When Newry met New York: Irish design in the Big Apple

Ciaran McGuigan on the success story of family business Orior in North America

 

In May last year, an Irish furniture store, the first in New York, opened in Williamsburg, a hip neighbourhood in Brooklyn where sky-rocketing property prices reflect its continuing gentrification since the 1990s. Behind this ambitious venture is Ciaran McGuigan, a former professional footballer and e-commerce businessman whose parents Brian and Rosemary founded their successful furniture business Orior in a shipping container in Newry in 1982.

McGuigan, an arts graduate from the Savannah College of Art & Design, could see the potential of US expansion and opportunities for the family business known for its traditional manufacturing methods, particularly a showroom in that area of New York, but knew the risks involved. Backed by his family and having found the right space – a 5,000 sq ft handsome, brick-and-glass, two-storey building – and designed a new furniture collection, he persuaded his cousin Shane McGuigan, a design consultant based in Berlin, to come on board as creative director to mastermind the opening and the branding. Since then Orior has not looked back.

Scandinavian in shape and style, New by Orior, as the new collection was called, drew its inspiration from New York and stateside living. What caught the imagination of visitors to the shop were items like a yellow French leather sofa called “Cabbie” (after New York taxis) and the “Gansevoort”, a leather bench whose name was taken from the Meatpacking district. The fresh way in which the furniture was displayed also attracted attention, as did a very lavish embossed black and silver invitation for the opening, its envelope stamped all over with the word “new”. “We had over 200 people through the door that night and representatives from the Rockwell Group, an influential interior design and architectural firm. We got such a good response not only to the quality of the furniture, but also to its design and it triggered so many conversations,” McGuigan recalls.

Their first big break was a commission to make all the furniture for the new offices of Vice Media in Toronto with Design Agency and since then the company has shipped furniture from Newry all across North America to Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and the Hamptons, with business developing faster than expected. In the past year they have completed fit-outs for apartments for clients in Park Avenue and other upmarket addresses in New York and now collaborate with top design studios, interior designers and architects. “It’s all word of mouth,” says McGuigan.

One of the most notable companies with whom they collaborate is MBDS who, with offices in London and New York, are acknowledged as being outstanding restaurant and hotel designers. Recent commercial projects taken on by Orior include James Morrissey’s new 70s-style “lifestyle” space Vinyl in the East Village, which involved supplying solid brass bar stools, deep-buttoned tufted banquette seating and marble tables. “It was a nice mix of our design and customised pieces of furniture in the most amazing materials,” he says. For MBDS, Orior are making furniture for Jamie Oliver’s restaurants in London and his new hotel in Amsterdam.

“There are now three strands to our business,” explains McGuigan on a recent trip home via New York and Amsterdam overseeing the Jamie Oliver project. “They are a mix of commercial projects where we advise, consult and manufacture high-end quality custom pieces of furniture for each client; Orior Home, where lifestyle collections are created to ‘trigger conversations’ among residential clientele, and New by Orior, where we do extensive research and development to design products that interest the retail sector. There is no limit to what we can do and what we can source. We can bring to life actual pieces of furniture from a concept and we are known for making really good product,” he says.

The new collections of furniture, which will be launched next year, like the first, take their cue from the Hamptons and Park Avenue living and consist of six pieces each – a sofa, chair, coffee table, bench, ottoman and side table, potentially to be exhibited at the Milan Furniture Fair. In the meantime, their commercial projects continue apace and 60 per cent of Orior’s business out of Newry is now to North America.

“The logistics of getting furniture from A to B is probably one of the easiest parts of the business and is never any problem – Hamilton Shipping are the masters,” says McGuigan. “The hardest part now is to find good apprentices. Prior to going to the US, we had a workforce in Newry of 40 people and we were doing great business in Europe. Going to the US has increased our sales by 60 per cent, but to grow our business now we need to hire upholsterers, sewers, installation teams and people for the frame shop in the factory. There is no system in place for speciality crafts in this country such as upholsterers and one of our biggest challenges is to find quality craft workers.”

In the meantime, Shane McGuigan, who has also designed lighting for some of the Orior projects, is working closely with Ciaran’s father Brian, a collaboration which draws on their combined knowledge of design and the skills and experience of making pieces of furniture in the Newry factory. Orior in New York now employs five people under manager Richard Langthorne, a fellow Savannah graduate, and there are plans for even further expansion.

“All of our products are made by hand in Ireland and our workers are the key ingredients to our success – without them and our production manager Phelim Darby we would not be here. I would like to think that a piece of furniture by Orior would one day be as covetable, long lasting and as recognisable as an Eames chair,” says McGuigan with a smile.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.