Kenneth Cobonpue already has his furniture pieces owned by notable people across the globe, so it’s not unusual to wonder who his dream client is. When we finally had the opportunity to ask him this curious question, he gave an interesting response: I don’t have one.
While he has undoubtedly built a wide clientele, he has never been one to design for a particular client. “I really design for myself. I have all these ideas in my head and I have to get them out. I’ve always told myself that if I like it, I know someone out there in the world will, too. That’s how I always approach my designs,” he told PhilSTAR L!fe.
As cliché as it may sound, every piece he crafts comes from his heart. It was his own mother—who used to be a furniture maker herself—that first sparked such a thought in him. “She was very original. At a time where everybody was making productions and copies of other furniture that we’ve already seen, my mom was very unique, so to speak,” he said, adding that everything she taught him continues to guide him to this day.
His other influences include his precious memories, dreams, and the things he’s surrounded with. “I guess I look at the world very differently, so sometimes, anything just captivates my imagination from the way a leaf and a branch go up against each other. Sometimes, the sunlight, or sometimes, things that I remember,” he added.
For that reason, his designs are quite literal. “You see sometimes where the inspiration comes from. It’s very obvious that it’s a leaf, or a flower, or a village. There’s always that child-like, there’s a playfulness that comes, I guess, from also following your heart,” said Cobonpue, who represented the Philippines at Shangri-La’s From Asia With Heart campaign—“a series of short films and articles created through a collaboration between Shangri-La and the culture-makers who are representing Asian art, food, and music.”
On average, it takes him a year to complete just one design as it goes through a variety of processes—from the drawing stage to execution to testing “until it’s perfect.” No wonder such perfection and attention to detail has been admired by the likes of Queen Sophia of Spain and Queen Rania of Jordan, as well as Hollywood personalities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Interestingly, his favorite clients thus far are not the aforementioned ones, but his long-time friends. “It’s hard to amaze your friends because you grew up with them. They knew you even before you became famous, or even before you knew you had talent,” he points out. “The fact that they adore you, they admire your designs, I think it’s harder to make a friend believe in you because they’ve known you all along and they’ve seen you rise. That’s why I think my best clients are my friends who, after all these years, still never complain about the price and still buy.”
Every designer’s dream is to be in everybody’s home, and Cobonpue is no exception. “I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve my dream for obvious reasons—because the things I do are very exclusive, very limited—so I’ve been working a lot on public projects like parks, playgrounds, and other structures for everyone to enjoy it.”
After all, he wants everyone to experience his artistry for his belief that all Filipinos—including non-designers—have an ingrained responsibility to share a part of their country with others in ways that they could. “We come from a very beautiful part of the globe and I think it’s our duty to showcase that beauty, to let it come out, to use it as our strength,” said the award-winning Pinoy designer.
"We have it in every one of us to create something really different, something unique because I think each of us has a unique story to tell. It’s only a matter of drawing it out of you, making it tangible, making it real," he concluded.