Friday 25 May 2018

Light fantastic: designer uses old milk churns and driftwood for unique lamps

Eoin Shanley has mastered the art of creating pieces with their own story

Eoin Shanley, founder of Copper Fish Studio in Delgany, Co Wicklow, says he loves the idea of reclaiming old wood — and the story behind it. Photo: Tony Gavin
Eoin Shanley, founder of Copper Fish Studio in Delgany, Co Wicklow, says he loves the idea of reclaiming old wood — and the story behind it. Photo: Tony Gavin
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Old milk churns and Victorian hair restoration kits are not the type of things you'd expect lights to be made out of - yet this is exactly the kind of material which suits lampmaker Eoin Shanley down to the ground.

Shanley, who set up Copper Fish Studio in 2016, makes handmade lights and lamps from all kinds of material - including driftwood, wood from storm-fallen trees and old boats, fence posts, and old railway sleepers. He cites Victorian medical kits and old milk churns as some of the most unusual material he has used to make lights.

"I've made a lovely light from a Victorian hair restoration kit," says Shanley. "This kit was a metal comb which the Victorians plugged in and put on their head - they thought the electric shock would make their hair grow. I'm working on a pub in Mayo at the moment, and I'm in the middle of converting a few old milk churns into ceiling lights. I will remove the bases, hang them on a chain, and I have just organised to have a 10-inch wide bulb made to fit into it."

Shanley has also made lights out of books. "I'm often asked to make a lamp out of books of sentimental value - such as a book which belonged to a father who passed away," says Shanley.

The seeds for Copper Fish Studio were sown when Shanley and his wife restored a 200-year-old thatched cottage in Leitrim which they owned a few years ago. The cottage had its traditional oak beams and was built in cob - a material used to build cottages before cement was introduced. "We tried to do everything with local materials when restoring the cottage," says Shanley. "I salvaged old oak and used copper pipes to make lights for the cottage. People saw what I did and were interested in getting something similar for their own home."

Shanley created some lights and lamps on the back of those requests. "I then got phone calls from people saying they had seen one of my lights in someone else's home and were interested in getting the light themselves," says Shanley.

Shanley and his wife have since sold the old Leitrim cottage - as they found the commute to Dublin too long when they had young children. They are now living in Delgany, Co Wicklow with their two children. Shanley's business is based in Delgany - and he often tries out some of his lights and lamps at home before putting the finishing touches to them.

"I put pieces I've made up in my house and if I think they're not quite right, I'll look at it for a while and decide what needs to be done," says Shanley. "I'll find big lumps of timber and leave them to stand in my house for a while - and I'll look at the timber and then decide what to do with it."

He often gets inspiration for his pieces from the Connemara landscape. "I walk for endless miles around the lakes and rivers in Connemara," says Shanley. "It's so remote, and I have stumbled across some really old man-made timber, that has been hammered by the ravages of the weather of the west. I generally work with man-made timber, as opposed to bog oak, or natural timber. I love the idea of reclaiming old wood, and the story behind it."

Shanley's lights are stocked in about 20 shops around Ireland including the Kilkenny group, Meadows and Byrne, and Industry and Co in Dublin. His lights are also on sale in a shop in Belgium - as well as a shop in Switzerland.

"I've done lights for a lot of the staff in RTE," says Shanley. "I've done some bespoke pieces. I do styles of lamp but I've never made two the same."

It is the uniqueness of his lights and lamps - as well as the type of lighting emitted from them - which makes them appealing to people, according to Shanley.

"It's a very warm light," says Shanley. "It's synthetic candle light. Everyone needs a bit of mood lighting."

People of all age groups buy Copper Fish Studio's lamps, with the biggest single group being women aged between 25 and 40, according to Shanley.

"Every single piece comes with an origin card- and tells you exactly where the material for it came from," says Shanley.

The price of Shanley's lamps and lights start at about €130 and go up to €350 or €400. The recent economic recovery means that people are more inclined to spend money on custom-made lights than they may have been during the recession. "I'm getting a lot of work with a lot of upper-end shops - and they are saying that people are willing to spend again," says Shanley.

Shanley is currently the only one working in his business. "I'm finding there's considerably less hours in the day," says Shanley. "I'm nearly at the level of hiring staff. I would like in time to have someone to help me."

Shanley, who is originally from Greystones, has a very colourful career behind him. He started working in a fishing tackle shop in London when he was 18. "It was a very old traditional shop supplying the very wealthy - royalty, Lords and so on," says Shanley.

Stanley also studied in the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin - and his studies were followed by a period working as an actor and musician.

"I did a lot of touring plays as an actor," says Shanley. "As a musician, I was in tribute bands like Abbaesque. I also had my own funk ska band in the mid-Nineties - called The Bashi Bazouks. We weren't that well known!"

In his leisure time, Shanley likes to fly fish in his own boat on Lough Mask. "This is where I source a lot of my salvaged timber," says Shanley. "After the big winter storms there, you never know what you'll find. Smashed old wooden boats, fence posts, and all kinds of beautiful old timber."

However, Shanley clearly doesn't have as much time to go fishing as he would like - when asked about the challenges of running his own business, he cites the biggest ones as: "Stopping occasionally, and trying to get a day to go fishing."

As Copper Fish Studio was only set up in 2016, the business is still young and Shanley is very much focused on establishing it, and creating his lights and lamps. He therefore has no current plans to expand into other products. Who knows though, given Shanley's talent to salvage almost anything, in time, perhaps he may turn his hand to creating other pieces of furniture for people's homes - using the timber offcuts and copper pipes which he so loves.

Copper Fish Studio (copperfish.ie) will be one of those exhibiting in the House exhibition in the RDS Dublin from May 25 to 27.

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