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Playing with midcentury design icons

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 30, 2021 5:00 am

“I always get nervous when I receive your notifications,” said one of Midcentury Manila’s 25,800 Instagram followers in a comment on yet another exciting post about the most recent furniture find of Ken and Isa Mishuku, who started their obsession with the modern design movement more than a decade ago.

The exhilaration is understandable given that their covetable pieces are almost immediately snapped up by collectors and enthusiasts. What sets the pieces apart is the passion that the couple has for vintage furniture.

“There is something about it that pulls at the heartstrings, resurfaces a memory, stirs emotion,” says Isa. This fervor is evident in the posts, with visually appealing photos as well as engaging stories behind each piece: how it was acquired, or the process it took to revive the piece, or an interesting backstory on its design. 

The MCM studio office, for shooting catalog photos: Styled in the early ’50s-’60s Mad Men look are a vintage George Nelson sideboard, early Eames lounge chair, early Eames rocker with Alexander Girard checkered upholstery, vintage Kroehler sofa/daybed, Paul McCobb coffee table, vintage Hans Wegner dining table and chairs.

Although these pieces are old, they can look as good as the day they were created, thanks to their restoration workshop born out of Ken’s obsession with knocking down and reviving furniture: “Even if good photos sell the piece, we try to make sure they’re even better in person so we don’t get returns, since viewing was not accessible.”

One reason the MCM craze has caught on in Manila is that with their streamlined shapes and minimal ornamentation, they blend perfectly with contemporary art, which has boomed in the past decade,

He actually perfected the correct process of restoration by learning to take things apart and putting them back together, how to remove rust, how to clean aged plastic, and invest in the right tools. He would prep and clean each item himself to make sure that each piece would look the best it could. It’s this level of care and love for the pieces that has contributed to MCM’s success.

Of course, their choice of pieces is also spot-on, “particularly the ones made post-war which are so well made, almost over-engineered and yet still look modern, forward and appropriate for today’s aesthetic.”

Irving Harper for George Nelson Associates Marshmallow Sofa, first designed in 1954, made by Herman Miller

Midcentury design icons who are usually represented in their collection — Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and George Nelson — changed the way we live through creations that are not just beautiful but are also centered on honest, functional design, which is of particular relevance during the pandemic when we have focused our lives on authenticity and the things that matter most. 

We also realize the importance of our connection with nature, something that the midcentury modern architects kept in mind by using expanses of glass and open layouts, “a style that is very much what we see in homes around Manila,” Isa observes.

In the same vein, MCM furniture shows organic influences: natural materials and forms, airy shapes, clean lines. It’s what makes them easy to integrate in almost any setup. They’re also relatable because they’re from a more recent past so we remember them from our parents or grandparents’ homes. We know them and understand how to use them well.”

Vintage Eames Tandem bench made by Herman Miller

Another reason why the MCM craze has caught on in Manila is that with their streamlined shapes and minimal ornamentation, they blend perfectly with contemporary art, which has boomed in the past decade, thanks to the art fairs that are eagerly anticipated and have even attracted foreign galleries and buyers.

This twin obsession is something the couple decided to capitalize on when they conceived MCM Play, their new complex in Laguna that houses their showroom, warehouse, restoration workshop, and an interactive space to host exhibits, workshops and collaborative events.

Since their followers appreciated posts of collectors’ homes and how they integrated the furniture with their artworks, they figured that there was a need for a space dedicated to integrating both furniture and contemporary art since most establishments usually just concentrated on either of the two.

Thus, they opened their new home last Oct. 9 with “Play,” a group show featuring contemporary artists in tableaus that featured their MCM pieces. 

From WFH settings to relaxing lounges, guests can get ideas on how to fix their homes. It’s a veritable who’s who of designers and iconic pieces that have made it to the great museums of the world, like MoMA and the Met.

Aside from the famous design greats mentioned previously, there were also amazing pieces by the likes of Pierre Paulin, who has been rediscovered and gained a cult following thanks to Louis Vuitton designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, who snapped up rare pieces that recently resurfaced. Ghesquiere’s counterpart who designs menswear, Virgil Abloh, is represented in a chair of Jean-Prouvé that he reimagined for Vitra in a limited edition of 150.

One of Ken’s favorites, Isamu Kenmochi, has a rolling task chair by Tendo Mokko, known for producing exquisitely crafted artisanal furniture by following time-honored “slow” traditions like drying lumber naturally for up to five years in an environment with the same rhythms it was raised in to avoid stress and result in a beautiful product. 

Eighties Memphis postmodern desk, Kartell Ettore Sottsass Yellow Pattern soft chair, vintage Ettore Sottsass red Olivetti typewriter, postmodern wiggly wire book rack, small Bullet planter in turquoise, ’70s UFO Space Age giant floor lamp, Verner Panton Hanging Moon pendant lamp

There were also pieces from Ettore Sottsass and Burkhard Vogtther in the Memphis style, which may not be traditionally classified as midcentury but has its spirit nevertheless, or at least are interesting design-wise. 

“What I like the most are the weird, odd pieces, sometimes even if I don’t know who designed it,” says Ken. “It keeps you curious and excited; there’s always more to learn.”

It’s the whole idea behind MCM Play to just be open and let your imagination wander. “It’s open to those who want to come to experience the furniture, see more or try them out, without the pressure of buying,” according to Ken.

Isa adds, “MCM’s goal is really not money-making but to fuel this active, growing community that is passionate about design. Most of our efforts are unmeasured, done on the fly, spurred purely to foster engagement so that our followers feel that they, too, are part of what makes MCM work. Sometimes Ken comes up with games or even just gives items away on IG because he just wants everyone in on the fun.” 

This goal of inclusivity is the reason why they have introduced more affordable products so there’s something for everyone. “There’s high and there’s low with different genres to speak to different audiences, for anyone who loves design, from experienced collectors to newbies.”

They also would never allow any one buyer to purchase a whole lot of so many newly arrived pieces. Ken realizes, “If I do that, financially we’ll be okay, but how do you grow a brand when only one client eats up the entire pie?”

“Play” runs until Nov. 9 at the Sideshow Studio of MCM Play, 83HQ+6HP, Biñan, Laguna. Check them out on Instagram .