Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Pressing pause...

Despite this author's best efforts and unrealistic intentions, folks, Padcandy is now takin' a catnap, due to unavoidable time constraints. All them jaypeggs and designy musings don't upload themselves, unfortunately.

I hope you'll continue to read me at The Sunday Times Ireland and at House and Home, Ireland's most delicious interiors mag, made by design nuts for design nuts, and where all pads are candy.

Meanwhile, you've come this far - please do click on my fellow bloggers on the right who are keeping up really really good work - probably despite aforementioned time constraints. I am indeed humbled in bloggerspace and I know you'll enjoy.

I hope to be back as soon as I possibly can, so watch this rambling, home-obsessed space.
Thanks to all of you for reading, commenting and inspiring.


Thursday, 10 December 2009

Interview with Sir Terence Conran

From The Sunday Times, December 6 2009 © Dara Flynn

There is a charming irony to Sir Terence Conran’s account of the day he finally got to meet his design hero, Eileen Gray when she attended a London exhibition of her own work, organised by Conran.

“If I had to say who was my favourite designer in the world she is certainly in my top four or five. I have a photograph of her as a young girl in Ireland in my office on the wall. But it is always difficult, especially with someone really old; I remember when I met her she was finding it quite difficult to suddenly be put in the spotlight,” he says.

At 78, Conran too is beginning to show signs of his own frailty - he speaks in a slow, deliberate manner, takes plenty of long pauses and short steps; his back gives him trouble. The day in question, he admitted, was “turning out to feel like a very long one.” Unlike the reclusive Gray, however, he is well-versed in media and industry attention. Last week, the design guru was thrust into the spotlight for the opening of The Conran Shop at Arnott’s department store in Dublin, where he attended business meetings, sat for press interviews, posed for photos, gave a speech, conducted the raffle and then spent almost an hour signing copies of his various books for a long queue of fans.

Although a full twenty years younger than Gray was at the time of her demise, Conran is anything but unappreciated in his own time. He opened the first Habitat shop in London in the mid-1960s, and is credited with bringing quality home design to the masses, allowing those who didn’t know their Eames from their elbow to dare to purchase good design. Knighted in 1983, he also set up Heals, Mothercare, Next and saw Habitat become an international franchise. He runs a series of successful restaurants and hotels, and his empire is worth an estimated £95m to him and his talent-rich family. Conran is, quite literally, a household name. It is said that there isn’t a middle-class household in the United Kingdom that hasn’t been in some way ‘Conranned’.

Now, he has chosen Ireland as only the fifth country in the world in which to locate his eponymously-titled design shop – the others are in London, New York, Paris and Japan.

“Being a bit Irish myself I have always loved Dublin and the energy of the city. On my father’s side, I have Irish ancestors from the Co Cork area, who I believe eventually left for Australia to dig up gold,” he says.

Conran acted as an advisor to Kilkenny Design in its early days, and he executed the chic interior design scheme for U2’s Clarence Hotel, and later the Fitzwilliam Hotel. “I know Bono and the Edge quite well. My wife grew up here in Ireland and she used to work for Bono in the South of France, so there are all these connections,” he says.

Conran is the main name associated with a definition of what modern British design is: for him, this is defined by clean simple lines, strong colour and quality materials. However, when it comes to a definition of an Irish design scene, Conran is at a bit of a loss – with one notable exception, of course.

“Eileen Gray, a hero for design. That’s who Irish designers should follow,” he says. He speaks with some regret about having lost the chance to purchase Gray’s entire catalogue of work from her niece, a painter called Sandra Blow. “She offered it to let us have it at the Design Museum when we first started. We hadn’t enough space so we turned them down, and said we would come back in five years. But within five years, Eileen had died and the archive disappeared. I’m glad to hear it is happily back in Ireland, which is where it should be,” he says.

“I think you can see Irish style in early engineering, in steam locomotives and agricultural equipment. Plain, simple and useful is how I would optimistically describe Irish style, always connected in some way to the soil.

