Ireland’s switched-on product designers are transforming lights into dazzling works of art
Dara Flynn Published: 3 June 2012

Bright things are happening in the world of Irish product design. Last week, the Malthouse Design Centre, a studio space and workshop on Dublin’s North Circular Road, hosted Light Fantastic, a showcase of lights, lamps and chandeliers by 18 Irish designers. Every product on display was creative and original, with materials ranging from wafer-thin wood veneer to felted wool, linen, oak, Perspex and polypropylene.

One of the stars of the show was Meath-based Shane Holland, an established designer who is known for his innovative lighting. His Arthur floor lamp was voted a best-in-show product at the Grand Designs exhibition in London last month, one of the biggest design fairs in Britain. The lamp, which works on a simple swivel mechanism to tilt the shade forwards, is designed for the user to sit beneath. The circumference of the shade is reminiscent of an overhead salon hairdryer. “I liked the way it became semi-industrial, oversized and a bit retro,” says Holland.
As a co-founder of the Design Island network, an association of Irish designers, Holland has observed the evolution of a small but blossoming domestic design industry. “Light Fantastic was a vibrant show, and it gave me a lot of encouragement to know there is plenty of talent out there,” he says.

Other bright young things in Irish design include Kathryn Payne (kathrynpaynedesign.com) and Aislinn Lynch (aislinnlynch.tumblr.com), both recent graduates based at the Malthouse. Payne’s Flourish lighting is a simple example of the clever use of repetitive shapes — in this case a plastic 3-D flower — that can be connected together to form spheres, drums and large-scale wall installations with a light source.
Lynch has a love of wood veneer, the wafer-thin slices of wood most of us associate with 1980s furniture. It turns out that, when oiled, the veneer can be bent into graceful shapes to make delicate pendant light shades.

Mint Design (mintdesign.ie) is another Dublin-based brand worth watching. A trio set up the firm in 2011 and their table light, known simply as Bob, ingeniously uses the flex — a brightly coloured fabric version — wound around a birch-ply base to form a shade. Its chunky plastic light switch is a retro touch that seems incongruous, but it is a nice juxtaposition for such a small lamp. Mint has a range of other new products on display at Designist in the capital, as part of a series of pop-up shops planned for the summer.

Other designers launching exciting lighting products included the Malthouse’s Shane Wilson and Karl Medcalf. The duo, known as Locker13 (locker13.ie), create products using materials from a variety of unexpected sources. The Comfort lamp, based on the shape of a fabric conditioner bottle, with a melted bead shade, is a case in point. The pair also teamed up with Jennifer Slattery, a textile designer, to create Loominaire, a square mixed-media lamp.

More established designers include Rachel O’Neill from Banbridge, Co Down, who introduced a range of copper-finish chandeliers.
The classically elegant work of Duff Tisdall (duff-tisdall.ie), based full-time at the Malthouse, was also on show, as was lighting by two other furniture designers, Wicklow-based Cillian Johnston (cillianjohnston.com) and Patrick Casserly (patrickcasserlydesign.com), of Westmeath. Both work with warm native woods and accessible shapes. Johnston picked up a best new product prize in this year’s Showcase at the Royal Dublin Society for Aran Beag, his wooden-base light with a soft edge: an Aran-knitted panel inset.
Casserly’s floor lights are leggy and angular. They are distinctly Irish, too, thanks to the use of unembellished woods, but they have a modern appeal.

Davin Larkin of Dublin-based Kooyong design (kooyongdesign.ie) also works with wood. His cylindrical Pinch and Splay lamps are hand-assembled and atmospheric, casting light and shadow across walls, floors and ceilings.
This year seems to be the year of the laser cutter. Dublin-based Fiona Snow (snoweventdesign.com) has form in the art of delicate laser-paper cutting. She creates patterns that are perfectly suited to the pretty diffusion of light and capture a Moroccan feel.

Klickity, aka Kate Cronin and Liz Fingleton (klickity.ie), left, is one of Ireland’s most prolific design companies. The Dublin-based duo’s lights are already stocked internationally, thanks to their simplicity, affordability, light weight and contemporary feel. Not a pair to rest on their laurels, Kate and Liz launched another new product: a pendant light called Fig that’s part jellyfish, part Chinese lantern.

Anthony Cleary of Dublin’s Unleaded (unleaded.ie) has plenty of experience in lighting and he pioneered industrial-style wall installations long before it was a trend. Now, he has created a series of graphic-emblazoned light boxes designed for Herbstreet, a restaurant in the capital, which Cleary aims to reproduce for the home.

At the other end of the materials spectrum are two designers working in highly tactile media. Dubliner Niki Collier (nikicollierdesign.com) fashions her eye-catching lamp shades from hand-moulded felted wool, closely mimicking nature with their cocoon-like form, but brought up to date for contemporary applications with the use of bright dyes. While Louth’s Mel Bradley works with luxury fibres and fabrics, including silks, to produce unusual sculptural illuminated shapes.

The works of Donegal’s Michelle O’Donnell (www.glasshammer.ie) and Carlow’s Sasha Sykes (farm21.co.uk) stand out for their nods in the direction of nature. O’Donnell’s fused sculptural glass pieces are each one of a kind, with an unusual splattering of colour. Sykes, meanwhile, works with resin to create delightfully feminine pieces that lend themselves to lighting: she embeds lichen, grains, flower buds and petals in a resin base that retains their shape and bright colour in perpetuity.

www.themalthousedesigncentre.com