Interview with Furniture and Product Designer, Jenny Walsh

Jenny Walsh is a furniture and product designer living and working in Dublin.

How did you get into furniture and product design? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you have another career before this?

Well both actually! I always wanted to do something creative but took the long road getting here. I grew up working in hotels and restaurants and loved it so I guess I kind of fell into that after school. I was very lucky in that I got to work with some amazing people in great places and moved up the ladder into management very quickly. I studied hospitality management part time and then got offered a job managing a fine dining restaurant in Boston. That was a wonderful experience and I learnt so much from it. But I knew it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. After a few fun filled years in Boston and 7 years after I left school, I finally moved home to study design.

How long have you been in business and what have been the major milestones (both good and bad)? What are the ups and downs of working for yourself? Have you made any mistakes that were total disasters or had lucky breaks that really changed things for the better?

3 years this week! Hard to believe really. For the first year and a half I was teaching and working on lots of other side projects so I’ve really only been focused on this as a full time business for 18 months. I never really set out to be self employed. I thought it would give me something to do until I found a job. That it would look better on my cv than doing nothing.

But now I’m learning how to run it as a business and getting stuck into the sales, marketing and business side of things. I’ve grown from having 3 stockists to nearly 40 in the last 18 months and have send orders to shops in 6 countries this year alone so I’m not doing too badly at it. I’m actually enjoying it far more than I expected to. It’s hard doing it all on your own as I’m sure you know. Being the one person responsible for everything. I really miss working as part of a team. There’s something strange about setting goals and targets and then having no one to tell if you hit them or not. No one who’ll understand what you're talking about anyway! But it’s great too getting to do what you want when you want! I’m so passionate now for what I do that I can’t ever see myself getting ‘a real job’ or working for anyone else. I’m lucky that enough people like what I do to let me keep doing it.

How would you describe your designs, what materials do you use, what kind of people buy your products?

My designs are playful and light-hearted. I think people like to give them as gifts as they like the idea of giving a loved one something that will make them smile.

Are your designs you? How much do they say about you in other words?

I think all designs are hugely reflective of their designers. We are all products of our surroundings and that comes through in what we make. It’s such a personal process. A little idea from your head that you work on with your own two hands and then decide you like enough to offer to strangers for them to critic and/or buy. It’s an emotional and personal process.

Are there any key attributes you want to include or that you adhere to when designing a new piece?

I’m hugely influenced by the Irish tradition of storytelling. Instead of sitting down to design, say a lamp, I find that I focus more on the personality or character that I want it to have or the story that I want it to tell. Through lots of sketching the story somehow turns into a thing and then I give that thing a function.

My goal is always to create something that will engage, entertain and uplift. I set out to create smiles rather than objects. Things that lighten the mood and remind people to have fun!

Tell me about your latest/upcoming range and where is it available?

I wish I knew! I’ve made a huge number of prototypes and sketch models over the last couple of months. I have them hanging up all around me as I work and I’m constantly looking from one to the next tweaking them slightly until I’m a little happier with them. When I have something exactly as I want it I will start to produce and market it. I hope my existing stockists will all take it on but you never know! I have been really lucky to date but you never really know if anyone will like what you’ve been working on!

What technique do you use most/is your favourite/is your trademark?

I think my trademark is really clean lines and simple forms. I don’t like to ove-complicate things.

What is the one piece of advice you could you offer an up and coming designer?

Don’t do it unless it’s your passion. The hours are too long and far too many of them are unpaid for you to last otherwise. If you're thinking about becoming self employed then intern for someone in a similar position first. I know a lot of people will advise against this but I think it’s the best way to learn. Just make sure you are learning from someone doing exactly what you want to do and take notes on everything. There’s a lot more to running a design business than you could possibly ever hope to learn in college. Immersing yourself in it for a couple of months can save you making very expensive mistakes when you do go it alone.

Other than that just work hard and most importantly – be nice!

Who are your favourite designers and artists? Who or what inspires you? It can be anyone or anything Jenny.

When I first graduated I still had it in my head that designers came from somewhere else. That they were people from New York or Milan who worked for huge big firms and were born in cites that made being a designer far more achievable than it seems to be here. Then I came across Vaughshannon. Two young designers with a studio in Dublin city who were creating products to international critical acclaim. There was something very Irish about their style and it was going down a storm. It was hugely inspiring and motivating to see people I could identify with doing so well. Especially to see them doing so well overseas and still be based here.

I know you love animals and have a dog – tell me about her please!

Little Gizmo, yeah she’s gorgeous. Or Princess Gizmosous as I like to call her. It’s more befitting of her regal personality. Right now she’s doing her famous scarf impression. She’s climbed up onto the back on my neck and dropped her front paws over my right shoulder and her back paws over my left. She’d stay like that forever if I let her. Lucky for her she’s quite soft and snugly so I let her away with it most of the time.

What makes your heart nearly to burst with joy?

I’m blessed with lots of amazing people in my life. Friends and family who go out of their way to do nice things and who really care. That would make anyone burst with joy!

My love of architecture, design and art always gives me lots of reasons to be joyus too.

I can’t walk by the Grand Canal Theatre (as I like to call it) without getting emotional. It’s ridiculous really. It’s been there so long now you’d think my brain would get used to it. But I find it still has the same impact now as it did the first time I saw it. It’s so hard to explain but it just completely fills me with joy!

And design. I saw a picture of a chair the other day and it was so stunning I actually did a little dance of excitement looking at it.

And art. I was in London a few weeks ago and popped into the National Gallery. I was floating around taking everything in when I found myself standing in front of “The ‘Fighting Temeraire’ Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up’. I had never seen it in person before and wasn’t expecting to like it but was completely blown away by it. There’s no describing the sense of joy you can get from looking at something so beautifully executed and filled with emotion.

What irritates the Bejaysus out of you?

People taking the Lords name in vain. Ha ha, no only joking. Jeez, let me think....

Me. I definitely annoy myself more than anyone else annoys me!

That and mornings. Not a big fan of them either.

Do you have any hobbies or do something that helps you relax?

As a professional designer I seem to spend most of my time dealing with stockists and suppliers or on packaging and paper work. To relax I design!

I work ridiculous hours. This job doesn’t leave much time for a social life so I’m really lucky that I find some aspects of it enjoyable enough to count as both work and pleasure.

What is your favourite:

Film?

I’ve never really been a film person. I’ve never had the patience to sit still and pay attention long enough for the story to unfold. But I do like the idea of going to see a film. Every two or three years I go to the cinema, pick a film, get my popcorn, sit in a darkened room and prepare myself to be enthralled and entertained. I’m usually fidgeting in my seat after 10 minutes waiting for it to end. But at least the popcorn is always good!

I do remember being blown away by Pulp Fiction so I guess that’s my favourite? Can something be your favourite anything if you haven’t seen it in 10 years???

Book?

I’m not a big fan of fiction but love to read anything design related. I did my thesis on how the brain interprets different shapes, forms and colours. It’s fascinating the effect aesthetics can have on our emotions. How a thing can make us smile. One of my favourite books ever would have to be The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.

Place in the world?

I don’t know if it’s my favourite place in the whole world but I do love Merrion Square.

I try to take at least 10 minutes every morning to go there and get my head together before the hustle and bustle of work.

The tranquillity of it is absolute bliss. I always leave there with a smile no matter how stressed I’ve been.

Colour?

I love them all!

Any interesting plans/goals for this year? Personal and/or professional.

Yeah, to get my sh*t together!

 Find out more about Jenny on her website and Facebook page:

www.jennywalshdesign.com

@JenWalshDesign

http://www.facebook.com/jennywalshdesign



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