Cover The open-plan living space with high ceiling is the heart of the home. It features iconic pieces such as the Fog & Morup Radius pendant light, a rocking stool and coffee table by Isamu Noguchi, a large Diamond chair by Harry Bertoia for Knoll and an Ib Kofod Larsen Penguin chair

The home of Ken and Isa Mishuku, founders of Mid-Century Manila, is a testament to their shared passion for the iconic design era

“Ken is a bit of a hoarder,” laughs Isa Mishuku, co-founder of Mid-Century Manila along with her husband Ken. “He’s the type that likes to prepare way in advance so he would purchase furniture before we even started building the house.” The couple, whose passion for vintage mid-century pieces has turned them into purveyors for collectors and design aficionados, live south of Metro Manila in their self-designed family home. “We had to be mindful of the space restrictions, coupled with the limitations from our personal budget on construction,” Isa shares about the original 200 square metre lot that the house stands on.

“We tried very hard to come up with a space that could breathe and didn’t feel too cramped but wasn’t too expensive to build.” Built on three storeys, the total floor area of the home is 350 square metres and prioritises expansive ceilings, big bright windows and an open living plan. “Originally the inspiration for the house was a New York Industrial Style Loft with brick walls, exposed ceiling beams and trusses and an open layout.” It suited their needs then as a young couple and they eventually purchased the lot next door to annex as a garden and to match the demands of a growing family. “We now have three rambunctious kids, aged six, seven and eight years old and one puppy!”

What once started with a heavy steel and leather industrial décor is now a light and airy haven for their striking mid-century modern furniture collection. “When we first started thinking about the furniture we would choose for our home, we really had no idea what mid-century modern was, we just wanted to find pieces with personality that fit with our ‘New York loft’ peg,” explains Isa. Ken, a perpetual lover of vintage nostalgia, had a collection of guitars from the Sixties and Seventies and was drawn to the more distressed leather and steam punk look. Isa, on the other hand, “was more attracted to clean lines and a simple, modern or Scandinavian look”. It was the marriage of their two styles that led to their discovery of the MCM era. “It was a good fusion of our tastes. Ken was so into patina, industrial elements, steel and wood—an aesthetic that is a lot like guitar craftsmanship. I was drawn to colours, shapes and airy pieces.”

It all started with an impulsive online purchase of a dubiously discounted iconic Eames Lounger. “We tried to restore it and failed miserably. Purchasing authentic parts abroad that turned out not to fit, reading up on all the minute details of this Eames chair, Ken was obsessed with trying to find out if it was real or a reproduction,” declares Isa. “At the end of it, Ken was hooked. He learnt quite a lot about the MCM Era, the designers, the award-winning pieces and how it changed the way people lived. There was an explosion of good design after the Second World War and it was so interesting to learn about it and then, to go out and collect the pieces. It’s like having a piece of history in your home.”

They first started going through a checklist of the icons. “A common mistake when you are bitten by the MCM bug is to go full on hunting for all the iconic pieces and put them all together,” she shares. “We took this path too, using the Taschen 1000 chairs book as a guide. Sometimes, it can work, but it’s so difficult to do it correctly. Most often you end up with a space that looks like a furniture exhibit rather than a home. We are no experts in interior design, but we feel the true guide is to be mindful of your choices. You should get pieces that gel, that talk to each other and work together. They may not be the most expensive and iconic, but there is a certain magic that happens when you put the correct pieces together.”

The couple has started to move beyond the recognisable “greats” and are exploring other designers from this era. “We’ve noticed that the deeper or longer one is into collecting MCM, the more one starts to veer away from the ‘iconic’ or more mainstream designs and move towards more esoteric, or hard-to-find pieces. At a certain point, you want what is elusive and rare. Lately Ken has been looking more into the likes of Paul McCobb, Percival Lafer, Arne Norell and William Katavolos. I’m not sure if it has something to do with Ken being half-Japanese, but he is also very drawn to the Japanese Modernists—Isamu Noguchi, Isamu Kenmochi and Shiro Kuramata.”

What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.
Ray Eames

The couple have a penchant for Noguchi and, particularly, his famed Akari lamps. “Isamu Noguchi’s design is powerful in its simplicity and organic form; he uses honest material, puts it together simply in a way that seems to transcend time or style,” explains Isa. “His aesthetic is elegant, timeless, warm and earthy. It is pure. His Akari paper sculptures are made only of Japanese washi paper and bamboo. Noguchi described this design as harnessing the energy of electricity and turning it into something that is closer to nature, allowing paper to diffuse electricity in the same way the shoji [Japanese screen] filters sunlight. There is a warmth that is familiar, the Akari not only gives light, it glows.

They are constantly adding things to their collection, switching things around, trading pieces out and their space is always evolving. “The space is alive, and as with most things, you have to allow change and growth to happen.” She does emphasise the importance of purposeful design. “Most importantly, a space should be able to function based on your personal needs; aesthetics should only follow. You don’t want to have a living room that looks nice but nobody ever sits in. Something is good when it works well and functions for the inhabitants. Ray Eames had a famous line that we adhere to: ‘What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.’”


This story was originally published in Tatler Homes Philippines Vol. 28. Download it for free on Magzter

  • PhotographyScott A Woodward
© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.