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Inside Ito Kish's Ever-Changing Seasons

In an unsuspecting and sprawling warehouse compound is this multi-awarded designer’s new retail adventure


As you honk in front of the gate along the busy street of J.P. Rizal in Makati and wait for it to open, you truly wonder if you’re in the right place. Nondescript warehouses line the property except for one that stands out with a black wall and plants. When you ask the guard where the retail space of Ito Kish is he actually tells you, “Doon sa maraming halaman. (There where there are a lot of plants.)”



On the wall right by the entrance are the words, “How are you today?” It’s a simple question but a phrase that comforts you in a way as if they knew you went through horrendous traffic on your drive here or made the wrong turn somewhere. “I put those words there because of the pandemic!” Ito Kish says with thunderous laughter. “I feel like in the past two years, a lot of people felt lonely and it really changed how we look at life. It’s important to ask someone how they’re doing. It makes a big difference and makes you feel like there’s some normality.”


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When you enter the black door, you’re enveloped in startling darkness. A few objects on a black surface reveal Kish’s collection from The Neighborhood of Dubai. The space is immediately transportive and sensory. “The drama starts there. You arrive. Not everybody would know how to get here. You might get lost. It might even annoy you. But the objective was for you to feel compensated when you get inside,” Kish says. 



The Neighborhood is an ever-changing space of every city Kish has traveled to. “The Neighborhood only started when we reopened here. I walk around a city, pick up a few things and put it in my luggage and bring it here. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be the most expensive, it doesn’t have to be the most modern. It can be a bottle cleaner from Tokyo, it can be a small container for knives for farmers from Luang Prabang. It can be as simple as that. It’s something that I see and I find a story about it.”


The vestibule starts to feel claustrophobic as you realize that you are in apparent dead end. That’s when the automatic door opens and reveals spacious, brighter interiors with a double height ceiling. 


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This space used to only be Kish’s warehouse. Even though he gave up his 500 sqm retail space along Nicanor Garcia St. back in 2017 to go on a semi-retirement, he couldn’t stay too long away from what he calls his “happy place”. Missing the retail store life, he decided to turn his 150sqm warehouse into a place his clients can see his products in person. “I thought about reopening again because I felt like if I didn’t do this, I would get old really fast. So we opened this on the night that the lockdown was announced on March 14 (2020),” Kish recalls.


“I wouldn’t even say the business was the best because we were under the lockdown and the pandemic was still ongoing. But I still wanted to expand because when people come, they didn’t really see the whole entire Ito Kish catalog. Suddenly this warehouse next to us opened up because of the pandemic. It was a perfect opportunity so we got it. We basically just opened a wall for it to open to the new wing.”



The new wing exhibits the entire Ito Kish Design - including the Gregoria Chair that won several awards including one at the A’ Design Award & Competition in Italy, the Binhi, a seed shaped seating designed to bring people together in conversation. New versions of the Julia and the Pipit lamp are also displayed. 



Another room painted all in black, the Ito Kish Interior Design Room.  It will evolve regularly to showcase the designer's deft hand at versatile storytelling through objects, furniture, lighting and various pieces of décor.


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The whole store is full of great finds for the design inclined from mid-century furniture from Organic Modernism to coffee table books published by Phaidon, to smaller accessories and even origami kits. “You’ll notice that anywhere you look there is a small vignette. There’s a story. Ever since we started 22 years ago it’s all about creating a story for people,” he shares.


It’s this type of visual storytelling that he enjoys the most. “It makes me happy if we have clients and they come over even without the intention of buying anything. They will just come here, understand what we’re doing and leave happy. Or they go home and say, ‘Oh I saw this in Ito Kish and I want to rearrange this.' That makes me happy.”



It’s not easy to build such a reputable name and last this long in the industry like Ito Kish. The secret can probably be attributed to his grit and humble beginnings. “I used to sleep on the wooden floor all the way to college!” he shares nonchalantly.


It can be because he has good design instinct. “I never went to design school. When I do this I don’t really follow rules. I just put things together. This is not something like when you look at a magazine or a book. No, it’s basically an instinct. I guess that’s another advantage that when you come here, you know it’s not schooled. It’s a very organic way of putting things together.”



It can be maybe because he is so passionate. “Through the years we’ve been through a roller coaster of craziness. At the end of the day, when you love what you do, I believe you will actually survive. And even failure doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop.”


Or it can be because a good storyteller is a good listener. Kish listens. Especially whenever he genuinely asks someone “How are you today?”


The store is located at 1120 J.P. Rizal, Makati and is open Thursday to Saturday from 11am-5pm. Appointments are encouraged.  Visit itokish.com.


Photographs by Jar Concengco