“Unfortunately I don’t think Ireland has any very notable design schools. It has good architecture and certainly excellent architects, so if the Irish are going to create a style of their own, I feel that it will be in architecture, and not in industrial design,” says Conran, who is Provost of the Royal College of Art in London. “Of course, you also have wonderful artists.”

Conran and the artist Francis Bacon were good friends from the early days in swinging London.

“There was always £3,000 in fifty pound notes on his mantelpiece of his studio, ready to go out gambling. I remember once he stayed in the country with us the year before he died, so he was going a bit gaga. We had just had a very good meal and he had consumed probably a magnum of excellent claret and gone to sleep at the table. He woke up suddenly and said to my wife, ‘send the bill to the gallery!’ and then he reached into his pocket and turned to one of my young children who was walking behind him, and said: ‘there you go boy,’ handing him a ten pound note. He really thought he was in a restaurant. He was always very generous.”

Conran remembers Bacon as “the most intelligent man when he was sober, which wasn’t that frequent. He was filled with knowledge, he knew everything about design, Bauhaus furniture and all that.”

Bacon lived in Kensington, near the first Conran Shop, and often ate at Bibendum, Conran’s restaurant, with the writer Elizabeth David. “He came into the Conran Shop one day and bought a whole window full of furniture. He had set up with some young man down in Essex and bought all this furniture for the young man’s apartment. One of the pieces was a big ash dining table I made called S12,”he says.

As well as a product and interior designer, Conran is the author of over 30 books, including two written with Diarmuid Gavin.

His latest, the Eco House Book, is a practical guide to sustainable, green interior design, about which the designer is passionate. So passionate, in fact, that he made sure to send a copy each to Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy prior to the forthcoming UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. The White House has yet to acknowledge receipt of the book, although Conran adds, “I suspect Michelle will have nabbed it,” and he hopes the first lady may use it to make a convincing eco-argument to her husband before world leaders attempt to thrash out a deal on global climate change next week. Meanwhile, Conran paid a visit in person to Number 10 last week, where he noticed the book on a table next to the prime minister’s desk.

“He said to me, ‘this is the most useful book, especially at this time. God, I hope I can convince Obama, if we cannot convince Obama, then the rest of the world will have a reason not to sign.’ I do hope it has convinced Brown, and that he wasn’t just saying that as a matter of courtesy.”

Friday, 27 November 2009

26 days of Christmas

Been busy as Santa's elves on the workload front lately, readers, so apologies for my absence! Just when I thought I could get back to the important things in life again, such as web surfing for lovely homegear and posting pretty things on Padcandy, the Christmas rush has hit so the next few weeks will have to be spent Christmas decorating, sending out my cards, contacting friends and seeing family. Padcandy will be back in full schwing in early January.

Above and below are me and Mr Fly's 2008 efforts at Christmas cards, now an annual competitive sport in our household. Mine's made from feathers, glitter, card and plastic, featuring fimo versions of us. It's kind of messy. Mr Fly's is characteristically meticulous and stylish. He even used a ruler. I think he won, although he's far too kind to admit it. Pressure's on for this year.

Happy Christmas decorating, eating, mulling and jiving!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Burn Ultimatum

From The Sunday Times, November 1 2009 © Dara Flynn
Choosing a new fireplace, these days, leads us to think of the other “F” words: “fossil” and “fuels”. The traditional open hearth has had its status relegated from must-have to fuel-efficiency fiend. In these eco-aware times, a touch of open-hearth surgery was inevitable.

The hottest trend in fires is the flueless fire. Yes, they look as good as the average coal-guzzler, but in an entirely different way. Most are modern and sleek in design. However, their eco-friendly rather than aesthetic qualities are the main appeal.

