Renewed Passion: Ito Kish on Burnout, Traveling the World, and Finding Happiness in His New Store - Lifestyle Asia

“I find happiness, and at the same time, I think at a certain point in your life, you cannot stop.”

After returning to Manila from the Dubai WorldExpo 2020, Ito Kish tells us how exhausting the 10 days in the exhibition were. Despite the long days roaming around the over 1,000-acre site, it was a fulfilling excursion. After all, the event , which is held every five years, was delayed due to the pandemic.

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The past two years living in a pandemic have been a rollercoaster for the interior and furniture designer.

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In January 2020, he just got back from trips to New York, Paris, and the Netherlands. Then, he was tapped to curate Manila Fame that October. And in March, on the night lockdown was announced, he launched his eponymous store that is open by appointment only.

“But as we went along, things were starting to change. By December 2020, I became uninspired to be very, very honest,” Kish shares. “It’s only now that I’m picking up again. I feel that we are already coming out of the [COVID] situation.”

Key learnings

One of the critical learnings Kish gathered that year was his retail space in JP Rizal didn’t have to operate every day.

Kish’s Timothy Sofa, which is making a comeback after 10 years

“We’re open by appointment from Thursday to Saturday. So people who are serious about buying and changing the way they live can still see the store. And we’re happy with it,” he says.

In fact, even when we reach post-pandemic times, he plans to keep it that way. This offers Kish a different experience from running his former Reposo store in Makati—because after operating it for 17 years, he eventually got burnt out.

Kish has been designing furniture since 2012. That year, he released The Baluster collection inspired by colonial Hispanic culture—it won local and global recognition, including the Silver Design Award from A’ Design Award and Competition, which international industry professionals judge.

Since then, he had to come up with pieces twice a year for Manila Fame, all while running his 500-square-meter shop.

New beginning

“The decision to close was only one day, so we made plans on how to get rid of so many things. If you’ve been in an Ito Kish store, you know a lot of the items, and you don’t find it anywhere because it’s well-curated and well-sourced around the world. So we made a plan that we’ll have a 50 percent off sale,” he recalls.

On the sale day in 2017, Kish remembers the entire Reposo parking lot being full of eager buyers before they even opened their doors. “I remember I drove home crying. Crying because at the back of my mind, ‘Oh, I’m gonna miss the space.’ I’m going to miss making beautiful things and making a story,” he says. “And seeing clients come to the store and enjoy and learn about what they see.”

Gregoria Accent Chair

After he bid farewell to his long-standing store, Kish sought to do everything he felt he missed out on. “I told myself I’m just going to rest, travel, spend more time with friends, family. Do other things I wanted to do,” Kish looks back.

First, Kish traveled, “I went to South America and Europe by myself. Before opening, my last big trip was to Jerusalem, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, New York, and the Venice Biennale.”

The designer enjoyed exploring by indulging in local cuisine, meeting new people, and getting lost in little streets. “In the back of my mind, I wasn’t planning on reopening the store. So it was about trying to enjoy what I miss,” he shares. “And coming from San Pablo, who didn’t come from a well-to-do family, who used to sleep on the floor, that was momentous for me, that I was able to afford to travel. See Machu Picchu, see Christ the Redeemer in Rio—those kinds of things.”

Santamaria Stool/Container

Finding happiness

However, after experiencing all he set out to do, Kish didn’t feel the happiness he expected. “The turning point, a very good friend of mine, Mark Almagro, an editor of a Singapore magazine, said, ‘I think you are in a happy place when you are designing,'” Kish says.

It was the moment Kish realized that he always treated his retail spaces as his playground. “I can go there, I rearrange, move things, and I feel happy about it,” Kish shares. “It’s not answering anybody about how I should be doing it. I’m doing it the way I want to and the way I like it.”

Now, he finds contentment in just that, and it’s the main reason he decided to open a retail space again.

“I find happiness, and at the same time, I think at a certain point in your life, you cannot stop. You just have to continue doing something you love, or you will age very fast. So that was one learning for me also, and the pandemic also has taught me a lot of things,” Kish shares.

Among these relations were that his brand’s strong following and customer base made up for the store not being in a commercial area. “It can be better because the pandemic is still out there, but I won’t complain because I know a lot of big and small businesses are affected by the pandemic,” Kish says. “I’m not complaining because I have survived in two and a half years.”

This story originally came out in the April 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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