Cool crafts in Cork: Joseph Walsh and the art of making

Furniture designer Joseph Walsh fuses collectible forms with a real sense of place from his small farm studio

 

From a traditional thatched homestead in Riverstick, a village about four to five miles outside Kinsale, furniture designer Joseph Walsh tunes into some of the world’s most renowned collectors and architects.

At first glance the set-up looks like something from a bygone era. Then you see the potato shed, now cedar clad, and a hub of creative activity with Japanese, French, Israeli and English accents audible.

For a furniture designer whose curvilinear work has attracted the attention of some of the world’s best known aesthetes, Walsh favours the rolling hills and Atlantic views of this working farm to the design capitals of London, Paris, New York and Milan.

From here he has built a client base that includes American architect Peter Marino, who has designed spaces for fashion superbrands Christian Dior, Fendi and Louis Vuitton, French architect Jacques Grange who counts Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent, when he was alive, as admirers and the Duke of Devonshire whose collection at Chatsworth House is world renowned.

The set-up may appear to be quite humble at first. But then, as with the ash and resin works themselves, when you scratch the surface, you realise there is a lot more going on than may have been apparent at first glance. The cosy thatched cottage is an optical illusion.

Walsh employs a staff of 14 that bring specialist skills and hail from Japan, France, Israel, Ireland and England. They work in English but the multicultural melting pot brings knowledge, training, fresh attitudes and momentum to the work. Under the watchful eye of Robert Ingham (robertinghamdesigns.com), who was formerly a principal at Dorset-based Parnham House and set up by British designer John Makepeace (johnmakepeacefurniture.com), someone Walsh greatly admires, they make one-off furniture that can sell for as much as quarter of a million euro.

Makepeace was a founding member of the British Crafts Council. His work features in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Art Institute, Chicago. Ingham has acted as a consultant to Walsh for years and now plays what Walsh calls a “huge role” in the making side of the business.

Walsh recalls first meeting him when he did a couple of specialist precision equipment classes. They clicked and ended up spending the day together, and then Ingham started coming over to Cork four times a year. He helped develop a making philosophy that allows me to realise ambitious projects, Walsh says.

“He is a huge asset. He started to train the whole team, to create a collaborative spirit and purpose.”

Ingham is one of the many mentors Walsh has met since he started making furniture, self-taught at the age of 20. He has have been very fortunate to meet the right people at the right moments in his career and calls American textile designer, author, and collector Jack Lenor Larsen a close friend who challenges him and exposes him to new artists and thinking.

From a very early age Walsh was educated by his parents to make and do, describing the culture growing up as one where his family “made things without hesitation”. As a teenage he was inspired by the work of fellow Corkonian Eric Pearce, a furniture-maker who married the late artist Patrick Scott.

The thatched cottage originally belonged to his grandaunts, Annie, Molly and Nell Walsh, and when they died in the 1980s, it fell into disrepair. Walsh hired local builder John Scannell to restore it and the work was completed in 2013. A Wexford-based thatcher reroofed it. At this time of the year the team light a fire in the hearth and have their lunch at the kitchen table sitting on benches Walsh designed.

The original potato shed has been clad partly in corrugated sheeting, a material used in barns and byres all over the country. Walsh has painted them the agricultural green and rusty red you see everywhere and yet it somehow looks fresh here.

While the team works on and executes concepts for Walsh, he spends quite a bit of time travelling. There are multiple visits to New York, where he is represented by gallery owner Todd Merrill, who also deals in the work of 20th century American greats Paul Evans, Karl Springer and James Mont. Fellow Irishwoman Niamh Barry is also signed to Merrill, and both formed a key part of Merrill’s stand at last November’s The Salon, an exhibition of art and design at the Armory on Park Avenue.

Walsh recently travelled to South America and makes regular trips to Verona, where he is currently working on a commission for a private 15th century chapel.

He is currently in Japan doing research for a project that he is staying tightlipped about, but which is happening there next year. On his travels in Japan, he dropped into maker Masaki Kondo, who previously worked with him in Cork.

While he has slept in the farmhouse, he lives in nearby Kinsale and enjoys the reputation it has as one of the country’s gourmet capitals. He thinks the tea room in Perryville House in Kinsale is beautiful and often eats at Bruno’s on Main Street, which serves incredible Italian food using locally sourced ingredients.

He has spent a lot of time in Milan, even establishing a studio there at one point. Was he tempted to move? “In Milan I’d be just another studio and I’d have to compete with some well-established families. Here I can create things of beauty first and foremost where I have a connection to the land and a strong sense of place.” Joseph Walsh is represented by the Oliver Sears Gallery, Molesworth Street, Dublin josephwalshstudio.com