The majority run off bio-ethanol fuel, a denatured alcohol produced by the fermentation of sugars from renewable agricultural and forestry products. It also burns cleanly, leaving no ash and producing no smoke, making it virtually maintenance-free. The initial outlay can be expensive, but the fuel is relatively cost-effective and the long-term impact on the environment represents a vast improvement on the coal-fired model most of us have grown up with. Doing away with a flue means the manufacturers have been able to push the boat out in terms of design. It also means that the fireplaces are versatile, and can be put almost anywhere in a room, provided that there is adequate ventilation.

The Germans are streets ahead in this domain. Conmoto the fireplace manufacturer, has been producing its signature Balance range for a few years. Each fire is attractive, albeit in a stark, contemporary way.

The Balance mobile fire is an open, smoke-free and flueless fireplace fuelled by liquid bio-alcohol. In a modernist take on traditional hearth seating, the wall-hung version of the Mobile has a built-in bench in steel or wood (¤4,446, from Mary Ryder Designs in Dublin). A stand-alone version (¤3,565) with a stainless-steel base is also available.

EcoSmart Fires makes of the most diverse ranges of bio-ethanol fuel fires on the market, despite having its roots under the hot Australian sun.

The EcoSmart Oxygen is a rectangular fireplace that takes its place as a freestanding piece of furniture made of stainless steel with a low-line CaesarStone shelf. It comes in a wide palette of colours and costs an astonishing £7,205 (¤7,939), from Genersys Ireland. Installation costs are almost zero and the fuel is highly cost-effective — it is estimated that an EcoSmart fire costs just over ¤1 an hour to run.

A similar model at the same price is the EcoSmart Vision, which is double-sided and encased in toughened glass to give a see-through effect. It makes for a dramatic room divider without hindering the free flow of space and, as with its counterparts, is a portable work of art that can be positioned anywhere.

The Chimo eco-friendly fireplace by Blomus, meanwhile, is a wall-mounted bio-ethanol fire, finished in stainless steel that looks as good lit as unlit and is one of the more affordable fires of this genre, costing £1,081 (¤1,191) from Bombero, the Northern Ireland-based website which delivers free to southern Ireland.

A hallmark of the bio-ethanol fire is its relatively low heat generation. This varies according to maker and model, so be careful about choosing one if your plan is to rely on it entirely for space heating. Basic flueless bio-ethanol fires work best in well-insulated houses that already have other forms of heating.

Running a stove off the gas mains is another option, and while it loses marks for energy-efficiency and the results of over-use will appear on the bill, it’s a decent alternative to carbon-emitting, energy-guzzling fuels, and modern versions are easier to regulate than ever.
Belle Cheminee on Dublin’s Capel Street, is one of the Irish stockists of Faber fires, which offer attractive, modern free-standing and built-in stoves for modern homes.

The Faber Hestia Nostalgic gas fire costs ¤3,895, not including installation. Turn things up a notch with the Faber triple gas fire, which summons the cosiness of the traditional hearth, and costs ¤4,095, excluding fitting.

Fancy a bit of rough?

From The Sunday Times, October 18 2009 © Dara Flynn
Interior design may not be rocket science. It does, however, involve an element of neuroscience. Neuroesthetics is a recent sub-science that measures how the human brain reacts to aesthetics. Using MRI brain scanning, studies have shown that colour and form are the first things that the brain perceives, but in different areas of the brain.

For instance, when shown a Monet painting, the colour centres of the brains of those participating in one study flooded, but when shown a Cézanne, participants focused on texture and there was a flooding of the pathways that perceive form.

Texture is as crucial as colour in any design scheme. The human sense of touch is a key factor in the physical and emotional experience of a room. As we reach the end of the first decade of 21st-century design, the era of plastic, glass and steel has given way to rough-hewn wood, cable-knit upholstery, 3-D fabrics, plaited rugs and materials inspired by nature. Simon Cowell, has already embraced the trend — he has just spent £20,000 (¤22,000) getting the walls of his dressing room covered in cow hide tiles. Modern wall-coverings have also taken on a more extreme three-dimensional quality than old-fashioned flock.

