26/06/2022

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Refreshed and Recharged: After a Welcome Pause, Kenneth Cobonpue Gears Up for a New Platform and Salone del Mobile

“It took us a pause to rediscover and look at all our collections from the beginning till the end to see what’s missing.”

Designers follow the creative path for different reasons. Some want to create tangible versions of what they picture in their minds, while others fall in love with the technical process. For Kenneth Cobonpue, it was both.

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As the son of Betty, the furniture designer who invented a patented technique for working with rattan, he grew up around craftsmanship. Betty would read bedtime stories to her son despite her busy schedule without fail. After hearing fairy tales before falling asleep, Cobonpue would dream and wake up the following day inspired to create.  

Dolce Bed

“We were manufacturing out of our house. Every time I woke up, it was all there. So I learned how to build things from all the craft smen who were around me,” he shares. “And so it was very natural for me to take up design because I thought if I could make my mom happy, I could make the world happy.” 

And he did. In 2014, Cobonpue won the Designer of the Year award from the first edition of Maison et Objet Asia, Singapore. Prior to that, Time Magazine called him “rattan’s first virtuoso” in 2006. The household name in local and global furniture design reveals new collections in the design shows all over Europe and the US each year.

Slowing down

But in the past years of the pandemic, the consistent rollout of designers was temporarily paused. However, instead of seeing it as a roadblock, Cobonpue welcomed the slowed-down pace. 

“It was tough, business-wise because we couldn’t go to all the shows. And the shows are an exchange of design ideas—we get to see new products, we get to see what our competitors are doing, but we weren’t about to do this anymore,” the 53-year-old shares.

He continues: “Although I think it was very welcome. It took us a pause to rediscover and look at all our collections from the beginning till the end to see what’s missing. It was like a pause button in this rat race of sometimes meaningless churning out of new products.” 

Even without traveling and attending trade shows, his usual means of sourcing inspiration, Cobonpue was able to create pieces aft er what he—and all of us—were going through in isolation.

An example of this is the Dolce bed. “I wanted to design something that’s very, very cozy, that would just cocoon you,” Cobonpue explains. “Because that’s what sleep is, I believe; you want just to stay and be isolated from the outside world and get back to it the next morning.”

The piece uses a soft woven material that encapsulates you in the frame, “you have to experience it when you sleep inside the bed. There’s a sense of security and warmth that you have.” In addition, Dolce’s columns can frame your view, which Cobonpue says is great in scenic locations. In fact, it’s the bed in his Mactan loft . 

Fortunately, with a refreshed perspective on designs he produces, Cobonpue will be back presenting at Milan’s Salone del Mobile this June—the largest furniture design fair, “I think it’s the best and most important furniture show in the world.”

Diwa Lantern Table Lamp

For any home

Another project the designer is advancing is KCurated, an e-commerce platform that offers small home accessories compared to the brand’s usually large and installation type offerings. They’re also priced lower than the usual range, which he says makes good design accessible to everyone. 

Currently, only Cobonpue’s designs populate the website, but they’re on the hunt for items made by other creatives, which will be sold under the maker’s name.

He adds that anyone can send them an email to pitch a product, “but even half-baked things, if the designer comes to us and we see that there’s something there, we can transform it into a viable product. There’s always a collaboration.”

Sage and Gobi Dining

Cobonpue says that originality from unique functions and aesthetics is vital to what he’s looking for.

“The danger with also online now is that with getting research online is when you design something; you tend to design what you know, what you’ve already seen. And it becomes even more difficult now because you see everything, everything’s out there,” he says. “You always have to find that twist, the thing in that product you’re offering. That’s what we’re looking for.” 

Perhaps, designers keen to collaborate with the world-class brand of Cobonpue can find inspiration from the distinctness of their dreams. 

Cobonpue sits in his Dragnet Chair

This story was first published in the April 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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