As this year's event is getting ever closer, we look back at the champions of Irish design who were our deserved winners last year.
Independent Retailer: Irish Design Shop
Clare Grennan and Laura Caffrey met at NCAD. Their shared desire to make a career out of craft led to selling their own work at weekend markets, introducing them to a network of creatives: and so the Irish Design Shop was born. Selecting what to sell is “the most enjoyable part,” they say.
“Craftsmanship and sustainability are important factors, regardless of how much an item retails for.” Studio visits, Instagram and word of mouth are the sources of new finds, and they also collaborate to create unique new things. Celebrating ten years in business this year, they have also just signed another ten-year lease on their Drury Street premises, where they love the local neighbourhood vibe. irishdesignshop.com
Furniture Designer: Simon Doyle
Some makers seem to have an instinct for their materials, for letting the natural qualities come through, even as they shape them to their needs. Simon Doyle’s made-to-order furniture reflects his love of his medium. “It’s nice to be able to work with wood on a daily basis,” he says of going to work in his Dublin studio. “I always like the furniture to express the structure and material, to try to tell the story of how the object is made and the properties of what it is made from,” he explains. simon-doyle.com
Best Fabric: Wild Cocoon
“I felt always drawn to a career in design and making. It’s just innate,” says Claremorris-born Deirdre Duffy. After studying textiles at NCAD, Duffy worked in retail, but always knew she would come back to making. Wild Cocoon was launched in 2016 and the gorgeously vibrant Merino wool weaves quickly gathered a strong following.
Inspirations come from all around. “I have a wall of wool and every time I look at it I see new combinations and colourways to explore.” Duffy believes there is a move away from throw-away consumerism, towards good designs that last. “I really love when work goes out to a shop or a customer, I get a huge sense of achievement that someone is investing in my practice. It’s an amazing feeling.” wildcocoon.ie
Collectors Piece: Sara Flynn
From making small, functional pieces since graduation in Ceramic Design from Cork’s Crawford College, Sara Flynn’s work has transformed, and with it her career. Now the multi-award winning maker has an international following for her increasingly influential work. “As I have gained skill and personal confidence, I have moved to make pieces which are purely sculptural in their intent,” she says.
Represented by London gallery, Erskine Hall & Coe, Flynn was shortlisted as a Finalist in the inaugural Loewe Foundation Craft Prize, where she is now on the Experts Panel. “The privilege of seeing so much world-class work is genuinely inspiring.” She is also quick to credit her loyal collectors: “It is the ultimate compliment when someone spends their hard-earned money on a piece that I have made,” she adds. saraflynnceramic.com
Ten years in the planning, and two and a half in the making, Breac.House, the beautiful boutique guesthouse in Donegal, is a testament to the power of some delicious design collaborations, and the vision of its owners. Cathrine Burke says her favourite thing about Irish design is its individuality. “Every piece has a story, and we know the person who made it.”
At Breac.House, you can see the work of Simon O’Driscoll, Eddie Doherty, Tricia Harris, Superfolk, The Atlantic Equipment Project, and Muck ‘n’ Muffins, in the MacGabhann Architects-designed building. The collaborations included discussions about how to make things that would be functional as well as beautiful. “I think we all love to have a few pieces that will stay with us for life,” says Burke. breac.house
Emerging Talent: Concrete Forest
If you’re not already a devotee of concrete, Kevin Corcoran is here to change your mind. The Danish/Irish designer spent time in Berlin before moving to West Cork where his work comes from a “love of the clean aesthetics synonymous with Danish design, and of the hands-on approach to making things in Ireland.”
Challenging any assumptions you may have about concrete, he proves that “with the right technique and processes you can take something considered as a coarse ordinary material and transform it into something smooth, polished and refined.” Corcoran believes that people are really coming to appreciate good design, and quality over quantity. “It's great,” he says, “anyone can buy a handmade product and know who made it and the process involved.” concreteforest.studio
Home Product of the Year: Bababou
“Timeless pieces are the definition of sustainable design,” says Lucia Nash of Bababou, whose Hugg Bedside Crib is one of those objects created to grow with your family, first as a crib, and then as a child’s desk. The nursery and kids sector, Nash says, is an amazingly creative scene in Ireland at the moment. “There is a generation out there who have a whole holistic view to design. It isn't fast, or disposable.”
The Hugg was inspired by the birth of Nash’s first daughter. “I remember being in the hospital recovering after a difficult birth, and looking across at my baby, and being able to see her from the comfort of my bed. That connection, gave me peace of mind.” It took another eight years for her to gather the courage to pursue her design dream of creating a solution for the home, and the results are just gorgeous – as well as functional. bababou.com
Tableware: Aisling McElwain
Having studied geography, Aisling McElwain worked in the field for several years before taking her first ceramics course. “I absolutely fell in love with clay straight away,” says the designer, whose work combines an earthiness with a delicious delicacy. Working from her Kilkenny base, she describes her love of texture, particularly of unglazed ceramics and matt and semi-matt surfaces.
But it is the clay itself that truly inspires her. “That’s why I like to leave the outside of my pots unglazed, to expose the clay. I use neutral colours found in nature, like slate and jade greens, which could be the geologist part of me coming through!” aislingmcelwain.com
When Darran Heaney and his partner Eoin bought a Victorian house, he was able to put his passion for design into action. “It was in a fairly bad way and it took hard work and imagination to get it to where it is now. Most of our money went on the renovation, so I did all of the design myself,” says the Project Officer with Dublin City University.
Heaney’s Instagram feed came from a desire to track the house’s progress. “Looking back, I find it hard to believe how far we have come. People are really taking ownership of the design of their homes,” he continues, citing magazines and TV as well as social media as influences. “Now that the house is finished, I might just have to start redesigning it all over again. I have also been approached by a few people to design rooms in their homes, which is exciting.” oldvictoriannew.com
Interior Designer of the Year: Roisin Lafferty
“My love of creativity was engrained in me from an early age, with my granddad Henry taking me to galleries as a child,” says Roisin Lafferty. “This was the only thing I wanted to do, so I put all my eggs in one basket!” The results have paid off, although graduating during the recession did limit her options. “I started KLD initially as a platform to gain experience, never intending it to become my life.”
A successful interior has many different layers and solutions, says Lafferty, “but there is also something undefined; the feeling is much harder to pinpoint, how it feels to be in the space and live your life.” Travel is an inspiration too. “I find it refreshing and exciting and it continues to impact how I approach my work,” she says. “Nothing beats the thrill and excitement of seeing something that started as a scribble on a piece of paper become a real space that people can experience.” @roisinlaffertykld
Words: Gemma Tipton Featured image: Al Higgins
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