● Could you please summarize your career so far? Your education, foundation of your brand… How did you get into design & how did you proceed on this way?
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, where I would build my own toys. I would show them to her, and it would make her smile. I knew I wanted to do that for the rest of my life – to make people happy with what I make, so I went on to study Industrial Design at the Pratt Institute in New York. I apprenticed for a leather and wood workshop near Florence, Italy, studied Furniture Marketing and Production in Germany under a private and state scholarship program, and then worked in Bielefeld and Munich. I returned home in 1996 to take over the family business, and then officially established my namesake brand in 2001.
● Which design / project or period that you can describe as a turning point in your career?
I had several breaks in my career. The earliest one was Movement 8, a group of Filipino designers put together by the late Ely Pinto and Budji Layug, to showcase the best of Filipino design to the world.
The second break would have to be Brad Pitt who was instrumental in getting my own country to recognize me. I guess you have to make it abroad first to be considered a hero in your own neighborhood.
● Are there any movements or currents that influenced you? Which masters are important for you?
The Movement 8 era was the most exciting time for design, and I learned a lot then, especially from Budji Layug who was so generous with his ideas. He gave his honest opinion not just on my work, but with other aspects of my life as well. By then, I had studied and worked in New York, Florence, and Munich, but what he taught me was the missing link between my Western training and my local roots. Marcel Wanders and Ross Lovegrove are personal friends and we have worked together several times before. I admire Ingo Maurer for his lighting, Issey Miyake for his work with fabric, Santiago Calatrava and Shigeru Ban for architecture, and Giacometti for his art
● Where do you get inspiration from?
I get inspiration from mundane, everyday things to the exotic locales I travel to. I am drawn by culture – the things that I grew up with, travel, and primarily, nature. A crushed soda can, the vibrancy of Morocco, fishing nets, noodles, flower petals – all these are equally significant. I find that in constantly searching for inspiration everywhere, all the time, the mind somehow becomes more open to finding it, and the ideas flow faster as a result.
● What is your design philosophy? How do you define your style?
My designs are inspired by nature and I am fond of bringing the feel of the natural environment in. Organic forms derived from plants and animals, as well as open weaves that allow light and air to pass through, have become the hallmark of my design aesthetics.
However, I believe that design is a living process, forever transforming in response to the changing world. Because of that, I work hard to avoid getting boxed into a personal aesthetic and style. Sticking to a winning formula, while safe, can only kill creativity and innovation. I design according to my taste, which evolves along with what inspires me. The one common factor in all of my pieces, however, is the production process, which is primarily handmade. The strength of the human spirit is one commonality that will never change.
● What is “good design” according to you?
Good design is a marriage of form and function. Design fulfills a purpose. An industrial designer is half engineer and half artist, always seeking to invent things that enrich people’s lives. So, as focused as I always am on creating something beautiful, for me, functionality is always a primary goal. At the end of the day, I am creating a product, not purely a piece of art, so if my design is not comfortable, no matter how beautiful it is, then I will have failed as a designer.
● Which materials do you prefer in your designs?
I use natural materials like rattan, abaca, and bamboo in most of my designs, as well as polyethylene for our outdoor pieces. I choose materials that are available, natural, sustainable, strong and malleable, and not harmful to the environment.
● What do you think about Asian-oriented industrial design?
The everyday challenge is to make the Asian aesthetic global; to change the perception that luxury can also mean made in Asia, not just in Europe. I think it’s slowly happening, but there’s still more work to be done. To achieve that, I will continue to do my part in remaining connected to my roots and striving for designs that are reflective of the Asian culture and ingenuity.
● Would you mention your recent projects?
Recently, I designed a playground for a city mall, a prefab home, and an exclusive line of home accessories for the benefit of a non-profit educational organization. We’re also working on space design for a town boardwalk, as well as creating custom furniture for a boutique hotel.
● Finally, what advice would you give to the young designers?
Be passionate about what you do, do it better than what’s being done out there while always remaining true to yourself, and put people at the heart of your every endeavor. I believe those are the three guiding principles not only for success in business but also in life.