Right stuff

WE love a success story don’t we, especially during chilly days and while we sit out a wintry economy.

Even better when that success story is an Irish one — and involving a Cork man at that.

Furniture designer Neil McCarthy, originally from Blackrock, designs and makes award-winning and covetable furniture in partnership with his English wife Annabel whom he met in 1998 while studying furniture design and manufacture at Rycotewood College in England.

Annabel was taking a career break from television and film production and wanted to learn a practical skill. Neil, having worked as a sculptor’s assistant and furniture and musical instrument maker, wanted to learn more about the nature of solid wood and the basics of good woodwork.

When they finished, Annabel moved to Cork and within a year they married, started the business Nest Design, and a family. Their big break came in 2005:

“We were really trying to make the business work and virtually limped to London for the 100% Design show that year,” Neil says.

“But we got a great response. The next week we won the Irish Furniture Oscar.”

Another big endorsement came in 2007: “We launched our Gabriel sideboard at 100% Design in London,” says Annabel.

“It was spotted by Jennifer Goff from the National Museum of Ireland who bought it for their collection. It’s nice to think that someday our grandchildren will be able to see it in a museum.”

The beauty of this piece is in the detail, with a rippled front resembling the outline of an angel’s wing, and a mere touch of grey in its matt white finish that gives it an almost statue-like finish.

Other pieces have interesting back stories showing how inspiration sometimes comes from the couple’s day-to-day lives. Their wistfully named bench All Alone on a Cloud has special significance for Annabel:

“After a manic week of dealing with long working hours, our two daughters and the school run, I wanted a place where I could escape to and sit quietly with a cup of coffee and a magazine on Sunday mornings. The bench is it.”

Made from solid ash, it and the Gabriel sideboard are a departure from the high- gloss finish Nest has applied to pieces like the menacingly handsome Black Monday sideboard and little Red writing desk, but the matt finish adds to the coolness and serenity of their dreamy, ethereal names.

One point common to all of Nest’s pieces is what Annabel describes as “a bit of an accent”. In Black Monday it’s the cylindrical groove between the top and bottom drawers that’s grasped to open them. In Gabriel it’s the wavy, angel- wing effect and in the Red writing desk it’s the curve around a near-invisible drawer, all giving a subtle femininity to what are otherwise masculine linear designs.

“Often it’s the off-cuts from the materials we’re working with that prompt the ideas rather than the material itself. In fact the idea for the rippled front on the Gabriel sideboard came from foam off-cuts,” says Neil.

The couple moved with their two daughters to a French farmhouse in 2008 — the building, which dates from the 12th century, was bought by Annabel during her television production years and was solely a holiday home. But its living accommodation and outbuildings, (large enough to house a design studio and workshop), made it the perfect antidote to the pressures of running a business in a rental unit in Co Cork, 15 miles from their house while juggling with childcare. Five years on, they continue to combine progressive design and innovative manufacturing skills to make handsome, but useful and durable end products. A combination that has attracted commissions from Europe and the US and invitations to exhibit at shows such as Les Nouveaux Artisans in Paris, Hibernation at Dublin’s Oliver Sears Gallery and an exhibition of their Swansong chairs at a forthcoming chair exhibition at Chatsworth.

* Next week we’re hanging drapery and blinds.


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