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Forever furniture? Roisin Murphy talks to maker Paul O'Brien, who crafts pieces you'll want to keep a lifetime

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Paul O'Brien of Modet.ie at his studio in Cork

Paul O'Brien of Modet.ie at his studio in Cork

Tilt table top mirror, €425; modet.ie

Tilt table top mirror, €425; modet.ie

Langford dining table in walnut; modet.ie. Photo credit is Roland Paschhoff.

Langford dining table in walnut; modet.ie. Photo credit is Roland Paschhoff.

Langford side table in walnut, €750; modet.ie

Langford side table in walnut, €750; modet.ie

Roisin Murphy

Roisin Murphy

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Paul O'Brien of Modet.ie at his studio in Cork

Paul O'Brien of Modet furniture is a leg man - where tables and chairs are concerned, that is. Beautifully turned, handcrafted legs are the hallmark of his work. And connoisseurs of the creations of the new wave of Irish makers will be delighted to hear that Paul is about to launch a new collection of dining tables and chairs.

There are a lot of designers working in furniture but very few like Paul who actually design and handcraft their pieces themselves.

All his furniture is made in his studio in Cork from ethically and sustainably sourced wood. He understands more than anyone how timber performs when holding a table top - or balancing on small legs.

The piece in his new Langford collection attracting most attention is the dining table.

With the rise of the kitchen island over the last few decades, the dining table has fallen into the shadows. In fact, apart from the distinctive marble-topped table with cast-iron base by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, there have been few stars on the dining table scene in the last 50 years.

"It's very easy to make a practical table," says Paul, "but the challenge is to make a beautiful one."

These 'practical' tables have sturdy legs, he tells me, while the rustic tables fashionable now use thick slabs of wood and, as he talks, I notice for the first time, that my old Georgian table has lion's claws and a pod leg, at least a foot in diameter. The 'pod', he says, is the supporting leg in the centre of a round table that has to be thick enough to keep everything on an even keel.

And that is what is different about Paul's tables. They have as delicate and refined a leg as is possible to support a table top, and they are placed at the edge of the table, so you notice them.

Kildare-born Paul is the son of a mechanic, a man who always fixed things himself, and he says he always wanted to work with his hands. After art school in England, he applied to train with Cork man Joseph Walsh, whose curved and twisted pieces of sculpted wood fetch thousands and can be seen on display in the lobby of the National Gallery of Ireland.

For two years, Paul worked cheek by jowl with Japanese and French furniture apprentices who regularly make the journey to learn from the master Joseph Walsh.

But Paul has crafted his own look. It's minimalist and elegant, and anything but showy. The table tops look wafer-thin at their edge, curled and chamfered in a way that cleverly disguises how they bear weight. There is a lead time of eight to 12 weeks for each piece.

His influences - besides Joseph Walsh - are Scandi. And it's not just that he likes their style, it's also about their attitude, the way "they all own furniture". Not 'fast' furniture produced according to fashion, but investment pieces designed to last lifetimes. Furniture, for them, is something to be carefully bought.

"The Danes own real furniture," he says, they don't rush out and buy from, say, Ikea.

"No disrespect to the boomer," he says, but he feels that his work is part "of the slow living generation, where less is thrown out and consumption happens slowly. Where people care about the sustainability of what they consume".

To that end, he hopes to introduce a sort of hire purchase scheme to make his creations more affordable to everyone. One day, you won't just buy a table, you'll invest in a 'forever' piece. But keep in mind you may have to wait for it.

Sunday Independent