Tuesday 20 March 2018

Rainbow coalition... peak inside designer Aoife Harrington's home

Designer Aoife Harrington lives and breathes colour. It permeates her home and work, though she faced a challenge when she took on the Newbridge Collection. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

Aoife in her living room. The mirror was created by Aoife who used hand-painted stones. She handpaints them again whenever she's changing the colour scheme. The black and gold lamp from Singapore sits on an antique table given to Aoife by her mother.
Aoife in her living room. The mirror was created by Aoife who used hand-painted stones. She handpaints them again whenever she's changing the colour scheme. The black and gold lamp from Singapore sits on an antique table given to Aoife by her mother.
Aoife’s garden at her home in south county Dublin is predictably full of vibrant plants including verbena, lupins, and honeysuckle. The cushions are from Avoca.
The geometric lines of the bathroom are softened by the curved sink and mirror
Aoife updated her kitchen with a natural slate floor and a splashback of porcelain on marble. The fruit bowl is from the homeware range, which is called Guinness NB
Aoife's beloved budgies Suki and Rizzo. The picture behind them is one Aoife bought in Hong Kong. 'The artist was working on it when I saw it, I fell in love with it and brought it back to Ireland and had it framed,' Aoife recalls.

We're used to bands attributing colour to the days of the week - New Order have Blue Monday, while The Doors sang Blue Sunday, and for Steely Dan it was Black Friday - and authors have given titles like Green Thursday and Mondays are Red to their books, but do ordinary mortals believe that days have different colours?

Aoife Harrington certainly does, and she was surprised to discover that she's unusual in that particular belief. "I see everything in colour. A few years ago, I was at a rugby match with a friend and we were chatting about his PhD course. I happened to say, 'You know the way each day of the week is a different colour?' and he said, 'What are you talking about?' He was absolutely transfixed, and it was the first time I realised other people don't see the days like that," Aoife recalls.

It transpired that while for Aoife Monday is blue, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is red and so on, this wasn't the case for anyone else she knows. Part of the explanation for her day/colour interpretation could be that she's a designer and is dealing with colour every day of her life, although her latest project is practically monochrome; she is the designer behind Newbridge Silverware's very successful collaboration with Guinness. Aoife heads up the team who've produced the Guinness by Newbridge Silverware Collection, which include the 1759 range of jewellery and watches, as well as a set of stoneware and a collection of textiles.

Her passion for colour and design certainly goes back a long way; the Dublin-based designer was born in Cork and lived there until the family moved to Dublin when she was six, and she remembers being fixated even back then. "I decided when I was six that I was going to be a carpet designer. I remember I had a folder of my designs," Aoife recalls with a laugh, adding, "At seven, I changed my mind and moved on to fashion and stuck with that. It made my choice of career very easy."

It helped that her mother was artistic, and Aoife and her three siblings were always encouraged to do art classes during the holidays and enter art competitions. The encouragement paid off, and Aoife got a place in NCAD. "Orla Kiely was in my class in NCAD. She was always talented; I'm not surprised she went on to do so well," Aoife notes.

She herself did well at college too, specialising in knitwear and sportswear, and in third year she won a competition, the prize for which was a summer working in Laura Ashley in London. That was an invaluable experience, and led to other work, though not in an expected way. "I remember when my granny in Cork heard I was going to London, she insisted I contact friends of hers, the O'Keeffes, who had moved to London," she says. Aoife felt it would be an imposition, but her grandmother was adamant. "Typical of the Irish network in those days, the mid 1980s, the O'Keeffes invited me to stay, and during my time with them, I made a wedding outfit for Mary O'Keeffe. Off she went to the wedding and the next thing I got a call from her brother, John Cashell. It turned out he was the head of Tivoli Spinners, and he asked me to do some designs for them," she explains.

When college finished, Aoife was off again, this time to Hong Kong, where she won a scholarship to work with the Fang brothers, who owned a huge number of international brands. According to Aoife, it was a fantastic if challenging experience. "I remember arriving late at night and I had a vision of spending a few days acclimatising. Not a bit of it. I was collected the next day and brought straight to work. Not only that, I did overtime every night that week. I've no doubt they were testing me, letting me know they work hard," Aoife explains.

The then 21-year-old was given responsibility for the Jessica line, aimed at young women, and through that experience learned a huge amount about the fashion world, about what the consumer wants and how to give it to them. "I remember Christine Fang approving a particular design and telling me to make it in green. I asked why, and she said, 'Green is the most difficult colour to sell. If it sells in green, it'll sell in any colour'. That's still true."

Aoife stayed 14 months in Hong Kong, and when she arrived back home she got a job with O'Neills, the sportswear specialists, where she stayed 10 years. Then, in 1999, she felt like a change; manufacturing was moving to Eastern Europe and the Far East, while design was becoming more computer based. Design bureaux were popping up in the US and UK and Aoife decided to set up something similar here, and it's worked for her ever since. During the last 16 years she's done big projects with Fragrance Boutique, for whom she designed diffusers and candles; and John Hinde. In essence, she takes on a design project and drives it from concept to conclusion. She brings a huge amount to each project, not just in terms of her talent and experience, but also in terms of the travel she's done over the years, constantly observing trends.

She says many of the projects she's been commissioned to lead have come about through word of mouth, but she also actively seeks out companies she'd like to work with. This was the case with Newbridge. "I often said to myself, 'I'd like to work with Newbridge Silverware'. I like their products, the store and museum in Newbridge, so I went to William Doyle, the managing director, and told him that," Aoife says. "We had a few meetings, they said they liked what I had to offer, that they were designing new things, and it started from there."

One of those new things was the Guinness by Newbridge Silverware collaboration, and it has been a huge success. And Aoife had no problem working in the subtle shades required.

The jewellery is very attractive; it hints at Guinness in its depiction of hops in the design, and is made up in silver as well as rose gold, and apparently it's running off the shelves. When it came to the textiles, Aoife concentrated on the Guinness harp, but again, it's subtle - the homewares come in shades of chalk and grey and the design is of harp strings. The stoneware is indigo, while the decoration range - another success story - is silver and black. All is very tasteful, very low-key.

Aoife's home, however, boasts more colour, particularly her garden, which is a riot of honeysuckle, clematis and lavender. Inside, she uses neutral colours as a background and picks out accent colours from the numerous artworks she has picked up on her travels.

Colour is also provided by her budgies, Suki and Rizzo. "You can tell whether they're male or female by the colour over their beaks, but the difference wasn't very obvious when I got them, as they were only six weeks old, so I called one Suki and one Rizzo. I got them wrong, but they are two now and they're staying that way," Aoife laughs.

And they add a touch of turquoise to every day, whether it's red Wednesday or purple Thursday.

See aoifeharringtondesign.com

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