Thursday 18 October 2018

Our future is crystal clear

Designer Billy Canning has bounced back after redundancy and formed a great team with his wife Jackie

If you were made redundant after 24 years of working at a very specialised job, you would inevitably worry about the future. Luckily for Borris man Billy Canning and his wife Jackie, life has been great since he lost his job as chief lighting designer at Waterford Crystal, when the company closed in 2009.

It was sad, he says, but he didn't have time to get too melancholic as he "hit the ground running" with the establishment of his own company, Canning Design. Then again, if the lovely Jackie is to be believed, he is not a man given to bouts of worry or angst.

"Billy is very fun-loving and happy-go-lucky and it's very hard to take him seriously," she says. "Even after all these years together, sometimes I still can't tell whether he's joking. He'd never worry about financial things, for example, and would leave that to me, but he would worry about whether the family was OK. He does a bit of acting with the Rathanna Drama Group, and he tends to play the Basil Fawlty/John Cleese type of characters."

"Jackie is the rock of the family," says Billy. "She has to be as everything she said is true! I find it hard to take some aspects of life seriously and I probably should."

Billy had lots of practice at playing the joker from an early age, as in what is probably every child's worst nightmare scenario, his late father Danny was principal of his school in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, while his late mother Ita was a teacher there.

"It was character-building," he says. "I became a pup and got thrown out of class to get a bit of street cred."

Which surely meant there was hell to pay at home, one presumes.

"In fairness to my dad, he never brought what happened at school home," says Billy, who was an only child.

As he loved drawing and technical drawing, at Danny's suggestion, Billy went on to complete a diploma in product design, followed by a degree in industrial design that was taught between Dublin and Limerick. When he returned to Borris, he worked in an agricultural machinery firm for two years before Waterford Crystal came to his college looking for a designer.

He joined the firm in 1984 and rose to the position of chief lighting designer, which makes him responsible for many of the iconic Waterford lighting features that adorn public buildings worldwide.

In the meantime, he had met and married Jackie (nee Patterson) the youngest of a family of four, also from Borris. Actually Borris is the centre of the universe as far as the Cannings are concerned, as both have lived there all of their lives. Billy's parents were also from the Carlow town, he and Jackie were married at Borris House, and they ultimately settled there with their own family.

Jackie came from a farming family, but her dad Bill died of a brain tumour when she was 10 years old. Her mother Kathleen, whom she says is a very strong woman, continued with the farm with the help of her brother. Jackie was always creative and was into making clothes -- if her sisters didn't wear something for two weeks, it was in danger of finding itself cut up and transformed into something else by Jackie's scissors.

Having initially gone down the secretarial route, she subsequently embarked on a diploma in interior design, and worked for 10 years designing the interiors of private houses combined with some commercial work. She now works with Billy, who says she is very talented and he always runs his designs by her, particularly when they are for the likes of celebrated designer Monique Lhuillier.

They met when she was 18 and he was 22, and while they knew each other, the age gap was too much when they were younger.

"I certainly never thought that he was the man I was going to marry," laughs Jackie. "In fact, I set him up with my friend. She moved to Dublin, and he called in a couple of times to see how she was doing, and then it dawned on me that he was interested in me. I saw him one day on the street, and turned and ran in the opposite direction."

The pair then met at a disco in Kilkenny, and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Billy liked the white dress which Jackie wore to the disco, he loved more that she was independent and never to be taken for granted. "She keeps me on my toes, which is good for me," he says. They have three children: Sarah, 24, who works as an event manager at The Hub in Kilkenny, Robert, 19, an apprentice toolmaker, and Niall, 12.

When Waterford Crystal closed, Billy set up Canning Designs, and with his reputation preceding him, he was fortunate to have immediate work. Waterford Crystal was subsequently taken over by WWRD Holdings Ltd, which also owns and operates the Wedgwood and Royal Doulton brands, and they approached Billy to do some freelance design work. As part of that, he designed The Waterford Interiors Lighting Collection, now available at Brown Thomas, Dublin. It includes the glamorous Luminescence Lighting Collection, and he was delighted to be part of such an innovative interiors collection alongside John Rocha and Jo Sampson.

Billy got his pilot's licence two years ago, and has flown Jackie on a couple of occasions. Which must require a certain degree of trust, especially when your other half is a messer! "Absolutely," laughs Jackie. "It's a bit strange looking across and seeing that the pilot is your husband!"

The flagship Waterford Wedgwood boutique at Brown Thomas, Dublin, is now open. WWRD has embarked on a new era with the launch of its premier home decor portfolio, Waterford Interiors, with designs from Jo Sampson, John Rocha and Billy Canning, that include sleek console tables and dramatic floor mirrors to bespoke chandeliers and lighting.

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