Products designed and made in Ireland are now coveted by international collectors, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

You’d need to be well shod in a sturdy pair of flatties to tread the London Design Festival, which is in full swing this weekend. 

It lures us across the water to see all that is new and beautiful in international design and is the ideal place to spot that piece of ceramic or glass, that statement chair or sofa, the latest wall covering, lighting, textiles, or practical but stylish kitchen kit, to inspire your next interiors project.

Shane Holland’s Cymbal light is made from sheet copper and can produce a sculptural aesthetic when hung in multiples in a large space.
Shane Holland’s Cymbal light is made from sheet copper and can produce a sculptural aesthetic when hung in multiples in a large space.

It’s bright and brave and the spiritual home of anyone who worships a beautifully conceived and executed object that is designed for practical function, while looking effortlessly beautiful. 

For years, the festival has been the international hotspot for seeing design innovation, with attendance by designers from across the globe who set up shop at exhibitions and market places across the city.

Anyone who follows interior trends in religious fashion, will find an opportunity to see what’s new and what might tempt retail indulgence or just to stroll, admire and dream. 

In the midst of it you’ll find a slew of Irish designer-makers showing Irish made products that stand out, with an aesthetic that is often rooted in nature and which has proved to have considerable appeal to international buyers and collectors.

Zelouf + Bell’s Cranes in a Row credenza is an example of the luxe, artisan furniture made by Belfast-born Michael Bell and New Yorker Susan Zelouf in their County Laois studio.
Zelouf + Bell’s Cranes in a Row credenza is an example of the luxe, artisan furniture made by Belfast-born Michael Bell and New Yorker Susan Zelouf in their County Laois studio.

The Irish presence has grown year on year, backed by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, with this year’s offering including furniture, lighting, textiles and homewares at the main festival event — the edgy, hip Tent London which takes place in the East End at the old Truman’s Brewery in multi-cultural Brick Lane.

Meanwhile, across town in well-healed Chelsea, luxury goods exhibition Decorex will show the mesmerising furniture brand Zelouf + Bell and the sculptural glasswork of Edmond Byrne. But the festival is not all about luxury goods with price tags to scare us. 

The Arran Street East ceramic studio has developed a range of homewares with simple, clean lines, glazed in colours that cite this market area of Dublin, with corresponding names like cabbage, potato, lemon, pomegranate and pink grapefruit - all made with a mix of traditional craft methods and modern technology.

MourneTextiles is known for its twill fabrics which are fashioned into clothing and home textiles. Renowned for its quality, it has been used by fashion designers like Sybil Connolly.
MourneTextiles is known for its twill fabrics which are fashioned into clothing and home textiles. Renowned for its quality, it has been used by fashion designers like Sybil Connolly.

It’s this same approach to making that underpins Denis Kenny’s rug-making for the last twenty five years. 

Under the brand name Ceadogán, he has tapped into traditional skills at his workshop in County Wexford, but in more recent years his collaborations with contemporary designers and artists have produced rugs made with traditional hand-tufting methods to contemporary designs.

One of these designers is ceramicist Andrew Ludick whose work, which is distinctive for its pattern and colour, has lent itself to an easy transition into the medium of textile. His Lime Sun rug is just one being exhibited under the Ceadogán brand.

But Denis Kenny also has an appreciation of not-so-recent designs, in particular, previously neglected ones from the 1920s and ‘30s by Modernist artist Mainie Jellet. 

Now licensed by the estate of the late artist, Ceadogán has brought these designs back to life, introducing a new audience to this little known aspect of Jellet’s creative output.

This same mix of heritage and modernity is an essential in the work of Mourne Textiles which started in 1949 at the foot of the Mourne mountains in County Down when Norwegian designer Gerd Hay-Edie settled in the area.

These little espresso pots by Arran Street East tap into the current trend for handle-free cups made with traditional pottery methods.
These little espresso pots by Arran Street East tap into the current trend for handle-free cups made with traditional pottery methods.

As a proponent of mid-century modern design, her success as a weaver led to her working with the Norwegian government to develop new weavers to progress the country’s textile industry, and also led to collaborations with the likes of furniture designer Robin Day and with Terence Conran. 

The legacy of this is now run by her grandson, making a new generation of heritage pieces and ground-breaking designs for textiles that cite the company’s Irish and Scandinavian influences.

It’s clear from just this selection of designers and makers that traditional making techniques, alongside the development of new designs and methods, are the leitmotifs of Irish design, a combination that sets our makers of these products apart.

It’s heartening to see them in an international context like the London Design Festival, showing alongside designs from countries which were synonymous with taste long before the word design was even known in Ireland.

No question, we’re holding our own, especially when compared to some of those countries, counting Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Holland and Britain among them.


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