The Handcrafted Journey to Sustainability: Kenneth Cobonpue


Time and again, Filipinos continue to prove to the world that we are filled to the brim with potential. Nothing makes us swell with pride more than when one of our very own is being hailed as the best in the global creative field. SA’ICHI presents one of the most prolific designers and creative directors of our generation, Mr. Kenneth Cobonpue.

Kenneth has mastered combining organic elements, modern style, and sensual movements, establishing his own design language of art and functionality. His vision and expertise in furniture design is carried through his brand and namesake: KENNETHCOBONPUE®. With more than 100 distribution points all over the globe, world-class design echoes Kenneth Cobonpue’s name.

As a staple in the Filipino furniture design industry by showcasing an extraordinary love for nature and for the country translated through his masterful works, Kenneth has earned a number of international awards under his belt. His roster of international clientele includes notable Hollywood celebrities and even members of royalty. Even with the demand for him abroad, the designer takes time to be in his hometown of Cebu, either designing new pieces to life, or just simply enjoying his collection of timeless European cars.

The world-renowned designer shares an encompassing admiration for sneakers, cars, and furniture. On-feet, the creative director believes that the Nike Inneva fits his design standards best due to its resemblance with natural aesthetics while also mirroring his journey as an artist. Diving further into his exquisite taste, his garage includes a Porsche 356, a Jaguar XK140, a Ferrari Dino, and a Jaguar E-Type – a classic regarded by enthusiasts as the “most beautiful car in the world.”

Kenneth continues to inspire the youth through his intricate craftsmanship and distinguished level of quality. Find out more as we go one-on-one with “rattan’s first virtuoso” in this exclusive Q&A.

SA’1: Tell us a little background about Kenneth Cobonpue.

KC: Growing up in Cebu, I was exposed to furniture design early on as my mother was a passionate interior designer who had a small furniture workshop at the back of our house. From building my own toys and inventing my own games as a kid to studying Industrial Design at the Pratt Institute in New York, I’ve always loved beautiful things as much as I love making them. So I returned home in 1996 to take over the family business, pursue my passion, and basically continue to be that kid who loved tinkering with scrap wood, bolts, and screws.

SA’1: Describe a typical day in Kenneth's life? What are your daily essentials? 

KC: I get to the office in the morning and have meetings with my design team. Some days, I step out of the office to attend to other projects I’m involved with. On Sundays, I hit the open road and drive with my buddies from PACE (Performance and Classics Enthusiasts Club). Daily essentials? Good coffee.

SA’1: How many pairs of sneakers do you currently own? If you could wear only one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, what would it be?

KC: I have 7 pairs from different brands. If I could wear one pair of shoes for the rest of my life, it would probably be the Nike Free Inneva Woven. It’s comfortable and stylish, and feels very familiar. When I look down on that pair that literally supports and brings me to places, I am immediately reminded of my work and my aesthetic, and how they’ve carried me through my life thus far. I love how this particular shoe is a part of my journey both literally and symbolically.

SA’1: What developed your love for sneakers?

KC: The making of sneakers involves design and craftsmanship. It’s the union of beauty and functionality, and the hand-to-material process that I appreciate. The constantly evolving sneaker culture has been producing such innovative designs as well, so I guess it was natural for me to gravitate towards sneakers.

SA’1: As an avid car enthusiast/sneaker lover, how do cars and sneakers connect with furniture design?

KC: The common denominator for cars, sneakers, and furniture is that they all solve problems, while simultaneously looking good. I think it’s the purity of craft that somehow humanizes all of us, and reminds us of the splendor of the human spirit and the grace of creativity. And that continually inspires me to create new designs.

SA’1: Where do you get inspiration for furniture designs? 

KC: I find inspiration absolutely everywhere, from the most mundane things around me every day to the most exotic locales I’m privileged to visit. I believe inspiration does not come to you in sudden jolts; instead, you have to seek it. I go through old sketches and notes I made a decade ago to remind me of what I always tell my students – to look at the world through the eyes of a child. Sometimes we have to revisit the past to be more mindful of the present, and to remind ourselves to never lose that childlike sense of wonder.

SA’1: How does your love for environment reflect in your work?

KC: I’ve always been committed to creating designs in the most sustainable means, like using alternative and natural materials that are not harmful to the environment. My designs are inspired by nature and I am fond of bringing the feel of the natural environment in. I want to show the world that there is an environmentally friendly solution to absolutely everything that we do, and we don’t have to look far to find it.

SA’1: What can you say about the Filipino's passion for designer furniture and art? 

KC: There has been a significant growth in the Filipino’s taste for art and designer furniture in recent years. There are many young students who are pursuing design courses and are eager to make their own mark in the industry. I am happy to know that the next generation is on this path, and I can only hope to encourage and inspire them to continue doing what they love.

SA’1: What would you consider your biggest challenge and how were you able to overcome it?

KC: The everyday challenge is to make the Filipino aesthetics global; to change the perception that luxury can also mean made in Asia, not just in Europe. It’s a constant battle that hasn’t been won yet. To achieve that, I continue to remain connected to my roots and strive for designs that are reflective of the Filipino culture and ingenuity. 

SA’1: Do you have any tips to aspiring Filipino artists?

KC: Be passionate about what you do. Do better than what's being done out there while always remaining true to yourself. Lastly, put people at the heart of your every endeavor. I believe that those are the three guiding principles for success – not only in business, but also in life.

"I have always valued the tradition of craftsmanship that is deeply rooted in the Filipino culture, which is manifested in my designs. With keen attention to detail and my commitment to excellence, I do my best to represent my country in the global design community with elegance and taste." - Kenneth Cobonpue

Despite his busy schedule, Kenneth takes time to visit his showrooms in the Philippines. As we finished our interview with Kenneth at his showroom at The Residences, Greenbelt, Makati City, he personally arranged some of his furniture pieces in the store. It’s a humble reminder that Kenneth is immersed in his craft from the conceptualization stage down to the smallest details of presentation.

In the lens of Mr. Cobonpue, the world of design has an obligation to the environment. Reflecting his advocacies through his organic concepts, the brand continues to manufacture exceptional pieces using sustainable and eco-friendly materials.

Let his life be a guide, knowing that Filipino design has reached new heights and that local craftsmanship is out there in the same space with the world’s best. At the end of the day, never forget how it felt to be a child fueled by wonder and endless possibilities. Inspiration can be found anywhere for those who look, but passion will always burn from within. Believe in your own capacity to go further than anyone has ever been, because you’ll only know once you get there.

View the full gallery of Kenneth Cobonpue’s works here.


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