Eastern promise... expanding Ireland's palette of design
Ethnic designers on a mission to expand our dreary palette of colours
Just like in fashion, when it comes to interiors, there's a narrow line between cool interesting chick and mad old bat. This is why I'm cautious about the ethnic look. People in their 20s can get away with beads and mirrored sequins, in clothes or homeware.
But once you hit 40, there are some looks you might want to avoid - the aging hippy look being one of them. Sometime in my mid-30s I got rid of my cheap embroidered cushions and dodgy crewel-work throws.
Anything fringed, sequinned or smelling of incense went down to the charity shop. No real regrets there. Most of the ethnic accessories available in Ireland at the time were pretty tacky and not particularly well made. The crewel work (that's wool embroidery) was constantly pulling threads and the cushions constantly shed minuscule mirrors all over the sofa.
Apparently now it's time for the revival. There's a new generation of Indian-inspired homeware in the shops. It's no longer cheap as chips, but this time it is at least well made and also designed and adapted to work in the contemporary Irish home.
"I'm trying to expand the palette of design in Ireland," says Viru Rana, whose interiors shop, Ginger Brown Design, opened in Dublin's Clarendon Street six months ago. "Irish people are cautious about colour. They feel it might overwhelm the space. I want to encourage them to take more risks with interiors rather than just stick to the usual greys and beige."
Brought up between Mumbai and Kathmandu, Rana has been in Ireland for 11 years and believes he has at last a pretty shrewd idea of what will and will not work in Irish dwellings.
So most of the homeware at Ginger Brown is based on traditional Indian design and craftsmanship, but adapted to Irish tastes. The armchairs (€475 to €850), for example, are a conventional European shape but upholstered in Indian fabrics. "You'd never see chairs shaped like that in an Indian home," he says. A coffee table (€780) combines chrome legs, designed in a typically western shape and angle, with a top decorated with an inlaid leaf pattern that reminds me of the Taj Mahal. "It was made in Agra," Rana explains. "It's a typically Muslim pattern and it's made of camel bone set in black resin." A tea tray has been digitally printed with a pattern taken from Indian weaving and tiffin boxes, the layered metal boxes in which a home cooked lunch is traditionally delivered to your office. These have been painted in a decorative pattern. "In India they would always be plain."
Larger pieces of furniture at Ginger Brown Design are generally one-off, but even the smaller items are limited edition. These include brightly coloured embroidered and printed cushions made in runs of 12 (€30 to €64), stools with printed tops (€120) and nests of tables (from €95 to €110 for a nest). Unlike the hippy-dippy purchases of my early years, the pieces are carefully finished.
"We're always trying to bring up the quality while keeping the prices down," says Rana. "Irish people are very price-driven. They'll give it a shot if it's reasonable." He finds the younger generation is more experimental with design. "People in their 20s and 30s want the whole room, but the older generation might use the cushions on a beige couch."
As a look, 'east meets west' is now fairly widespread. To my mind, there's a strong Indian influence in Carolyn Donnelly's eclectic range for Dunnes, especially the woven storage baskets (€15 to €20), the painted wall hook (€5), and some of the cushions (from €15 to €35).
There are other influences at play here too, which save the designs from a relentlessly ethnic look, but the catch with mass produced items is that there are a lot of them about.
Another shop which caters for the look is East Meets West in Schull, Co Cork. "I grew up in India and always wanted a reason to go back," says Vary Finlay, who runs the shop with Penny Dixey. Now, she travels to India once a year to fill a container with old teak furniture, glass mosaic lamps, and appliquéd, printed and embroidered textiles.
"Grain tables are very popular," says Finlay. "They're low teak tables with a raised rim and all the homes in the villages have one. The women spread the rice and lentils out on the table to pick through the grain for stones. People in Ireland use them for coffee tables, but I've also heard that they're brilliant for Lego!" They cost around €175.
Printed textiles include designs by Art Inn Jaipur (from €15), which show a contemporary take on Rajasthani colours and patterns. "The designer runs an artist retreat and she has lots of western artists staying with her so she's got an awareness of western tastes."
Finally, for all out 'east meets west' with no holds barred, there's the mad-as-a-brush selection from Décor in Dublin's Wexford Street. You'll be met at the doorway by a 1950s metal dragon (€1,500), four metres long and two and a half metres high. The dragon was salvaged from an abandoned amusement park in Java.
"It was really spooky," says Décor's Darren Robinson. "I bought most of the fairground. This is the last piece left but I have to shift it because it's taking up half the shop."
For more info on the products here, see: gingerbrowndesign.com and Ginger Brown Design on Facebook, decor.ie, eastmeetswest.ie, dunnesstores.com.