Design suggestions for people who don’t have the time

Mosey around Siobhan Burke’s salvage shop and you could find anything

 

Good business ideas can come from just about anywhere – even a remote island off the northeastern coast of Sicily. That’s where Siobhan Burke got the idea for Mosa, aka Modern Salvage Interiors.

“I was on the Aeolian Islands, “ she recalls, “and there’s an island called Salina where there’s a quirky little shop.” She was so impressed by one item which was for sale there – a sofa made from a vintage car – that she thought, “if I can get that over to Ireland, I’ll start up my business”.

Burke – and Mosa – are now happily settled in a cosy corner of BG Salvage Limited, an architectural salvage yard at the western end of Dublin’s South Circular Road.

Cellar table made with reclaimed wood from Guinness’s Brewery (€480).
Cellar table made with reclaimed wood from Guinness’s Brewery (€480).

“When I started off last August,” she says, “this was just going to be a space in the corner of the yard - a studio where I could photograph the pieces for the website. I thought the business would be totally web-based. But actually I’m spending more and more time here. I’m in my element, because there’s so much to see and so many things to make.

“The first week I was here, a film crew came in. They were making a movie on the Holocaust and they wanted something that was tinged green.” They bought a collection of metal lockers. Last week, some folks from a bar bought 18 gold-coloured industrial lights. And then there was the man whose wife had just had a baby in the Coombe. He was walking around the area to pass the time, noticed one of Burke’s carved buffalo heads, and couldn’t get it out of his mind. So he came back for it.

“You just never know what people will be looking for,” says Burke. She laughs. “Like the first time I put doors up on the studio space here. I found a wonderful pair in the salvage yard, painted them up, they looked great. Then one day I came in - and they were gone. I said, ‘Where’s my doors?’ And the lads said, “Somebody bought them’.”

Cast iron glass ball light (€590) at Mosa
Cast iron glass ball light (€590) at Mosa

With a carpenter, a mechanic and an electrician onsite, there’s always someone who can help Burke turn her designs into reality, whether it’s making metal baskets into light fittings or whipping up a table out of old crates.

“I found this fabulous piece of wood one day,” she says. “It turned out to be an old cellar door which came from Guinness’s,” By adding a pedestal and a base Burke transformed the door into an occasional table. Another, much larger, table was made from a chunk of old footpath - the kind with glass tiles to allow light into a basement below – with a bespoke steel frame.

“I got this at an auction,” she says, indicating an old-fashioned laundry mangle. “I’ll make it into either a table or a desk. I like to have a few things ticking around until I decide what to do with them.”

Siobhan Burke: aiming for the “wow” factor with Mosa.
Siobhan Burke: aiming for the “wow” factor with Mosa.

Burke trained as a fashion designer, studying at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin before working in both New York and Paris. “I spent most of my third year in college making corsets out of perspex and things like that - so I’ve always been interested in using materials in different ways,” she says. “Then New York gave me a taste for multicultural, mixed-media stuff.” A night course in interior architecture at New York’s Parsons School of Design convinced her that her real interest lay in quirky interiors.

Burke says there isn’t really a word to describe what she does. Certainly not the “U” word. “I try not to make something look like it’s upcycled. I don’t even like the word ‘upcycled’. People sometimes say to me, ‘I have this old cupboard - would you be interested in painting it?’ I’m like, ‘No’. That’s not what I do.”

As well as working with salvage items, Burke makes buying trips to source pieces for Mosa. “I go to warehouses in Eindhoven, in Holland – some nice, some not so nice,” she says. “Although to be honest, the best pieces probably come from the not-so-nice ones. They’re bringing stuff in from everywhere: Egypt, Poland, Czechoslovakia, all over. It’s fascinating.”

Set of Egyptian doors at Mosa
Set of Egyptian doors at Mosa

Leaning against one wall of her studio is a pair of gorgeously carved French colonial doors which came from Egypt. There are also floor lights made from jerry-cans; shutters of every shape and size; metal pots transformed into elegant planters and a fabulous cast-iron ball light.

Mosa is an Aladdin’s cave within the bigger treasure-trove of BG Salvage. Those who already know what they’re looking for – whether it’s doors or radiators or reclaimed bricks – will find it in the salvage yard, Burke says. Her role is to offer design suggestions for people who don’t have the time, patience or practical skills to, say, turn an antique birdcage into a light fitting.

On her website mosastudio.ie, she quotes design guru Milton Glaser: “There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no and WOW.” That “wow” is what Burke is aiming for. Are there rules for successfully incorporating the wow factor into an ordinary, everyday home? “You have to trust yourself. You have to be brave. And if you’re buying a piece, you have to love it. That’s the secret.”

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