LOOK: Kenneth Cobonpue designs first restaurant

Posted at 08/10/14 4:56 PM

The chopsticks holder is designed like an origami rendition of a crane. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA – The Akira outlet at Makati’s new Alphaland Makati Place mall isn’t just the newest branch of the chain of Japanese restaurants.

This particular Akira location is the first full-scale restaurant space designed by the world renowned industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue, whose modern furniture pieces made from local and natural materials like rattan has earned him recognition both here and abroad.

Cobonpue, who studied at New York’s Pratt Instiute, was approached by SumoSam group co-founder Marvin Agustin, a friend and long-time design client, and Akira Alphaland business partner (and Cobonpue's fellow Cebuano) Gilbert Go.

"They were willing to try new things and were open to many ideas not associated with the usual decor found in Japanese restaurants -- so I took up the challenge," Cobonpue said in a statement.

Planks of wood were arranged like a stylized forest. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

Cobonpue's concept for Akira features an abstract forest with a canopy of blown leaves. "The design mimics the feel of a forest -- one is surrounded by trees with branches that pierce the sky and leaves that billow in the wind," explained Cobonpue.

The 'trees' also feature hand-painted leaves in autumn colors. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

The leaves, made of silk, are individually hand-painted in various hues of warm reds, oranges and subtle hints of plums. They are strung on nylon wire to adorn the high ceiling of the restaurant.

Of course, there are also the much sought-after Cobonpue chairs, foremost of which is a variation of the already iconic Yoda chairs.

The iconic Cobonpue chairs are done in red to add a pop of color to the mostly grey and brown interiors. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

The restaurant's other chairs are made of raw rattan poles and maple wood in soft, natural shades of sand, modified from an earlier Cobonpue design to fit Akira's interiors. The warm but hard materials are complemented by the soft cushions of the furniture in muted tones of taupe.

Executing the design was not without its challenges, Cobonpue revealed.

"Designing restaurants are always challenging because you have to balance the design intent with the practicalities of running a business," he noted.

"In a restaurant like Akira, we have to maximize the use of the floor area for seating without making it look crowded. The use of natural woods, raw concrete and soft, earthy tones calm the senses so that even at full capacity, the restaurant still looks spacious," he said.

Cobonpue used polished, raw concrete floor to represent the earth, and natural brown wood for the trees. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

Cobonpue's team also ran into a roadblock when the building owners had to install a new airconditioning system that dropped the ceiling height dramatically. "We had to make last hour adjustments to the arrangement of the tree branches and leaves," he recalled.

In the end, Cobonpue believes his design for Akira fulfils what he deems are the tenets of good design: form and function.

The table setting of Akira projects a modern Japan vibe. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

"I think the interiors translate my belief that the encounter of beauty produces the element of peace. I hope people feel that they are stepping into a magical world, even for a fleeting moment in time. I want their hearts to flutter with the experience; and I hope they understand the message behind it, about finding beauty in unexpected places," he said.