The last time we saw new designer furniture and accessories in the real world was September 2019, when we attended Maison & Objet in Paris and met the Design Philippines participants in their booth, which was quite a hit, showcasing pieces with a fresh purity of line using handmade, organic creative techniques.
Buyers were impressed with the designs that had Filipino soul but were done with a contemporary slant, using a wide range of materials executed with the fine craftsmanship the country is known for. Business was brisk, with the booth quite busy every time we would pass by during the duration of the fair.
Who would think that in just a few months, those halls of the exhibition center and most trade show venues, for that matter, would be empty for the next year as the pandemic ravaged the world?
But life must go on, albeit digitally, and Filipino designers adjusted to the new normal. CITEM (Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions), known for its biannual Manila Fame show, developed a digital platform, FAME+, which paved the way for Design Philippines to do a seamless transition to the international digital market.
With their participation in Maison & Objet’s MOM Digital Trade Fair in September 2020, 13 Philippine brands presented over 250 collections, garnering 660,000 impressions and generating multiple business leads in countries like the UK, Australia, Belgium, and Brazil.
After a messy, horrendous 2020, they wanted ‘something fresh, something revitalizing.’ Pieces with clean lines clear the mind and help make the home a serene and protective sanctuary.
Although the person-to-person contact and energy at a live trade show was missed, certain advantages in a digital setting came to fore, like the fact that buyers are usually in a rush and can only spend so much time with each company at the booth, whereas digitally they can peruse pieces at leisure. Additionally, there is a wider reach, as buyers who never went to the fair in Paris or Manila can now access products anytime.
For the March 2021 Digital Edition of M&O, the theme was “Clean Slate,” as curated by Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco, who have been developing products with Design Philippines manufacturers since 2019. After a messy, horrendous 2020, they wanted “something fresh, something revitalizing.” Pieces with clean lines clear the mind and help make the home a serene and protective sanctuary.
Albero’s Hygge collection, for example, inspired by the Danish lifestyle, brings home the feeling of coziness and conviviality that engenders a feeling of wellbeing through a young vibe that merges Scandinavian and Filipino sensibilities. Its purity of line and subtle curves highlight the beauty of natural materials like wood, which is appreciated for its elemental rawness in pieces like the sculptural Enclave coffee table with asymmetric legs.
For Milo Naval, the “no fuss, modern Filipino” aesthetic of his OMO Furniture line is just what the home needs right now, “an environment where life, work and leisure thrive together.” His bamboo sofas are massive but have sleek lines that make them inviting and add to a restful atmosphere. His classic Araw chair in handwoven split rattan also brings the outside in, “mirroring the function, beauty and purpose of the sun” after which it is named.
Nature also enters the home with the abaca Fan Coral pendant lamp of Tadeco Home, which uses materials indigenous to Mindanao, using traditional techniques crafted by the region’s skilled artisan communities that have been provided with a sustainable livelihood.
Sustainability figures likewise in good agricultural practices and the struggle to create items that are biodegradable, a mission that Indigenous (formerly CDO Handmade Paper) started 25 years ago and has now evolved in our pandemic world with practical pieces like washable and collapsible lamps in bamboo and leatherized handmade paper.
Nature’s Legacy is another company at the forefront of environmental consciousness, with contemporary pieces like its organic patterned Sean tables and Toby White & Sand trays and bowls, all using Marmorcast, one of its many patented material innovations that follow the principles of being recycled, biodegradable, ethical and communal.
There is also more importance given to function, adaptability and relevance, with WFH now de rigueur and the demand for seasonless, transformative design. Venzon Lighting and Objects, for one, cleverly uses traditional solihiya as a functioning diffuser for its Benjamin lamps, adding decorative texture in the process.
E. Murio Manila has multifunctional mirror trays both for serving and preening and its Iroo doghouse can be stacked to create a larger piece. Its workspace table is perfect with its multitasking Diagonus side table.
Zacarias 1925’s Monolith Collection is a whole line of work-friendly accessories in woven wicker done in the signature progressive design of Rita Nazareno, whose luxury bag line takes a playful turn with the Shields bags that combine deconstruction, ombre and inserts.
P&B Valises (Prizmic & Brill), known for the versatility and portability of their Georgian-Victorian campaign furniture, has a renewed currency with their His and Hers work tables and travel desks. Their Dojo line’s Meditation cot can also be used for sleeping as well as exercise and a Locker shelf made for storing training equipment is also perfect for the kitchen. These pieces also tap into the growing need for physical and mental wellness.
Function, however, is always complemented by a certain excitement in the design. For Cebu-based Finali Furniture, this frisson is created with abstract sculptural forms applied to its Largo line of furniture and accent pieces in rattan.
Zarate Manila, on the other hand, goes neotenic with its playful, childlike forms that give a certain lightness and soften the impact of the hard metal that it chooses to work with. It’s the perfect metaphor for these challenging times when we need to lighten the mood and parry the effects of hard-hitting news.