The textile designer Anne Kyyro Quinn is the star of this show — she makes tactile, pop-out panels that feel as good as they look. Each piece is like an artwork and is cut, sewn and finished by hand, using natural materials. Her wall panels mimic a giant flower stamen, the veins of a banana leaf or the back of a centipede.

They are available to order at, while her cushions, throws and table runners (from ¤88) can be bought from online stockists, including Urbansuite, which delivers to Ireland. Moroso, the Italian firm, has been giving its furniture the feel-good factor, too, with its range of dramatic, pretty and heavily textured Antibodi chairs. Each is embroidered with lightly padded petals made of felt and wool fabric or wool and leather, fixed onto a stainless steel frame. The petals are reversible: facing upwards they give a feminine look, downwards provides a quilted look.

Everything is hand-sewn, so the Antibodi furniture represents a serious investment: the chair costs ¤3,323, while the chaise longue is ¤5,222, from Minima. Established & Sons, one of the UK’s biggest trend-setters, has produced the Quilt Sofa (from ¤3,515), designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.

This is texture with bells on: it either resembles a giant human cell or the most inviting bean bag ever seen, depending on your perspective, and can be ordered through Terry Furniture, in Portadown. A pronounced texture is achieved using chunky cable-knit fabric, such as that of the luxurious Urchin poufs (from ¤480), designed by Christien Meindertsma and available at the online designer retailer Thomas Eyck.

They’re hand-crafted and just one will add enough of a textural element to keep the orbitofrontal cortex amused for days. For a budget impostor, try the Ikea Alseda rattan stool (¤24.95). While oversized, super-tactile furniture items are a fast way to apply texture, their cost can be prohibitive. It isn’t necessary to invest in large pieces to create a touchy-feely mood. Accessories will do the trick just as easily and for a fraction of the cost. Contrast is key to maximising textural allure. Rough or bulky textures placed next to one another compete. Place a chunky cable knit or a mohair throw next to something clean and smooth, such as leather or highly polished wood to bring out its full character. Your investment contemporary sofa can stay, but roughen things up a bit with throws, or a giant fur rug — animal hide is timeless and natural, but a good faux fur will work, too.

For quality, throws with texture as well as Scandinavian design kudos, there is Linum’s Winter 2009 range, now available at The Blue Door in Naas. A smart tan leather sofa, given an injection of colour and a dose of the touchy-feelies with a quality Irish mohair throw from Avoca Handweavers (¤49.95), is a good start.

Degrees of Style

From The Sunday Times, October 18 2009 © Dara Flynn

You’ve bought the text books, joined the various societies and picked out your romantic prey for the academic year ahead. Next on the list? The state of “the gaff”. No self-respecting undergraduate can hope to win friends and influence people without a bit of decent kit to make their digs feel more like home. Throwing a bit of beer money at a few pieces will not only make you look good, but will also let you express your own personality through the magic of interior design.

There are a few simple rules to kitting out student accommodation. The most important is never to spend a fortune. At the same time, you should ensure you have the basics so studying will be as comfortable as socialising.
It’s unlikely that you’ll live in the same digs next year, so focus on disposable items, especially if you or your flatmates have a habit of stuttering “all back to mine” come closing time. Flatpack is the fastest and easiest way to furnish a new place, but you’ll gain little credit for originality. It’s better to stick to a few key pieces and marry them with your own version of university style. The classic Ikea Billy bookcase is a good option. At just ¤39 for the basic size, it costs about the same as a night in the pub with a kebab on the way home, and it won’t take a degree in mechanical engineering to assemble. Digging a little deeper into the college fund could prove worthwhile if your accommodation lacks both couch and guest sleepover space. The Beddinge Havet sofa bed from Ikea (¤369 for the cheapest three-seater) has a removable cover and a machine-washable mattress, so it’s easy to clean.
Personalise your kitchen with statement-slogan mugs. Hunkydory Home has the very cheerful “Now panic and freak out” mugs (¤8.60 each), which should send just the right message come exam time.
Next Directory stocks a range of fluorescent kitchen goods this season, including the “Fancy a Brew” and “Full of Beans” slogan mugs (¤9 each) and a porcelain seven-day mug pack (¤13) featuring a slogan for each day of the week.

