.) Studio248 came about four years ago because Bangkokbased product designers Purim Kraiya, Jakkapun Charinratana and Sukalaphan Suwansomboon wanted to make furniture for their own use. Turned out, many people liked what they made.
When it comes to design, the trio embraces disparate ideas, works individually and gleans inspiration from varied sources. Kraiya, 34, and Suwansomboom, 33, studied product design at Silpakorn University while Charinratana, 30, graduated from Domus Academy in Italy. Kraiya furthered his studies at Academia di Belle Arti Di Firenze.
“But when we put our designs together, there are elements that connect us. For example, we like to base our designs on everyday life scenarios,” the trio explains in a collective e-mail reply to our questions.
“We try to design products to solve problems and keep them simple, clean and detailed.”
They work primarily with wood, melding local craftsmanship with modern forms and emphasise details like wood joinery. They have also dabbled in metal, leather and aluminium.
“We are inspired by Thai culture and our lifestyles in this modern society, and we try to bring local elements into our designs,” says the trio.
Designed as a collaborative project with Wallpaper* magazine’s “Handmade Issue” (September 2012), the Leaning Fruit Bowl was inspired by the traditional fisherman’s hat. Studio248 took the basic shape and altered its original function by adding a wooden base to the basket.
Their OOS Collection – coffee and bedside table, and ceiling lamp – features the simplicity of the “joints” between the metal plate and the wood. The wood holds the metal plate through a slit that allows the plate to be “locked” at perpendicular angle to the floor without a screw.
“We want to make design that can be used in everyday life and not just a concept piece,” asserts the trio. In the increasingly vibrant design scene in Thailand, one of Studio248’s challenges is finding manufacturers who can offer the quality and competitive pricing that meet the trio’s standards: “We have to work harder!” (Website: studio248. com.)
In the OOS collection — coffee and bedside tables and ceiling lamp shown here — the metal and wood are joined without screws.