Linda Benjamin: Colourful move to online interiors

Linda Benjamin, co-director of the Designer Den

What’s your background?

After getting my MBA at UCD in 2008, I took myself off to London where I’ve worked in jobs in product strategy, marketing and management. While I really enjoy team work on large scale projects, I’ve always had an interest in design and the desire to build a business from scratch.

I lived and worked in Portugal for a number of years, and bringing its exquisite cement tiles to a broader market was always at the back of my mind. Then, last year, on my honeymoon to Argentina, I came across a range of beautiful hand-woven rugs.

The Designer Den was born out of partnerships with the makers of these products. I set it up with my friend and one-time colleague, Maria Huse. She manages our rugs line and I manage the tiles line, and we share management activities equally.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

Having an online business gives me the flexibility to work around a salaried job and, so far, activities have ranged from sourcing suppliers and researching patterns to building the online tool that lets our customers design their own product.

Now that the website is live with our debut tile and rug collections, the focus is on growing awareness and presence in the market.

There’s so much variety that I’m learning all the time, which means that I rely a lot on advice and tips from others.

Claire Davidson, the Berlin-based co-founder of the online homewares interiors store, Urbanara, has been an invaluable mentor in helping us figure out our marketing plan. I was introduced to her by a good friend.

Tell us about a recent project or design/ favourite project or design you have worked on?

I recently collaborated with fellow Corkonian Sean Ryan to bring to market a range of Portuguese tiles from his workshop near the border with Spain. Due to the natural pigmentations within the ‘rosado’ marble which forms the base ingredient, every batch of tiles is subtly unique and so they are the perfect product to customise.

What’s your design style?

I love the interplay of period with modern design. When the right hybrid balance is achieved, there’s no better style, in my opinion, and our products reflect this. We are bringing together century-old techniques and traditional materials with modern design, colours and technology.

What/Who inspires your work?

Everyone has design capability and connecting specialist artisans from around the world with our customers, in a way that allows them to be involved in the creative process, inspires the work that I put into The Designer Den.

What’s your favourite trend at the moment (if you have any)?

Right now, copper is trending high and I love its rich, rustic feel, especially when set against complementary textures and colours like navy tiles or white marble.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I bought an upright Steinway piano shortly after I moved to London and it’s been a faithful companion throughout three subsequent house moves. I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing it, and it’s also a fine piece of furniture.

The Portuguese-made Estrela tile (the star) from The Designer Den’s curated London collection. Picture: Roberto Aires

Who would be your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

I recently visited the Balenciaga exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and was enthralled to see so many examples of well-known designers — like Oscar De La Renta and Hubert de Givenchy — reinventing the classic designs of this Basque fisherman’s son. His impact is enduring into the 21st century and I find that uplifting.

What would be a dream project for you to work on?

I would love to have an opportunity to bring the textures and patterns of our collections to the grand proportions and elegant symmetries of a Georgian residence.

Ireland has some of the finest examples of Georgian architecture.

Have you any design tips for us?

Whenever you travel, invest in something for your home, be it a picture or a salt cellar. It’s a great way of side-stepping procrastination and it furnishes your home with varied pieces that that hold stories from your past. You’ve got to grab the moment or you may never have the opportunity

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