I’m from Co Meath. I moved into Dublin in 1984 to study industrial design at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD). I also spent some time in University of Limerick, because the course was split down there at one stage.
I had done a lot of metal work in school, and I was into photography. I wasn’t a natural artist at the start, but I got into NCAD and I was very interested in model-making and all that.
During college, I spent a year away in America, and I worked in Germany. I got a lot of travelling in. I also drew on the streets of Paris as a street artist.
In the early 90s, I set up my own studio in North Frederick Street in Dublin, in a basement, and it was an interesting time around Dublin 1.
Different kinds of things were taking off and we were catering for some of that — customised lighting for the whole Irish pub thing, which was becoming bigger.
We also worked on a few hotel jobs, and were working in the film business. We worked on the Michael Collins and Butcher Boy films, so the studio was kind of a model-making studio as well as us starting to make our own lights and furniture.
There was a lot of artistic action around where I had set up my studio. We were across from Walton’s Music Shop. It was an interesting place to be and it was the start of the internet.
I was watching these kinds of developments happening in the early 90s. It was a time of change in Ireland and it was interesting to be part of that in some ways, so we stuck at it.
A lot of my colleagues would have gone to England, but I was fortunate enough to get a job in NCAD as a technician for five or six years while also working in my studio as well.
Then we moved to another bigger studio on North Great George’s Street, in Dublin 1, and then when the boom came, we had to move out to Duleek.
We saw it was a good hub for my business and at that time, it was so expensive to buy around the M50.
This year we’re celebrating 25 years from the first studio being opened in 1991. It’s been a difficult time, over the last seven or eight years, so we’ve just been keeping our heads down trying to keep the business on the right track.
It’s a lifetime journey this kind of stuff, it’s almost like an affliction in some ways, but we keep soldiering at it anyways.
I normally start at 8.30am, and it’s usually around 6.30pm before I start wrapping things up, and drive home.
I live in north Co Dublin, so I drive along the coast in the morning to the workshop. When we moved out of Dublin, it was a good change from the hectic traffic.
There are four of us in the studio, so it’s a small business. We work away trying to keep lots of different projects moving forward every day.
I like getting my hands dirty in the workshop, but also I’m involved in the planning and the juggling of different balls that anyone in a small business does.
I would be dealing with clients and new jobs, and marketing and pre-planning — that would be as well as dealing with the day-to-day bread-and-butter issues.
We do see ourselves as a specialist design studio. There are a lot of different sides to our business — furniture, lighting, industrial design work and we also do awards pieces.
We always keep a very open mind and an open-door policy in the studio to attracting diverse projects. That’s my training as a designer to be able to deal with lots of situations, so that’s where it’s come from — that open-door policy.
We were asked to make a sculpture of a Boeing 747 for its centenary. An Irish company, Irelandia Aviation, asked us to make a sculpture for the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, Co Limerick.
They asked us to make a scale replica, so we’ve done it and it’s just been completed.
That’s what makes it exciting for me and for the team is that anything can come in — and we try to do our best for all of those interesting projects.
That’s the kind of spark that keeps us going, rather than if you had a very set production line and you were just making the same thing, which would not be of as much interest to me.
Every one of us is hopefully learning every day. I mean, everybody has to learn in business, but the general principal is trying to listen to your customers and keep those communication channels open.
And hopefully be small enough to be able to react and be flexible with people, and to respond to people’s different needs.
We’re working on a project in Cork as well, for the Capitol Building on Patrick Street in Cork. We’re doing the lighting for that building with a lighting company in Cork.
We worked on a big job there a couple of months ago, the Marconi/Alcock and Brown Centre site in Connemara, which was an interesting job with Denis Byrne architects in Dublin, and was quite a big project for us.
We had done some exhibitions in Galway and I was thinking “what’s this going to lead to?” but it helped us win a contract with Galway County Council and the Wild Atlantic Way, to do this job out in the middle of the bog in Ballyconneelly in Derrigimlagh, which is one of the biggest discovery points after the Cliffs of Moher on the west Coast.
It’s kind of a walking site of the industrial heritage of the Marconi Radio Broadcast as well as the landing point for the first transatlantic solo flight by Alcock and Brown, so that was a really interesting historical project. It was one of the most exciting ones we’ve done, working on a very exposed Atlantic location.
