Meet Sinéad McDonagh, designer and trend forecaster for Penneys

Carol O’Callaghan talks to Sinéad McDonagh, the woman behind the stylish but affordable homeware choices at one of our most popular retailers — Penney’s.

Sinéad McDonagh, designer and trend spotter for homewares and lifestyle at Penney's, takes some of her inspiration from her travels

THERE’S a joke doing the rounds about a visiting student who thought the proper response when somebody admired your clothes was to say, “Thanks, Penney’s!”

It’s testament to the popularity of the ubiquitous Irish, and now international, retailer churning out affordable fashion season upon season and it equally applies to its homeware brand, which sees a design overhaul twice a year.

Heading up this process is Sinéad McDonagh, a woman whose career started as an assistant designer for Sanimi, a London-based luxury womenswear brand which counted the then Kate Middleton among its clients. 

The Ibiza Wanderlust look speaks of never ending holidays in sunny places, sleeping on beaches and absorbing the local culture and party spirit of this Mediterranean island. Duvet cover, from €15, embroidered statement cushion, €10, tassel cushion €12, circular cushion €6, yellow cushion €6.

There followed a period with another high street stalwart, Marks and Spencer, before a brief stint at Penney’s as a junior lingerie buyer before Sinéad moved onto cosmetic brand, Clarins. 

Three years ago she returned to Penney’s as a designer and trend forecaster.

She has responsibility for producing 15 looks each year, six for spring/summer, six for autumn/winter, with three more for Christmas, so she’s constantly on the lookout for inspiration and travel — not always to trade shows — informs what makes its way into the collections and ultimately, our homes.

“India is always fantastic for colour inspiration,” she says, “as well as beautiful embellishment and embroidered textiles. Scandinavia, on the other hand, is great for a cleaner minimal look. I also look to what is trending in fashion as this often motivates new trends.”

The Cuban Zen look by Penney’s for home interiors this spring includes the flamingo light €14, mug €2.50, mirror wall hanging €5, rug, €7, Cuban leaf embossed throw €9, zen duvet from €11.

Last year’s travels have inspired two key trends for spring and summer this year — Cuban Zen and Ibiza Wanderlust. The first conjures the laid-back Caribbean vibe of this island paradise with its sugar-white beaches and tobacco fields. 

Airy pale pinks and greens feature in leafy patterned duvets, rugs and cushions, like an homage to the pastel painted houses of Old Havana. Sharpening up this essentially feminine look, Sinéad has added robust pineapple candle holders, prints of exotic toucans, and ornamental flamingos, adding tropical elements so we can pretend it’s 30 degrees outside.

Closer to home, a hip holiday destination for the party crowd has informed Sinead’s inspiration for Ibiza Wanderlust — a casual, laid back and breezy look. 

“Soft pastels are highlighted with bright neons, staying true to the traditional textiles of the party island,” she explains.”

Cuban Zen offers the elephant pillow cushion €8, bubble glass votive €5, geo potted plant €6, aloha plaque €2, faux cactus €3.50, printed throw €5, Cuban tassel pillow €10.

It’s a youthful look, and with Cuban Zen, it’s testament to the broad age group of the Penney’s shopper.

“I constantly have the customer’s needs in mind,” she says. 

“We have many different customers who shop our collections and we try to cater for all, whether you’re a student furnishing your new flat share, a couple wanting on-trend home décor or a parent updating a child’s room.”

Both looks take a dip-in-dip-out approach which allows the home interiors enthusiast to introduce many elements for a brand new room look, or to select one or two elements to brighten up a tired bed or sofa.

As the antitheses of the typical Irish summer, they create images of intense balmy heat and aspirational holiday destinations with the addition of some witty styling layers

Fun is the main theme in this selection for Pennys Ibiza Wanderlust look and includes a flamingo inflatable €12, the watermelon towel €20 and velour towel €5.

They’re also a departure from the 2016 collection when inspiration drew on the Nordic countries’ cooler climes to feature soft whites and cool blues in traditional patterns, which informed the Laundered & Humble look, warmed slightly by the lightest lavender hue and the softness of round and heart-shaped cushions, before journeying south to North Africa for a vibrant orange-based look featuring detailed prints and blue detailing.

So what’s bubbling for Sinéad now that the spring summer looks have hit the shelves and the autumn winter season looms in the not too distant future?

“While we work a year in advance when developing our collections, we still allow ourselves scope to react throughout a season,” she says. “I’m always on the lookout for the next street-trend bubbling up.

“One of the newest trends happening in interiors at the moment and continuing into autumn, is the need to live our lives at a slower pace, emerging as a backlash to the ‘always-on’ tech culture we now live in, so we are seeing a shift towards decluttering your mind and home.

“You’ll see this trend reflected in our autumn winter Minimalux and our comforting hygge story launching in September.”

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