“It all started with a passion,” Ken and Isa Mishuku would always say when asked about how their furniture brand Midcentury Manila began. Who can blame them? Producing items that will boost one’s living demands more passion than business skills. But what they gave to Filipino design fanatics is more than just good-looking items, but mid-century modern furnishings filled with stories. Their brand gives a chance to homeowners to have a piece of history in their living room, whether in the form of refurbished vintage Severin Hansen sewing table, an Isamu Noguchi light fixture, or a Harry Bertoia Diamond chair.
Mid-century modern design movement rose to fame after World War II. Many said that, after the war, when all the guns were fired and the bombs were dropped, there were only ashes to be reaped. But the thing about post-war ambiance is that there’s always a need for beauty. We’re not saying that we need conflict now and then just to inject aesthetics in our lives—we can do less of that. What we cannot deny is that destruction and creation goes hand-in-hand throughout history. That time, mid-century modern design was the beauty people needed. And it is just so fitting that this design movement is reaching its peak in the Philippines, amid its war against an invisible enemy today.
“Filipinos are very aspirational,” Ken tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “We may not have a big house but we want our home to be presentable. We are one of those Asian countries that are very inviting, we love to host and entertain. That’s how we are and that’s one of the reasons why mid-century modern appeals to the Filipino. For us, having a piece in that aesthetic is like having an accessory in the house, it is a piece that tells a story.”
One of the factors that led to their company’s success is the power of the internet. While many now see the advantage of building a virtual space for their business, Midcentury Manila already took the digital leap back in 2017 and eventually found a community for its works.
“We started selling mid-century furniture on a Facebook group just to dispose of excess pieces in Ken’s collection,” Isa recalls. “It was so active on this Facebook group that we decided to put it on Instagram because there were a lot of people asking for more.”
“Prior to the pandemic, we were doing things online. I am one of those people who pushes furniture on the web. Every day, we would post several pieces to sell,” Ken continues. “During the initial months of the pandemic, I had to stop selling mainly out of respect. It was not the right time to sell. What I did was we just posted photos of the pieces inside our house. We just put in some back stories of the pieces without selling them. I noticed for some reason that it was getting a lot of hits on Instagram. I guess people were glued to their phones… The inquiries tripled. The pandemic helped us even more to get it out there.”
Although mid-century modern design possesses a unique charm, what Ken and Isa pride about their brand as well is their art of restoring vintage finds. The “thrifted” aspect of their brand brings a sense of circularity to the table where they offer more than just refurbished decades-old pieces. The company also fixes damaged purchases and even looks for a new home for their previously sold pieces for when customers no longer see them fit for their space.
“What’s nice about Midcentury Manila, which I feel is totally different from most furniture brands, is that I see it as a collector’s hub,” Ken muses. “If they want to purchase a new one and get rid of the old, I can be of help to them. If a piece breaks throughout their use, since I have a restoration workshop, I can fix it for them. These come into play why some of them decide to purchase from us even without physically seeing the piece.”
Although furniture shopping can be done online, most still opt to do it by physically being present in a store. Customers need to see the piece for themselves, feel the materials, and know if they want it in their lives. Having experienced being tricked into buying a fake 1950’s Eames lounge chair in the early days of their mid-century modern exploration, Ken and Isa know that incorporating the aesthetic in your can be a challenge.
Here are some of their advice to make your journey foray into mid-century modern design fun and a success.
Don’t copy anyone
According to Ken, getting inspiration from other interior space is fine. But copying it isn’t the option. “You need to find the piece that resonates with you,” he says. “Don’t look for the flashiest one if that’s not what you want or who you are.”
Focus on what you need
While it is easy to get lost in a number of great mid-century modern pieces, you can easily scale down things by putting your needs first. The couple pointed out that it is best to know what your requirements are. After settling that, then think about the design you want. “Always put that first,” Ken stresses. “Let’s say if you’re working long hours in your WFH setup and you need a good chair, don’t look for the funkiest looking chair. Search for the one that you can sit on for long hours. Once you find it, the next step includes what colors you like, and so on. Your furniture must function to a specific need in your life.”
The best part of stepping into the world of mid-century modern is learning the history of the pieces. As Isa says, “There are so many designers and types of furniture to choose from. It is good to read, to look into thousands and thousands of pegs before you buy something.” It is also the surefire way to avoid being duped to purchase fake items.
Take it slow
Building the perfect mid-century modern look for your home takes time, and you should savor every moment of it. “The most enjoyable part of looking for the piece is talking to the seller and learning the history of an item. Then you take it home and enjoy it before you look for another,” Isa says. “People go all out by buying more pieces, and I think the experience is being rushed. The whole process of searching, going to get the piece, restoring it and cleaning it up, and finding the right place for it is the fun part, that’s the beauty of it.”
Visit @midcenturymanila on Instagram to see more of their restored furniture and vintage inspiration.