Matching tea towels are also available (¤13 for seven). Accessories can help you personalise your look in countless ways. Hell will probably freeze over before the landlord will let you change your digs’ colour scheme, so the best way to inject colour is with wall accessories. For originality and style, pick up a few strong prints for the walls online — Bodie and Fou has Alphabot, a retro, quality print with a bit of designer edge (¤40.50).

If that’s a little on the pricy side, art and movie posters are a preference — and, for heaven’s sake, frame them. You can pick up cheap clip frames from any DIY warehouse for just a few quid. Removable wall stickers are quite cheap and can look like feature wallpaper; it’s up to you whether to keep it decorative or go daring. Mabel and Violet, the Irish-based online boutique, has a set of 13 Flora Wallstickers (¤34.50), as well as a large, black world map sticker, which, at ¤77.95, isn’t cheap, but it is definitely a pretty way to brush up on your geography.

For a lads’ pad, go all out with the Pin-up wall sticker from the Irish company (¤41).

It shows the silhouette of a woman, perched on any piece of furniture you choose to place next to it — position her correctly and perhaps nobody will notice she isn’t a real girlfriend. Meanwhile, you can show your guests the door with the charming, Irish-designed “Feck Off” doormat from People Love Presents (¤20). Another way to add personality through art, without the price tag, is with tea towels. If your tendencies are bookish, try the series of tea towels featuring the covers of Penguin classics, designed by Tony Davis for Art Meets Matter (about ¤10 each from leading book shops).
Hunkydory Home also has the Mr Tea tea towel (¤9.60). Embossed with the designer’s version of the A-Team character, it strikes just the right note between the inner child and the ironic. The point of the decorative tea towel, however, is to be hung in pride of place, and not to polish pint glasses “borrowed” from the boozer.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Industrial Revolution

From The Sunday Times, October 11 2009 © Dara Flynn
It was obvious from the wares on display at both the big furniture fairs this year that a new industrial revolution is under way. Industrial chic — design influenced by factories, coal pits and engine rooms — is going full-steam ahead, but modern-day Luddites needn’t worry. This trend isn’t about turning a steam engine into a dining table. It’s all about rawness — a bare-knuckled sense of style with very little flourish that more of us are injecting into our design schemes a little at a time.

The industrial look isn’t as masculine as it sounds, either. It’s gender-neutral, with an emphasis on well-designed objects that mimic now-defunct work tools, although textiles such as linen and canvas marry perfectly with the look. If proof were needed that industrial chic fascinates, many cutting-edge designers have turned their attention to producing pieces made from stark, raw materials. The trend is seeping through strongest in lighting.

Industrial-look lighting has been around for a while — we’re all familiar with fishermen’s lamps for kitchens and rise-and-fall mock oil lamps for dining rooms — but the latest designs are like replicas of something straight from the factory floor. Cages, used on industrial lighting since the late 19th century to protect precious light bulbs, are becoming a hallmark of lighting design.

Dare Studio, run by the young designer Sean Dare, showcased its cage lights at last month’s 100% Design in London. See above and below. I met Sean at the show and the model is a mate of a mate and she's a Storm model and did this shoot for him for free! I think it works really well, even though I don't normally agree with putting laydeez next to furniture.

Made of laser-cut aluminium, each one is powder-coated in colours such as traffic red, graphite grey and sulphur yellow and can be used as a pendant, lamp base or a free-standing lamp. The small version costs ¤259 and the large costs ¤237. Dare also produces the Fujiya lamps, comic floorlamps which resemble a person with a workman’s bucket on their head.

