Design Anthology - Asia Pacific Edition
visual merchandiser, brand developer, interior decorator, designer and shop owner; Ito Kish has worn many hats over the course of his storied career. Known for his ability to create impressively eclectic vignettes and inspiring, experiential spaces, Kish built his portfolio and business on a discerning eye — something he developed on his own and without any formal design education. ‘ Everything I’ve ever done has been based on what I liked and what I found beautiful,’ Kish says. ‘When I think about how my life has unfolded — how I came from humble beginnings — I realise how I can’t take anything for granted.’
At the onset of a new decade, Kish finds his days slow, spacious and steady. With his showroom now closed and having chosen not to take on new client work, the pace of his life is markedly different than that of the last 17 years, when he seemed to be an unstoppable force in the design industry. ‘Maybe this is all part of the process of ageing,’ he muses. ‘You grow older and you begin to learn that it’s more important to focus on what you love, what you have a connection to.’ This is particularly true of his 40-square-metre studio apartment in Manila.
Closing shop led Kish to re-examine all the furniture and artwork he’s acquired over the years. ‘I have a lot of things, so it’s been difficult to edit,’ he says. But curation has been the bedrock of Kish’s career, and the process of minimising — even in his home, which he downgraded from a two-bedroom space to a studio unit — has helped him gain a sense of clarity. Everything, from the simple greys and whites that characterise his wardrobe these days to the carefully selected artworks that cover his walls, brims with meaning. ‘I moved here so I could be smart about what to give up and what to keep with me,’ he says.
The piece he would never give up is a portrait of himself by Philippine National Artist José Joya. ‘It was 1995 and I was invited to sit for Joya’s Tuesday Group,’ Kish recalls. He was asked to pose in costume, so he borrowed a traditional Manobo outfit from a friend who was part of the country’s National Dance Company at the time. Reflective of Kish’s early interest in art, the portrait was done when he was just becoming interested in Philippine art and investing in anything that appealed to him. His approach to buying art, or keeping it in his collection, is still largely the same: to buy whatever appeals to him, regardless of investment potential or artist.
Each piece in his studio unit — be it an ornament from the first shop he ever opened, authentic Wishbone chairs or a lamp he acquired in Scandinavia long before the midcentury revival — has its own story. Kish’s artistic genius shines through the silence that permeates his humble abode. Despite this stillness, his unique ability to tell stories through space still proves that his life is rich with colour, creativity and, ultimately, value.
Text Chinggay Labrador