Rastrullo: The nostalgic, grateful designer

In Photo: Rastrullo: Through its play of proportion, the Manta is an accent piece that utilizes arrayed rattan lines to portray its natural form.

WHEN I came across Joseph Rastrullo’s work, I knew he was going to be big because of the confluence of contributions of the many who mentored him, Budji, Kenneth and his grandfather, Manolo.

Joseph was born in the United States, raised in the Philippines and spent some time in Milan, Italy, studying Business Design in Domus Academy. That said, he is a third-culture designer who brings a multicultural vision to his creative aesthetic. Passionate about design since high school, Joseph truly began his journey in 2006, when he entered De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s Industrial Design program. During his time there, he experimented with different materials and techniques before deciding to focus on fibers, resin, iron, wood and plastic, and the potential combinations of these. In 2009 he started his apprenticeship under Philippine architecture and design legend Antonio “Budji” Layug, who, through his guidance, became responsible for Joseph’s design direction and currently still mentors him with his approach.

Going through 100 design sketches a day, with most of them being rejected, did not deter then aspiring industrial designer Joseph Rastrullo in pursuing his passion.

Inspired by the 2000-year old Banaue Rice Terraces, the series of furniture and lighting use levels and curves of the terraces to form its shape.

He has come a long way since apprenticing under renowned furniture designer Budji Layug, who is known for his detailed and meticulous works. “Sa kanya pa lang talagang pinipiga niya ang utak ko,”  Rastrullo candidly said, recounting his stint under Layug’s wing. In fact, he was not joking when he said that the designer par excellence would reject most of, if not all, the 100 sketches he would make in a day.

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When Rastrullo would be asked to help with some of the design icon’s projects, Layug would already tell him how he could improve his design sketches further even before the designs were presented to the clients. “You would do manual drawings, AutoCAD, 3D maps, whether computerized or manual, basta he just wants to see the form; he wants to see how you develop it,” Rastrullo recounted.

Fast-forward to today, the former Layug protégé caters to a wide clientele, ranging from big brands to celebrities, and has also established an eponymously named design studio. In addition to that, he has showcased his works several times in exhibits, such as Manila FAME; even renowned industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue cited his designs and works during his talk at the Festival of Ideas last November.

The Tamaraw chair’s pointed backrest is inspired by the pointed horns of the animal it’s named after.

Part of Rastrullo’s rise as a young designer to watch for can be credited to that time that altered the course of his career altogether: the day he bravely approached Layug in church and asked him if he could be his apprentice. “My mentality at that time was I’d rather go to the source of where the inspiration comes from,” Rastrullo said. Fate granted his wish and he was happy with the outcome, even if it meant tough love under Layug’s tutelage. “In school you learn how to make things, but with him it’s mastery.”  Rastrullo’s learnings from Layug are reflected in the intricateness of his designs, such as the Terza lamp, which is made out of acrylic but has a soft texture reminiscent of a napkin drop.

During the development process of the Terza lamp, Rastrullo was very hands-on such that he would visit the factory every day to see the lamp’s progress and give his critique on how to improve it. The hard work paid off after it was exhibited at the 61st Manila FAME in March 2015.

Hungry for inspiration and hoping to improve, Rastrullo pursued his master’s studies in Italy in 2012, where he enrolled in the Master’s in Business Design course at Domus Academy. There he met and learned from Domenico Dolce (Dolce & Gabbana), Andrea Branzi (Vitro Design), Aldo Cibic (Memphis Group), Stefano Giovannoni (Alessi) and Giorgio Lavelli (Radar Trend). It was also at Domus that he learned how to merge business and design to create a mutually beneficial system.

Having returned to the Philippines, Rastrullo is eager to use the many insights he has collected to continue innovating in the design field. So far, he has collaborated on projects concerning the Urban Development of Manila and has been a part of Citem’s featured designers of Manila FAME.

Rastrullo displays his versatility by working with various materials such as acrylic, rattan, mahogany, wicker, iron and metallic wires. He sees the beauty of every material and transforms them into useful art.

His pieces resemble that of the simplicity of nature combined with the spontaneity of geometry, where there is order and chaos, simplicity and flamboyancy in every piece.

Rastrullo’s furniture combines traditional texture with contemporary designs. They are also inspired by nature. The Farfalla chair, for example, uses synthetic rattan to create a sensuous butterfly-inspired outdoor chair that bends and twists. The back “leg” of the chair curves like a ballerina poised to take flight.

The La Donna adjustable chaise lounge chair is also made of synthetic rattan, making it ideal for outdoor use.

In 2017 Rastrullo put up Manolo Living, a furniture brand that celebrates Filipino heritage. Inspired by his grandparents, Manolo Living brings together tales of the past and present.

Each piece in the collection tells a story, whether from the connections made with people, traditional motifs found around the country or memories that link us to various experiences, evoking nostalgia embodied in pieces fit for a contemporary setting.

Manolo Living combines elements of traditional design, both form and process, with modern aesthetics  and materials to create pieces that are reminiscent of what was once yet develops into what can be.

This was how Manolo Living started. The brand was created with the notion of adapting to architectural trends without losing our heritage. Clean lines, simple shapes and varied materials reflect historical Filipino influences, creating timeless pieces.

Quality is given but with today’s rapidly changing design trends, Manolo Living intends to make time stand still. Just like stories in the past and stories you will create.

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Turning Points 2018