It’s a very aggressive environment, you’re using corten steel, the weathering kind of steel, and a lot of stainless steel and materials that are able to stand up to one of the most aggressive landscapes in Europe. That project took about a year and was delivered during the summer.
When we’re doing our products from scratch, I would like to think some of it is intuitive, instinctive in some way.
You would like to try and get a balance and an elegance which would hopefully give you that sort of timeless quality, but also we’re willing to make mistakes for the sake of experimentation sometimes.
We try to use premium materials and let the materials speak through the products. You want to be expressive and you want to make things interesting so it’s not bare minimalism.
Allowing nature to do certain things, the way a piece of metal wants to bend, or the way a piece of stone wants to break — the way offers certain qualities, you try to use things to the best of what they’ve got to offer, and mix them together.
My style is kind of mixed materials in a lot of ways. In furniture, we like to mix woods and metals with glass. We like to mix different finishes to things.
Choosing a favourite material is like choosing between your children, but I do like working with coppers and bronze. I’m a big fan of glass even though I don’t really produce glass. I really appreciate people who can blow glass or colour glass.
I try not to be a big believer in trends, but sometimes your work can fall in and out of trends, so when we did a lot of work in copper over the last year or two, that seemed to be a trend that we were fortunate enough to be in.
On the tool-front, I have my favourite Stanley block plane. I also have a little vicegrip collection, which I’m very fond of. It’s of different-sized vicegrips, which is a very blokey, kind of workshop thing!
I also have a penchant for collecting things at sea, so I have a collection of bones that have been found on the coast. My best find was a complete porpoise skeleton, which I found off Skerries a couple of years ago.
I made a sculptural piece with it, called Porpoise Hibernicus, with lighting. That was the most amazing find that I ever got, a complete dolphin’s skeleton! As it was a once-in-a-lifetime find, I had to do something with it.
I am quite a keen sea kayaker and a bit of a hoarder when I find things, so that kind of affects my work in some ways as well. We have clocks, inspired by the sea. I didn’t grow up beside the sea, but I certainly appreciate it now that I live beside it.
The Ruray desklight was inspired by a tsunami wave off the Co Down coast which was like a folk legend of a wave that existed behind the horizon — you could hear it as a roaring wave, but you couldn’t see it.
A Tonn Ruraigh is a kind of a roaring wave, so we made a wave form that you kind of imagine a wave behind the horizon. When I heard that story, I thought ‘wow’, that’s really visual.
That’s a difficult one. I suppose everyone always talks about the early designers. The early 20th century Bauhaus people had a huge effect, like Mies van der Rohe.
They were very influential when you were reading up on them, studying design. Everybody else who’s come along since then probably hasn’t had as much influence.
We have great designers in Ireland. You’ve wonderful people like Joseph Walsh and colleagues like John Lee, Ceadogán and Stephen O’Briain.
I know a lot of these people and work with them and we exhibit together. I hope that we feed off of each other, rather than compete against each other.
There is something unique in Ireland in the design and craft sector. It’s often fed by people who come in from the outside as well. A lot of my colleagues like Ben Gabriel, who comes from Holland, or Knut Klimmek bring a German influence, or Liz Nilsson from Sweden.
They all add to a mix that seems quite unique because we’re such a small country. When you go to the UK or to Germany, there are so many different people and so many different influences and it’s really hard to read something.
Whereas I do actually feel that you can read something out of Irish design that is quite elemental and that is linked to the land and the place.
I am fortunate to have worked on a lot of dream projects. We’ve just been invited to work on the Harland and Woolf Drawing Office, in Belfast, which is not over the line yet, but I was really delighted to be asked to look at it, because it’s one of the most amazing period buildings in Belfast.
I wouldn’t mind having a stab at doing bridges, or other things even further out of my field, but I am happy with the calibre of things that are coming into us these days.
My simple advice would be get stuck in and try to keep things simple.
Everybody should try things out and not be afraid of failure.
My colleague, Ben Gabriel, says good design is stripping out anything that does not need to be there. And if you can continue to strip things out, until only everything that needs to be there is there, that’s good design.
I thought that that was a really good piece of advice.
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