Diesel, the Italian jeans maker, has had industrial-inspired fashion sewn up for years and it has now teamed up with Foscarini, the Italian lighting designers. The range includes a half dozen different styles of cage light. The large suspended version, (available in white, black and green) was inspired by lamps used by miners and costs ¤561. The Tavolo, a table version, is a caged light that resembles a large microphone (¤390 in either black or white) and has the versatility of any building-site lamp, as it can be hung over the side of a table, suspended from the ceiling or merely left on the floor.

Foscarini, without Diesel’s help, has produced its own range with a more glamorous use of industrial materials. The Allegro, a sculptural light made from lacquered aluminium rods, comes in three types: the Assai, with gold pipes (¤2,100), the Vivace in maroon (¤1,552) and the Ritmico in black (¤1,496). Foscarini and the Successful Living by Diesel range are available from Minima in Dublin 2.

Furniture designers are also getting ideas from dormant building sites. The wacky designer brains that make up Established & Sons are no exception. This year’s collection has included Bricks and Mortar — a range of sofas, armchairs and poufs upholstered in a grey brick or redbrick pattern. Jasper Morrison has come up with his Crate series — an assortment of furniture items made from the same material as packing crates.

Design House Stockholm has the best-selling Block Lamp, designed by Harri Koskinen in 1996, with its light source set inside a glass brick, tinted in red, white, black (¤169) or amber (¤195). It also produces a series of silver and gold work lamps (¤145).

Even smaller design studios have tapped into the allure of metal and concrete and wood palettes. Unleaded, an Irish design team, work with concrete and steel to make fresh, trendy lights with a playful twist. Their B-Con light (¤520) for example, leans dramatically by rolling on its base to mimic a maritime buoy.

Nina Tolstrup, the Danish hand behind the UK-based Studiomama, created the Palett project — seats, stools and lamps made from industrial forklift palettes. Buyers can purchase the instructions to make their chair or lamp from the website for just ¤11.

The studio also produces a set of pewter bowls with a brightly-sprayed interior, which remind the user of the tops of freshly-opened paint pots and provide an inexpensive and lightweight way to try the industrial look a little at a time.


Finally, an outlet for my cravings

Pssst... MyDeco, the really handy interiors 'shop-window' website (it shows you where to buy everything) now has an OUTLET! Up to 40% off and in some cases, more. Worth checking out, folks. I found this cushion (above) which I have snapped up and shall be adorning the white, rickety dining chair in the spare room very soon. It was £27 on Aspace and now it's £8.10. Cha-chiing!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Patching things up

From The Sunday Times, September 20 2009 ©Dara Flynn

Every season, at least one dead trend is resurrected from the design graveyard, dusted down, jazzed up and resold as retro. Few of these revivals ever truly make it second time around. Fondue sets, Lladró figurines and dungarees spring to mind.

Sometimes, however, a design reincarnation is so well executed that we invite it in and let it stick around for a little longer. Soon, more designers catch a strain of the sentimentality bug and spread it about a bit. Before you know it, it’s officially a trend. The bigger design houses churn out their own versions until finally you awake one morning to find it in the Ikea catalogue. This year, that revival is patchwork.

Like it or not, mix-and-match pattern and print are back, and not in a down-home, Little House on the Prairie way. This is patchwork with the volume turned up high and the colour contrast set to maximum. Forget the pastel-hued quilt thrown over the back of the sofa. This season, it’s the sofa itself — or the chair or the table — that is patchwork, upholstered in hundreds of uniform squares featuring dozens of patterns and colours clashing and blending at random. The look calls for bravery, originality and a buyer’s ability to know when to stop — like all strong themes, it can be extremely effective if used correctly.

Unless you are a fan of the wrapping paper look, keep your statement piece of patchwork furniture away from bold printed wallpapers and fabrics such as curtains and blinds. The patchwork effect is loud — that’s half the point of it — so give it a wide berth and let it chatter away against a relatively neutral backdrop. The return of patchwork to interiors and furniture design may be partly explained by the economic climate. In times like these, people are attracted to the warmth and familiarity of handmade items and anything with an inherent history. The patchwork revival is the expression of a unconscious desire to return to our roots, back to the simpler things we cherished before we began measuring our worth by credit card debt, sleek leather sofas and new cars.

