Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Mon, 03/23/2009 1:08 PM | People
If anyone has proved George Earle Buckle’s assertion that “to simplify complications is the first essential of success”, it is Leonard Theosabrata, whose philosophy of simplicity in his furniture designs has brought him international acclaim.
The 31-year-old is now recognized as one of Asia’s top product and interior designers, the only Indonesian to be included in the hefty 2006 German publication Young Asian Designers.
His designs have won him several prestigious international awards, including Germany’s red dot design award in 2003 and Italy’s Well Tech Award in 2006, and his work went on display at the Science and Technology Museum during the 2006 Milan Fair.
For his achievements in design, he was chosen as one of five young Asians to be the face of Deutsche Welle’s new channel, DW-TV Asia+, launched in Jakarta last Wednesday.
Leonard’s path to the international stage was not immediately obvious. After he graduated from high school in 1997, his parents sent him to the United States to study graphic design at the Art Institute of Houston in Texas.
“Ever since I was in high school I was always interested in art. Not necessarily design but art,” Leonard says. “It sounds very typical but it’s true. Because it develops into an interest in design.”
But after two years of studying and working in Houston, he found he did not enjoy graphic design as much as he had expected.
“I started to think about changing my major but I still didn’t know what was best for me. Whatever, I wanted it to be in the best school in the US.”
His father encouraged him to move into product design and “I thought ‘Why not’.”
A search turned up the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, but without a product design portfolio, he could not enroll into a product design major.
“I only had a graphic design portfolio at that time, so I enrolled in night school for six months preparing my product portfolio.” The night school was provided by the college. “Apparently there are a lot of people like me who have an interest but not necessarily have a portfolio to show.”
After finishing the three projects necessary to meet the entrance requirements, Leonard was accepted in 1999.
He studied product design for three and a half years, during which time he won several competitions at the school including a team project doing the interior design for an Airbus 383, sponsored by Singapore Airlines. He also had the opportunity to do an internship at Japanese toy manufacturer Bandai in Tokyo.
“At that time it was difficult to get a job and also very competitive,” he says. “I didn’t even bother to look for work.”
He was close to getting an offer from Apple but, being an “entrepreneur type” and unwilling to work for other people, “I thought that going back and starting on my own would be much more valuable.”
With personal reasons helping the decision – “My sister was getting married at the same time” – he returned to Indonesia in 2002.
Soon afterward, he started his own brand of furniture, Accupunto, making chairs – lounges, dining chairs, benches and stackable chairs – based on the principles of acupuncture. The pieces are characterized by a simple form that can fit any room. For Leonard, it was an idea already tried and tested: “I used it for my final project at university.”
Leonard says his designs are greatly influenced by the Bauhaus movement in Germany from the 1920s to early 1930s, one of the most important design movements of the 20th century which influenced subsequent developments in art, architecture and design.
“One of the principles of the Bauhaus movement is that ‘form follows function’,” he says. “It simplified radical forms, emphasized rationality and functionality, and initiated the idea of mass production.”
The experience of creating his own brand took him to Europe, which he calls the center of interior design and product design.
“Even though I studied design in the US, I always wanted to go to Europe. Finally, I was able to live my dream of taking part in European shows and being alongside the brands that I admired.”
During Accupunto’s second year, Leonard took part in one of Europe’s biggest design shows, the International Meuble Messe in Cologne. There, his design won the red dot award, whose recipients regularly include established brands such as Nikon, Sony, Ferrari, BMW and Porsche.
Leonard became the second Asian, and only Indonesian, to win the award, defeating nearly 1,500 entrants from 28 countries. Winning was, he said, “a huge honor” because the award is “becoming a symbol of excellence in design everywhere”.
The Accupunto Arm Chair won several other awards such as the Interior Innovation Award 2004 from the German Design Council, G-mark from Japan and the 2003 Indonesia Good Design Award.
Leonard has since expanded into interior design and counts international companies among his clients. He and some colleagues have also set up D5, an interior and architecture design consultancy.
“As a designer, I like a design to be functional, simple but with added value,” Leonard says.
Influenced as he is by the Bauhaus movement, aesthetics are not his top priority.
“A good product should prove itself. If it sells, it means the design works.”