Monday, September 26, 2011

The Cobonpue (ex)Cynic

I've been to Cebu countless times, for work & stopovers to Siargao...but last week  I was fortunate enough to drop by Kenneth Cobonpue's showroom in the city and immerse in inspiration & wonder.

Honestly, I've always been a bit reserved about Cobonpue's furniture....although I've actually seen some of his key pieces at trade fairs, I've never had the chance to fully enjoy or use his furniture for more than a few minutes. I fully acknowledge his creativity & ingenuity only because of the awards & praise I've read about him, & thru my starstruck apprentices & colleagues who have attended his talks. If there's 1 thing I'm sure I admire him for, it's that he is one of the few Filipino designers who made it big around the world who would always remind everyone that he is Filipino. And for that I respect & admire him tri-fold. 

(nope I wasn't lucky enough to meet him, he was in Paris that time)

BUT. But, there was still always this little bit of reservation that MAYBE...maybe he was just lucky that he was a novelty & a curiosity to the world---that to the outside world he was this "exotic" designer from an island in the Philippines who came up w/ award-winning furniture, and it was all hype & publicity. 

There MUST be something not good, like maybe not all his furniture was comfortable...or maybe he had a design team who did most of the work & he wasn't so hands-on anymore at this stage of his fame...or maybe his work's perfectly photogenic but not so perfect when inspected up close...or maybe he's selling out already...stuff like that.  ANYWAY, I was in Cebu last week to visit my residential project & on my last day found myself planning a trip to his look at his furniture w/ my client. 

et VOILA! 10 mins into the showroom, I was won over. 

I am officially a fan.  A loyal, coveting, starstruck Cobonpue fan. 

the Little People lamp. 9" twine figures clinging to each other gathered
around a simple light bulb, all silver with 1 red.
It looks fragile yet solid as a whole.
Yes, ganon na nga. Demmet. 
The Yoda collection, Noodle chairs, Cloud lamp

The iconic Dragnet chair, Bloom chair, & the Little People Lamp! I was delighted to see the lamp version of the Little People screen I ordered some months ago & used for a residential project
(it came out fabulous, but that will be in another blog entry in the future. Wait for it. *wink*

I fell in love with the Cloud lamp, from 20 meters away. I've been looking for this ever since I saw something like it in the Vitra showroom (i think) & have been wanting to use it in numerous projects. Now I finally know where to get it :)

(add'l note: the KC staff are so inspired as well. they talk about their products w/ enthusiasm & passion...they are well-trained, professional & will not ever give you the impression they are trying to hard-sell you their products...its more of like, "you're such a loser if you don't see the beauty of all this by yourself, really"). haha. 

It's not my favorite Cobonpue collection, but it's still amazing how it's so comfortable in spite of its loose-looking structure. EVERYTHING I sat on was so COMFORTABLE!!! Why? How?
I was floored. I've used the 2-seater in a project recently, but the gray noodle chair is a new's a more sophisticated hue.

The lamp looks like a Marchesa gown. I love it.

I was just admiring this wild, jelly-fish looking Marchesa gown this morning & thought I would wear something like this to a friends beach wedding in February. Crazy right? I'd get kicked out of the church for upstaging the bride! hahaha! Ok, I'll just save up for the lamp instead of the gown :-p 
and this is the gumamela-looking Bloom chair...& I got to try & sit on it! It was a very good fit I must say, just right where it matters-- where your butt, lower back & arms rest. Seat height was perfect for lounging.
we were having a laugh pretending to be Boy Abunda & Kris Aquino...I still have mixed feelings about Cobonpue's furniture (or any other good designer's) being used in gossip talk shows. It's good that world-famous Filipino design is being brought to the masses, but I dunno. It's just...weird.

I mean, at least find a good coffee table to go with the Bloom chair, right?
paging Kris Aquino's set designers...PLEASE naman. You already spent big money on the designer chair, what's up with the surplus coffee table from China? 

at least Boy Abunda's set design looks good. With the chic floor,  modern lighting, sheer metallic curtains...and Phil Younghusband.  You can't go wrong. :-)

what felt to me like Scandinavian design principles in Filipino shapes & materials (in this part of the showroom only)

more lights:
His Dragon's Tail lamp made of folded paper (?) in undulating hues of warm caramel & honey.
Ya I know, I won't be able to read by the light of this lamp. BUT so what?!? I was completely seduced. 

