Inspiring Stories From Three Brilliant Filipina Furniture Designers

Three Filipina furniture designers chronicle how they made it into the industry and highlighted ingenuity and panache in every piece.

In a society where furniture-making is usually dominated by male makers, these three Filipina furniture designers proved that females have what it takes to make a difference. They forged their niche through their innovative designs and distinct styles, and with every piece, their impact in the industry becomes significantly ascertained.

Lifestyle Asia had the privilege to speak with these three visionary women, all of whom draw inspiration from our heritage, culture, and their individual personalities. 

READ ALSO: Crafting A Legacy: Selina Selma-Romualdez Breathes New Life Into Furniture Industry

Incorporating love and character in furniture

Filipina furniture designers Clair Concepcion-Barberis, Katrina Bianca de Leon, and Michelle Hui Lao each had a story to tell regarding their journey in the industry. 

Clair is the chief executive officer and creative director of Artifeks: Design Workshop Handcrafted Objects. Artifeks began less than two years ago. Her brand has in-house artisans skilled in wood, metal, resin, and plant material used in handcrafted, and “as much as possible,” sustainable heritage furniture pieces. “We welcome bespoke pieces as the collaboration between the creative and artist is incredibly rewarding,” she said. 

Katrina is an interior designer who manages Genteel Home Furniture Atelier as its founder. Her love story with Genteel took its first steps in Pampanga, where she designed a furniture piece for a project in 2013. It led her to assemble a team that shared her vision, thus, her brand came into life. Genteel Home, which has been in the industry for over 10 years, embodies self-expression, identity, and love in every piece. 

Meanwhile, Michelle is a fashion consultant who founded, designs, and produces lamps for Solano Lamps. It gained traction in premiere homes as her lamps reflected her experimental design approach and genuine artistic expression. She incorporates her fashion background into her lamp designs and ensures that natural light is a part of her creative process. Michelle started Solano Lamps in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. “Along with countless others, I felt like my focus had shifted and was looking for a means to channel my creative energy,” she explained.

Michelle merges passion and business

Michelle discussed that her good friend, Mikka Padua, gave her the nudge to kickstart her brand. Mikka was the first person to ask her to make her a lamp, and encouraged her to turn her passion into a business.

According to Michelle, the lamps she makes fill a gap in the market. She explained that most of the pieces she produces are one-offs. How she mixes colors, prints, and textures are what make Solano Lamps unique. 

Michelle Hui Lao founded Solano Lamps in 2020
Michelle Hui Lao founded Solano Lamps in 2020/Photo from Michelle Hui Lao

One of her most notable creations is her tomato lamps. Michelle narrated that there is no profound meaning or thought process behind the concept. “I just like how playful it is,” she mentioned. “I don’t even like tomatoes on my pasta, but I love a tomato table lamp in my living room.” 

She added this was proof that there is a “tongue-in-cheek quality” to everything she touches.

The lamp creator said the warmth that a Solano Lamp lends to any space is what makes it truly exceptional. “When you bring home my lamp, you are taking with you a little piece of me.”

Clair pays tribute to Filipino artisans

Clair mentioned the name of her brand, Artifeks:, comes from the Latin word Artifex, which means “craftsmith.” She replaced the letter x with “k” and “s” to represent the Filipino artisan. The colon at the end signifies that each piece created is a product of joy from the artisans. Her brand found refuge in Biñan, Laguna.

Clair Concepcion-Barberis, a Filipina furniture designer, teaches the concept of upcycling to her team
Clair Concepcion-Barberis, a Filipina furniture designer, teaches the concept of upcycling to her team /Photo from Clair Concepcion-Barberis

She explained that Artifeks: creations come from Craftsmith Atelier, her workshop, where those skilled in wood, metal, resin and plant material work on furniture. 

Introducing upcycling to her team

Clair said before a product is ready for sale, the team experiments on how they can reuse cured scraps and integrate them into the design. She said, “Wastage and negligence was a problem in the beginning. Now, they’ve learned the importance of upcycling.” The team intends to communicate conscious consumption, where products’ material, longevity, and human practices are more observed.

Papasan in resin with footstool in resin, Mr Palmer in upcycled handcut and hammered metal cans
Papasan in resin with footstool in resin, Mr Palmer in upcycled handcut and hammered metal cans
From left to right: Mini Coco in handcut and hammered metal cans;  Mr Palmer; and Ukit in mahogany wood from felled trees with abaca shade
From left to right: Mini Coco in handcut and hammered metal cans; Mr Palmer; and Ukit in mahogany wood from felled trees with abaca shade
"Dekada Cinquenta" lamps - made in local plant material like abaca, runo and jute; center piece is a Papasan sans cushion and footstool
“Dekada Cinquenta” lamps – made in local plant material like abaca, runo and jute; center piece is a Papasan sans cushion and footstool
From left to right: "Kambal" lamp base runo shade;"Butaka" handcrafted in resin, encased in solihiya, detailed with rattan; and "Balustre" base in resin with jute shade"
From left to right: “Kambal” lamp base runo shade; “Butaka” handcrafted in resin, encased in solihiya, detailed with rattan; and “Balustre” base in resin with jute shade”

The brand trained and currently consists of staff who were marginalized roadside workers. They worked with Clair to improve their capabilities, elevate their lives, and provided them various development workshops. She instilled environmental awareness to them so they can understand the importance of people, planet, and profit in sustainability.

“Hopefully the artisans are able to pass on their skills to their mentees and their families who will take better care of our planet,” she imparted.

Katrina’s pieces are all made with love

Katrina started Genteel Home in 2013 and since then, it has become dedicated to furniture that inspires beauty and ingenuity. She said her brand is committed to sustainability and community engagement. 

Katrina Bianca de Leon founded Genteel Home, a brand she established for more than 10 years
Katrina Bianca de Leon founded Genteel Home, a brand she established for more than 10 years /Photo from Patricia Samin

She revealed creating custom furniture is not just a job for her, but also paved the way to celebrate the things she loves. “I like well-designed living spaces and cool decor pieces,” she told Lifestyle Asia. “Genteel Home is about creating a space where people feel seen. There is something intimate about someone thinking about what you might appreciate.”

Katrina’s creations uphold a steadfast dedication to excellence through meticulous attention to detail at the core of its ethos. This, along with state-of-the-art technology that seeps into their creative process, is what makes their furniture special. 

Relaunching Genteel

“[Our process] allows us to craft bespoke designs in real time and provide clients to witness their visions come to life,” she said. She further weighed in that each product they craft holds a special, cherished significance. Every design and build they come up with is made and crafted with love.

Genteel Home held a relaunch on March 14, where they revealed their new brand ambassador, Heart Evangelista. Katrina said the celebrity and fashion icon embodies everything the brand believes in: passion, Filipino pride, and the notion of marking legacies.

Motivating future Filipina furniture designers

Clair, Katrina, and Michelle all highlighted that being authentic and passionate makes a significant step in the right direction. 

“Everybody loves an authentic story,” Clair commented. “There will be highs and lows. Embrace them [and] be agile and open to change because your initial purpose will evolve through time. Celebrate the learning process because this is the only way to grow as an individual and as an artist.”

Doing everything with passion and integrity is a must in the industry according to Katrina. “There is no small project for any work. Always stay curious and love every bit of your craft.”

Michelle said straightforward yet meaningful messages for aspiring furniture designers. “Do it now. Make mistakes, learn from them, [and] persevere.”

Banner photo from Michelle Hui Lao.

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