Squint Limited was one of the first to pioneer the return of the craft to domestic living rooms. Lisa Whatmough, its young founder, has been making patchwork sofas, dressers, chaises longues, headboards, arm chairs and accessories since 2005.

The fabrics used by Squint for its Heritage range include woven English damasks, as well as silver and gold satins, with Swarovski rose crystal and pearl detailing. The trims are from 18th and 19th century France with woven silver and gold thread.

Even the accessories range includes mirrors and lighting wrapped with Japanese ceremonial Kimono silks, embroidered and appliquéd with antique lavender glass beads. Sofas start at about ¤4,000 depending on the fabric chosen, while armchairs cost from ¤2,700. The bespoke range includes classic designer pieces such as the egg chair and chesterfield sofas. Each piece is unique, takes about 12 weeks to make by hand and can be shipped to Ireland.

Couch GB provides a similar service, but with a more uniform look, using Designers Guild fabric to upholster its antique furniture. The Baobab Tree, meanwhile, has been applying itself to the trend with a decent line of accessories, such as its luxury turquoise patchwork cushions (¤55) and monochrome drum lamp (¤185).

Patchwork is putting in an appearance at this year’s Tent London showcase (September 24 to 27), when The Quirico Company will show off the ten pieces of vintage furniture covered in antique fabrics by the Lebanese designers Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri of Bokja.

Just a few stalls away, Zoe Murphy, a funky young designer, will be showcasing her utterly original recycled interiors products, with a strong, fun use of the fabric patchwork effect on footstools, but also on wood furniture and wall decor, where the look is created using paints and other materials.

Indeed, patchwork has so confidently crossed the design threshold from country kitsch to urban cool that varieties of the trend are springing up everywhere. Amy Hunting, a Norwegian-born designer, has created Patchwork, a range of pared-back, raw furniture pieces using off-cuts and waste wood from factories. Fragments are glued together to form a wood patchwork effect by aligning the grain in alternate directions and pairing different shades of wood. These are eventually turned into lampshades, chairs and storage units.

Hunting’s project is a prototype for now, but it highlights that patchwork, as an appliqué, upholstery and building method does more than make us feel warm and cosy inside, but is also an innately green occupation.

On the high street, the availability of chic reincarnations of the patchwork trend has never been less, well, patchy. Ikea, needless to say, is in on the act. The company’s best-selling two-seat Klippan sofa (¤159) now comes with two new multi-coloured covers, Lappmon and Karrum (¤64) which, while not strictly patchworked, are the Swedish company’s low-cost nod at the trend.

For a slightly higher class of square, turn to Roche Bobois, the tasteful French designer store based in Beacon South Quarter in Dublin. Its Rythme sofa range featured a collage of plain and Missoni fabrics in bright, happy Autumnal colours. It costs ¤4,790 for a two-seater and ¤5,510 for the three-seater version. With sharp, modern appeal, it is as far from its Little House on the Prairie roots as patchwork can get.

Do your homework

The Sunday Times, September 13 2009 © Dara Flynn

As the Health Service Executive and the Irish Business and Employers Confederation urge employers to introduce “social distancing” methods of working to curb the spread of swine flu, it’s clear that more of us may be working from home this winter. It is predicted that up to a third of all workers may become infected, so reducing face-to-face contact will be imperative.

Some may see the prospect of working in their pyjamas as the silver lining to the impending pandemic. Unfortunately, there’s no medicine for a lack of proper workspace at home. The average Irish house does not include a dedicated office space, so rookie home-workers need to graft that little bit harder to slot their office life into a domestic setting.

A bespoke home office is great for those who have the room, and Kelco Designs, at Churchtown Business Park in Dublin, makes a stylish wooden range. In average properties, sacrificing a bedroom is ill-advised — bedrooms add more value than an office or study — so using free-standing furniture is the most cost-effective way to create a home office.

