Laura Magahy first came to public attention during her tenure as Managing Director of Temple Bar Properties back in the 1990s. Her latest venture sees her designing pots inspired by the Markets Area of Dublin. We talked to her about Arran Street East, the art of pottery making and what’s in the works for the 2015 Year of Irish Design.
You’re best known for your project management skills, perhaps most notably with Temple Bar Properties. Now you’re designing pots. Is it fair to describe you as a renaissance woman?
I don’t know that I’d say that! [Laughs] I’ve always been deeply interested in design. That’s been the thread I suppose right from my earliest days going back all the way to when I was a kid and loved baking and sewing and all that kind of thing. I did music originally so that may have been an influence on me and over the years I’ve developed a deeper awareness of the different craft disciplines. My time at Temple Bar was characterized by service planning, architecture and pieces that were really interesting to all of us involved in the regeneration of the area. Eve-Anne Cullinan and I set up MCO Projects as a design and project management studio and over the past 15 years we’ve undertaken diverse projects, from environmental design to healthcare and creative strategy. Barrack Street in Dundalk, for instance was about new technology enabling people to live independently in their own homes.
How did Arran Street East come about?
I started doing pottery about three years ago while on holidays in Schull, West Cork and I really loved it. It’s a very rhythmic, almost meditative endeavour I think, very like music and when you’re doing it you’re completely absorbed in it. A pot looks so simple but each one has thirteen processes in it and it can take four days for each piece, so it’s quite time consuming. I was trying to make very simple unadorned stoneware that was quite architectural in shape, and that became a bit of an obsession. So I devised these tessellated shapes and it became really interesting to me to try and get the shapes and the colours were inspired by the Markets Area near the office in Capel Street. People liked them and Jonathan Legge from Makers and Brothers trialled the pots in the shop before Christmas and got a good response, so that’s how that happened. I didn’t intend it!
As chairperson of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland you’re very involved with the Year of Irish Design 2015.
The initiative came from the global economic forum and is fundamentally about the recovery of Ireland, job creation and developing opportunities for showcasing our design talent. This year for the first time ever Ireland had a stand at Maison & Objet Paris, a business-to-business trade show that’s massive, basically twelve Croke Parks full of every brand you’ve ever heard of. It was great to see the quality of the work and I was delighted that the makers got a really good response from everybody who came by the stand.
It seems incredible that Ireland had never had a big presence there before.
Well you have to say how can we do business internationally if we’re not at the major trade shows and if we don’t have opportunities to show the best of Irish design internationally. So it’s about joining the dots between the enterprise agenda and people who are designing and creating opportunities. This year London Festival of Architecture has designated Ireland as the country of focus and the IBEC conference will examine the importance of design to business. It’s great that Enterprise Ireland, the embassies, local enterprise offices and the Department are rowing in, but it’s really only the start of what has to be an investment in design companies internationalising.
What local events are planned?
There’s an initiative for the libraries called ‘Celebrate your local design hero’ exploring who from their local area, living or dead, has had a good international reputation in design. We’re also launching a challenge at the beginning of April asking the public to say what design drives them mad (laughs). Design is basically used in everything we do – engineering, architecture, landscape, fashion, textiles, medical devices, web, animation, etc. It would be great to think that at the end of the year there’d be a greater recognition about the importance of design and the way in which good design creates better lives, and also that people would be proud to consider design as a career.
Speaking of which, what else is planned for Arran Street East?
Well, ultimately we’ll be doing a whole range of home wares, so at the moment we’re prototyping different complementary ideas and working on various textile designs. We also have wooden boards, done through different collaborations and we’re working with a maker called Vinnie McGrath on a range involving the same kind of shapes and aesthetic as the pottery. The theme is wood and leather and we expect to get those launched in the second part of the year.
So a really interesting, busy time ahead – what do you do for relaxation?
For further information and a full list of stockists visit www.arranstreeteast.ie
Words: Martina Murray
Portrait: Matthew Thompson // Product shots: Aoife McElwain