Design Perspective: Ryan Connolly

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From IAR Winter Edition

Ryan Connolly, a newcomer to the furniture design industry, recently won the IACI RDS Muriel Gahan Award (2015) with his walnut side table. It is sleek, finely wrought and imbued with a sense of vitality; these characteristics are the hallmarks of his work. The table’s interior appears to possess a secret life of its own, akin to finding an unexpected cave in a facade of rock. Nature’s patterns, from rock erosion to flower stamen, inform all of Connolly’s designs. Its shape plays with expectations, as Connolly explains, ‘The regular and constant elliptical exterior contrasts with its unexpected interior profile.’

During the early stages of development 3-D models are used to examine negative spaces, and the crucial interaction between light and line, ‘Use of line is very often overlooked and it’s incredibly important.’ Connolly says. Once satisfied with the form, he creates dense hardwood layers into which he carves. He favours hardwoods like ash and oak, sourced from France. His technique of stack lamination, employing age-old hand tools, is demanding work. While admitting he has often sanded his fingerprints right off, he describes the process as ‘good fun.’

Connolly references the illusionary 3-D drawings of Dutch artist MC Escher as an influence, and there’s a similar playfulness to be found in some of the former’s designs. A single raised corner in the design of an olive ash chopping board suggests the curling pages of a well thumbed book. In some wall-mounted cabinets, an illusionary fifth object floats before us; its silhouette encompasses the handles.

Connolly & Company is the culmination of a long-held ambition. As a boy, Connolly honed his skills, carving Celtic motifs in the portion of the family garage he’d annexed for woodwork. ‘From a very young age, I was determined to have my own workshop’ he explains. After graduating with a distinction from GMIT (Furniture Design and Wood Technology) he gained further skills and confidence working in leading Irish and German workshops. He set up by himself in 2012 on the grounds of the family business, Connolly Furniture Ltd, a sofa manufacturer and upholstery company in the ‘furniture-making county’ of Monaghan. However, Connolly likes to push the boundaries of traditional furniture-making. As he sees it, the furniture design industry in Ireland, although smaller than of Germany or Sweden, has equal flair.

Vawn Corrigan runs Kilmainham Arts Club and directs the Kilmainham Arts Festival.