The best way to use vintage pieces in your home, according to vintage furniture dealer
A few years ago, Geoff Kirk was driving through County Galway when he saw an Irish wolfhound snoozing peacefully on a sofa in the middle of a field. Just your typical Galway moment. But Kirk is a dealer in vintage furniture with an eye for authentic mid-century design. He applied the brakes and took a closer look. As he suspected, it was a Crannac sofa, designed by Arthur Edwards and made in Navan in the early 1960s. Kirk knocked on the door of the adjacent cottage and asked the owner of the sofa if she'd consider selling it. The wolfhound was ousted, the deal was done, and Kirk headed back to Dublin with the sofa strapped to the roof of his car. Now, renovated and reupholstered, it takes pride of place in his living room.
If you have a Crannac chair or sofa - identifiable by a little ivory plastic plaque nailed to the back - don't give it to the dog. "Early Crannac furniture is really hot at the moment," Kirk explains. "Often, people don't realise what it is. Or they think that, because it's Irish, it isn't worth anything."
Crannac Furniture was formerly known as John Hogg & Co. (you can see why they changed the name) and Edwards was one of the designers brought over to Ireland in the 1960s by Coras Trachtála, the Irish Export Board, to improve the standard of Irish design.
Kirk kept that first Crannac sofa but, since then, he's found another. The two-seater sofa, designed by Arthur Edwards for Crannac, has been lovingly reupholstered in soft seagrass tweed and is for sale at his dealership, Kirkmodern, for €880. With a teak frame with gently curved arms and cigar-turned legs, it's a rare example of Irish mid-century design. Crannac sofas are rare - to date Kirk has only handled two of them - but Edwards also designed chairs, which tend to come up more often. A reconditioned Crannac chair, with new foam seating, webbing and fabric, would cost around €400.
In Kirk's own home, he's emphasised the sofa's mid-century origins by combining it with a modern Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair - the design dates from 1958 but is still in production - and an original 1950s skiing poster. The shag pile rug, in the same shade of orange as the Egg Chair, came from Ikea. "It's a modern version of a traditional Scandinavian rya rug," says Kirk. "An original would set you back between €400 and €500, but the Ikea ones are perfectly good."
The mushroom-shaped Nesso Table Lamp was designed by Giancarlo Mattioli for Artemide and is also still being made. A new one costs €250 from Ambient Direct. It too is bright orange.
"If you like the mid-century modern style, but you're decorating on a budget, my best advice is to begin with the palette," says Kirk. "Start by looking at books and magazines until you've trained your eye."
Certain shades of bright orange, acid green and teal blue just say: '1950s!' Still don't know where to start? A quick-fix solution is to look at Orla Kiely's homeware. "Her colours are really well researched," he explains. "You can take her palette as a starting point if you're not that confident."
Then, invest in one key piece of vintage furniture. This need not be massively expensive. An English 1950s sideboard in teak veneer costs around €300 from Kirkmodern. Danish sideboards are pricier and generally cost between €1,000 and €1,500, with rosewood pieces by named designers going up to €3,000 to €4,000. All of these - no matter what the price point - are veneered. But don't sneer at veneer. "People ask me why they aren't made of solid wood and I tell them that, if they were, you couldn't lift it!"
Once you've established your price point and chosen your sideboard, then style it with a few pieces of mid-century glass or ceramic. "An original 1960s vase might cost around €250 but a lot of these designs are being copied now and you can buy them very cheaply in places like TK Maxx. They won't be the same quality, but that's ok."
If you prefer to invest in an armchair, rather than a sideboard, English models are a lot more affordable than Danish ones. A reupholstered 1950s Parker Knoll armchair would set you back around €375, which is around what you might pay for a decent quality new chair. "You can accessorise it very cheaply with mid-century fabric," Kirk suggests. "There's a lot of it around."
London flea markets and junk shops are good hunting grounds. "Buy a set of old curtains in Atomic print, designed by W. Hertzberger for Turnball & Stochdale in 1954, and stick it in your suitcase," Kirk suggests. "Someone with a staple gun and a large glass of wine can upholster a set of dining chairs in an afternoon. Or you can turn it into cushions. It's a cheap way to get the look."
In his own home, though, he spared no expense on the kitchen. It's a modern kitchen, inspired by the 1950s, in duckling yellow and duck egg blue. "We had a mood board with pictures from 1950s magazines but we couldn't find anyone who could make the kitchen that we wanted," Kirk says. "We wanted a kitchen on legs and nobody was prepared to do that. Then we met Per Plough, who runs Danish Kitchen Design in Churchtown, and he understood exactly what we wanted. He even found a supplier of vintage boomerang-print Formica in the United States!"
The fridge, cooker and oven are all from Smeg and chosen for their colour, which matches the kitchen exactly. It's the culmination of a love affair with mid-century modern design.
For someone embarking on that journey, or merely wanting to flirt with it, his advice is to befriend a dealer. "Tell them what you're interested in," he says. "We all see far more pieces than we have warehouse space for. If I know that you're looking for a budget sideboard, I can pick one up when I see one." A sideboard that can be rehomed as soon as it arrives in the country can be sold more cheaply than one that has to be stored and marketed.
His second piece of advice is not to pretend that you know more than you do. "We all have to start somewhere," he says.
Kirk's home was styled by Sheenagh Green and photographed by Mark Scott for Image Interiors. See kirkmodern.com