Ito Kish, famous furniture designer and style influence, announced that he was opening the doors of his atelier again — after a three-year hiatus — in March this year to welcome his clientele hungry for his sleek and modern creations.
But then, COVID-19 took the world by shock and those who were raring to touch and feel his creations could only patiently wait for another chance to do so.
Then, just like that, his iconic Gregoria chair just kept popping up in the virtual world: in musical diva Regine Velasquez’s home during an online concert for a cause to raise funds for vulnerable communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Another Gregoria chair showed up in a social media post by her singer-composer husband Ogie Alcasid.
And still others, in the homes of celebrities like Kris Aquino, Boy Abunda, Maja Salvador, Jed Madela, broadcast journalist Jessica Soho and so much more.
Kish’s Gregoria seat — an intricately handcrafted chair inspired from the balustrades supporting the ventanillas of Spanish colonial houses called bahay na bato (literal translation: house of stone) — to some degree became the “it” chair of the times.
But that furniture, which comes in the form of a roomy lounge seat or a royal accent piece, didn’t just receive its spotlight this year.
Kish and the original two-seater Gregoria made their debut at the prestigious Manila FAME exhibit in 2012.
It won for Kish the Best Product Design for Furniture—a historic happening in many ways because, for one, there was no winner under such category during the previous year and two, it was Kish’s coming out as a furniture designer after making a name for himself already as a visual merchandiser and design consultant.
“The award really came as a surprise,” Kish shared, still vividly remembering that moment, “The whole idea was to evolve as a brand for the Kish store.
Thus, the move to create a furniture collection.
But we were lucky because when we released our six-piece baluster collection, we won the award.”
An homage to his 87-year-old mother Gregoria, the beautiful throne is now a recognizable design in international circles and has been included in a cinematic video placing it alongside other iconic seats such as the Spun Chair of Thomas Heatherwick; the Drift Bench of Amanda Levette; the Tomato Chair of Eero Aarnio; the Out/In chair of Phillip Starcke and Eugenie Quittlet; and the Yoda Easy Chair of fellow Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue, among others.
Not one to, pardon the pun, take things just sitting down, Kish moved on to design more furniture and be sought after by discriminating local and international buyers. Making a niche in the luxury market, Kish insisted on culling designs from Philippine themes and inspirations. His B-Luxe Accent Chair, for instance, is inspired from the humble batibot chair and elegantly reimagined in brass-plated metal and capacious acrylic seat.
He is largely moved, he says, by his humble roots in San Pablo, Laguna where he was exposed to the province’s various crafts and its many skilled artisans. The name Kish, he shares, is traced from his great grandfather who was a German national but upon further research might have actually migrated from Israel. The Kish family somehow uprooted themselves and found their way in the Philippines.
“My name is Margarito, but family and friends call me, Ito,” he said. “It’s a very Filipino name, which also speaks a lot about my passion and sensibilities as a designer.”
With eased quarantine rules and the quiet reopening of his new store in Dr. Jose P. Rizal Avenue in Makati City, Kish presents the most elegant and thoughtful furniture and houseware items for clients who yearn for the finer things.
To add to the visual delight of his store, Kish has also brought in guest brands by like-minded designers and introduced collaborations with them as well. The merging of media and materials is quite interesting in these interactions. For instance, for Season 4 (his latest collection), Kish collaborated with designer Zarah Juan and came up with comfortable cotton T-shirts with Kish’s design iconography, adorned with the artisanal beading of the Bagobo tribe whose creativity has been Juan’s inspiration.
In recent seasons, he has also done fun collaborations with designers Apol Lejano-Massebieau of Good Luck Humans, Len Cabili of Filip + Inna, and potter Joey de Castro among others.
These days, in the midst of a pandemic, one finds Kish busy as ever but in a more mindful and meaningful way. Three years ago, he decided to close his popular shop in Calle Reposo in Makati City because he confesses, he wanted to slow down and just go back to the basics of designing and creating.
He reflects, “Three years ago, I decided to close shop because there was just too much pressure to produce. That’s not where I’m at, I don’t want to make things for the volume or numbers. I don’t want to go back to that situation where you feel like you’ve got a flat tire and the effort to put some air into it becomes very tiring.
I don’t want to go back to that situation.”
In some tender way, the slowdown has allowed Kish to be exactly where he wants to go at this point as a designer, “The social distancing measures have been good for us. Our clients get to enjoy their stay exploring the new store.
It’s never overcrowded, there’s that sense of spaciousness.
“I also get a sense of satisfaction from the fact that they don’t necessarily have to purchase anything but if they get inspiration from what they see in the store, then we’ve met our objective.”
It’s all a time for resetting for the well-awarded and in demand designer.
On the personal side, his move to a new place has encouraged him to invite friends over for “dinner, some music, and a lot of laughter.
This pandemic is teaching me the value of connecting with people,” he surmises.
And that thoughtful reflection extends to the craftsmen in Pampanga whom he continues to admire and value for their exquisite craftsmanship.
“When you buy a Gregoria chair, for instance, it’s distinctly yours because everything is made by hand.
There might be a machine to turn the balusters around but there’s still a craftsman carving it individually to create the rounded parts of the baluster. There is metal cladding inside that connects all the balusters, but everything else is made by skilled carvers and weavers of Pampanga.”
Celebrating two decades as a designer and as his humble way of giving back, Kish announces that he is also launching the Ito Kish Fund, wherein portion of his sales will be used to help vulnerable communities during times of calamities and other emergencies.
Kish is already looking forward to Summer 2021: “We’re already preparing for the collection and are hoping to do more collaborations.
Plus, of course, the Ito Kish Fund should get going so we could continue to do our share in helping our fellow Filipinos whom we can reach out to in times of need.”
With a lot of things happening for him, and not one to rest on his laurels, Kish says the uncertain time has inspired him to reflect on what is truly essential and reimagine his idea on what designing luxurious objects is all about.
“Luxury living is quality and the originality of the design. The survival of a design transcends time.
In a word it’s outstanding. It’s no longer about price points, though the norm is that price is synonymous with luxury. But it’s more of becoming a standout. That for me is luxury.”
With a newfound purpose and energy, Kish’s zest to keep creating all things that spark sheer joy and pleasure — from furniture, plates, to cups — is inspiringly palpable.
On his secret to thriving in the midst of a dreary pandemic, Kish says, “I just want to say that I’ve always been hopeful.
You can’t just say, ‘I want to give up.’ No, you cannot. A lot of people are depending on you. I know at the end of the day it’s business. And I’m just lucky that I’m also my own business person inasmuch as I’m also the designer. But you really just have to be hopeful in order to move forward.”