Cocoy Cordoba Reinvents Himself Again

Cocoy Cordoba, the interior designer famous for his flamboyance, opens his eponymous furniture showroom in high style. The two-story, 800-square meter rectilinear building of gleaming whitewashed concrete and glass stands imperiously along the main drive in BF Homes Las Piñas.

Unlike his past aesthetic, characterized by Old World influences of rich details and curved, sinuous furniture, the new Cordoba showroom shows a nationalistic bent for contemporary Philippine-made furniture in natural materials. These big-ticket sofas, chairs and coffee tables are displayed alongside leather-and-stainless steel reproductions of mid-century modern furniture made in Malaysia and China, and vases and sculpture from Southeast Asia.

Shapes come into play, such as a boat sofa made of woven rattan strips, a cradle made of bamboo and an elliptical table in laminated bamboo.

Cocoy Cordoba Reinvents Himself AgainIt’s like organic-meets-modern. These mid-century chaise lounges and chairs are set beside round side tables of mother-of-pearl with black marble tops, or in rattan with a metal base. Rice husks are laminated on a sofa.

And Cordoba has a penchant for using fiberglass to make molded, shapely furniture, using cork, bark, bamboo, capiz, tobacco leaves and termite mounds for finishes. Also, he likes to combine the warmth of natural materials with the coldness of stainless steel. A metal-legged side table with a repurposed tree trunk for a top stands beside exaggerated high-back leather wing chair.

Cordoba has a field day with lighting fixtures. Tiered chandeliers in organic shapes are fashioned with capiz, paper, woven baskets and crushed muslin tubes. Floor lamps are made of shaved bamboo, curled rattan strips with black marble, tree roots and twigs.

Inspired by the tuklob or native food cover, he designed abaca circles adorned with sinamay flowers. These decorative elements were used at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meetings in Subic.

Also, each furniture display features a dyed abaca carpet from Bicol. Mirror frames are covered with bamboo nodes and capiz flowers.

“Cordoba is known for being theatrical more than practical,” the designer himself said.

At the peak of his career in the 1980s and ’90s, his style reflected the tastes of those years—peach and green and dark palettes augmented by bronze and warm woods, gilt finishes and lavish drapery.

Similarly, he was influenced by the Ralph Lauren décor style—earth tones, leather sofas with rolled arms and nailheads, animal prints, crystal chandeliers and decorative sconces.

With partners, he put up a furniture showroom of imported furniture called Le Mirage in Quezon City. The displays drew the likes of Sharon Cuneta, Pops Fernandez, Martin Nievera, Dina Bonnevie, Zsa Zsa Padilla and Elvira Manahan.

However the store folded up due to management. “I told myself I will never again work with partners,” he admitted.

He went to New York in the late ’80s to take short courses at Parsons. One day, during visiting an exhibit of interior designers in Bloomingdales, Cordoba commented to the manager that the compositions lacked imagination. He was challenged to make his own display. His quick set-up and flair impressed the manager. He was soon getting projects.

Cocoy Cordoba Reinvents Himself AgainReturning to Manila in 1991, Cordoba rebooted his career. One day, a socialite told him, “You are so good. How come I’ve never heard of you?”

His ego pricked, the comment prompted him to venture into a furniture showroom in 1993. The Cordoba showroom revolved around ornamental furniture that adorned Mediterranean-style homes. He would import Balinese and Thai sculpture, candelabras and masks.

At the turn of the millennium, he started designing for local manufacturers. With their help, he introduced contemporary designs using indigenous materials. The business flourished for 20 years.

In 2013, the showroom burned down. With some savings and a bank loan, Cordoba was able to rebuild it; it went on to showcase displays of an eclectic range of contemporary Filipino furniture and Bauhaus repros.

He is passing the reins of the business side to his daughter, Nathania, a multimedia arts graduate of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. Nevertheless, you haven’t heard the last of the Cordoba name yet.