In recent times, the name Kenneth Cobonpue has become synonymous locally with designer outdoor furniture for high end hospitality and residential environs. As both an established brand and highly sought after designer, what is perhaps most intriguing about his meteoric rise to the forefront (of an already competitive market) is that he has done so through bucking the trends Western manufacturers and designers have, for years, been promoting to a global market.
Kenneth Cobonpue is to us: relevant.
His style, his techniques and his design ethos are it seems, a good fit.
Cobonpue even from his earliest designs was inadvertantly laying the ground work that saw him become the accidental hero of the anti-teak/anti-alloy luxury outdoor furnishings movement. Later would come interiors, lights, beds and homewares (we even hear rumours a bamboo car is also in the works!)
What has become apparent through the expanding appreciation of Cobonpue here in Australia, is that good, modern, Asian design is emerging as far more pertinent to the Australian climate, our lifestyle and where we are placed geographically. Historically the way we use furniture (in and out) and the environmental demands our climate places on our furniture has seen a long term battle between ongoing maintainance, restrictions in style and interference with comfort.
In the Philippines recently, during his first public talk in his homeland, Cobonpue described what it was after years working and studying abroad that finally made him return home and begin producing his own pieces, under his own brand:
"I began to ask myself early on: Do we, as a people, have anything unique to contribute to the design world? Do we have what it takes to be globally relevant?"
Kenneth's epiphany, if you will, came in returning to his mother's traditional furniture manufacturing facility in Cebu and with his European and US design training, appropriating age old Filipino techniques and methods for boat building, rope making and furniture and home building into modern ideas and new forms, ultimately giving way to: Yin & Yang.
"I knew I found it, I finally fused a form associated with Le Corbusier or Hoffman to something that was Asian."
Perhaps what stands Cobonpue apart from his Western outdoor furniture counterparts, is his awareness and respect for the importance of light.
His use of light is sympathetic in letting it into his works rather than allowing the forms to block site lines and create overbearing shadows. Achieved through careful and deliberate material selections and unapologetic references to the environment that immediately surrounds him on a daily basis in nature and at home.
This is not to suggest all his designs purvey a visual weightlessness, rather they evoke a fluidity, a tranquil air of relaxation and calm - squarely placing him in the sites of top end resorts, restaurants and day spas the world over! On the back of this, Cobonpue has become the darling of Hollywood with commissions by the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Brad Pitt, Janet Jackson, Warner Brothers Pictures, no end of hotel chains and private buyers to bring his unmistakable flavour to their neck of the woods. To infuse their spaces with more than just a nod toward Asian aesthetics, but designs that achieve a winning balance between between being sculpturally dramatic, functional and comfortable. In his words:
"When I create a design, every part has a purpose. Nothing is decorative; everything is structural, for me, a design is finished when there is nothing left to take away."
In an era where the discerning consumer is again demanding quality and craftsmanship, we find the importance of Cobonpue's work all the more significant. Designed and made by hand in Cebu where Kenneth's journey started, we see the beginnings of a new dawn for modern design, one that in our favour, sees the shift coming closer to home.