Interior Design: Small packages - the innovative ideas
Small, affordable and innovative items for the house are proving a huge success for entrepreneurs here, says Eleanor Flegg
THAT gnarly old chestnut that says the best time to start a business is in a recession may just be a load of cobblers. Back in 2009, I wrote an article about five young Irish design entrepreneurs who were all telling me this. Sadly, only one of is still in business.
However, one common thread that links surviving start-ups in Irish design since the recession kicked in is an emphasis on small, affordable and innovative items.
Here's the story of three bright young Irish entrepreneurs who have thrived by taking this route.
Jewellery graduates Laura Caffrey and Clare Grennan established Irish Design Shop (irishdesignshop.com) as an online venture in 2008 and, more recently, as a physical shop on Dublin's Drury Street.
"There's a high-quality crafts scene all around the country," says Grennan.
"And a lot of it is driven by designers who used to work for big companies. Now the jobs aren't there so they're doing their own thing.
"We wanted to give them a platform and an outlet."
Like the name says, all the work featured is Irish, with a strong emphasis on affordable items. These include coasters from Alljoy (€7.50 for a pack of four) although Irish Design Shop also stocks handmade items such as brightly coloured ceramic jugs by Andrew Luddick (€68) and salt and pepper mills by the woodturner Matt Jones (€120 a pair).
In 2008, Irish Design Shop sold the work of 10 designers. Now they're selling from more than 50. That said, keeping a shop afloat in uncertain times hasn't been easy.
"It's more difficult than people think. Since we started out we've seen quite a few businesses come and go. It will be interesting to see who will be here in five years' time," says Grennan. "I hope we are."
Just the other side of the George's Street Arcade there's another selection of inexpensive design items for the home. Designist (www.designist.ie) on 68 South Great George's Street, was set up in 2010 by Jennie Flynn and Barbara Nolan, who have since been joined by Anne Lynott.
"Our background is in product design," says Flynn. "I used to work in a kitchen showroom.
"A kitchen is such a big purchase that we were advising people to go for neutral designs and alternate the accessories.
"Then I realised that there weren't that many cool accessories to buy."
Flynn and Nolan decided to do something about this. The bottom had fallen out of the furniture market and a number of designers had set up their own businesses making smaller items. "It was a good time to start doing something," says Flynn.
"It didn't matter if you weren't making much money because nobody else was either."
Designist items tend to be manufactured, rather than handmade, and most cost less than €100.
About half of their stock is Irish. "Irish designers don't have a lot of faith in what they do, but if you put their work alongside international stuff, then they can see how good their designs really are," Flynn explains. Expect to find lampshades from Klickity (€55), cool retro tableware from Sagaform (from €9.50), and Irish mammy tea towels (€10) emblazoned with the familiar: "Haven't you done enough gallivanting for one week?" Designist is currently working with the designers at Klickity on a new range of lampshades. "We have a display of prototypes in the shop and we're asking people to vote on which ones they'd like to see go forward into manufacture," says Flynn.
Design as a collaborative process is the driving concept behind FabAllThings (www.faballthings. com), the Irish company behind such fab things like Kieran Murray's Dublin Hourizon clock (€42) and Hugh MacDermott's Dublin Skyline coasters (€24.50).
The outfit was founded in 2012 by three sisters: Emer O'Daly, Kate O'Daly and Aoibheann O'Daly, and Miguel Alonso.
Emer O'Daly, who is an architect, had just returned from America where she had studied digital manufacturing techniques like 3D printing.
"I realised that not many people in Ireland were using new technologies," she says.
In this, she saw an opportunity. The idea snowballed. Now FabAllThings puts out an open call for design ideas on a set topic every month (this month it's natural amplifiers). Anyone can submit – you don't need a design background.
Then the ideas are put to a public vote and the winning entry is put into production, along with other designs that the committee like the look of. Once manufactured, the object is sold online and the original idea-holder gets a royalty for every sale.
"It started out with people that we knew," says O'Daly. "Now we're getting submissions from all over the world." FabAllThings is also developing a technology that allows customers to modify the designs at no extra cost. You can, for example, put a personal message on a clock that you're giving someone as a gift. "Since we brought that in, every single customer has used it," says O'Daly.
Is digital manufacturing the way of the future? O'Daly thinks that it is. "If we could 3D-print houses, we'd be doing it."
Watch this space.