Carves out a space for Cebu design in the global market place
One wouldn’t normally associate Vito Selma with food. In fact, his impressive portfolio speaks nothing of it. Newspapers and magazines always talk about his international triumphs in furniture design; less is known about his culinary pursuits, which is not an accidental foray but has been a longstanding interest leading to his desire to open a restaurant in Cebu.
“In every new city that I go to, I take a three- to five-day cooking course,” he shares. From conceptualizing designs to cooking up recipes in the kitchen, Selma takes everything in from his travels abroad and brings it all back to what’s familiar. “I connect everything that I do to the home. I always try to localize the ingredients and flavors.”
Despite Selma’s transition from wood to food, he has no plans yet to trade the wood lathe for a ladle. Design will always be his top priority, he says, and even though the kitchen beckons him, his second home will always be his factory. “I spent my childhood in the factory. I grew up in the industry and have a lot of respect and appreciation for the craftsmen in the factory and of Cebu, in general,” he says.
The way to Selma’s factory in Canduman, Mandaue, is not an easy one. It’s off the main road, with narrow, unpaved streets leading the way. A huge red gate with no signage opens to welcome us visitors. As we walk further inside, passing by craftsmen leaning over tables and assembling pieces, a blast of hot air and the smell of freshly sawn wood hit us, the sound of machines getting more distinct as we draw closer to Selma’s office. This is where his signature works of furniture are created. As long as it took us to get here, we all know that the trip is worth it.
“I’m very much inspired by nature,” Selma says. “Everything from the material to the textures and colors, I try to make things in their natural form.” Inside his showroom is a collection of archetypes representing his affection for creating pieces that stay true to the essence of wood. His works are effortless amalgamations of simplicity and complexity, of the nostalgic and the urban. Similar to how his factory reveals the inner workings of each piece, his designs are unabashed representations of the nakedness of the material, untainted by all things unnecessary. “That’s why when you look around, you won’t see a pop of color; everything’s very organic.”
Selma wanted to explore other possibilities beyond Cebu, and a move to Milan to take up a Masters Degree in Industrial Design at the Sucola Politecnica di Design opened up opportunities for him to find his individual voice in design. He is quick to add, however, that his greatest learning came from his off- road travels and misadventures. “I don’t mind getting lost,” he says with a chuckle. “I don’t open a map. I walk around by myself, explore things by foot. That way, I understand a city more than when I see it in a magazine or through things people would tell me to visit. I saw the Eiffel Tower on my third trip; I booked an apartment where the French live, where there were no tourists. A lot of my designs incorporate inspirations from my trips abroad, if not from nature.”
It was as if his predilection for getting lost to find deeper understanding flowed into his creative process, as Selma always tries faithfully to learn and discover the many potentials of wood. Whenever he talks about his material of choice, his expression turns serious. “I find that there is beauty in things that are still somewhat raw. When you make a table and paint it red, then that
VITO SELMA TURNS OLD SCRAP
MATERIAL INTO LOW TABLES COATED IN GOLD (UPPER LEFT), THE CHAIR WITH AN INTERESTING
BACK DETAIL IS FROM A COLLECTION INSPIRED BY THE WAVES OF THE OCEAN (ABOVE). THE EIGHT FOOT EXTRA LARGE PEACOCK GRACES THEIR NEWEST
COLLECTION (OPPOSITE PAGE).