AN architect turned to furniture design during the pandemic and chose rattan as a medium.
Business world spoke with architect and furniture designer Jed Yabut, one of the merchants on furniture e-commerce platform ITOOH, late last month. One of his pieces, a full-length mirror called Ulap (Cloud), with shelves that mimic the curvature of clouds, is still memorable after its debut on ITOOH’s website.
“I think I’m really good at design and all that, but I’ve never had the opportunity to really design furniture before,” said Mr. Yabut, an architecture graduate from UP Diliman, but who practiced in Singapore and Tokyo. The COVID-19 pandemic forced him to return to the Philippines. It was during the pandemic that he joined a workshop in Nueva Ecija where he learned furniture making, and decided to focus on rattan.
The material has an interesting history. A species of climbing palm, it had been one of the most valuable products of colonial trade. These products – made from Southeast Asian plants and by Southeast Asian craftsmen – were then in the best halls of Europe. Christian Dior used antique woven rattan chairs (called cane in some circles) in his studio in Paris, and the elaborate weaving pattern could be found interpreted in their designs, such as the caning (meaning cane craftsmanship in French) motif on the famous Lady Dior line of bags.
“It was a deliberate choice,” Mr. Yabut said of the rattan. “When you look at it (the rattan), it’s very Filipino. We don’t necessarily sell rattan (exclusively), but to me that means very Filipino. The houses of our boobs and lol (grandfathers and grandmothers) would have at least one rattan [piece] there… for us, it brings back nostalgia. At the same time, I could work around that to something with a more modern look. This is the intention.
He also mentioned that despite the large number of furniture designers, few of them work with rattan. However, a large number of rattan furniture manufacturers are family businesses in the provinces. “What I wanted to do was create a brand that was more of a signature brand; a well-known brand.
When asked how a piece from Jed Yabut differs from one from those smaller manufacturers, he replied, “It comes with a good design, really. This is to make sure your design is not on Pinterest. I try to make sure that when I design something, people can see that it’s a design by Jed Yabut. In fact, he dropped his own first line instead of putting it on the market because it looked too similar to the ones he had seen before. “There is a deliberate conceptualization of design behind every piece.”
When he said he was considering using rattan for his furniture, his design friends said he was crazy. “It’s actually hard to work with,” he said.
Direct sunlight can damage it, as can too much water. “If it’s too cold, the rattan material becomes brittle,” he said. He added: “That’s why it thrives in humid climates like the Philippines.”
However, he still enjoys working with it, despite his difficult nature. “It’s easy to mold. It’s very flexible. But because it’s so soft, the movements are still there,” he enthuses. “Over the years it could probably move, you know?”
The rattan under his hands then becomes a living being, capable of mutability. “I’m the kind of designer who hates perfection. I think perfection is ugly. I like raw, natural materials with which I work. I want to point out the imperfections of the materials I use,” he said.
“It’s constantly moving. He could never have the same shape forever,” he said. The rattan then becomes a symbol of temporality — and it sits as a reminder in your living room. “Everything can perish; everything can be replaced.
Mr. Yabut’s designs are available on his website, https://jedyabut.com/, and shopitooh.com/. — Joseph L. Garcia