Midcentury Manila: A Blast from the Past

A mid-century modern heaven where your mind and design sensibilities can play. That’s how Ken and Isa Mishuku, the husband and wife team of Midcentury Manila, describes MCM PLAY – their new 1,200 sqm playground: a workshop and a furniture gallery for their passion project-turned-business that currently has an almost 24,000 strong Instagram following. It also serves as a warehouse/studio in showcasing and photographing their curated finds. 

Buying an “authentic” Eames Lounge chair in a decrepit state and wanting to restore the piece in its original glory started their passion for mid-century furniture. In the process of refurbishing the chair, they found out it was a knockoff. Not wanting this to happen again, Ken has developed an obsession with determining the vintage piece’s authenticity. Armed with knowledge on determining a piece’s authenticity and needing more furniture with character for their beautiful home, he searched high and low. He was able to get a lot of chairs at excellent deals from thrift stores and resellers. 

As a part of a collector’s journey and as their lifestyle and tastes have evolved, they had pieces that didn’t suit their preference anymore. Ken posted an item on a Facebook group and got sold right away. He posted another one and got snatched as fast as the first one. It didn’t last long that he has realized that he had already sold a substantial part of their collection. That started the success that is Midcentury Manila today. Successful enough that they just recently had their fourth collaboration with Leon Gallery, where they auctioned iconic pieces through the Philippines’ premier auction house. 

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Ken and Isa moved into what they consider an accidental space early this year. They were fortunate to find this sprawling compound near their home that used to have commercial establishments that were casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. Everything they needed was under one roof. It also had vacant warehouse spaces inside the same complex. Having an office, a studio, a workshop for restoration and storage was the original purpose in getting the area but having few empty spaces left, they decided to turn it into a furniture gallery. Isa notes, “It’s not really a store since the selling happens online but more like a place to hold mini exhibits and house our collection – a place where guests can come just for furniture appreciation, to speak to a fellow collector and immerse. The space originally intended for their office, studio, workshop, and warehouse now has a “cafe,” a place for a gift shop, and an area for an exhibit that their artist friends can use. Having a café wasn’t a plan of the Mishuku’s, but their visitors would come over and stay awhile. “We’d share meals usually and coffee, and noticed we were using food delivery services so much we decided it would be beneficial to put up a café.” Isa remarks.

They only accept items for restoration that belong to the mid-century modern category; they don’t see themselves as experts on antiques and can only take mid-century pieces as is what they are most familiar with. The couple looks at it as an added service for friends of Midcentury Manila. Isa states, “We don’t make a sizeable profit from it, but it’s an excellent way for our team to deepen their experience and knowledge on different furniture pieces; it’s added learning and skill-building.”

They also believe that an item is valued more when there are very few. The more iconic pieces used to be their fastest-selling items until recently. Design enthusiasts are currently looking for “unique” or exotic designs, something not everybody else has or can easily find, such as pieces from Gerrit Rietveld, Paul Mccob, Pierre Paulin, Eero Aarnio, Ubald Klug, Joe Cesare Colombo, Finn Juhl, and many more.

Other than mid-century furniture, there are also clocks, planters, lamps, and design books on view at the gallery. Paintings by Pow Marin, Kadin Tiu, Wipo, and other notable contemporary artists adorn the gallery’s walls. Their supporters, like collectors and artist friends, tend to send things over to consign or to add to the gallery display. The couple welcomes it and likes the idea that there’s something for everyone in their “furniture & design appreciation space.”

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They plan to do more furniture & design exhibits. Isa mentions, “There’s so much good design and furniture, it’s difficult to showcase these all at the same time, so to break it up into more digestible, mini shows focused on a specific designer or design era will be very interesting and a lot more in-depth.” Sometime in October, a new exhibit called PLAY will formally open MCM Play. They are currently working on distributing other brands as well. With the growing demand for these furniture pieces that combine great design and function, The couple is excited about how the space is going to evolve. Isa says,” We’d love to open to workshops when possible, but all in good timing. We aren’t rushing anything, just enjoying the ride – it’s been great meeting new collectors & collaborators, and we’re looking forward to exploring more of that.”

For more inquiries on MCM Play, send a message to Midcentury Manila on their Instagram: @midcenturymanila

Photos courtesy of CHUCK RONQUILLO