When Vito Selma wakes up in the morning, he doesn’t stretch in bed or linger a few minutes more under the covers, and he certainly doesn’t press snooze. Instead, he springs out of bed the minute his eyes open.
“I hear that’s supposedly bad for you because it’s a shock to your system, but that’s just how I am,” he says.
If we were up to as many things as he is, we’d probably be raring to get out of bed in the mornings, too. Or we’d like to think so, at least.
If you haven’t heard of Vito Selma by now, the wunderkind furniture and industrial designer who is probably one of the youngest to put Cebu and the Philippines on the design map, then you need to get out more. And if his name is not familiar, then his pieces should be.
There’s his mathematics-inspired Geo table, his first and arguably most iconic piece, or his Arata chair that you may have caught a glimpse of in Paul Haggis’ “Third Person.” Most recently, there are his Raina, an oversized adaptation of the Peacock chair, and his Cara-boo, a clever version of the rocking horse that local celebrities have been clamoring for.
Both are reinterpretations of traditional concepts and both are a departure from the modern, geometric aesthetic that he had become known for, illustrating his growth as a designer who recognizes the necessity for change.
Vito says, “I can’t be doing the same things. When you’re a young designer, you design products to set yourself apart, so you make statement pieces. People associated my look with that. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. You don’t want to dull people.”
That should be the least of his worries. At 30, Vito has already achieved commercial and critical success on an increasingly global scale, having won countless design awards and having been featured in local and international publications, including Elle Décor, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue Living Australia and Architectural Digest, which selected his Constella lamp as one of the Top 10 products of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York this year.
Vito finished his Masters in Industrial Design at Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milan, the oldest design school in Italy. The school made an exception for him, accepting him into the program without an undergraduate degree and based solely on the strength of his experience and portfolio, an impressive feat made even more remarkable by the fact that Vito didn’t want to be a designer to begin with.
“My parents were in the furniture business, so it just fell into my lap. My dream was to be a photojournalist. Kate Holt, the photojournalist I most looked up to, had accepted me as an intern to be based in Central Africa and Iraq, but I told my parents I’d give furniture design a shot. I said I would take it as a sign if I got accepted into the program. I did, and I’ve been serious about it since then.”
Being serious meant taking on a team. “When I started out, I was doing everything. I was my own graphic designer, my own marketing team. Now, I have a six-man team with five designers. I also try to support local schools by taking on interns. Many of them are industrial design graduates from Bohol Island State University. What I like about the students from there is that they are so unaffected. They are not as familiar with other designers, so their only reference is themselves.”
It’s a good thing that Vito has decided to take on some help, because the number and scale of the projects he has in store this year alone seem inhumanly possible to take on.
Most excitingly, he is doing the furniture for the entire Aqua Boracay, the first upscale designer residential project set to open in the island next year. Vito shares, “It is owned by Yoo by Philippe Starck, so it is a career highlight for me because my work is being approved and screened by Philippe Starck himself.”
Another upcoming design project is for a hotel in the Central Visayas region, the first to have a hot spring right on the sand and due to launch next year. There’s also his yet-to-be-named home line that, excuse the pun, ought to make him a household name.
He will also happily be able to put his knack for interior decorating to use, a skill he honed after an internship with the South African interior decorator, George de Haast, who counts the late Nelson Mandela and Roger Federer among his clients.
This year will see Vito designing spaces for several residential projects in Cebu as well as the soon-to-open Rico’s Restaurant, which is owned by the Pages Group in partnership with Rico’s Lechon. He is conceptualizing not just the furniture but also the murals and sculptures. While the new restaurant is expected to bring lechon lovers in droves, Vito’s involvement means that we’ll probably see devotees of food and design dining side by side.
His own restaurant
Vito’s foray into the restaurant industry doesn’t stop there though. He is actually opening his own, too. Perhaps one of the least known among his many talents is cooking, so while this may come across as surprising to most people, it seems like a perfectly expected move for the few fortunate family and friends he’s prepared many a Sunday meal for.
When asked what kind of food his restaurant will be serving, Vito says, “Just chicken. It’s going to be all about chicken. You’ll choose your cut, your sauce, your siding. It’s going to be very straightforward.”
And yet that’s not all he has on his plate this year. One of Vito’s biggest loves has always been Cebu, and so it’s a perfectly natural progression for him to venture into the tourism industry with his own brand of personalized Cebu tours.
“Before living in Italy, I was so fixated on seeing the rest of the world, but there’s so much to see here. I always did weekend trips to discover new destinations while I was living abroad, but I realized I could have done that here, too. Our areas of interest are so spread out though. I see tourists walking around and looking confused. They don’t know where to go. We’re marketed as a beach destination yet we don’t have a public beach, so I came up with the idea of offering personalized tours for a maximum of nine people, basically taking you to the places I discovered while playing tour guide to my friends who’ve come to visit Cebu,” he says.
We’re not entirely sure when he’ll start offering these tours, but even we, as Cebuanos, can’t wait to be on one of them.
We’ve gotten a preview of some of the hidden gems he’ll be taking us to as one of his 22,000 or so followers on Instagram. (“I’m so busy, it’s the only photography I get to do these days,” he says.) His tours are sure to promise off-the-beaten-track destinations because, after all, this is the guy who went to the Eiffel Tower only on his third trip to Paris.
In a related vein, he’s offering accommodations for the same people who might be attracted to his tours—design-conscious travelers, not tourists.
He shares, “When I travel, I prefer staying in apartments. I almost always look for accommodations in Airbnb, and there’s nothing like that here, so I plan to provide designer apartments for short-term rentals.”
Between all these endeavors and many more that he’s not allowed to talk about yet, it’s a wonder that Vito Selma just has the same hours in the day as the rest of us do. He jokingly says, “I’m building my little empire,” but we know better than to take this in jest because that’s exactly what his brand is shaping up to be.
What’s most shocking about all this is that the Vito Selma brand is just a year old.
“My line started out as an offshoot of my parents’, so I’m really just 1 year old as my own brand.”
We can’t begin to imagine what he can do with one more.