A21st-Century shop is a moveable feast. Thanks to information technology, retail can operate without a fixed abode or, as in the case of Makers & Brothers, from a small corrugated shed in the back garden. But great things, historically, have come from the garden shed. It's the design equivalent of writing a novel in the garret.
Jonathan Legge is the design partner of Makers & Brothers. His brother, Mark Legge, is the project manager. This is an arrangement that, so far, seems to work for both of them. "On balance, the benefits of working with family outweigh the pitfalls," says Jonathan. "We have the same vision – there's that basic understanding in the background. Sometimes I disagree with Mark's aesthetic choices and he disagrees with the economic realities of my choices. But that's good."
Over the last few years, Makers & Brothers have established an online store and a series of pop-up shops offering a carefully curated selection of simple but nicely-designed objects for the home. In terms of the economy, their timing was perfect. The property boom with its incessant marketing of new, luxurious and sophisticated items had left a sour taste and people were more inclined to spend small amounts of money on small things that looked as though they might last. Loved objects were back in fashion. "It's nice when things fit into a home and look like they've always been there," Jonathan says. "People are fatigued with ever-new products from undisclosed sources. They're slowing down and starting to think a little more about it."
Many, although not all, of their products are Irish. A particularly lovely teapot (€98), for example, its form reduced to a simple sphere of stainless steel, comes from Freud of London.
"The Irish thing is important," Jonathan says, "but it's not our reason for being. It would be weird to live in a house that was only full of Irish stuff. And there's so much room for improvement in Irish design – there's very little out there."
Much of what they stock is handmade, but other pieces come from small factories, including the work of Claire-Anne O'Brien, a London-based designer from Cork. Her Ring Stools (€480) are upholstered in a strange and beautiful construction of knitted sheep's wool that gives them the appearance of sea-anemone. Until now, O'Brien knitted them herself but her designs will shortly go into production with a company in Spain.
Another characteristic of Makers & Brothers is their willingness to work with makers on their designs. This, as Jonathan explains, is a two-way street: "We spend time with the makers helping them to evolve things. It's not about reinventing the wheel; it's about editing some of what they have in production and discovering the people who are willing to try different things with the process.
"The best results come when you are listening to the person who is making. Most designers are not used to working with makers at all – there is a massive disconnect."
One of his favourites, a design evolved with and made by Jerpoint Glass, is a simple carafe in clear glass with an accompanying drinking glass (€85) – similarly plain – that fits upside down over the carafe. It's the sort of thing that one might have beside the bed and, in its simplicity, as refreshing as a cool clear glass of water.
Often, there is a story behind their designs, like a set of wooden dinner plates (from €22) hand-turned by Tony Farrell in Cork. "When we were starting out we were looking for wooden plates," Jonathan explains. "Mark and I had an idea of what we wanted, but we couldn't find anyone actually making them. Then we met up with Tony who actually makes a lot of buttons, so for him making plates was like making giant buttons. He was quite happy to do it. They are made using a very straightforward process; you don't need a lot of machinery to make it work."
At other stages their intervention in the design process has showier results. A three-legged stool (€120), made by James Carroll has two bright blue legs and one pink one, and its surface is textured like sand on a beach when the tide goes out. "As a designer I'm getting a lot out of it," Jonathan admits. "I've learnt about the realities of furniture and product design. If you have ideas and can't get them out there, or you do get them out there but nobody's interested in them – then there's no point."