Where you have to carve up a living room, dining room or bedroom to make room for your job, modular and multi-functional items are the savviest choice. Opt for desks that can do several things or change shape as they change use, and try to incorporate furniture that matches the shape of your chosen space, rather than trying to wedge something too large into a spare corner.

The good news for home-workers is that colour can be incorporated. Splash out on a brightly hued chair, desk or storage shelf if something takes your fancy. BoConcept, which has just launched its 2010 collection in Ireland, is using bright colours, such as yellow, to dramatic effect, contrasting it with the company’s signature charcoals and neutrals.

Wood and glass — the office staples — haven’t disappeared, though, and are a safe choice for the less adventurous or those easily distracted. The most important component is the desk. You’ll need plenty of leg-room. Consider whether you need enough surface to fit a PC or laptop with a mouse, a phone and some paper storage, or if a more discreet version will do the trick.

Flanagans specialises in antique leather office chairs, as well as robust, manly, wooden desks and feminine French writing tables. If not a Georgian or Edwardian period pile, though, the host property should at the very least have rooms of generous proportion and more formal decor.

On a neater scale, Littlewoods Ireland has the trestle writing desk (¤109), a petite, elegant walnut-veneer free-stander with a large drawer, cubby shelving and about enough desktop room for a laptop and a pair of elbows. The group also sells the Capella coffee table (¤89), which is ideal for those who have to use the living-room sofa and who must opt for multi-functional furniture. A versatile, clever coffee table, it doubles as a computer desk by lifting up the monitor shelf. It also has a drop flap for printer space and storage for disks.

Ikea has several office systems. Its Galant range of desks (from ¤77) are modular and can be ordered in different sizes, finishes and shapes for a perfect fit. The Alve bureau desk (¤219) is a nice, modern take on the traditional French-style writing desk and good enough for small tasks. The company’s Expedit shelving system can be ordered with an adjoining desk (from ¤108.99), which solves workspace and storage in one go. Its range of office chairs includes the funky Jules swivel chair (¤47.99) and the more officious-looking Klappe (¤259).

Ikea isn’t the only stylish option for those on a budget. BoConcept has good-quality, affordable home-office options. A complete office system from its Occa range, for example, adds up to about ¤1,200. The Occa desk in walnut veneer and chrome costs ¤488, while the matching bookcases in walnut veneer are ¤425 and ¤340. You could team it with the Mariposa Delight chair in black leather and brushed steel (¤329). In wall systems, the Lecco range with filing drawers and magazine shelves in white lacquer costs ¤1,981. A full-wall Lecco system costs ¤5,656.

Roche-Bobois has the Open Space collection (desk, ¤5,187 ), a series of sleek, angular, contemporary pieces that appear to defy gravity. Paper’s threatened extinction has inspired Cédric Ragot, its designer, to create the collection, which reminds the user of suspended sheets of paper. The Vertigo office units (¤3,840 for the desk) are similarly space-age but with a tasteful wood finish, while the Diapason range (desk, ¤4,885) is a return to the red, glossy, minimalist look.

For a true statement piece, the Globus Scriptorium, by Artifort (¤4,680, plus Vat), is a ball-shaped, all-in-one desk-and-chair system inside a white, polyurethane sphere, which splits into hemispheres. The chair is upholstered in leather and swivels.

It can be rigged up to include an on-board computer system or a games console, while the white spherical shell can be emblazoned with any logo or design. It is available from Walls to Workstations, which stocks a complete line of office furniture.

No home office is complete without accessories to liven up the space and give scope for the personalisation your boss would never allow. Turn to Umbra for tabletop accessories, such as the Grassy Organiser (¤7.50), made of soft, moulded rubber to resemble stalks of grass and used for storing pens and other stationery.

Instore has a smart basic range of desktop organisers for under a tenner, while the Antrim-based online store Dekko has colourful accessories including the Barcode noticeboard (¤16.80) to go with its office furniture. Workstations cost from ¤82 to ¤168.
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