In the past year alone, Irish luxury furnishings outfit Orior has opened a 4,500-square-foot flagship showroom in Soho, launched a capsule with fashion designer Christopher John Rogers, and just last month introduced a new collection of generously proportioned seating on the occasion of NYCxDesign. Under the creative direction of Ciaran McGuigan, son of founders Rosie and Brian McGuigan, the brand has leapt from its earnest, craft-focused beginnings in upholstery and Scandinavian-inspired seating to a globally recognized purveyor of striking, high-end Irish goods.
To track this evolution, AN Interior phoned into the brand’s Newry, Ireland workshop for a chat with McGuigan about the new collection, the numerous milestones of his tenure, and what he hopes the brand will contribute to the design industry of his native Ireland.
Sophie Aliece Hollis: Since the brand’s founding in 1979, Orior has proudly manufactured in Ireland using craft and materials unique to the country. Can you describe the dynamic of the workshop and what it was like to grow up around these makers?
Ciaran McGuigan: We have about 60 makers on staff at the workshop. Like the business, the maker crew is very family-oriented and multigenerational. Within the staff, we have brothers, uncles, four sets of fathers and sons, three sets of cousins and we also run several apprenticeships. Young lads will come in to learn the craft from their mother or father who have been a part of the business for 20 to 30 years.
Growing up it was unbelievable, not only to watch them hone their practice, but also to be constantly surrounded by the manufacturing process. We’ve built out our design studio in New York, which is a phenomenal center of culture and source of inspiration. But I feel like I have the best of both worlds because I am able to hop on a plane back home to see how the work comes to fruition, by the hands of people I’ve known since I was a kid. I know I sound like I’m romanticizing, but this operation is very special and something I do not take for granted.
SAH: After growing up in this setting, did you go on to study design?
CM: Surprisingly no. I actually studied film and television at SCAD. After growing up so immersed in design, I felt like I wanted to explore other areas that interested me. I am glad that I did as I still find inspiration for my designs in film sets, scenography, and fashion.
SAH: When exactly did you return to the family design business?
CM: I unexpectedly took over as managing director when I was 23. My dad had to step away from the business at the time to deal with an illness. He’s completely fine now, but I was basically catapulted into the driver’s seat and quickly had to figure out how to run the business as well as identify which direction to take it in. My sister Katie, who runs her own fashion label, stepped in then, too. Nowadays, I serve as the creative director with a team made up of good friends of mine from university and back home. It’s similar, I suppose, to how my parents started the business years ago by recruiting siblings and spouses, neighbors and friends.
SAH: Since stepping up as creative director, where have you focused your energy in terms of evolving the business?
CM: Orior began as an upholstery company, and for a long time, the focus was producing beautiful sofas and chairs. In order to push the business forward, we’ve been working on varying our materiality. There are so many beautiful, organic materials available to us in Ireland—billion-year-old stone, Irish crystal, leather, wood. I wanted to deviate from their traditional applications to put our own Orior twist on each piece, incorporating details like curves and bullnose edges that I suppose we’ve become known for.
SAH: Was it challenging to introduce these new methods and forms to Orior’s long-employed craftsmen?
CM: No, quite the opposite actually. They were very receptive to it. After creating the same thing over and over again, I think they were ready for a new challenge. Introducing them to new materiality was really exciting. It was like seeing a bunch of kids again.
SAH: Can you speak to how this focus on materiality plays out in Orior’s newest seating collection, Néad?
CM: With Néad, we wanted to create a product that really facilitated bringing people together. Like the conversation pits that were popular in the 70’s when my parents were starting the company, the chair and sofa are designed so that people really sink, or “nestle,” in for long periods of time. Hailing back to our history in upholstery, we used plush fabrics and cushioning over a chunky, wooden base. Creating this level of comfort while prioritizing design was an interesting challenge and resulted in pretty massive proportions. l just envisage people sitting in these pieces and having incredible storytelling moments, collectively. I could sit in one all day, so we’re excited to get it out there and see how people respond.
SAH: What do you hope to achieve in the U.S. market by continuing to champion Irish design, craft, heritage, and materials?
CM: Over the years, we’ve thought long and hard about the statement we wanted to make as a brand. While Ireland has bred a number of really talented designers, we felt like an emphasis on the local, island perspective was missing from the market. So, we decided to really lean into that and try to draw as much attention as possible to what the country has to offer in terms of talent and craftsmanship and materials. We hope this will inspire other local makers, designers, and even creatives working in different sectors to go out and champion the country as well. That’s the journey we’re on at the moment, and as I mentioned before, we don’t take it lightly.