Irish design hits home in the UK

Mar 14, 2016

MJ

Fantastic artile about Irish Design in The Telegraph By : Talib Choudhry

The Irish are coming – with the biggest showcase in decades by the country’s leading designer-makers.

Design Ireland features work across the disciplines of furniture, lighting, ceramics and textiles, and runs all month at Heal’s, the furniture retailer, in its iconic Tottenham Court Road store.

“We have seen a surge in recognition and appreciation internationally for the quality and diversity of work emerging from Ireland,” says Karen Hennessy, chief executive of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCoI), “The UK and Ireland are so closely related in many ways. There’s a mutual understanding and a love of Irishness that goes beyond any other country that we partner with.”

Ceramics by Andrew Ludick
Ceramics by Andrew Ludick

So why is Irish deco having a moment? “We are very good at the extraordinary ordinary – refining simple everyday pieces that we use on a daily basis,” says Hennessy. “Just a couple of generations ago, our forebears were craft workers so craftsmanship and the rural landscape are part of our national makeup. They’re infused into the work that we’re bringing to London.”

The participating designers and makers range from new start-ups to family companies established for generations such as Mourne Textiles, which was founded in the 1940s at the foot of County Down’s Mourne mountains by Gerd Hay-Edie. The pioneering Norwegian designer favoured using traditional handlooms and her textiles became a staple in mid-century British design, thanks to collaborations with Sir Terence Conran and Robin Day.

“The company went into hibernation in the mid-Eighties,” says Hay-Edie’s grandson, Mario Sierra, who is now building on her legacy. “It was partly because of the Troubles, partly because local textiles dried up when cheaper imports arrived. My grandmother had to let the weavers go.”

Gerd’s daughter Karen Hay-Edie kept the looms moving by taking on private commissions and running weaving classes.
Gerd’s daughter kept the looms moving by taking on private commissions and running weaving classes.

Gerd’s daughter Karen Hay-Edie kept the looms moving by taking on private commissions and running weaving classes, but five years ago decided she would have to dismantle the looms – at which point Sierra stepped in to re-launch the business.

“I had always wanted to come back to the workshop, so it seemed like good timing,” says Sierra, who studied textile art. “Mid-century collectors were seeking us out to provide fabricss for them, then the head buyer at Margaret Howell placed a big order for cushions, which convinced me that we could expand the product range.”

As well as Mourne Textiles’ signature muted, monochrome cushions, the collection includes rugs, throws, tablemats and scarves. All the pieces start on the handloom using yarns made in Donegal, but some pieces are machine-woven; Gerd ensured that all of her designs, which use weaves from the archive as an “anchor”, could be translated to a power loom. While true to the company’s Irish-Scandinavian roots, the new designs point to the external influences that have enriched Irish design in general.

A rug design by Mainie Jellett for Ceadogan
A rug design by Mainie Jellett for Ceadogan

“A lot of people looking to return to a simpler, rural life came to Ireland in the Sixties and Seventies, such as Germans who settled in west Cork,” he says. “It brought vibrancy and new ideas and we are still seeing the benefits of that coming through. Ireland is more multicultural than it used to be; I’m half-Spanish and my grandmother was Norwegian. It’s energising to have new influences. There are also lots of Irish people coming back to Ireland who have a new, global outlook.”

Once such returnee is Jonathan Legge, who founded the e-commerce site Makers & Brothers with his sibling Mark in their hometown of Blackrock, Co. Dublin, after studying at the Royal College of Art in London, under the tutelage of Ron Arad, the reknowned chair designer.

“We didn’t like the way design and craft was being retailed in Ireland, and felt we could change things for the better,” says Legge. “We wanted to offer the local market an exciting alternative and bring the best of Irish craft and design to an international audience.”

The site sells a selection of objects from both Ireland and beyond – from chairs to chopping boards, whisky tumblers to side tables – that are connected by an emphasis on craftsmanship and longevity.

Cheerful multi-coloured throws from Donegal Woollen Mills
Cheerful multi-coloured throws from Donegal Woollen Mills

“There has definitely been a change of thinking when it comes to the objects people wish to surround themselves with, and provenance and process have become as important as price and brand,” adds Legge. “Ireland never had an industrial revolution, and craft has alway been at the heart of our design output, which means we now find ourselves better placed to deal with the emerging attitude to consumption.”

A rug design by Irish fashion designer Helen Cody for Ceadogan
A rug design by Irish fashion designer Helen Cody for Ceadogan

Many Irish producers have seen an upswing in international commissions from those seeking the authentic and handmade. “There has been a growth in demand both here and internationally,” says Denis Kenny of Ceadogán Rugs, which has been producing wool and silk floor-coverings for three decades. “I’m currently working on a collection for a designer in New York, specifically because the rugs are made in Ireland and she stipulated that we had to use Irish wool, as opposed to the usual New Zealand wool.”

Denis Kenny of Ceadogan rugs working with potter Andrew Ludick 
Denis Kenny of Ceadogan rugs working with potter Andrew Ludick 

Kenny recently collaborated with the Kilkenny-based American ceramicist Andrew Luddick, who is also showing as part of the Heal’s exhibition, translating his colourful patterned pottery to the medium of carpetry. Kenny is currently working with a Dutch furniture designer to make seating using tufted rugs. Both endeavours prove that rug design is anything but a one-dimensional process and typify the innovation sweeping the Irish design scene.

“The cliched idea of what Irish design is has been dispelled and there are a lot of great, fresh designs coming out of Ireland at the moment,” says Legge. “The fine thread that connects them is our national sense of narrative. We are good talkers and have the ability to tell a compelling story, be that through film, food or furniture.”

Design Ireland is at Heal’s (196 Tottenham Court Rd, London W1,heals.com) until Sunday 27 March.