Words by Sheila Lam
Photographs by Justin Chung

Josh Itiola, Vitsoe

Brooklyn, NY

A delightful attribute of Josh Itiola’s interest in design is that it reflects a certain joie de vivre and an ineffable appreciation of the medium. If you follow Josh on Instagram or have fallen into a discussion with him about the subject, there is a design literacy and communication that comes with such ease and understanding. The exuberance with which he speaks makes it a joy to engage in conversation and consider his clear critical sense.

Camicia vase by Enzo Mari for Danese Milano.

Gaetano Pesce '543 Broadway Chair',
Bernini Epoxy resin, chromed steel, metal springs.

Around many thrilling corners, his New York City apartment is an archival treasure trove of coveted articles, but refreshingly, that does not determine its place among his collection. The discernment of Josh’s valuing acts in a vacuum outside of fanfare. “I am a very playful person, so I love when that comes across in a design,” he says. “Being able to incorporate a playful component, that’s also functional, makes me think, ‘you went to every level to make this piece.’ And I appreciate that.” The vivid personal compendium adopts masterful pieces from Ingo Maurer, Gaetano Pesce, Achille Castiglioni, and Enzo Mari, just to name a few. “I have a lot of friends who were in design programs when I studied engineering. So I would nerd out with them and talk about what they were learning,” he explains when I ask where this love affair began. “I’m generally a very curious person. So I tend to teach myself a lot of stuff, and the internet is an amazing place.”

As a planner for Vitsoe—the iconic furniture company known for its longstanding collaboration with Dieter Rams—an almost inexhaustive catalog of works can be found seamlessly integrated into Josh’s home. When asked how he started working there, he joked, “I used to stalk the New York City showroom.” But acquainting himself with the staff, who had become friends, paid off when he applied to a role the day after it was posted. “I applied. I went through all the interviews. I got the job, and here I am six years later.” As a Goliath of industrial design, Rams’ machinations make good use of Josh’s engineering background. “It makes sense to me technically, which I’m very appreciative of because it was like, all right, cool. I didn’t go to school for a total waste.”

'Ya Ya Ho' lighting system by Ingo Maurer.

From across the river, Manhattan is a fascinating place. It certainly has the flashiest, brightest, and most romanticized parts of New York City, but it’s in the more earnest northern section of Brooklyn in Bedford–Stuyvesant, that Josh calls home now. Having moved to the East Coast with his family at the age of six from Montgomery, Alabama, it’s clear that he genuinely loves his chosen home. “New York City is a hustler city,” he says. “But it also is a very rewarding city once you’ve understood how to maneuver it.” As someone whose pace of life is reflected in the small seaside town of my chosen home, listening to Josh speak about New York is an exhilarating departure. “There’s unexpectedness in New York. There’s always something new happening, whether it’s ridiculous or amazing. The person running down the street throwing oranges at people or an architect bringing up a new building or an amazing art installation or art exhibit that comes to the city. It’s always moving, always changing.”

Signature Nicola L figurative head with a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin.

In a field traditionally dominated by non-Black designers, Josh’s eye and perspective are not only valid and as sharp as any critic but uplifting. We both ruminate on the situation, and in a candid reflection, he says, “I think we people of color have unfortunately been programmed to approach situations differently.” To which I agree entirely. “It’s been a lot of teaching myself not to resort to that feeling when stepping into a room. It’s hard. I feel it as soon as I walk into a room, but I try to be more aware now. I remind myself that I have a voice here, and it should be heard.” There may be a great casual and light-heartedness to Josh’s presence, but by no means does it lack gravitas.

Though we lament the state of what once was, we relish in knowing that real achievements lie ahead in this tumultuous and exhilarating time. “There are no Black furniture or lighting designers that historically have been named. They either didn’t have the opportunity or weren’t talked about. And that sucks,” Josh says. “But I don’t want to dwell on that either because there are amazing designers who are people of color, and we are right now creating for the feature.”●