Home-made success: meet the crafters who’ve turned their homes into workspaces

It’s hard to make money as a craftsperson, but it helps to have a studio space at home

Valerie Reid, soap maker, at home in Dalkey. “I like working from home and the freedom it gives me.”  Photograph:  Tom Honan

Valerie Reid, soap maker, at home in Dalkey. “I like working from home and the freedom it gives me.” Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Many craftspeople operate their businesses from home either through choice or necessity. What are the advantage and disadvantages of plying a trade where you sleep and eat?

Deirdre McQuillan spoke to three women, a jeweller, a tile designer and a soap maker about how they combine living and working in the family home.

Valerie Reid, soap maker
“I have lived in Dalkey for 32 years in an old 1860s terrace house and have a little studio at the back where I make the soap. It was a lean-to, so we had to put in sliding doors and a better, watertight roof to make it cosy.

“I started in September 2013 with a really good friend Angela Reilly, having learnt the craft in France from a friend of my sister who lives there.

“It is hard for a small craft operation to make money with two people, so Angela moved back to work in her husband’s business while I stayed on and continued from 2016.

“After my eldest son left home I took over his room because as the soap is made by cold process, once it is cut, it has to sit on a shelf for a month or six weeks which we call curing, so I put shelving in that room and used it for storage once the soap is ready, packed and labelled.

“My husband is a graphic designer and does all the design work for the soap so there is a nice uniformity to it all. My studio is off the kitchen, so I can walk through and have all my ingredients there – the pure scented oils, the powders, the charcoal and the natural colourings. I usually spend at least three days there – more coming up to Christmas.

“I have four grown-up kids and a boy with special needs so from the get-go I always worked from home. He is 25 now and very able-bodied and out every day. I like working from home and the freedom it gives me. If the kids are sick, I am around.

“I did toy with the idea of getting an independent place outside but then thinking about rates and all the extras and having to go out in the morning... it put me off. This way I can make soap anytime I want. I am a craft person and love working with my hands and couldn’t sit in an office.

“I need a hot plate but my moulds are wooden wine boxes and I don’t waste anything – I give scraps to a felt worker and I have made bags of samples with scraps as I have always wanted to be as eco as possible so no fancy packaging – everything is packed in Kraft paper and the liquid soap in glass bottles, so everything can be recycled.”

Alanna Plekkenpol , creator of art on tiles
“I live in our Georgian family house on a road off the seafront in Bray and have been there for the past three years since arriving from Amsterdam where I am from – I am half Irish, half Dutch.

“I have a room which doubles as a living space when I am not working – it has a modern, contemporary interior with a lot of navy and mustard, big enough for a desk, a sofa and a wall cabinet.

“What I do is create my illustrations [for the tiles] digitally and then rework them with original Dutch Delft antique patterns and collages, so my pieces combine that with graphics. I work with a small specialist ceramic company in Porto who have specific techniques of applying and hand printing my illustrations onto tiles. I work closely with them.

Alanna Plekkenpol who creates art on tiles at her home studio in Bray, Co. Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Alanna Plekkenpol who creates art on tiles at her home studio in Bray, Co. Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

“I have always worked from home because I also have a full-time job in Bestseller, the Danish clothing company (whose brands include Vero Moda and Jack &Jones) whose Irish base is in Ballymount – I am in charge of its marketing and PR.

“But the best part of working from home is being able to set your own timeline and what I love is the fact that you have complete silence around you. Some things I would work on for one or two weeks and then come back to a week later inviting comments from friends.

“It is the balance between what my creative identity is in my illustrations and balancing that with commercial appeal. I am hoping to move to Ashford soon to a lovely new estate in a very scenic area, five minutes from Mount Usher where I will continue to work [at my craft] at home.”

Maureen Lynch, jeweller
“I live in Dun Laoghaire close to the sea in a 1920s house and work in a converted garage, so I have my own entrance. I love working from home because I love the fact that there is no commuting and I can switch myself off. And also, it means that I am still engaging with the children, now 13, 15 and 17. As a working mum, I think it is great.

“I have spent all my working life working from home and it is very healthy for the children because it means that they see what I do. My studio is quite dirty, but I have an ultrasonic machine and a drill that sounds like a dentist’s drill and I just put them on when I don’t want them there.

Maureen Lynch, gold and silversmith, working at home in advance of the Gifted crafts fair in the RDS. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw.
Maureen Lynch, gold and silversmith, working at home in advance of the Gifted crafts fair in the RDS. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw.

“It’s lovely for them because they bring their friends in to see what is going on and the different stages. My son likes to bring his girlfriends in to show them the sparkly jewellery. The boys love files and hammers and the polishing machine. They love the tools whereas the girls tend to look at the finished jewellery.

“I really enjoy it and get lost in my work still. It is therapeutic – filing and hammering is like therapy, meditation. I love working for myself and I swim every day either at Seapoint or the Forty Foot, depending on the tide and love the feeling of saltwater on my skin.

“My new jewellery collection in silver with some gold is called Wave and based on the sea. It’s me going back to my roots because it is solid, weighty and smooth and more sculptural and I think the Scandinavian influence is stronger than ever. It’s my style and I can’t stop doing something that is me.”

Visit Maureen Lunch, Valeri Reid and Alanna Plekkenpol at Gifted, the crafts and gift fair at the RDS December 4th to 8th.

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