Do you know the history behind rattan’s first great virtuoso?
Taking the spotlight on the second episode of CHiNOY TV’s Chinese by Blood, Filipino By Heart is the Cebu-based globally renowned luxury furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue. Recognized by Time magazine and international design bodies from all over the world, Cobonpue’s works have attracted an impressive roster of clientele that includes not only Hollywood celebrities but also members of royal families.
Ultimately, what makes Cobonpue’s works so unique is his unparalleled ability to transform local natural materials into high-class works of art and comfort. Such expertise, of course, is one that has taken years of effort to develop. Divulging the origins of skills forged and fired, Cobonpue shares with CHiNOY TV the tale of his career. From growing up under both the entrepreneurial and artistic shadows of his parents to building one of the Philippines’ first homegrown luxury brands, Cobonpue reveals the building blocks of creating a never-before-seen Filipino name in what was once the exclusive world of industrial and interior design.
Here is what viewers have taken away from his story:
Don’t be afraid to be passionate.
Although Cobonpue’s passion for the arts started out at a young age, being raised in a Chinese-Filipino household meant being expected to walk down certain paths. Business, in particular, remained to be the safest and most expected choice, which was why Cobonpue found himself initially taking a degree in the subject at the University of the Philippines.
“In school, it was not a normal path to take on a career as a designer or any creative person. There were hardly any art courses at all, but I was always very creative. I was designing uniforms for basketball [teams], posters for a concert, so I found my outlet there. But when it was time to take up a career in university, I really wanted to take up design. I really wanted to continue my childhood. But my father said, ‘No, you better take up business because there’s not much money in art and design. Anyway, business is applicable in everything you do,’” explained Cobonpue.
But Cobonpue’s undergraduate studies in business only lasted for two years. “Right in the middle of my accounting class, I said, ‘I can’t take this. This is not for me, so I walked over to the fine arts department and got the schedule for the next entrance examination. I sat there that Saturday or Sunday, and there was a drawing exam. [But] because I didn’t have any art background, I didn’t know how to draw. So I failed the entrance exam,” Cobonpue fondly recalled.
However, despite what would seem to be a major setback, Cobonpue continued on finally pursuing his passion. He took a year off from university to learn how to draw before enrolling in his mother’s alma mater, the Pratt Institute in New York, to study industrial design. Afterwards, he served an apprenticeship at a leather and wood workshop in Tuscany, Italy and gained a scholarship at the Export-Akademie Baden-Württemberg in Germany to learn about furniture marketing and production.
The end result: After years of hard work, Kenneth Cobonpue is now a famous name in the world of interior design.
Inspired by Cobonpue’s story, Facebook user Lorei Kare Legaspi Bulaclac commented: “His words hooked me since he gave us the true meaning of determination that ‘if we fail, it is important to rise up again and continue on the path you’re headed for.’ We have to know the track in our lives that will not lead to regret. We have to seek our purpose and what really makes us happy because, at the end of the day, no one will direct our lives. We are the sailors of it, so we have to inflame our passion and enjoy it.”
John Mark Rioflorudo also posted: “Regardless how hard the situation is, even if no one believes [in you], what is more important is that you will never lose yourself while achieving your dreams. As long as you have that conviction to continue and strive and aim high, you will greatly SUCCEED. There is no success without sacrifice. As Pele says, success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do. And that hit me so hard, l am an instant fan of him. I was so inspired by his hard-working attitude, his perseverance, and how he made his big ambition turn into reality.”
Be pragmatic about your passion.
Growing up listening to his father talk at the dining table, Cobonpue always found himself grounded in logic and common sense. “I think a Chinese [person] always simplifies things with his head. And that was my approach to everything that I did, even in school when there was a very creative side to it. It was always very pragmatic.”
“How do I execute this job in the fastest way, the cheapest way possible? There was always thinking about my future. So I think that industrial design is the perfect course because it melds both the art and the commercial worlds,” continued Cobonpue.
But at the end of the day, while saleability and profits are what every entrepreneur thinks of — Cobonpue himself not excluded — pursuing your passion means defining your work in a meaningful and realistic manner. Revealing what he valued in his career, Cobonpue said, “I was asked many times, ‘Which is more important: form or function?’ In the real world, you can’t live without the other. As an artist, your first responsibility to the world is one of beauty.”
“Every piece of mine tells a story,” Cobonpue expressed.
Wang Demegillo Cuba, encouraged by Cobonpue’s story, commented: “Mr. Cobonpue’s journey inspires me to pursue my dreams because he himself, as a renowned furniture designer, tells his audience that, in order for you to achieve what you really want in life, [you must] choose what you’re passionate about and what your heart tells you to do. He said that he is a pragmatic person when dealing with obstacles in life, just like when he wants to execute his creativity, because that’s how he was taught growing up in a Chinese family. From there, he inspires me to be pragmatic as well because what matters in the end and what will dictate your success are the decisions you make in your career, how passionate you are in your chosen craft, and how you simplify things when faced with adversities.
Allan Reyes summarized his thoughts simply: “[Kenneth Cobonpue] inspired me to be pragmatic in life but also [to] follow your heart and dreams at the same time.”
Catch the next episode on Sunday at 8 PM, airing on CNN Philippines.