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Inspired by Kenneth Cobonpue, young designer creates distinctive furniture line

Vito Selma was in secondary school when he took part in a design workshop led by Kenneth Cobonpue. Selma, 32, is now following in Cobonpue’s footsteps.

In 2009, after studying design in San Francisco and Milan, he returned to Cebu to work in his family’s furniture factory. He began his own design practice three years ago. “I’m my family’s client now. They do the manufacturing,” he says.

Though Selma’s path to design might echo that of Cobonpue, his furniture is distinct, with local craft techniques filtered through punchy statement pieces with a geometric approach to form. “It’s always the craft influence that comes from Cebu, but the aesthetic is from my travels around the world,” says Selma. He came to value simplicity and minimalism when he studied abroad. “If I had never left, my work would probably be really ethnic.”

The Baud bench is a case in point. Named after the Cebuano word for wave, it is an undulating ring of rattan stalks – a familiar Cebu material employed in a novel way. “It’s a good bench for a lobby area – you can sit facing in or out,” says Selma.

How Kenneth Cobonpue showed way for Filipino design

He is interested in material innovations, such as transforming abaca into something that feels like leather, or coating the legs of a tree-inspired table, Plumeria, in tobacco leaf to give it the texture and appearance of bark. And he has a cheeky sensibility, too – Raina is an extravagantly oversized adaptation of the traditional Filipino Peacock chair, with an intricately woven back made from buri palm.

Other pieces draw from other aspects of Filipino life, like the newly introduced Louis lamp chairs, which function at once as a chair, bedside table and lamp, with a seat back that lifts up to reveal an LED light. “New apartments in the Philippines are getting smaller and smaller, so sometimes there isn’t enough space next to the bed,” he says.

Another new piece, a pair of standing lamps called Adam and Eve, draws from a Filipino tale of how the couple emerged from two rods of bamboo.

Selma has a growing league of international fans, including France’s Philippe Starck, who has hired him to design all the furniture for Aqua Boracay, an upscale residential complex under Starck’s Yoo brand.