Words: Eleanor Flegg
The world is hungry for handmade things, items lovingly made and with a story behind them. Disposability hasn’t worked and we want things that will last; things that we can believe in. For fledgling makers, this is an opportunity.
The pendulum of fashion is swinging towards sustainable objects, locally made, and ethical in their production, and we're seeing talented new Irish designers emerge.
For young people, forging a career in design is a tough call. You need a perfect storm of talent, a lot of stamina, and a great deal of luck to convert your native talent into a livelihood. Design training, material intelligence, and skill are just the starting point. You’ll also need business nous, a facility for branding, and an almost infinite patience for filling in application forms.
This year we’ve had our eye on a selection of front runners of the new Irish designers – young, vibrant and energetic – with the kind of integrity that makes us hope that they’re in it for the long haul.
The things that they make are wide ranging – from printed aprons to glass vases, from cushions and cups to stools, chairs and buckets – but all of them have that little spark of consciousness, the flair that makes you feel: Yes, this is something that I could live with. This is an object for which I can find space in my home.
The Good Stuff
WMG Caroline Gardner (left) & Joan Ellison
What if design can make things better? Not in an abstract, consumer way – what if becoming a skilled maker can help people change the trajectory of their lives? That was the idea behind Ireland’s first social enterprise design brand, We Make Good (Wemakegood.ie).
Founded by Joan Ellison and Caroline Gardner, We Make Good works with other social enterprises, links them with established Irish designers and markets their crafts. The things that they make, which are only the most visible result of the project, include the Wedge side table (€195), designed by John Glynn and made by Cairde in Limerick, an organisation working with men who have experience of prison; and the Dot cushion (€55), designed by Claire-Anne O’Brien and made by Shuttle Knit, a machine knitting social enterprise, working with Traveller women in Wicklow Town.
A proposed textiles project with refugee women in Dublin will be the first of its kind in Ireland, but We Make Good is also committed to safeguarding heritage crafts like Traveller tinsmithing. Ellison indicates a galvanised bucket (€55), made by Traveller tinsmiths James Collins and Tom McDonnell.
“Tinsmithing is an important part of our heritage: James and Tom are two of the very few working tinsmiths in Ireland and their skill is truly something to behold,” she says. It’s a beautiful bucket. Looking at it, and hearing the story behind it, you can’t help feeling that this is what craft is all about.
A good apron is everyone’s friend, so why can’t it also be a work of art? Textile designer and Dubliner Fiona White (Fionawhitedesign.com) is interested in commensality – the practice of eating together – and in the role of design in food culture.
“Through my practice, I enjoy the idea of bringing friends and family around the table, taking time to talk and share food together,” she says. White’s work has a strong understated aesthetic: it’s intrinsically elegant but it won’t compete with the food. She graduated from NCAD in 2016 and you’ll find her first collection, In the Hand, with digitally printed aprons (€45) and tea towels (€15) on her website.
Ahead Of The Curve
Ann McBride. Photography: Deirdre Power
For ceramist Ann McBride (Annmcbridedesign.com), bone china tableware is a blank canvas. Using her signature decal transfer technique, she uses cups, plates, and even lamps as a substrate for storytelling. With a background in graphic design, it’s just three years since she graduated from Limerick School of Art and Design in ceramic design.
Since then, with the support of awards from DCCoI Future Makers, her work has gone from strength-to-strength. Her latest series, Bleached Coral, is pure underwater magic. McBride comes from Co Clare, but you’ll find her work in ceramics exhibitions around the country, with a small selection of plates (€100) and super-cool lamps (€250).
Spread Her Wings
Trudy Feighery has a talent for bringing images from nature into textile design that sits easily in the home. It’s two years since she founded her Dublin-based company, Tru Tru Stories (Trutrustories.com). Her first collection, For the Birds, featured Irish garden birds and plants; her second, Fledging, is more adventurous with kingfishers, pheasants, starlings and the ecologically pertinent bumble bee.
“I feel that my brand is taking flight!” she says. Trudy’s work is unusual in cushion design in that the backs are different – but every bit as good – as the front. There’s no bad side! Find them on her website for €60 each.
Born in Cavan and now living in Denmark, glass artist and designer Aoife Soden (Aoifesodenglass.com) has a material sensibility that is pure Scandinavian, with a double shot of Irish boldness.
Her work is blown, cast and sculpted in simple forms, using strong colours and practical functionality (that’s the Danish element coming to the fore again). Last year, Soden was awarded the Future Makers 2018 Emerging Makers Award in Dublin. You’ll find her work at the Blue Egg Gallery in Wexford where the covetable Double Bubble vase costs €75.
This year the furniture maker Colin Harris (Colinharris.ie) launched a collection of furniture and home accessories, winner of the Innovation and Craftsmanship Award as part of Design Ireland at Showcase in January 2019.
The pieces range from side tables (€525) to his Repose shelving (from €525) which rests casually against the wall like a ladder, and a playful range of candle and napkin cubes (from €95 for a set of three candle cubes). All the work is made from wild Irish hardwood – windblown trees or those that have otherwise died from natural causes. He also makes work to commission.
It’s a rare thing for a ceramist to achieve ‘want-one-of-those’ status with their degree show work, but this is just what Orla Culligan (Orlaculliganceramics.com) has achieved. She comes from Whitegate, Co Clare, and the ink’s not yet dry on her first-class honours degree in ceramic design from Limerick School of Art and Design.
She makes functional slip cast tableware and her graduate collection – Flotsam and Jetsam – incorporates fishing rope found on the beach and won her the 2019 Blue Egg Bursary. Now, she’s off to Denmark to do a Young-Artist-in-Residence at Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Centre.
Born to Print
Print designer and illustrator Niamh Gillespie (Niamhgillespiedesign.com) has swapped the high life of London design for a quiet life by the sea in Dunany, Co Louth. Her other life involved designing prints for the likes of Paul Smith, House of Hackney and Anthropologie.
Now, she makes witty prints, a monochromatic range based on typography (but cheekier, and with pops of fluorescent colour) and intricate abstract pieces with a detail of line that almost resembles stitching. Prices range from €30 to around €100.