Deceptively simple in look yet creatively complicated—this defines the style of industrial designer Vito Selma. He hides the technical innovations and processes behind his Filipino-inspired furniture and lighting. The 35-year old Cebuano has been constantly bridging the gap between function, art, local materials and craftsmanship and industrial innovation.
His furniture may seem lightweight, but they are sturdy in construction. “I look at a chair and table as structures in architecture,” says Selma.
His landmark work, the most recognizable, is the Geoseries which gives a simple construction element a life of its own.
The Geo chairs and tables are characterized by rhythmic patterns of rods that look like threads.
Selma transforms the dowel, into a design detail. Dowels are cylindrical bars used in construction for connecting slabs.
Environmentally conscious and committed to revitalizing dying traditions by using such techniques, Selma collaborated with a maker of peacock chairs whom he calls “Manong.” Popular in the late 20th century, these chairs have become obsolete.
To save the craft, Selma in corporates Manong’s traditional techniques into his contemporary designs. One of his collaborations is a woven, dome-shaped drop light.
“The shape of the buri woven lighting fixture is a reference to the base of the peacock chair,” says Selma.
South African influence
A second-generation furniture maker, Selma grew up in the family’s export business, Stonesets.
Consequently, Selma studied industrial design at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and went to postgraduate school at Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milan.
“In America, you are trained to make the design commercially appealing or salable. Italy taught me to design with the human in mind. I inject that ethic into my work,” he says.
Selma honed his craft in Cape Town, South Africa, under interior designer George De Haase, whose clients include the late President Nelson Mandela and tennis icon Roger Federer. He designed furniture pieces customized for De Haase’s projects.
Selma credits South Africa for being a huge influence. The homes are visually relaxing, awash in neutral colors. The rooms are comfortable and inviting with the use of furniture with curvy wooden bases.
He returned to Cebu to work for the family business, Stonesets, known for its modern classic looks. One of his works for the company is a side table whose base consists of two inverted Cs.
“When you add the same table design, the Cs will form a circle and they will form a longer rectangular table,” he explains.
Soothing the senses
Selma set up his namesake company, which draws influences from modern Japanese and Scandinavian influences. These design styles take on simplicity and natural elements with industrial progressiveness.
The Arata series follows the curves of the human form. He was inspired by the way the Japanese use the body to measure furniture pieces.
Since efficient use of resources is basic to Japanese culture, he designs every single piece with place, purpose and versatility.
The Zima, a modular sofa, has a woven backrest made of abaca bark, which he calls eco leather. The modules can be rearranged to tailor the user’s needs. With a few changes, the sectional furniture can fit in a corner or be set in the middle of the open-plan room to show the exotic abaca bark.
A reversible coffee table reflects Selma’s signature curvilinear wooden bases and sustainability ethic. Made of pine from a reharvested forest in Japan, the base resembles thick, loose weaves, an homage to Cebu’s artisan tradition.
“When you remove the square glass top and flip the table, the pattern will look different,” he says.
The Scandinavian aesthetic of lightness, clean lines and use of natural products make Selma’s works appealing and aspirational. The design soothes the senses that people long for. After a stressful day, they look forward to coming home to house that is without bulky furniture and clutter.
Selma’s sensibilities go well with the condominium units of 32 Sanson by Rockwell, an exclusive development in Lahug, Cebu, where residents live in the lap of nature. The landscape embracing the condominium towers is like a well-manicured forest. While sitting inside, inhabitants can relish the view of an abundant canopy of trees.
The natural scenery positions this development as a sanctuary in the metropolis. Since this Rockwell development captures laid-back living in the city, Selma’s furniture pieces are likewise suited for a resort, and not only because of the use of natural elements.
In condo living, his versatile designs allow the pieces to easily adapt to the space and change their looks, such as with his modular sofas and playful lighting. The generous cuts of 32 Sanson’s units allow the owners to move their furniture around.
Since the model unit has an open plan, Selma keeps the dining area simple, wholesome and graceful. His main inspiration for the focal point, an Astro dining table, uses the rule of threes—a design principle that maintains that elements look better in groups of three. The base of the table consists of two pairs of three interlocking mahogany circles.
“If you add another Astro table, the base will form a link,” he says. Streamlined chairs complement the table.
In decorating, Selma advises his clients to leave plenty of space. “They tend to rush into finishing their dream home by styling everything. They don’t realize that, over time, they will be accumulating more objects from trips, shopping or gifts. The once Pinterest-worthy living room becomes cluttered,” he observes.
He recommends to keep a neutral palette and add punches of color with accessories instead of furniture.