Rajo Laurel: âdesigning furniture is such a magical experienceâ
Fashion and furniture designer Rajo Laurel

Rajo Laurel: ‘designing furniture is such a magical experience’

CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau (The Philippine Star) - September 26, 2020 - 12:00am

After building a fashion empire, top couturier Rajo Laurel has ventured into furniture design with his first collection for Pacific Traders, a furniture company based in Cebu.

“I have always thought about designing furniture and Pacific Traders, which has been producing premium furniture for export for the last 50 years, reached out to me in early 2018 to develop a collection for them,” says Laurel.  “We have been quietly working on this since then.”

Laurel thought designing furniture would be an exciting creative exercise.  “I always am willing to learn and try new projects as they come my way.  I thought with such an established company behind me, I am really in good hands.”

The resulting collection is astonishing: modern yet timeless at the same time; global in appeal yet distinctly Filipino — and distinctly Rajo.  The most fashion-designer-y touch is the dining-table stands with their hourglass “ball skirts” that look as if they could twirl up in a dance.

“I am grateful and fortunate that I was given the opportunity to do this,” Rajo says.  “To be able to use my creativity in a brand-new context and perspective is deeply fulfilling.”

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: How is designing furniture different or similar to designing fashion?

RAJO LAUREL: The process in my mind in similar, as you begin with shapes and silhouettes in your head.   However, from there everything else is different. With creating clothes you work around an existing form and work around it.  With furniture design I feel there are fundamental rules you need to abide by, like chair heights and table dimensions. However, since it was my first time to design furniture, I felt a strong sense of freedom.  There were so many new and wonderful materials to play with.  It was fascinating to see the different kinds of wood we have in the Philippines and also the multitude of finishes that I could play with.  It was really such a magical, creative experience.

Do you use sustainable wood and materials?

Sustainability is deeply important to me, and there were several discussions about this and happily we were able to use a sustainable process in creating the pieces.

What were your inspirations for this collection?

I was inspired by my family.  I was inspired by how my grandmothers would entertain and how they would fix their homes.  From there I wanted to create the pieces from a spherical point of view.  Most of my designs have these rounded edges and soft corners.  I think that is where my training in fashion comes in, as I work around the human form, which embraces and celebrates the curvature of the body.

Do you design dream pieces you’ve always wanted to have, or do you think in terms of tableaus and particular arrangements for a room?

I began with a set of lists that I really wanted to create.  For instance, the first piece I designed was a bar cart, as I really love them.  I think that they are so versatile.  You can use them to entertain and also to store things apart from cocktail bottles.  LOL!  From there I dreamed of pieces that I need. I always design from a personal perspective. At the time I was building my beach house in Batangas, so I designed pieces that would fit that mindset.

However, now that it is all done, I think the pieces that I created would fit any home, whether in the beach or in the city.  I was also given a nudge to “complete” certain looks, like we needed a dining table, so I began thinking of this as well.

What’s the story behind the colored veneers you put on the bar-cabinet doors?

This is actually one of my favorites, too!  It’s the most whimsical piece in the collection and it’s actually inspired by musical instruments.  Music is so important in my family life.  A get-together in my family is not complete without us singing our hearts out, either on the karaoke or playing on our instruments.  I thought of this and the shapes of guitars and I just started to draw shapes.

Initially I found it funny as the shape reminded me of the “Wardrobe” cabinet in the animated feature Beauty and the Beast.  LOL!  But as I refined the idea, I imagined this piece that I christened “Victor”  (after my uncle Cocoy Laurel), as a center of fun and joy as people always gravitate to a bar cabinet at any party.  The colors and veneers are an evolution of experiments that evoke all the feelings of happiness that family brings.

I also love the stands of your dining tables!  Were they inspired by your ball gowns?  Is inlaying with rope or cord a difficult technique to get that beautiful effect?

Of all the pieces in the collection, this is probably the one closest to my original discipline.  I wanted to recreate how perhaps fabric draping can somehow be translated to furniture design — how something so fluid can be made into what is usually hard and stiff.  I saw some rope and twine and imagined this as pleats, and from there we experimented and tried different techniques until we got the results I liked.

I think that since I was coming from a different discipline they found my process refreshing and in a way we came up with new solutions for my ideas.  I am grateful to Pacific Traders for not giving up on me.  LOL!

What about that squiggly wall décor?

The “squiggly” piece is actually called “Doodle.”  This was inspired by how I actually think.  I literally doodle while I think of designs and I wanted an interactive piece in the collection that would act like a “Lego” item, where the client could build their own wall decor/ coromandel on their own.  They can use it to decorate a wall or use it as a divider hanging from the ceiling or the floor.  I love having that interaction and engagement with the client, as this process makes the piece more personal — a way of having it customized for their space.

Prior to designing your own furniture, what interior design aesthetic did you subscribe to?

My partner Nix (Alañon) is an interior and a furniture designer.  So at home he is the boss.  LOL!  However, I have always loved interior designs; in fact, I have more books on interior design and architecture than fashion.  I find creating spaces inspiring and exciting.  I would describe myself as a frustrated minimalist, but a real maximalist at heart.  It is this tension that balances what I like to put in my home and what I adhere to.  I like mixing elements and creating a narrative that is personal.  I love a home that feels like a home and not a showroom.  I also love having pieces from my family in my home, like an armoire that belonged to my maternal great-grandmother in in my flat in the city.  Apart from the design, it is the sentimental value that makes these precious to me.

Do you plan to design furniture collections regularly from now on?

Let’s see how this first collection pans out.  The proof is in eating the pudding, as they say.  If the collections sells, then perhaps a second collection is in order.

What is the best way to order these pieces from you?

You can send Pacific Traders a message, as they are in charge of sales and distribution, or you can always just message me on my Instagram.  As they say, DM is the key.  LOL!

* * *

Follow the author on Instagram @theresejamoragarceau and Facebook (Therese Jamora-Garceau).

Pattern perfect: Rajo Laurel coffee table with wood frame, shell lamination and metal base
Love seat: Bench by Rajo Laurel with rattan frame, octagonal caning, leather bindings and brass ferrule
One of Rajo Laurel’s sketches for his Pacific Traders furniture collection
On the rack: Luggage rack with metal frame, wicker weave, plywood-laminated veneer and casters
Bar none: Rajo Laurel’s furniture collection for Pacific Traders includes mahogany bar cabinets with doors of colored veneer and square metal-tube legs in oiled bronze.

Pleats do: “I wanted to recreate how perhaps fabric draping could somehow be translated to furniture design,” Rajo says about his dining tables of mahogany solids inlayed with Manila rope or Danish cord.

Happy hour: Bar cart with rattan frame, mirrors, leather binding and brass casters
Home accent: Chair with rattan frame, octagonal caning and leather bindings
Interactive piece: “Doodle” wall décor


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