From the minds of the region’s most ingenious product and furniture designers come exquisite homewares that you’d be proud to showcase in your abode. By Justina Tan
Asian pride in the form of stylish home furnishings
Kenneth Cobonpue, Philippines
Dubbed ‘rattan’s first virtuoso’ by the media, Kenneth Cobonpue’s award-winning furniture designs have appeared in films such as Total Recall and Ocean’s Thirteen, and music videos like Maroon 5’s Never Gonna Leave this Bed. Celebrities and royalty love his furnishings
– the 50-year-old Cebu native counts Queen Rania of Jordan, Brad
Pitt and Angelina Jolie as fans. The former celebrity couple famously purchased Cobonpue’s Voyage Bed – it resembles a papyrus and reed boat – for their son, Maddox.
Cobonpue’s early collections incorporated mostly natural materials sourced from the Philippines, such as bamboo, rattan, abaca, palms and sea grasses. However, his designs have since evolved to include more technologically advanced materials like carbon fibre. Whether using rustic or modern materials, a common thread runs through all his creations: they showcase a high level of craftsmanship. Intrinsically Asian yet impeccably fresh and contemporary, the Bloom chair – one of his most well-known furniture pieces – is inspired by the hibiscus flower. Handmade with microfibre, the frondlike lounge chair is composed of hundreds of fine running stitches that radiate from the centre of the seat.
Jessica Wong and Pamela Ting, Singapore
In an industry dominated by Danish and Italian designs, Scene Shang is a rare gem. Founded in 2014 by Singaporeans Pamela Ting and Jessica Wong, both 34, the homeware and furniture label puts an innovative spin on traditional Chinese furniture.
After the former schoolmates took on separate internships in Shanghai 11 years ago, they were inspired by the bustling city’s vibrant mix of tradition and modernity, which in turn sparked their appreciation for Chinese culture. They left their day jobs in 2012 and spent the following year and a half in Shanghai to learn the furniture trade, source for Chinese craftsmen, and refine their brand ethos. The label met with resounding success after launching online in 2014, and Scene Shang’s brick and mortar store debuted on Beach Road in April 2016.
One of the duo’s most popular furniture pieces is the Shang System, which takes its visual cues from the
Ming dynasty. Boasting a set of stackable hand-carved drawers, the modular furniture system allows clients to customise colours and components. It received a special commendation at the 2014 President’s Design Award and won a Golden A’ Design Award at Italy’s A’ Design Award and Competition in 2016.
Last year, Scene Shang collaborated with a tattoo artist, an indie design studio and a fashion label to create an elm wood bench etched with koi and lotus patterns on the leather upholstery, a Chinese chess set with brass pieces carved by a local auto parts maker, and ribbed porcelain rice bowls made in east China. They also launched a Mid-autumn collection last October, of which the most notable pieces are the TANG tables. Inspired by the hue of duckweed in a rustic pond, the tables’ surfaces resemble jade and are constructed from brassplated rods, tempered glass, and handfinished patinaed laser cut steel sheets.
The beauty of Scene Shang’s designs is that they blend seamlessly with both vintage and contemporary interiors – a perfect marriage of old-world charm and innovation.
Tomo Kimura, Japan
Tokyo-born product designer Tomo Kimura’s creations are a flawless blend of Japan’s minimalist aesthetic and fine Italian artisanship – spiked with an unconventional spirit. The 43-yearold graduated with a degree in human sciences, but subsequently spent more than a decade in Italy where he nursed his love for design. There, he achieved a diploma in interior design from Accademia Cappiello in 2002 and a diploma in product design from Istituto Europeo di Design in 2009. In Turin, he worked with advertising and design studios, restoring modern antique furniture such as a 1956 Augusto Bozzi chair, and developing his own projects.
His most notable creation is perhaps Twitty, a door handle that was one of the winning entries for the ‘hands on door handles’ competition jointly organised by Designboom and Italy’s Colombo Design in 2011. Crafted in the shape of a perching bird, the handle was made through a complex ancient technique of casting molten metal inside a damp clay sand mould.
Kimura returned to Japan three years ago, where he now holds a day job at a company specialising in engineering and manufacturing ground, marine, and aerospace vehicles. However, he continues to hone his craft, creating minimalist masterpieces such as the Floating Oak Console Table and the ORCA endless modularity table.
Lee Chia-ying, Taiwan
A designer and inventor rolled into one, Taiwanese designer Lee Chia-ying, 37, is the brainchild behind quirky creations such as Random (a pendant light with two strings that illuminates random orbs with each tug) and In Your Time (a clock that records one’s heart rate through a pulse sensor, and translates it into hours and minutes). In 2011, she founded studio if, a multi-disciplinary outfit specialising in industrial design, physical interaction design, and new media installation. She studied music and computer science, but subsequently enrolled in Italy’s Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. Her passion in homewares was ignited after her first job at the industrial design centre of a consumer electronics company.
Her penchant for storytelling is apparent from her whimsical creations. But more often than not, her designs trigger ‘why didn’t I think of that’ reactions. Clever inventions include Tiktiktik, a table lamp that allows its user to set the length of time the light is on – up to an hour – simply by how far the chain is pulled, and Unfold – a series of wall stickers that incorporate a radio, a lamp and a scent diffuser. Using the concept of origami to create playful transitions between forms, each sticker serves a function when it’s opened up and folded back. For example, the Unfold Radio sticker resembles a gramophone and the folded horn serves as both the switch and volume control for the radio – the further you open up the horn, the louder the volume becomes.
She has also collaborated with the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and JUT Foundation for Arts and Architecture, creating installations such as the Onomatopoeia Typewriter that’s crafted from plywood and acrylic, and the Voice Bubble Machine that produces soap bubbles only when activated by loud voices. Commercially, she has designed for Studio Italia Design and runs a small production of her designs for stores and galleries in Europe, Taipei and Beijing.