Curating the digital detour to analogue

Aileen Lee talks to Jennie Flynn — owner of Designist gift and homeware store.

What’s your background?

I did a degree in interiors and furniture in Dublin Institute of Technology. I moved over to London straight afterwards and did a Masters in Goldsmith’s in Design Theory. I worked then as a product designer and as a designer in the community.

I moved back to Ireland in 2004, and worked as a furniture designer until the recession hit and then I was down to working three days a week. 

I went to FÁS and said: ‘what should I do?’, and they said: ‘Why don’t you open a business?’ and I thought ‘that’s a good idea, I could do that’.

So, Christmas 2010, we opened. It was the Christmas of the bad snow, which any other year might have put us out of business, but we didn’t have enough stock, so if it had been any busier, we’d have been in trouble.

We have been running the shop ever since. We have about 80 suppliers. We try to do as much Irish stuff as we can, about half, but it has come down a little.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

There isn’t one these days — there used to be a very typical work day because it would be me on the shop floor talking to customers. 

I suppose that’s the thing that I miss the most about the shop getting to be that little bit bigger. I don’t have as much interaction with customers, and I miss them.

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

We opened our second shop in the Science Gallery in August, so that’s exciting. Doing the buying for that has been really fun, especially as it’s exhibition-based, and there’s loads of new toys in there.

What’s your design style?

With both shops, it’s not really an aesthetic, it’s more about ideas, so if a product has a good story — either the way that it is manufactured or the kind of perspective behind it — that’s what makes it part of the collection.

What/Who inspires your work?

There are lots of very interesting and wonderful designers out there in the world, but if you’re asking inspiration, it’s talking to the customers and asking what they’re interested in. That’s the best information you can have.

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

I’m really enjoying the move back to analogue from digital. Stationery is a big trend at the minute.

The other thing going well for us this year is alarm clocks, which customers started asking us for. 

We hadn’t done them for years. Most people were using their phones as alarms, but with the trend towards digital detoxing now they don’t want their phones in their bedrooms.

What’s your most treasured possession?

At the risk of repeating myself, it’s all about ideas for me but if I had to pick an actual object that I bought, I have an amazing orange armchair that I got in a flea market a couple of years ago. I had it in my head that I wanted a reading chair. 

Now, I sit on it and look at my phone, but the idea behind it was that I was going to sit down and read books. It’s just such a lovely piece of furniture. It’s by a Belfast furniture company that don’t exist anymore.

Who would be your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

I would say that Buckminster Fuller is my absolute design hero. His work is about considering the whole of humanity, and thinking about efficiency and practicality over the look of a thing.

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

A couple of years ago for Irish Design Year we put in a proposal to do shop of entirely Irish manufactured products. I think that would have been an amazing project to work on — the diversity of what we manufacture in Ireland is really interesting.

Have you any design tips for us?

If you find objects that you love, and that you respond to, particularly emotionally, and that make your life better in some fashion, that would be my design tip, to have those things that you really enjoy around you.

  • Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest: @wearedesignist

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