Designer shops with a difference in Kilkenny
From jewellery to shoes to furniture, think of the bigger picture and shop small and local, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
Small shops and businesses throughout the country are our lifeblood, and one cannot emphasise enough how important they are in our society and to our future. People who have the get-up-and-go to set up a business, working for themselves, are the people who support themselves and their families, give local employment, pay rents and local charges, and often work far longer hours than many other people.
Many of these people are relying more than ever on the Christmas trade this year to get them through the lean times in the early part of the coming year. I would ask you to bear this in mind when you are buying your Christmas presents. Not only will you be keeping your money 'local', but in these small boutiques and other shops you will often find something different, something that you are never going to get in a chain store.
Kilkenny has always been a great city for design and culture, and recently the area around Patrick Street has seen a burgeoning of interesting new individual shops and businesses, making it a great shopping destination.
In fact, it has always had a 'cool' edge by virtue of being the home of Rudolf Heltzel's eponymous jewellery store.
Rudolf Heltzel came to Ireland from Germany in 1966 on the setting up of the Kilkenny Design Centre. Two years later he opened his own jewellery craftshop, and was an instant success with his amazing designs which are as fashionable today as they were back then -- beautiful jewellery which stands the test of time. Rudolf is still designing, but his son Christopher is now also involved in the business.
"I joined the business three years ago, having been abroad in the United States, Sweden and Germany, working in silversmiths and goldsmiths, as it were, like the old-style travelling apprentices. That was also after I had done a jewellery course through the Crafts Council of Ireland.
"I had initially studied natural sciences, physics and geology, and then I did what I thought I always wanted to do, which was working in films, working on the production end of Reign of Fire and Veronica Guerin.
"Through a number of coincidences, I then got the opportunity to train in goldsmithing and, having thought long and hard about it, now I am delighted that I am carrying the torch for another while, because the tradition that Rudolf has worked on for so long is almost dead.
"It's a traditional way of making jewellery, using techniques and tools and a style or way that they would have used going back almost 3,000 years, and that is not the way most jewellery is made nowadays. It means we can do things that aren't being done by others, design has always been the thing; you won't see our jewellery in other stores. Rudolf doesn't make to fashion, more to abstract design. We now have families with four generations coming in wearing Heltzel jewellery," he said.
Heltzel's jewellery is stunning, real collector's items -- I still have a beautiful neckplate from the Eighties.
ACROSS the road is Noel Green's Vintage Design studio doing fabulous 20th Century furniture and accessories. Noel is originally from Finglas in Dublin but spent 18 years working as a social worker in the UK. He has a great eye for interesting pieces. He specialises in mid-century modern design -- 20th Century retro/vintage.
"A lot of my friends deal in furniture and I got into it about 12 years ago. I had a furniture stall in the Portobello market in London. I remember sitting in a friend's flat and looking at two sideboards and I really liked one of them. My friend thought I was talking about a Victorian one but I was talking about one from the Seventies and he couldn't understand this. This was when my eye turned away from Victorian and Edwardian furniture. I was born in the Sixties, so maybe that has had an imprint on my outlook."
In the shop, Noel had some fantastic stand-alone pieces of furniture on display, from an amazing set of six dining chairs in black leather and stainless steel, to a 'Serpent lamp' by Martinelli Luce -- of which there is one on permanent display in the New York Museum of Modern Art. I also spotted an amazing teak sideboard -- very sleek in design -- under which were two pull-out little tables and stools; superb, and only around €600.
"People are looking for G- Plan tables and chairs, and coffee tables designed in the Sixties by Danish designers such as Ib Kofod Larsen, who was responsible for the Astro coffee table," explained Noel.
I loved an original poster, too, from the Walter Matthau and George Burns movie The Sunshine Boys at €75.
www.originalcompulsive design.com; Ph: 086 867-8216
ALSO new to Kilkenny on Patrick Street is The Gift Horse, opened a couple of months ago by Sara Egan, and a sister shop of The Gift Horse at the Horse & Jockey Hotel in Tipperary. With a leaning towards country and equestrian themes, The Gift Horse has lovely gifts including stylish handmade rubber boots by Ilse Jacobsen. I loved the smashing print of big chubby Nosey Pig! at €75 and beautiful pictures of horses at €185. From gorgeous pieces of jewellery through 'Raining Cats & Dogs' umbrellas, you will find some lovely pieces here.
www.facebook.com/ thegifthorsegallery; Ph: 056 778-6527
"SHOES have always been in my blood," said Paul O'Connor of the super little Shoe Box boutique on Ormonde Street, which is bursting at the seams with glamorous shoes but, at the same time, has something for everyone.
"My father, Terry O'Connor, was in the shoe business, both manufacturing and wholesale, in Drogheda and Dublin in the Sixties and Seventies. My brother also has shoe shops, De La Sole, in Ashleaf shopping centre in Crumlin and The Mill shopping centre in Clondalkin, so the entire family is mad about shoes. I opened the Shoe Box in Kilkenny in 2007 with a vision to hopefully expand to other towns around the country in the future."
Paul said he believes in personalised service, with the customer being number one.
"I think it is very important to be honest with the customer and not let them out with something that doesn't suit them, because their friends will tell them, and they won't come back," Paul explained.
The Shoe Box has some lovely Lacey's of London boots and shoes from €65 to €160, as well as the stunning funky and fun Iron Fist Range.
Ph: 056 775-6111. You will also find The Shoe Box on Facebook
Put your best foot forward, and good shopping.