Celebrating the very best of Irish design with Kilkenny.
For five decades, Kilkenny has been renowned for its work promoting the finest Irish craft and design our island has to offer. With excellence at the core of all their featured artists, they are constantly evolving; moving seamlessly into modernity featuring the crème de la crème of homegrown talent.
Here are four Kilkenny brands that are prime examples of this, yet constantly seek to defy expectations of what it means to be an Irish contemporary creative in 2019. From handpicked gems transformed into beautiful jewellery, pop culture-infused printwork, luxurious woollen scarves to truly impeccable hand-crafted pottery, these are the designers to watch.
The Modern Mixer: Diem Pottery
Irish designer Thomas Diem crafts pottery by hand in his studio in Co. Meath. A second generation potter, his designs combine traditional skills with a pared-back, minimal design edge for products he describes as “simple, beautiful things that enhance daily life.”
Pottery is in the family: Born in NYC, he moved to Ireland as a child and learned his skills from his father. Having completed the DCCOI Pottery Skills course he opened his own studio over two decades ago, which has gone from strength to strength. Everything is hand-crafted in-house with meticulous care and precision and his inspiration begins at home with the beautiful Irish landscape, both rural and urban.
Diem Pottery medium Nordic Jug in Blue, €59.95 – SHOP
His style is a culmination of classic and contemporary - capturing the cleanliness and simplicity of a Nordic aesthetic with an Irish flavour. He uses white as the primary colour in his creations to contrast the bright colour underneath, resulting in eye-catching, standout designs. The devil is in the handcrafted detailing: every product you see on the shelves in Kilkenny, from jugs to mugs, dishes and bowl sets, has been painstakingly created by hand.
Championing artisan skills is at the heart of Kilkenny and Diem’s work combines traditional pottery with contemporary design to create functional, beautiful pieces for everyday use at home. A favourite is the recently crafted colourful side plates which, when piled high, results in a topsy turvy stack sure to standout on your kitchen counter.
In 2019, Diem Pottery launched a sage green collection that is exclusive to Kilkenny, and available to buy now.
The Jeweller: Juvi Designs
Award-winning Juvi Designs is renowned for its creative process; sourcing the most beautiful gemstones from around the world. and transforming each one into an incredible piece of jewellery. The Dublin-based duo behind the brand are husband and wife, Vincent Tynan and Julie Danz.
Tynan is a silversmith with many years’ experience and Danz originally trained as an interior designer who worked with the likes of Carlton Varney, one of America’s most adventurous designers. They channel their passion for home, combined with their love of travel, colour, and nature into each collection.
“As a child, I was always attracted to gems, shells and stones and I used to gather beads, seeds and colourful pieces of glass (anything and everything really!) which I kept in boxes in my bedroom,” explains Danz.
The concept of something so grounded in nature pushes their innate creativity. The specially chosen gems, they say, take on an almost ethereal quality in the right cut and setting - evident in all of their designs. The duo may travel the world but the crucial step - design - happens on Irish shores. “We buy really high-quality stones; they are sourced from all over the world but all the jewellery is designed here in our Dublin studio,” Tynan says. “People are attracted to their colour, tactility and weight.”
Quality is a primary focus so that each creation boasts its own uniqueness. It’s no surprise then that the brand - which was first stocked in Kilkenny’s flagship store in Nassau Street in 2010 - has found favour in stores around the country.
Each piece is of the utmost quality but the designers believe that there should still be affordability - even in beautiful jewellery.
“Our philosophy is quite simple, we want to offer affordable luxury. It is important for women to spoil themselves occasionally, without feeling guilty. If a piece of Juvi can do that, we are always truly delighted!”
The Heritage Treasure: McNutt of Donegal
Located on Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Way in the seaside village of Downings in northwest Ireland, McNutt of Donegal has been producing quality weaves for over 60 years. Rooted in Irish heritage, they have always been inspired by the coastline around them when it comes to creating their 100 per cent premium woollen blankets and throws, baby blankets, knee wraps and fashion accessories.
Their style is very much that of modern Ireland fused with Scandinavian aesthetics - from solid bright colours, to premium fabrics and classic forms.
McNutt of Donegal was originally launched in 1953 as a family business. Current Managing Director William McNutt (pictured) joined the family company in 1981, after his mother and father began it in the early 1950s. He took over the mill with his brother in 1992, and is now responsible for sales and planning, coordinating and controlling the manufacturing processes. The business grew rapidly and was off to a flying start, so to speak, when it won the contract to provide the Aer Lingus uniform in the 1960s.
They continued to innovate and in the 1970s, the business moved away from hand-weaving tweed and into power looms. The brand has found favour with some fashion heavyweights: Japanese designer Kenzo discovered tweed and McNutt’s headquarters that same decade.
McNutt and Kilkenny share a similar vision: to offer Irish-made products of the highest quality and craftsmanship with a design aesthetic that is a fusion of modern and classic.
As a company, McNutt continues to evolve, adding a premium Irish linen weave to their range. A two-sided throw, wool on one side and Irish linen on the other, demonstrates their ability to experiment and innovate.
Each collection is inspired by memories of growing up on the Donegal shore, the colour palette borrows from the Northern Lights that once lit up the Downings skies. The team of talented designers - small but mighty, continue to create new designs in- house which are sold around the world. Visit Kilkenny stores nationwide to view the full range of McNutt of Donegal designs.
The Printmaker: Jando
There are printmakers and then there is Jando. Founded in 2015 by husband and wife Julie and Owen Mc Loughlin, Jando is a multi-award-winning printmaking studio based in Dublin, known for their bold, punchy interpretations of Irish and international landmarks. Jando had personal beginnings; it started when the couple were planning their New York wedding. They wanted to create something memorable for their big day and set about designing a suite of wedding stationery with everything from a personalised hardback book and wedding invitation to luggage tags and button pins.
They are a match made in startup heaven: Julie possesses a mix of creativity and business acumen: when she’s not busy pulling screenprints, she oversees everything from brand strategy and beyond. Owen is a self- taught illustrator who has always had a passion for design.
This Irish business stands out from the crowd thanks to its striking aesthetic; combining cinematic perspective and a love of architectural landmarks with a pop-culture sensibility, Jando’s work is as exciting as it is contemporary. It has a distinct flair with a strong emphasis on kineticism and a playful use of colour.
So, how do they make the magic happen?
By skillfully blending a combination of both traditional and modern printmaking disciplines, including screen printing and hand-drawn illustrations to create their distinctive body of work.
And you can rest assured that they’ll never lose their shine - made using the finest archival paper and inks, Jando’s range of prints are guaranteed to retain their vibrancy for a lifetime. Their talents go beyond printwork: they also produce a range of contemporary greeting cards, notebooks and a series of screen-printed tote bags and tea towels, all of which are available in Kilkenny stores nationwide.
Jando Dublin Town GPO Large Frame, €70 – SHOP
Simply put, this is Irish design done differently, as timeless as it is modern. The range is available in Kilkenny stores nationwide and online.
Want to know more? For the month of September, Kilkenny celebrates Scéal, The Story of Irish Design. Returning for its second year, Scéal celebrates the stories and the skills behind the makers at the heart of Kilkenny. With a series of visual and interactive experiences in selected stores nationwide, Scéal highlights Irish brands and their personal journey from bench to store. See kilkennyshop.com for more information.