Interiors: Look on the bright side
Contemporary Irish lighting made to stand the test of time
Once upon a time there was a small village in a remote part of Monaghan. Only one person lived in the village.
The mill had closed and the workers' cottages were empty. When the shoe factory, the village's sole employer, shut down in 1970, the villagers left to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
By 2008, with another recession biting, things did not look good for Mullan Village. One man remained to cut the grass in the front gardens and to 'mind' Mullan.
That same year, a young local architect called Mike Treanor returned from his travels.
He wanted to live in his native Monaghan. Jobs in architecture were thin on the ground, but Treanor liked making things and his dad was an electrician, so he set up a small lighting workshop in Mullan's former shoe factory. Now, Mullan Lighting is one of the leading lights of Irish design.
"It started off as a one-man band," says Edel McCarron of Mullan Lighting. "Now we're employing 35 people." The company has restored the mill workers' cottages for their employees and their families, and Mullan Village now has a proud population of 80 people.
Their designs were first picked up internationally and around 70pc of their business is still in exports, but Irish designers are beginning to see the light. If you can get high quality contemporary lighting made to order in Ireland, why would you go elsewhere?
"Mullan Lighting provides huge variety in scale, shape and form," says Roisin Lafferty, interior designer. "There are huge advantages in working with Irish suppliers. Because all their lights are made to order and can be customised, I can work with them to create an original light fitting for my clients." The light fitting is then manufactured at the factories in Mullan Village and across the border in Tyrone.
In Lafferty's recent design for the DFS showhouse at the Permanent tsb Ideal Home Show in Dublin, all the light fittings came from Mullan. The spectacular globe cluster in the bathroom is the Riad 25cm globe cluster. It costs €775 but individual globe pendants start at €123.
In the lounge, she used one of Mullan Lighting's most expensive pieces, the Cairo eight-arm contemporary chandelier (€2,386). The range starts at €240 for a single pendant. In the library she used the San Jose modern chandelier (€1,697). The range starts at €123 for a wall light.
And, in the dining pod, she selected a mix of industrial pendants including the Osson factory pendant (€141) and the Ardle modern factory pendant (€135). The kitchen has Copenhagen Scandinavian pendants (€517) in white.
The designs, which combine retro references and industrial styling with straightforward good making, are unlikely to date. Since good lighting is crucial to creating atmosphere in a room, I'd consider that such good quality light fittings are expensive but worth it.
Irish stockists include Hicken Lighting, National Lighting in Dublin and Castle Lighting in Kerry.
A good lighting design will stand the test of time. The best example of this is the classic Anglepoise 1227 lamp, designed in 1935 and still going strong. The lamp came about when a British automotive engineer called George Carwardine had begun to experiment with a particular type of spring that used "constant tension" to create a lamp with a very wide range of movement and that will stay balanced in all positions.
"The springs are a fantastic, clever piece of technology. In a lot of cases they've been replaced by the silicon chip," says Simon Terry, Anglepoise Brand Director and Carwardine's great great grandson.
For some people (and I'm one of them), there's a great pleasure in owning a classic piece of design that has worked well since the 1930s, but an original Anglepoise 1227 desk lamp costs €358 from Lost Weekend, the company's Irish supplier.
It's a mighty piece, with solid brass in the base, and the adjustability is still impressive. Cheap imitations like the Ikea Aröd work lamp (€45) look similar but aren't as nice to handle. It's one of those cases when I'd prefer to save up for the original.
While the original range from Anglepoise is as true to the early lamps as possible, Terry is very aware of the need to keep the brand relevant.
A few years ago the company produced a giant version of the floor lamp (from €3,485). Now they've released a new version of the type 75 desk lamp, designed in collaboration with the fashion designer Paul Smith. "I'd always wanted to work with him," Terry explains. Smith knows not to ruin a classic and hasn't messed with the mechanics of the lamp (if it ain't broke, don't fix it). Instead, he's concentrated on colour. Fans of Paul Smith's menswear may be expecting the stripes for which he is famed, but the designer has restrained himself.
"I think he's trying to get away from stripes," says Terry. "He has graduated the colour in the lamp, but instead of introducing stripes, he has changed the colour of the individual parts. It's stripy by components."
This is a difficult approach to get right, but Smith has been characteristically clever with his tones. "The lamp is darker at the base, which makes it feel very grounded, with an accent on the collar that conflicts with the other colours and gets them to resonate." The Paul Smith 2nd edition lamps cost €239 each.
Anglepoise are also expanding their range to include wall lights (from €123) and pendants (from €267).
"There are some people who aren't big fans of springs," says Terry, in tones of wonder. "It reminds them of slogging away under task lighting in the office."
The pendants and wall mounted pieces retain the recognisable Anglepoise shade, so you can create a lighting system with no springs attached.
See mullanlighting.com, dfs.ie, idealhome.ie, kingstonlaffertydesign.com, castlelighting.com, hickenlighting.com, nationallighting.ie, anglepoise.com, lostweekend.ie.