Monday, 7 November 2011

Dublin Design Retailers

This article was first published in Architecture Ireland #258

Perhaps it’s an unusual time to open up a design shop in Dublin. However, a number of people have taken the plunge and opened their own design stores in the city in the past eighteen months or so, each with a unique vision and individual range of stock. Design retail stalwarts such as Wild Child and more recent retailers like the Irish Design Shop are being joined by a new generation. I caught up with three such new kids on the block to find out their motivations for setting up and starting off on a new adventure.

First up was Vanessa MacInnes, owner of Industry (Smock Alley, Temple Bar), a shop dedicated to vintage and upcycled pieces as well as new design. Vanessa has a real passion for the industrial aesthetic, and during her years working as an interior designer had trouble finding anything of that style in Ireland. Industry now stocks an ever-changing range of vintage and one-off industrial furniture, from postal desks to metal shelving units. Paired with the harder edged furniture is a range of printed cushions, artworks and tabletop objects, illustrating how easy it can be to work something with an industrial feel into an interior.

(Image courtesy of Industry)

Next door to Industry you’ll find Gary Tiernan’s Ubode, a cafe-cum-design shop where you can have a coffee and then stock up on the necessary utensils to feed your caffeine addiction at home. With a growing range of Bodum products, along with products from Normann Copenhagen, Joseph Joseph and others, there’s plenty to look at while you sip your latte or eat your lunch. Gary began Ubode as an online design shop, but by cleverly combining his love of design and his experience in catering has made another great indie addition to Temple Bar’s west end.

If you head for the beautiful surroundings of the Powerscourt Centre you’ll find Article on the ground floor. Run by John Adams, Article stocks a small but perfectly formed range of tableware and home accessories. His selection of beautiful and quirky pieces sourced both at home and abroad includes old favourites such as Seletti to more unusual ranges by London-based designer Rob Ryan and French company Reine Mere.

(Reine Mere coasters)

One thing that seems clear from each of these people is how now really is the opportune time to take a chance and start something new. Unlike before, it’s affordable to rent a city-centre retail space, it’s possible to get small orders from suppliers, and with few people offering you a job, why not make up your own? As for customers, each shop I visited was busy and everyone was making sales. Each location brings with it a mix of locals and tourists keen to pick up something attractive and useful, and each retailer can rely on a core base of returning customers who recognise that each offers good quality stock at a reasonable price.

A willingness to change and evolve is another thing that these retailers have in common. Each began their current business out of a need to find something new to do when work was running out. And from changes as small as adding more colourful stock or popping-up in alternative locations to bigger changes like moving from online-only sales to running a premises too (or vice versa), each of these people is keen to adapt to what is going on and what their customers look for. It’s a good trait to have at a time when a lot of people are learning the hard way that the old way of doing things isn’t always the best. Article is very much about the brighter things in life – patterned crockery, limited edition prints to hang on your walls, and useful objects with a decorative feel. As Ubode develops, so too will its range of fine foods and the fine utensils you’ll want and need to prepare them with. Industry loves all things industrial, but through careful selection of complimentary stock, shows you how you can live with edgy one-off pieces.

(Grafik Fabrik cushion)

If these three locations don’t satisfy your urge for objects, there are plenty of others to choose from. Head to North Circular Road to visit Malthouse Design Centre, an initiative of architects Greg Tisdall and Arthur Duff. Offering studio space and workshop facilities along with mentoring based on their extensive experience in furniture design, the Malthouse is a hub for emerging furniture designers. It is also an exhibition space and will open its doors for this year’s Open House Dublin. Designist on South Great George’s Street features a small range of objects with an urban feel and an affordable price-range (I’m currently coveting the Royal VKB French Carafe Set). The Irish Design Shop at Bow Lane East offers a great range of homegrown products, my favourites on offer at the moment being the Grafik Fabrik textiles.

Each of these stores comes with its own unique take on things; different stock with a different feel. What will charm you about these shops most of all is that you’re not buying from companies, but you’re buying from people; people with an infectious passion for design.