Kenneth Cobonpue on innovation and evolution

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Internationally acclaimed designer and Maison & Objet's first Asian Designer of the Year awardee Kenneth Cobonpue talks about finding inspiration, staying fresh, and continuous evolution

WORLD CLASS. Designer Kenneth Cobonpue uses his craft to uplift the Filipino culture. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Through his distinct furniture crafted from bamboo, rattan, and abaca – materials native to the Philippines – designer Kenneth Cobonpue has made the world notice the craftsmanship of the Filipinos.

Cobonpue’s talent has been recognized by award-giving bodies in Japan (Japan Good Design Awards), Hongkong (Design for Asia Award), Singapore (Singapore International Design Competition), and the US (American Society of Interior Design Top Pick selection), to name a few.

Adding to his accolades is a recent Asian Designer of the Year Award given by organizers of Maison & Objet, a prestigious event for professionals in the furnishings field. The event originated in France, but the Asian leg will take place in Singapore from March 10 to 13. Cobonpue will be speaking at this event. 

According to the Maison & Objet site, the event serves to “bring together all players in the sector, decode new trends, propoe new sources of inspiration, reveal talent, and promote creativity,” among other objectives.

With at least 16 other international awards to his name, the visionary from Cebu has made waves with his ability to execute modern industrial design concepts using natural elements. 

The artist who may be rattan’s “first great virtuoso,” as Time Magazine once said, shared a few tricks of his trade with Rappler – how he, much like he has done with his materials, has also constantly pushed himself to be altered, in the search of new perspectives and innovations.

Some wisdom from the world-class designer:

1. Inspiration has no formula

“Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. Design is a discipline,” said the master designer, when asked about his creative process. 

Inspiration, he said, is something that takes work to find, but as with any other craft, the ability to spot inspiration comes easier with practice.

“I look for inspiration everywhere – from nature, form my travels, from my dreams, from my culture,” he says. “I really believe that beauty is everywhere, you just have to find it.”

Indeed, he may have earned a degree from Pratt Institute in New York, but his art draws from elements of Filipino culture and life. His project to refurbish the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is aimed at creating a secret oasis within the urban jungle that has long since welcomed the country’s visitors.

2. Find your voice

“I always tell young designers to look for something new, something different,” he explains, saying that designers should welcome challenges that force them to come up with innovations.

It is not unlikely for a designer’s idea to have already been thought of by many others, though execution, of course, will vary. 

His advice?

“The world is looking for something new, something fresh, so you have to look for your own voice in the world of design.”

3. Keep evolving

Rather than basking in the glory of what he’s accomplished, Cobonpue looks ahead to what more can be done. For all his achievements, he hopes to use his craft to elevate Pinoy culture, in the hopes that other designers may follow suit

“What is the voice of Kenneth Cobonpue? I think it’s always evolving, because design has to be always progressive, and if I had finished telling my story, that would be the end of me.”

Watch Kenneth Cobonpue’s interview with Rappler’s G Töngi here:


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