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10 Questions With Irish Furniture Designer Fergal O’Leary

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Beginning his working career as a bassist, Fergal O’Leary didn’t anticipate following in his father’s woodworking ways, but after a stint in furniture college and a few apprenticeships, Fergal founded his own company Horizon Furniture, based in Cork City, making bespoke, handmade furniture.


How did you get into furniture making?

After college I worked as a session musician. After a good few years I became frustrated with all the hanging around that that life entails and enrolled in a furniture design course in Cork. Even though my father had a shopfitting company in the 70s, I had no prior inkling that I’d end up doing something similar.

Where did you hone your craft?

To be honest I didn’t learn a whole lot in furniture college, but I learnt a huge amount during a summer job making kitchens. Then I got a job with a high-end German furniture designer and maker just as I was supposed to go back to second year. After the summer making kitchens I knew I’d learn far more in the workshop than at school.

Have you got a favourite piece you’ve designed?

That’s a bit like choosing between your kids! I do really like our treeshelving system. Its modular, handmade, colourful, shapely, practical, beautiful, and cool – all things good design should be.

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Tree Shelf – Horizon Furniture

Do you approach your work from an engineering or a purely creative angle?

I suppose it has to be a combination of the two but when I’m designing something new I try not to think about the manufacture process at all, although of course I can’t avoid it. Things always change when the making process happens, ideas don’t work, wood won’t do what you want it to do, those kinds of things.

What needs to be considered if someone would like to commission a piece for their home?

We have a large portfolio of work to choose from but if it’s a bespoke commission I tend to start with its function. If there’s no real function and it’s largely ornamental, we tease out styles and tastes that interest the client and I. Maybe an artist or a sculptor or even an author will be mentioned and that may be enough to get going. Sometimes it takes a while for the design to be right but sometimes it comes together very quickly. Of course there will be practical considerations along the way at appropriate times – cost, time frame etc. etc.

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Spectrum Console Table – Horizon Furniture

Do you have an overall aesthetic that you adhere to all your creations or do you look at everything individually?

I try to make individual pieces but it seems like an overall aesthetic feel permeates my work, which I suppose is my personal style. It’s angular, geometric but soft and colourful too. Identifiably Horizon Furniture.

What is your favourite material to work with and why?

European oak has a tone that I love adding colour too. It can look both very traditional and very modern while retaining an earthiness that I do like.

What inspires your work?

The usual – maths, geometry, natural shapes, unnatural shapes, books, trees, other designs, Seamus Heaney, lots of music. Actually, it’s probably music most of all that influences what I do. At the moment it’s the Randy Newman Songbook (such amazing song writing and delivery and pithy) and Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns (Funkadelic and James Brown’s backing band). Next week it’ll be something completely different.

If you weren’t a furniture designer, what would you be doing?

I wonder would I have kept up with playing music if I hadn’t gotten into design, but I love playing music. If not music, something in the arts. I’ve done some curating and enjoyed it. I’ve done some event management too. Once it involved some creativity I’d give it a go.

What do you do in your downtime?

I play a lot of music and gigs, a lot of yoga, we like to eat good food, family time is very important, whether its long walks with my daughter or lazing around watching crap movies.

 

Featured image by John Minihan – Fergal with his stackable Maryjane Chairs

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