IRELAND'S design 'Oscars' – the 'IDIs' – had the country's designers reaching for their own designers (duds, shoes and bags) last week.
They glammed it up together at Dublin's Vicar Street where the gongs were lashed out for excellence to those who design the stuff, shapes and forms that go into our homes.
From the shortlists at the Institute of Designers in Ireland (someone should design them a less dry monicker) Awards – we can discern that oodles of exposed rafters, lively natural materials and spaces which well ... interconnect, are all the go among the local bright young things leading the charge in Irish interior design today.
Refurbishment of furniture and surrounds is big – it's about making the most of what you already have – and so is furniture with a bit of character about it. Craft is on-trend, but don't go for a slavishly homespun look. Some of the best designs show a daring combination of hand-making and contemporary technology.
The awards aren't limited to interior design but shortlists are usually a 'who's who' of the better Irish interiors working in the sector today. Once the international jury has weeded out the dross, you're left with a handpicked selection of their interior design schemes from homes around the country.
This year's winner of the Residential Interiors section was Slievebawnogue, a pair of houses built in a disused quarry and designed by Clancy Moore Architects (www.clancymoore.com). "It's all about interconnecting spaces," says Colm Moore. "This is an open-plan living area but we divided it by changing the height of the ceilings to contrast the tall bright spaces with smaller cosy niches with stoves that you can use in the winter." The interior is linked to the outside with windows of different shapes and sizes, ranging from French doors that open onto the terrace to deep windows that you can sit in.
If you're considering renovating, there's much to be learnt from this house.
"In some ways it's quite frugal in terms of materials," Moore explains. "The kitchen units are made of oak veneer and we've clad the walls in the same material. You can transform a room by lining it with a material that doesn't cost very much"
The strong sculptural lines on the ceiling are exposed rafters. Moore has taken this idea and used it in his own house, which he is refurbishing on a tight budget. "Every ceiling has rafters, but they are usually covered up with plasterboard. If you remove that, it can give an added richness as well as a few extra inches in height"
Another practical tip is to economise on flooring. "Expensive floors are wonderful but if you have a cheaper floor, you can put a rug over it and spend more money on the fireplace, which acts as a focal point for the room and can't be covered up," Moore says.
The runners up in Residential Interiors were Optimise Design (optimise-design.com) and Kingston Lafferty Design (www.kingstonlaffertydesign.com). "There's a common theme running through all the shortlisted interiors," says Alex Milton, head of design at NCAD and one of the IDI judges. "It's about creating the maximum impact with what you have." The entry from Kingston Lafferty Design, a refurbished house in Smithfield, showed the designers' innovative arrangement of a compressed space. "It's much more about use than about showiness," Milton explains. "We've gone past the big flashy carbuncle stuck on to the back of the house like a back-pack."
Milton also felt that the Product Design brought the trend for natural materials in line with the needs of contemporary living. Readers of this column have already met the Strand Lamp (from €390), the winner of the Furniture section designed by Andrew Clancy, the other half of Clancy Moore Architects (those lads are on a roll). I've also introduced you to Designgoat's highly-commended Gray chair (€600 from wearedesigngoat.com). The Craft section included a ceramic tea set by Andrew Whitelaw (from €20 for a mug; email@example.com) and my personal favourite, the highly-commended Wall Fungus lamp (from €220; firstname.lastname@example.org).
"It's inspired by tree fungus – I really liked the shapes and wanted to see what happened when you made that into a lamp," the designer of Wall Fungus, Anthony O'Connor explains. It's the sort of wall-mounted modular ambient light that works well in dark corners. The lamp glows from within but is also perforated with openings that cast interesting shadows across the wall and is made from 3D printed nylon.
"Wall Fungus shows what makers are able to do with technology," says Milton. "In the UK, you can get a 3D print of whatever you want in Asda. It's only a matter of time before everyone can have their designs made up at the local supermarket. It's the way of the future."
Milton also recommends that people looking for ideas for their homes should look at commercial interiors as well as houses. "The trends for residential interiors are led by commercial spaces," he says, "There's much less of a gap between office and domestic design than there used to be. Some of the best designs for commercial interiors look pretty much like a nice sitting room."