I used to have my own interior architectural business, way back in boom time Ireland. I love design, I love problem solving and I love creating joyful spaces. I didn’t love shoddy workmanship and clients who felt that paying was an optional extra! I found interior architecture in Ireland to be less about delivering well-considered spaces and more about catalogue shopping and skip filling. Even if I wanted to I couldn’t go back to a profession that has become so attached to fashion and trends. I’m not saying that there aren’t enlighten clients, designers and suppliers out there eschewing unsustainable fads and building for longevity but I don’t believe there are enough of them to sustain a sustainable interior architecture consultancy. It would be lovely to be proven wrong!
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So I may no longer be in the interiors game but it doesn’t mean I don’t keep a finger in the interior pie – just as a hobby. Plus we own an 1950s home that we’re slowly trying to populate with just the right pieces from the right people. I have struggled to find suppliers of sustainable ethical furniture, fittings and finishes in Ireland. A lot of it is just greenwashed gimmicks. In my opinion a product must satisfy at least four of the following criteria to earn eco credentials;
- be long-lasting
- be repairable
- be timeless design-wise
- minimise waste either in manufacture or by giving something a second life
- be compostable or endlessly recyclable, like wood, glass, metal
- be made from non-toxic materials
- help conserve energy or water, or both
In an effort to encourage greater sustainability in the interiors industry I’m going to start featuring companies that offer products or services that allow us to beautify our spaces in a way that lessons our negative impact on the planet’s resources. This week the spotlight is on the furniture company Quirkistuff.
We bought a clock from Les and Sue of Quirkistuff at an Upcycling Fair years ago so when we were looking for a beside locker last year I gave them a shout. They identified a few possibilities from the pieces they had, I dropped down to Bray to see them, we agreed how the original pieces would be altered to create our bespoke cabinet, and I got an email when it was ready. Easy peasy lemon squeezy and we were absolutely thrilled with the results (see photo above)! Anyone who knows me well knows just how particular i am about work quality. I just hate sloppy work. It was the worst part of being involved in construction in Ireland. It was such a lovely, and unfortunately rare, experience to work with people who has standards as high as my own. So not only did we get a stunning piece of furniture that we adore, we also kept something out of landfill.
I thought you might be interested in the work they do so I asked them to do an interview for my article. Here’s what they had to say.
Q. How would you best describe what you do?
We create one of a kind pieces of furniture, including both original designs (using upcylced materials where possible) and revived, reworked vintage, retro and industrial pieces.
We also work with clients to create bespoke pieces or to revive treasured pieces that don’t fit with contemporary decor. We like to think that if someone has even a vague dream or an idea of what they would like, we can turn it into a reality.
We like to give new life to old pieces of furniture. We like to restore and revive the natural beauty of the wood where possible, but also like to use colour and pattern to give a contemporary vibe without losing the integrity of the original design. When we are sourcing pieces to upcycle we look for pieces that are well made and have elegant, interesting lines and details. We also like to work on pieces that are damaged and have been rejected by dealers and other buyers, as this enables us to both keep our prices very competitive and to put our own creative stamp on things. We particularly like to source pieces from charity shops as it’s good to know that we are contributing to that sector, but we also hang around auction houses and are fans of a good skip dive!
We like our pieces to make a statement that is stylish, bold and unique while remaining affordable. Our aim is to create pieces that give people joy, pieces that make you feel good every time you walk into the room!
Q. What got you interested in redesigning furniture?
We are serial house renovators and have always liked to create our own furniture for our houses. Once we stopped moving (houses and countries) we wanted to keep designing, upcycling and making so, with much encouragement from friends and family, we decided to turn our hobby into a business.
Q. What process do you go through when designing a piece of furniture?
It all depends on whether we are redesigning a piece that already belongs to a client, sourcing and redesigning a piece for a client, redesigning a piece to sell on our website or creating a new piece from recycled elements.
When we are working with a client, we like to really involve them in the process. We try to find out what they will be using the piece for, where in their house it will be going, what colours/fabrics/finishes etc they like/don’t like. There is nothing we like more than nudging people outside their comfort zones, particularly with colour!
Q. What is the greatest challenge in what you do?
For us personally, the greatest challenge is finding balance. This is balance in terms of time (we both have day jobs!) and in terms of space (our house is our work space!)
In terms of business, as so many of the large chain stores are currently mass producing reproduction mid-century and industrial ranges it can be hard to compete with their price point and accessibility. Thankfully, there are increasing numbers of discerning customers who prefer authentic, unique pieces with history, rather than mass-produced items. Customers who recognise that what you get is a one of a kind, affordable, piece of furniture with its own history. The added bonus is that the pieces that we chose to revive are often better, more robustly made and will outlast most recently mass-produced items. These are often the same people who see the benefit to the environment. Giving outdated, damaged, unloved furniture a second chance rather than consigning it to landfill is of benefit to everyone.
Q. What is the greatest joy in what you do?
We get a lot of joy when we feel that we have used our creativity to make something beautiful or to maximise the potential of an old piece (or pieces) of furniture. And of course there is a lot of joy in having satisfied customers who love our pieces as much as we do!
Q. What are your thoughts on sustainable living in Ireland in comparison to elsewhere?
When we first arrived in Ireland from Australia (twenty years ago) we were a bit taken aback by things like the lack of recycling, the attitude to wasting water and care of the environment. Things have improved greatly in the intervening years…but there’s still a long way to go!
We were also shocked by what went into skips. Items that would have been either treasured or hurried off to auction houses and sold for large amounts of money in Australia were unceremoniously “skipped”. This also doesn’t seem to be the case to the same extent these days, largely thanks to the increased popularity of mid-century furniture and also the epidemic of chalk paint-led upcycling!
However, there does still seem to be an appetite for mass-produced, “disposable” furniture and businesses and government departments in particular are still guilty of hugely wasteful disposal of potentially re-useable items.
Q. What are your plans for your business for the future?
We would really like to just keep doing what we are doing and have no ambitions for world domination. We think that it’s a business that benefits hugely from being small-scale and with a very personal touch…and after all there are actually only 24 hours in the day!
Q. What makes your creations sustainable?
Well first off, we’re saving furniture from being skipped by giving it a new lease of life. Secondly, we use water based varnish wherever possible as it is more environmentally friendly, but where water resistance is required to ensure a long lifespan for the piece we’ll use a final acrylic finish. Thirdly, we aim to use old wood where possible rather than using plywood or MDF as they emit formaldehyde into our homes.
I don’t do paid product reviews and I don’t get free products to test so I paid for my bedside locker myself and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.
PS – This time in previous years I published a recipe for Easy Peasy Rough Puffed Pastry