For Joseph Rastrullo, preserving one’s family heritage is one way of honoring one’s roots and paying homage to fond memories. That’s why creating a brand inspired by his lolo was a deeply personal experience for the young furniture designer.
“This butaca chair is an old Filipino-Spanish chair, and it brings you back to the times of your grandparents. They had the same chairs, they shared moments, they shared stories in the living room. What I do as an artist is try to relive that story for you by recreating your interior space and modernizing it so it can be applicable to your modern home,” he tells us about one of the pieces on display at LRI Design Plaza last January.
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This sentimentality also speaks of the kind of person Joseph is—a proud Lolo’s boy. “While growing up, [my Lolo Manolo Gonzalez] always kept me out of trouble. When I was being a naughty kid and my mom was at work, I would break a lot of things at home,” the 30-year-old shares. “One time, I accidentally broke one of our tables and my grandfather repaired it the entire morning. When my mom came home, Lolo kept quiet and didn’t tell her what I did. From that point on, I knew his love for me was unconditional.”
It is for this reason that one of the brands he built was named after his grandfather’s name—Manolo Living. It started in 2015, the year his lolo died. “I tried to retrace my memories with him, and wanted to relive it with my pieces,” he says. His more high-end brand, Rastrullo, on the other hand, is inspired by nature, and speaks of his fondness for traveling and hiking. “I go places and I draw inspiration from those trips. I make sure that I do my research, otherwise, my designs will look like everyone else’s,” he explains.
Born in the United States and raised in the Philippines, Rastrullo has been passionate about design since high school. He formally began his journey in 2006 when he entered the DLSU-College of St. Benilde’s Industrial Design program. During his time there, he started experimenting with different uses of materials, before deciding to focus on fibers, resin, iron, wood, and plastic, and the potential combinations of these. After graduating, he taught briefly at the school.
In 2009, he started his apprenticeship under Budji Layug, who became responsible for Joseph’s design direction and currently still mentors him with his approach. Hungry for inspiration, Rastrullo pursued his Masters studies in 2012 and enrolled in the Masters in Business Design course at Domus Academy in Italy. There he met and learned from Domenico Dolce (Dolce and Gabbana), Andrea Branzi (Vitra Design), Aldo Cibic (Memphis Group), Stefano Giovannoni (Alessi) and Giorgio Lavelli (Radar Trend), who were visiting professors at the academy. It was also at Domus that he learned how to merge business and design.
Taking after his mentors, the hardworking and driven millennial makes sure he does everything with a purpose. “That’s what wakes me up and keeps me focused,” he says. He confesses that he gets up between 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. to plan his day—leaving a message in their team’s messenger group. “I don’t expect them to reply and I expect them to be sleeping. It’s just my way of saying ‘this is me planning, this is me pushing.’”
His idealism is likewise revealed in his personal motivations. “I want to see a better nation. I want to see a better community. It’s pretty much a mission for my company that we inspire people by developing their interior spaces. If we can change habits and lifestyle within, hopefully it reflects outward. It changes the way they do things. So that’s a purpose for me,” he expounds.
Rastrullo says that one of his proudest moments was when a team of his students at Benilde was nominated as one of the Best Design Studio of Asia by the International Furniture Fair-Singapore. But he’s obviously not resting on his laurels as he believes that his purpose goes beyond what is today. “I don’t feel like I’m a winner until I see something more sustainable. That’s just me putting pressure on myself to be better always.” Rastrullo shares more in our conversation with him:
What do you do during your downtime?
The older I get—and I know that I’m not too old—but I love sleeping in on the weekends more. I try to sleep, but a lot of times, my work calls or I need to go out of town. If I need to stay awake, you can probably catch me watching documentary films. In the office, [Manolo Living brand manager] Nina [Mirabueno Opida] and [head of production and quality control] Jesse [Jalandoni] would see me tune in to Netflix and put something we can learn on. I think the last thing we watch was something about Steve Jobs.
What are your reading preferences?
Ever since I was in high school, I had always been inclined to reading books about business strategies and marketing. I am into philosophies for business, so I’ll be reading The Art of War again.
Are you into any kinds of sports?
If I weren’t a designer, I’d be a boxer. I still do boxing up to now. In fact, if you follow my Instagram (@jrastrullo), you’d see that besides furniture, I also post about boxing. I like Manny Pacquiao, but I’m also looking at other fighters.
What are your favorite foods?
When I was younger, it was Italian food, but then when my stomach started getting bigger, so I’m trying to go with salads and Japanese food, to hopefully not to get big anymore. But I do miss Italian food.
Any places you wish to visit?
I’ve never been to Japan. I hope I can do something for work there so at least I can enjoy work while travelling.
What’s a necessary extravagance for you?
If I had the money, I would buy the pieces of my mentors and the designers that I look up to locally and internationally.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I’ve never own a sports car before, it would be nice to own one. But, if that’s being too selfish and I want to be a little bit practical, I’m looking forward to opening my showroom this year, hopefully, here at LRI Design Plaza.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have a small box at home under my bed that has all the letters of my grandfather. I have letters written about a hundred years ago by my great grandfather, [former University of the Philippines president] Bienvenido Maria Gonzalez, like when he was still pursuing my lola. In one of the letters, he said, “I feel a great weight of responsibility on my shoulders and I actually do not know how I might be able to serve my people.” I think he was in second year college at UP Los Baños. For someone so young and already thinking about serving his countrymen, it reaffirms my direction—that if I have a purpose in my work, I’m in the right place. My prized possession is more of memories. These memories are what inspire me.