Designist, a toy shop for grown-ups

WHAT little girl doesn’t love to play shop? For me it was a favourite game after Christmas to set up my store with empty chocolate boxes and biscuit tins, and left over wrapping paper.

Designist, a toy shop for grown-ups

Now, as an adult, I wouldn’t mind another retail stint, having met Jenny Flynn and Anne Lynott, co-owners of design boutique and e-shop Designist.

These two brave women opened their doors on Dublin’s Georges Street in November 2010, just as many design shops, which had popped up during the boom years, were shutting down, and the few remaining were on the edge of a rapidly eroding retail cliff. To add to it, thick snow lay on the ground for weeks on end. Were they absolutely bonkers?

“Opening during recession was a good idea as everyone was helpful,” says Jenny. “Everyone thought we were very brave. It might have been all too much in the boom when rents and costs generally were high.”

Five years on and they’re growing and developing despite a shaky start. “Our worst years were 2011 and 2012 but we’ve been growing steadily since then,” says Jenny.

Pricing, it seems, has been key to their success as you won’t find any €10,000 Italian sofas in this shop.

“Everything we sell is under €100. Our starting price is €2.50 for a matchstick box to €100 for a lamp,” says Anne.

They’re also objects with a difference; not the things you will normally see in a high street shop, and they have a growing range.

“We started with Irish and English design but now we have Dutch and Scandinavian and we are distributing for Irish design partnership Klickity,” says Anne.

It’s clear from the range they both have an eye for a good home interiors product.

“It has to be beautiful, practical and affordable,” says Jenny. “We go to design shows to see what’s new here in Ireland, in England and in France. There are core products in our range but we make changes in accordance with designs. It takes a long time to decide what products to have.”

More than a typical shop, prototyping for designers is a signature of the Designist approach to retail. “Designers pop into the shop and ask us to prototype their products, and we advise on how to package them,” says Jenny.

“Customers then come in and pick up the product and give us feedback. That allows us to feel good about investing in the product.”

So how does the Irish customer react to this experience? “We’re really a toy shop for grown-ups but if someone asked for something for a five-year-old, we’d try to source something for them,” says Anne.

“We’ve noticed that men in their 40s are really into Gazel clothes hangers and even though our on-line business is growing, we find that the buying habit of Irish customers is to research on-line but they then come into the shop to buy.”

A visit to the shop certainly exposes the shopper to a new retail experience. There are no price tags, instead there are cards with information and prices next to each type of product, just like in an art gallery.

But in the midst of this novel approach to retailing both women continue to draw on their backgrounds pre-Designist.

“We design our own range of greeting cards,” says Anne, who is a fine arts graduate from the National College of Art and Design, and later ran art galleries and worked in retail. “We’re also in the process of designing a lampshade.”

This not only builds on Jenny’s training and experience, which includes studying interiors and furniture at the Dublin Institute of Technology and working in product design in London, but also on the Klickity product range which they took over recently when the principals of that design studio moved into a different area of design.

It appears to be very much a partnership of equals with both involved in all aspects of the business.

“It’s scary working for yourself,” says Jenny. “But when you have a partner, that scary becomes funny.”

Next week: Wedding gift season.

Shine a light

In homage to antique oil lamps, Spanish designer Ramirez i Carrillo has designed the Floe tea light holder for Scandinavian design house Normann Copenhagen.

Made of coloured glass, it has a robust appearance yet is finely proportioned with a sleek handle being the only detail.

It was on a visit to Scandinavia that the designer discovered the Nordic fascination with light, noticing how these countries use candles to create comfort in their homes. This was a striking contrast for the designer who grew up in Spain where the emphasis is often on seeking out shade.

* Floe candle holders €14 at Lost Weekend and www.normann-copenhagen.com

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