Designer by day and a soccer player at weekends, 29-year-old Ciarán McGuigan straddles both worlds with an easy go lucky confidence and a sportsman’s unstoppable energy.
Having taken over Orior, the family furniture business in Newry founded by his parents, Brian and Rosemary, 40 years ago, McGuigan has just opened a stylish new furniture showroom and gallery in Tribeca, the most expensive place to live in New York with more affluent celebrity residents than any other neighbourhood in the city.
An area of Manhattan known for design, it’s the only Irish store and a major step forward for the company. “It’s about putting Ireland on the map for designing and making,” says McGuigan.
Located in a historic street, a stone’s throw from the Hudson River near a restored Federal period terrace, the building, a classic 20th century Tribeca loft, was originally a cheese factory with high ceilings and a large basement. In this light and airy 3,500sq ft space accentuated with open brickwork walls, white oak and pale limestone flooring, 20 pieces are displayed, a mixture of new and reworked items from the firm’s archives all custom made in Newry.
The first impression is one of vibrant colour – show pieces like a 10ft long red leather console, an electric blue velvet sofa and a credenza with green suede and leather doors topped with a slab of Connemara marble.
“We started working with [the marble] because we want to use Irish materials in a contemporary manner,” explains McGuigan.
One of the boldest items is a solid brass sofa upholstered in green leather and velvet that weighs over a ton and took over a month to make. “This furniture is for high-end New York, the Hamptons, Los Angeles, a very different market,” he says.
Other pieces include the Atlanta and Canyon sofas, both designed by his father Brian more than a decade ago – reworked, one in Pierre Frey electric blue velvet with fringing (“very on trend right now”) and the other originally in linen, now with a sharp new look in fine black Italian leather.
Another Pop chair from the archive inspired by Arne Jacobsen’s famous Egg chair has been repurposed in velvet and linen. Brian and Rosemary McGuigan spent two years in Copenhagen in the 70s, formative in terms of their design aesthetic. Rosemary remembers the shock of seeing colour in furniture in Denmark “when everything in Ireland was brown at the time”.
We are sending furniture across the world, from Kuwait to Texas and everywhere in between
Orior’s real success, however, has been the development of its contract business internationally in the past five years spurred by the first big break – a commission to make all the furniture for Vice Media in Toronto followed by contracts from Jamie Oliver for his restaurants and hotels.
“From there everything snowballed – we have done a lot of work with the Doyle Collection for the past three years, for instance, and, most recently, for the 7 Stars Resort in the Caribbean, we redesigned the lobby and all the condominiums.
“It allowed us to design all the products and supply all the artwork, so contract design, which has grown by 90 per cent in the past four years, has been very successful,” McGuigan explains.
The brand is now recognised among top interior designers like Martin Brudnizki, the Swedish interior architect considered one of the world’s best restaurant and hotel designers and responsible for The Ivy, Soho House and other high-profile venues including the revamping of Annabel’s nightclub in London.
Orior has made bespoke pieces for him and many others; on the day after the launch of the New York store last week, four pieces sold including the lavish red leather console and a velvet and leather chair to a top designer for a residential project.
“We are sending furniture across the world, from Kuwait to Texas and everywhere in between,” adds Bernard McNamee, who works for Orior.
The showroom launch coincides with the rebranding of Orior into two separate divisions: one concentrating solely on the lucrative contracts division, Orion Contract, and Orior Furniture focusing on designing, making and the company heritage of craftsmanship.
This business was founded on design and expert craftsmanship and I want Orior to become one of the best furniture companies in the world
“The goal of this rebranding is that if there is someone in the market to buy a sofa or a chair that they think of Orior. I want people to look at our furniture and want it in their homes.” says McGuigan. Joining him as senior designer is Jordan Trinci-Lyne from Stockport in the UK whom he met when they both studied at SCAD (the Savannah School of Art and Design).
McGuigan has faced other challenges having opened his first showroom in Williamsburg in Brooklyn five years ago which did not prosper as expected. Scandinavian in shape and style, he admits that he shied away from the fact that Orior was Irish because Ireland was not associated with furniture design – unlike Italy – and the brand was not known.
“I was like a raging bull when I came back from America. I wanted to change the shape of furniture but I have learned that you have to take things step by step.”
It’s a lesson that serves him well both as a former professional athlete (he played for Syrianska in Sweden and in Ireland semi-pro for Drogheda United) who now dons the green jersey at weekends with Landsdowne Bhoys FC in Yonkers where teamwork plays as much a vital role as it does with the team he has built for Orior.
“We didn’t know what our mission was before. All I knew was that we were a family business and that we made beautiful furniture. Now we have the space, the product and the people in place,” he says, slouched on one of his comfortable sofas.
Future plans include opening a store in Los Angeles at the end of next year, increasing global sales and enhancing the exposure of the brand. This is a restless guy driven by ambitious goals both on and off the field. “This business was founded on design and expert craftsmanship and I want Orior to become one of the best furniture companies in the world.”
This article was amended on June 7th, 2019, to correct Bernard McNamee’s role. He was originally referred to as head of contracts. Richard Langthorne holds that position