Lamps from Hive

This is a set of drop lights made out of wire & fish scales. You heard me right, FISH SCALES!
Ok...3 things, please
1. paano nya naisip yon?!? 
2. it didn't stink of fish at all (trust me, I stuck my head in to check, really)
3. my Panasonic Lumix LX3 rocks, right? look at that detail

And now on to the outdoors...he practices what he preaches. His furniture are exposed to the elements 24-7 to show you their durability & water-proof qualities:

daybeds & planters

And, and.....he even has PET LOUNGES! Looks like a giant slipper at first but its still elegant. Lucky is the dawg that sleeps here!

The Operetta Pet Lounge

Like I said earlier, I think he was at the Paris Maison et Objet 2011 show at the time I visited his showroom. And of course, his new collection is as stunning, creative & unforgettable as always. It will no doubt be another feather to his already iconic cap.  According to 1 blog, his collection was placed at the entrance to this international show, alongside the best of the best, to greet the most discriminating traders in the world. 

Feast your eyes on the Papillon Lounge chair & ottoman, shaped like butterfly wings (from the Maison et Objet show):

I say, Cobonpue knows how to thrill. 

What made me throw in the towel & totally cave in to the Cobonpue phenomena is when I actually saw for myself what could not be seen in photos or TV: his items looked & felt (and WERE) incredibly & beautifully handmade in real life. It's true when they say that his advantage over other designers is that his items feels wonderfully "human" in an age of computers & robotics.  I believe this goes for most if not all local designers in the Philippines especially in Cebu where I have been going back & forth these past few years, visiting the equally impressive showrooms of the Murillo brothers & Vito Selma. 

Of all things I saw in the Cobonpue showroom, this lamp hanging above me (see pic below), took the cake.  It looks ordinary, UFO-like, even boring with the variety of exciting styles in the market today. But it was while I was touching & looking at it....and zooming in on it till it was already touching my nose, that I saw how it was made. My eyes widened & stared at it for a long time, letting out a curse word every now and then (yes, forgive me for the drama but it's true). 

It was made of plastic or nylon string (the kind you use for fishing, it seems) KNOTTED with even thinner nylon string ONE BY ONE...a hundred times over weaving through a thin rim of metal.  It was the kind of knot impossible for a machine to make & only hands can do. The concept was so simple, the look so space-age, yet the end-product was so thoroughly & perfectly human that it was seriously one of the most elegant things I have ever seen in my whole life.  

I didn't realize I didn't have a close-up of this lamp. I was too mesmerized to even think about taking a picture. Actually, taking photos in his showroom or any other designer's showroom is not encouraged since we all know how fast knock-offs are produced by China, Taiwan or even by our own countrymen.    They were nice enough that day to let me take a few photos since they know me as an interior designer who have already bought Cobonpue for my projects, and not a furniture manufacturer out to copy their designs. 

And besides, not to worry, Mr. Cobonpue. Your furniture can never be copied the way you have made it in your factory, with the painstaking attention to detail (ahhh the knotted nylon lamp, I die...) & the luxury of having ecologically chic pieces with materials (& by hands) that are 100% from the Philippines. 

I am a Cobonpue cynic no more. 


  1. very nice post nins!

    i totally agree w/ the 'human factor' of Cobonpue's designs. If i have to choose, i'd rather have a Cobonpue piece than a Rashid's, right?

    may meassge si zizou: 'Dearest tita nina, i want an operetta lounge for christmas. kkthanks! love, zizou'

  2. so is the dragnet chair where you eat... bagnet? hahaha!

    i love all of these especially the pet lounges!! :) skippydooooooo!!!

  3. Hahaha Niks! Ayan you gave me an idea 1st chair design, the "Bagnet". HAHAHAHA! ang ganda! sobrang lambot siguro non kasi puro taba. :-p

    And James, Ok i will give Zizou a super extra large Operetta Lounge for Christmas. But dapat share din niya kay Skippydoo who looks a bit like the dog in the photo...except he's cuter. mwah. :-*