'Building sites taught me a lot as I tried to become a rock star'

We get up close and personal with Eoin Shanley, co-founder of Copperfish Lighting, who is taking part in Showcase Ireland
'Building sites taught me a lot as I tried to become a rock star'

Eoin Shanley who runs the Copper Fish Studio in Delgany in his work space. Picture: Steve Humphreys

What’s your background?

Copperfish was born of my time as a musician. While trying to become a “rock star”, I spent a couple of years on building sites to fund the hopeless cause and amassed a wealth of construction knowledge.

Those skills were to come in handy when my wife and I restored a derelict 200-year-old thatched cottage in Leitrim where Yvonne’s dad was from.

We worked with a conservationist architect, a mud builder and a master joiner, and between us brought that cottage back to its former glory.

Eoin Shanley.
Eoin Shanley.

When originally built, they would have used materials within walking distance, and we did the same — even using local mud for the cob floors. When we couldn’t find lighting that we liked, I started to create my own using the materials onsite, essentially old timber beams and copper piping. People loved them, and there began Copperfish Lighting.

What’s a typical workday for you?

About six months ago we moved house and workshop. We took a two-storey commercial unit in Rathnew, Co Wicklow, and are turning the upper floor into a showroom, while keeping the ground floor for all the manufacturing, and heavy machinery.

Yvonne now works fulltime with Copperfish, and while this time last year I would have been responsible for getting the kids up, fed and off to school, Yvonne now does that, and I can get into the workshop for about 8.30am.

The Copperfish Heron floor lamp. (€395).
The Copperfish Heron floor lamp. (€395).

I generally do admin first thing and go straight into production after that. We are preparing for Showcase Ireland which is an opportunity for us to get in front of national and international buyers. We’re really looking forward to participating.

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

Copperfish Forager Irish Yew table lamp (€190).
Copperfish Forager Irish Yew table lamp (€190).

Before lockdown, I worked on a project for an iconic Dublin pub, The Market Bar. It’s a beautiful building, and was, among other previous incarnations, a sausage factory, and it still has a lot of the original features including the old steel trusses in situ.

They asked me to create a bespoke lighting fixture that would tie in with the existing interior. We designed an installation of giant Edison style lightbulbs in different shapes and sizes suspended by natural hemp rope wire.

The lights weave around and between the trusses and hang at different lengths and it creates a beautiful atmosphere, especially at night-time. The look is industrial which ties in with the building but is softened with the natural rope and the type of bulbs we used.

What’s your design style?

I tend to be a bit adventurous with my own style (I’m known for my interesting selection of shirts and shoes), but my lamps tend to be quite minimalist in their design.

I like simple, clean lines and symmetry. My newer lamps are certainly more architectural in their style, but I would hope to continue to evolve as a designer, as I think that’s important.

What/who inspires your work?

A lot of my work currently is inspired by the materials I use which are very old. It’s about respecting them, so I work with the timber’s form rather than against it.

I like to think that by bringing the timber back to life that I’m sharing its story.

Copperfish ballast table lamp (short) (€235).
Copperfish ballast table lamp (short) (€235).

I would say that all my heroes are storytellers — that’s probably the common thread. I do all my designing with the headphones on, listening to Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits or John Prine. Even my two favourite artists are storytellers — Marc Chagall and Carel Weight.

What’s your favourite trend at the moment?

I’ve never really followed trends, as I like what I like. I think an important trend though is sustainability, although I hope it’s more than just a trend. It’s hugely important for consumers.

We put a lot of effort into making sure all aspects of the business are as sustainable as possible and if that’s what consumers value then that’s good for everyone.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family, my antique copper diver’s helmet, and my new fishing rod — in that order.

Favourite designer?

My favourite designer is the Finnish designer Alvo Altaar. I love the way he walked the line between art and architecture.

Dream project?

I don’t have one specific dream project. I like a blank canvas and the freedom to be creative.

My dream project at the moment though is to get the showroom in our workshop finished!

Any design tips for us?

Lighting can quickly and easily transform a room — make sure you have the right light source for the job at hand. Task lighting is needed for long periods of reading or working but mood lighting is what will create a wonderful ambience in a room.

What can make the difference is the light bulbs used – make sure that the bulbs are not harsh as that can be unattractive and hard on the eyes. Our bulbs are retro Edison style but amber-tinted and LED, so you get all the benefits of eco-friendly lighting but with a soft candlelight glow.

  • www.copperfish.ie
  • Instagram: @copperfish_lighting
  • Facebook.com/copperfish.ie
  • The Showcase Virtual Showrooms, Ireland’s Creative Expo, runs until January 29. It is supported by Design & Crafts Council Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise office Network; see www.showcaseireland.com

Eoin Shanley.
Eoin Shanley.

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