Colorful wicker duckpins, abaca rug surfboards, basket-woven skateboards and oars patterned with graphic shapes and wood chips. What’s the purpose of all these?
“Nothing,” replies industrial designer Gabriel Lichauco. “But once you see the exquisite craftsmanship, you’d want to have these objects in your home. They don’t have to make sense. We’ve been looking into decorative objects for people to add to their collection.”
For the past 18 months, playing up with witty home accessories has become people’s diversion from quarantine fatigue.
The stay-at-home lifestyle has driven two important home decor trends: functional areas for remote work and study, and soothing spaces that celebrate individuality and buffer the chaotic outside world.
“Most people acquired utilitarian pieces for their homes. We can’t compete with Muji and Ikea. Craftsmanship is the strength of our industry and has been gaining popularity in past decade. Now we’re pushing the boundaries of aesthetics,” says Lichauco.
He and Rita Nazareno, designer/owner of fashion accessories and home decor company Zacarias 1925, have been consultants for the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (Citem) since 2019. They have been designing bolder and quirky pieces for local manufacturers and curating the Philippine representation to international trade fairs. Among them were the recent onsite design and decor fair Maison et Objet (M&O) Paris and Maison et Objet and More (MOM), the virtual platform which will run throughout the year.
“We’ve been using crafts and local materials in a contemporary aesthetic. The pandemic has made people want something substantial where they could express themselves,” adds Nazareno.
Maison & Objet’s themes have cited “desirable development, serendipity and sustainability,” which implies accessories that work together to add warmth and texture, promote a natural look and a calming ambience.
Beyond the utilitarian
“You can’t just have utilitarian pieces that accommodate work. Since you are stuck at home, you want to be surrounded by things that make you smile,” says Lichauco.
While flexible, multipurpose pieces have become more popular as people want to optimize financial resources and space, these designers maintain that they can be still be witty.
One of the design duo’s collaborations was the Column Stool, made by JB Woodcraft, a second-generation furniture maker specializing in rococo carving from Betis, Pampanga. They modernized the shape of the classical column while showing the stylized fluting and detailed carvings on the crown, reflecting the Betis artisanship. Stools can function as side tables and a riser on a corner.
Then there’s the cake stand which not only displays cakes by quarantine bakers but also doubles as a computer stand for Zoom meetings. Their paper scroll can work as a room divider or a window shade. The Stone Rug, a mass of black abaca with modern weaving by WeaveManila, can be hung as wall tapestry.
Decorators and inhabitants have been looking for comforting and reassuring pieces that are warm to touch and easy on the eye. Since pets have become a source of emotional support in this pandemic, E. Murio’s Iroooo (from iro, the Bisayan word for dog) doghouse is a whimsical design that will help the dog enjoy quarantine with the owner.
Design collaborator Patricia Eustaquio created a rattan-framed house with cane-backed weaving.
Inspired by artist Dex Fernandez’s tick cartoons, Nazareno’s wicker Garapata (tick) lamp for Zacarias 1925 lightens up the stress of isolation. Woven with a round white wicker shade and insect legs, the lamp has the hand-made leather eyes and mouth of the tick.
Statement piece or knickknacks
Asked how they would decorate their spaces in a lengthier lockdown, Nazareno opts for a single major piece while Lichauco favors abubot (knickknacks).
Nazareno cites the Monolith Panel, a collaboration with Lichauco for Zacarias 1925. Made of crumpled organic weave, the eight-foot panel provides black leather straps with rattan rings. “You could use it to block the sun or shield you from prying eyes outside. Hang your stuff on it–nice photographs, art, vegetables or jackets,” she says.
Lichauco prefers small decorative objects such as the black-wire framed insects by Prado Filipino Artisans and the versatile ikebana driftwood-and-cement base series by Cebu Homecraft. The driftwood accessory can function as a plant stand or as a singular design statement.
The paper clay vessels with baybayin letters by Indigenous 2 resemble excavated pottery. He finds delight in wood-carved objects such as an oversized tansan (bottle cap) and cutesy gewgaws.
“If you’re stuck at home for several months, you want things that you can play around with,” he says.
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