The Design Yard is home to a wealth of contemporary jewellry and design. Sinead O’Reilly meets its owner Hillary Campbell and speaks to some of its residents.
On 25 Frederick Street, two minutes shy of Trinity’s Pav, and just a heartbeat away from Knobs & Knockers, stands The Design Yard. Tracing its origins back 23 years ago to Temple Bar, it is now located in a tall Georgian building and home to some of the most exquisite, handmade Irish design in Dublin. Jewellery, art and sculpture is carefully curated within the bricks and mortar, offering the public a glance at some of Ireland’s most talented craftspeople. The showcasing of indigenous gifts is one that has been at the foundation of the business from the very start and is a practice that has continued throughout its time in trade. And though a change of hands occurred two years ago, Hilary Campbell, whose family are the proud new owners of The Design Yard, assure us that it is an act that they do not intend to alter.
“The reason we bought it is because we believed in the company. We come from a jewellery background ourselves (Hilary’s family own Campbell’s Jewellers in Donnybrook) but even so, this was definitely a big change of pace to what we once did. My brother, who is a jeweller and goldsmith by trade, was primarily involved in high street jewellery, so, for us, this is a totally different direction.”
The direction she favours is over which chooses meaning over mass, something which Hilary feels the Irish market are growing increasingly warm towards. “Irish customers are becoming more comfortable and confident in their tastes. They are interested in well-designed pieces, handmade jewellery and looking more and more for something different than what is currently on offer on the big mass produced scale.”
For The Design Yard, this something different, manifests itself by means of housing over 50 designers. With a variety of home grown talent and designs from those with more exotic origins, Campbell and co. go to great lengths to source the best in luxury adornment. “We travel the world going to fairs, shows and exhibits to find fresh designers for the store. We pride ourselves on having discovered some really amazing new designers but in the grand scheme of things, when inviting a designer to The Design Yard it really doesn’t matter if they are already established or just starting off, as long as they are really good at what they do.” A quick glance around the stores showroom confirms Hilary’s statements. The designers in 25 South Frederick Street are really good at what they do. Really, really good.
So good in fact that the term above feels slightly condescending, particularly when sitting down and actually talking to the designers in question. One such designer, recent NCAD graduate Cara Sturgess, could perhaps fall into those grasps of patronisation because of her youth in the industry. A simple, swift glance at Cara’s handy work, under her label, Loinnir Jewellery, gives the recent NCAD graduate an air of well-established jeweller.
With a host of intricate, delicate designs, Cara’s idea for the brand stemmed initially from her time as a student. “I came up with the idea for Loinnir while I was doing my thesis. I was looking at the origin of Celtic design and became really interested in the Ór collection. The pieces were so rich and dignified, I wanted to incorporate this into my own work. I had it in my head that there was a gap in the market in terms of variation in traditional Irish jewellery. Inspired by the country’s legends and landscape, I wanted to transfer that richness into a collection that would transferred into today’s market.”
Beautifully irregular shapes, etched with Ogham-esque markings, Cara’s vision is very much brought to life through Loinnir, a vision which was spawned on by the country itself. Following a design internship, Cara, like some many of her fellow graduates, was left without a job in her field once university finished up. Rather than reboot into a life less creative though, she used this time to create.
“I was on the dole,” explains the designer, “and I came across the competition for Ireland’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, I entered and I won.” A coveted position for any young maker, Cara happily put the prize money into Loinnir and garnered the confidence boost that she needed to realise there was something here and she could work with it.
Following her first success, she began working in store in The Design Yard, while at the same time growing her brand. A complimentary combination, Cara tells us that once she showed her pieces to the establishment, they told her to “pull my socks up and get a full collection into them stat.” Since then Loinnir has remained a permanent fixture in the store, adding a richness and dignity to the neighbouring labels.
With a longer journey behind her, Chilean born Nicole Van Der Wolf claims she always loved looking at jewellery, but “it never dawned on me that I could actually make it.” A sheer glimpse at her work, undoubtedly indicates that she can and that journey that came before has very much fed into her creations. “I feel as though my whole life has been a big wandering path. I was born in Chile, lived in the Caribbean, The Netherlands, the States and Spain. During this time I worked in tourism, tech and tech writing – anything that came my way really.”
What came her way next, was a move to Dublin, whereby she took a career break, taking time to settle her family into their new surroundings. During her time out, Nicole took to studying a Diploma in Gemmology in The Gemmological Association of Great Britain, an institution in which she says she was “bitten by the bug.”
“This has been a six year long trek of getting up to the standard of actually being able to make everything that came into my head,” says Nicole. “Being able to put the ideas together physically has made it all very personal for me. You find a stone and it dictates the piece you create.” Describing a static life once more, Nicole uses “colours which I remember from my youth in the Caribbean, from the Northern European skies and the two strongest seasons of Michigan.”
Her memories are communicated in creations that can be described as a paradoxical mix of statement and subtlety. ‘Midnight Snow’ an intricate coming together of onyx druze, moonstone, diamond and 18 carat gold, takes us to the cool placidity of the north. While ‘Cubo’ the free-floating cubed gemstone in a shimmering Tiger Eye transports us directly to the tropics.
Both pieces embody not just beauty, but the tale of travel behind them, something which Nicole’s and The Design Yard’s customers as a whole are searching for in their sprees. Speaking at length about the labels she is surrounded by she says that, “there is a quality to the pieces, a story behind them. And that’s what our customers want. Something to really love, not just something that their friends are going to like.”
This ‘type’ of customer is also clearly etched out in the mind of designer, Eimear Lynch of Ella Green, who explains that when designing you “design for yourself.” She pinpoints her customer as “a person who knows what he or she wants, doesn’t follow the trend, buys fewer pieces but the pieces she does buy, she loves. When I design, I am making a piece that can be worn for a lifetime and then passed on. Quality is so important.”
Eimear has arrived at a place of pure luxury jewellery. “It’s been a long standing love affair.” This was the designer’s very first statement, when speaking of her craft. “When I was a little girl any piece of jewellery that I got, I would take it apart and put back together to make something different. Maybe in another life, I could have been an engineer.”
Eimear’s own story of Ella Green, takes on this maze-like narrative too, with her going back and forth between the creative and the corporate world. “I did art in school. I was very good at it but, as it often goes, I confirmed to growing up and, following school, entered into the business world.” Though she has been in that world since, Eimear never took her eyes off the more creative prize, with years of making “bits and bobs”, leading up to her finally establishing her own label.
“It finally came to a point where I said, you know what, I can actually do this. Enough is enough, I need to this. So two years ago I do and I haven’t looked back since.”
What Eimear did, was create a label of lavishness, executed expertly. It carries three collections, Van Eyck, Swallows and the beautifully brutal Razor. Her pieces have a labyrinthine feel, but still navigate themselves perfectly in The Design Yard’s curation. A place, which Eimear feels, fits her finery and her personal industry. Belovedly surrounded by her neighbour creatives, the designer exudes pure glee when stating that, “it is just so nice to have other people to geek out about jewellery with!”
While geeking out is, no doubt, always on the agenda when a group of like-minded people are put together, owner, Hilary Campbell, explains that growth is also is the horizon. After 23 years, Hilary reckons that it is time to let the cat out of the bag and for the multitude of 18 carat gold pieces to fall out with it. Taking over the business two years ago, she now hopes to make some noise around it. After all, as Hilary so aptly puts, “being the best kept secret is nice, but being well known is essential.”
The Design Yard 25 Frederick Street, Dublin 2
Words – Sinead O’Reilly